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Quantum Foam — the curious spawning ground for quantum particles
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4. Quantum Foam

— Where and How Quantum Particles are Born —

The Raymond Equation

Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, close observation and some well established theories have yielded the strong suspicion that neither babies nor quantum particles come from cabbages. Take a look at the following equation:

A look at quantum foam  +    A look at quantum foam
 A look at quantum foam
  =   A look at quantum foam
A couple
of cabbages
  +   Some stuff and / or
some process
= Raymond!

The belief in child bearing cabbages has been largely abandoned because there is no natural or artificial process or stuff to add that will allow a cabbage to bring forth Raymond. Raymond and the cabbage are simply too remote. Source and product must inherently relate and Raymond and the cabbages don't.

Raymond came not from cabbages but from two families united in the marriage of Raymond's parents; ovum + spermatozoon = zygote → blastocyst → Raymond! But quantum particles can not grow. There is nothing smaller than a quantum; a quantum can not be composed of smaller or previous things. A quantum particles either exists or doesn't. And when it exists it can absorb energy so that it can move. But before it exists, it can't do anything. It's not there!

Relativity Theory: A Bank Account of Motion

Albert Einstein discovered so many things that he became a legend while still alive. One of the discoveries he is most famous for is that energy (the stuff that binds, or causes motion, or allows us to see things) and mass are deeply akin. If we would take the Raymond equation and change the cabbage into 'energy' and Raymond into 'mass,' then we could change the whole chunk {+ some stuff + some process} for {divide by c2} to make perfect sense.

General Relativity

c = a number, known as 'the speed of light'. (Technically spoken, c is not a speed because at light-speed time freezes and distances become zero, leaving no meters and seconds to allow a meters-per-second speed).
mass = the quality of an object that causes weight when the object is placed in a gravitational field.

The mass of an astronaut doesn't change even though she weighs less on the moon than on earth. Mass is also the quality of matter that causes gravitation. We are pulled towards the earth because (1) the earth has mass and (2) we have mass.

Einstein realized that there is no difference between sitting in a gravitational field (such as the one that is keeping you in your chair right now) and sitting in some accelerating vehicle (like a rocket). In other words: Gravity allows the universe to trick objects into believing that they are accelerating while they are in fact motionless.

Hold that thought 4a

When a massive object sits motionless in a gravitational field, it thinks it's constantly absorbing energy, and that it hence keeps accelerating.

Albert Einstein on bike
Special Relativity Theory (came first):
motion is relative and
the speed of light is constant.

General Relativity Theory
(is an extension of Special Relativity):
acceleration and gravity are twins;
gravity curves space

Gravity-caused-by-mass and acceleration-caused-by-the-absorption-of-energy are deeply akin. Mass is to the universe as a bank account of motion and the universe has a virtual fortune stored in stars and planets and other massive structures. And just like any other fortune is made up of cents, the universe's fortune of motion is made up of quantum particles.

And just like you can not maintain a bank account with values lower than 1 cent, the universe can not store energy in chunks smaller than a quantum particle.

That means that reality as we know it — the total of objects and physical and chemical processes including space and time itself, since time is caused by particles interacting! — commences at the birth of quanta.

There is a certain level of energy required to make one quantum, and below that certain level reality as we know it does not exist. That doesn't mean that nothing exists; it's just something else.

Back to the Raymond Equation

If we change Raymond into a quantum particle, we are looking for something into which we can change the cabbages and the process-part, so that we get a statement that makes sense. The cabbages is easy: energy. But if we define a quantum particle as one cent in a bank account there is nothing we can change the process-part into. There's nothing previous to a cent save perhaps the wish that we had one.

So, let's forget about the cent-definition and let's look at a quantum particle's defining behavior. And that behavior is dictated by the Schrödinger Wave. Hence we define a quantum particle as: "something that travels through the universe according to the chance that it goes somewhere."

And with the help of a little Bohrian fantasy we conclude that the process that turns energy into a quantum particle must have something to do with chance. Something that lives by the likelihood that it is somewhere comes forth from the likelihood that it is at all!

Okay, we admit, that was a little abstract and esoteric. The realm of quantum particles is so very different from our large-scale world that it is hard to come up with a metaphor. But! we found one:

Quantum Foam

Imagine someone overlooking the Abarim Publications Book Review Center.

She feels herself being drawn into the fascinating display. After some procrastinating she selects a title. Begins to read. Feels an urge build up to purchase the book. Reads some more. The urge turns to desire.

"A fine book," she mumbles, "Great for a gift." Sweat breaks on her brow as she moves the pointer towards the 'order' button. And... click! The book is hers! It has entered her reality as a physical entity. Her life has been enriched.

Now imagine all the thousands upon thousands of people that visit Abarim Publications every day. And all tarry in wonder at the Book Review Center. Some will not feel any urge and leave sneering and shoulder shrugging. Some others will feel the urge but resist and leave without having purchased anything. But many, yea many, will follow where the urge leads and call the displayed into reality.

