# The Quantum Vacuum

Relativistic quantum field theory makes a very clear distinction between what we would intuitively understand to be an absolute void and what we experience as the vacuum of space. Of course, even in the deepest reaches of space we will find an atom or molecule here and there, and photons of energy are flying through at the speed of light continuously, but there is also a quantum potential which exists at every point in the vacuum of our three-dimensional physical space. Under the proper conditions, matter and energy can literally be made to materialize out of what we used to think of as nothing.

This is indeed a very bizarre thing for scientists to be taking seriously, but the fact is that it has actually been observed routinely in particle accelerators. Of course, this does not mean that any conceivable fantasy can be 'popped' out of space with ease. The conditions to create anything more than a scattering of subatomic particles would require extremely high energies and a control of the process far beyond any practical ability, at least with our present means. Nevertheless, according to the present mathematical models of physical theory, it is scientifically possible to create anything right out of the vacuum. The classical notion of 'empty space' has obviously been updated. "No point is more central than this, that empty space is not empty. It is the seat of the most violent physics." -- John A. Wheeler

The quantum vacuum is thought of as a seething froth of real particle-virtual particle pairs going in and out of existence continuously and very rapidly. Each of these strange pairs
consists of a particle and its antiparticle, one of which has a negative energy and is thus called a *virtual* particle. Out of a singularity in space, which by definition really is
nothing, the pair simply comes into existence. Why? Because quantum physics says the probability exists -- as simple as that. The virtual particle with negative energy is doomed to a very
short life in our real Universe of positive energy and must immediately recombine with its real partner -- particle cancels antiparticle and positive energy cancels negative energy -- back
to the singularity. The quantum vacuum is considered to be a dynamic condition of equilibrium in which this reversible process is occurring everywhere extremely quickly.

The fact that this view of reality arises from simply the probability that it can sounds very contrived and fantastic, but it is nevertheless a very real reality. It is rooted in the famous Uncertainty Principle (Werner Heisenberg, early days of quantum theory). The strange probabilistic nature of the quantum realm is not confined to the subatomic domain -- it exists at any Planck-scale time or space increment. The quantum potential of the vacuum, revealed dramatically by the particle accelerators in the emergence of new and exotic particles, is an excellent example of the fact that the strange implications of quantum theory are more than just a temporary limitation of the mathematical scheme -- the "strangeness" is an actual view of a reality that does not conform to everyday common-sense logic. Virtual particles with negative energy, just like antiparticles with opposite charge, actually can exist, at least for a tiny fraction of a second, as if they were perfect "mirror images" of their normal partners. Inside a black hole they can even become real particles.

The idea of the quantum vacuum gives you an idea of what quantum field theory is like and is a good illustration of what modern physics considers quanta to be. Quanta are not 'things in space' so much as they are discrete manifestations of underlying fields which pervade all of space, even where no quanta appear to be. From here it is not such a leap to consider one of the strangest revelations of quantum field theory: quanta actually appear to be completely independent of spacetime separation. For example, a quantum can disappear at one point in spacetime only to instantly reappear somewhere else entirely (faster than the speed of light, if thought to have actually gone through spacetime). This very unconventional and logic-boggling behavior, called the tunnel effect, is very real -- some electronic devices today are actually designed to take advantage of it.

It is interesting to note here that in the early days of quantum theory the physicist Paul Dirac found that an antiparticle is mathematically equivalent to its normal counterpart traveling backwards in time. Of course with our 'normal' understanding of time, which by the way also forms the very foundation of the scientific view, most scientists have seen this simply as an interesting mathematical curiosity. However, a truly deep thinker about the realities of our universe will keep it in mind as at least some sort of conceptual clue to a deeper understanding of matterenergy in spacetime.

The ancient metaphysical language of Sanskrit also makes a very clear distinction between an absolute void and the vacuum of three-dimensional space. An absolute void is called Tamas, and only exists as a higher-dimensional void, the 'space' of Universal Consciousness. The space of our manifest universe is the space of individual consciousness, called akasha, and is described as an ethereal space, a vibrating plenum of interwoven dishah, lines of directed force polarities which "hold objects before the Atman"*, which is also a directed force polarity, that of time, consciousness, life. The interaction of Atman with the dishah results in what we experienced as the consciousness of matterenergy in spacetime.

According to ancient Indian tradition the universe reveals itself in two fundamental properties: as motion, and as that in which motion takes place, namely space. This space is called âkâsha (Tib.: nam-mkhah) and is that through which things step into visible appearance, i.e., through which they possess extension or corporeality. As that which comprises all things, âkâsha corresponds to the three-dimensional space of our sense-perception, and in this it is called mahâkâsha. The nature of âkâsha, however, does not exhaust itself in this three-dimensionality; it comprises all possibilities of movement, not only the physical, but also the spiritual ones: it comprises infinite dimensions.

Lama Anagarika Govinda

Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism

1969, Samuel Weiser, Inc