That is exactly what it is like in the universe. The vacuum of space is not a vast absence of anything, just a vast absence of particles. But below the particle level there is an ocean of turbulence, jars and jolts just below that level, eddies of chance, vortices of possibilities. And the magic phrases are:

The Uncertainty Principle

According to the Uncertainty Principle it can not be said in certainty and truth that a quantum particle is somewhere. Hence it can also not be said that a quantum particle is not somewhere.

Murphy's Law

The quantum world has a Murphy's Law equivalent with the authority of the Ten Commandments: Anything that can happen must happen.

John Archibald Wheeler
John Archibald Wheeler
first suggested the existence
of quantum foam

And so it comes about that quantum particles simply pop up where ever there is space; out there, out there somewhere, but also in your head and on the table in front of you. (But don't worry; they're obviously harmless). And they all pop up from the sub-quantum circus, which is also everywhere, including your head.

The person who first thought about this eccentric sub-quantum turbulence was a chap named John Archibald Wheeler, and he called it quantum foam. That somewhat unfortunate phrase allows us to talk about it but keep in mind that:

• Quantum foam is about sub-quantum reality.
• The word foam calls into mind something very ordinary, which quantum foam is most certainly not.
• The phrase Quantum Foam calls to mind something foamy made from something that foams, which is also not the case.

Ellie Arroway
Our gal Ellie

Elly Arroway was right. They should have sent a poet.

Remember that a particle is a bundle of possibilities. When the vacuum of space builds up to make a particle, it's not like adding sugar to a cup of tea or air to a tire but increasing probability.

Just like a quantum particle is a kernel of mass and a bundle of possible behaviors, so is energy itself endowed with two inherent insoluble qualities: to bind/ move/ produce & to make the possible probable.

SameUtterly other
Realm of quantum particles
and the things they make
Main rule = probability• individual existence
• mechanical pulses among them
• space-time continuum
Quantum foamMain rule = probability • no individual existence
• no pulses possible
• no space-time continuum

Hold that thought (4b)

Below the level at which particles can exist and thus interact and make structures, exists quantum foam, which is activity deeply akin to particles, but of a different reality and which can not make structures as we know it.

One more matter

One more antimatter

There's one more quantum-peculiarity we need to address and that's the weird story of matter and anti-matter.

matter and antimatter

Quantum particles are really part of a two-some, and they never get born alone. When the energy-activity of the vacuum reaches the level at which quantum particles can arise, a quantum of energy (that would be one photon) may split into two particles (i.e. an electron and an anti-electron, a.k.a. positron).

That means that for every particle that makes up every object you can see — including yourself — there is or used to be an anti-particle.

The trajectories of things like airplanes and slugs are describable by fairly simple equations. But things that either move very fast or are very small put the best watches and rulers to shame.

The occurrence of a particle/antiparticle pair popping up is one event, and it "happens" both towards the "future" (like things in our own lives do) and towards the "past," which is like running up and down the stairs at the same instant. Ergo, time and space are not taken very seriously at very small scales.

You need to know a couple of things about anti-matter:

  • A particle is identical to its anti-particle except that the electrical charges are reversed. That causes the direction of time to reverse. A particle is born there where an anti-particle dies, and vice versa.
  • When particle and anti-particle meet they annihilate. In nature that usually means that they turn into one photon. In laboratories particles and anti-particles are excited to energy levels that belong to a mere few moments after The Beginning, and when these highly agitated creatures meet, a rainbow of other particles emerge from the energy of their encounter.
  • All anti-matter companions of the particles that make up the visible universe are missing. They're gone. Nobody knows where they are. There is no large amount of anti-matter stored in the visible universe. This is one of the last standing mysteries. If you can figure out how the matter/ anti-matter balance in the universe has become undone, you might get the Nobel Prize for physics!.

As said before, the quantum particles that make up our world are the survivors of a large family of elementary particles. It has been discovered that the universe commenced by bringing forth this family in its entirety, then allowed this family to largely die out, and only then proceeded to build the structures we are now familiar with.

Why this had to happen like this is not very well understood. Why couldn't all family members survive to make an even more complex universe for us all to live in? Things would have been quite different, that's for sure, but they aren't. The family of most elementary particles has mostly vanished and the few survivors have inherited the universe. In order to understand who these survivors are we will have to take a look at their entire family.

Go to the next chapter:
The Standard Model



Summary 4: A look at quantum foam

  • Matter feels no difference between gravity and acceleration.
  • The visible universe consists of stable particles that connect and thus make space and time.
  • Below the energy level at which particles can exist, there is an ocean of chance (called quantum foam); no connectedness and no stability.
  • Particles always arise in pairs: matter and anti-matter.
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