How the physics of nothing underlies everything

C C Offline

INTRO: Millennia ago, Aristotle asserted that nature abhors a vacuum, reasoning that objects would fly through truly empty space at impossible speeds. In 1277, the French bishop Etienne Tempier shot back, declaring that God could do anything, even create a vacuum.

Then a mere scientist pulled it off. Otto von Guericke invented a pump to suck the air from within a hollow copper sphere, establishing perhaps the first high-quality vacuum on Earth. In a theatrical demonstration in 1654, he showed that not even two teams of horses straining to rip apart the watermelon-size ball could overcome the suction of nothing.

Since then, the vacuum has become a bedrock concept in physics, the foundation of any theory of something. Von Guericke’s vacuum was an absence of air. The electromagnetic vacuum is the absence of a medium that can slow down light. And a gravitational vacuum lacks any matter or energy capable of bending space. In each case the specific variety of nothing depends on what sort of something physicists intend to describe. “Sometimes, it’s the way we define a theory,” said Patrick Draper, a theoretical physicist at the University of Illinois.

As modern physicists have grappled with more sophisticated candidates for the ultimate theory of nature, they have encountered a growing multitude of types of nothing. Each has its own behavior, as if it’s a different phase of a substance. Increasingly, it seems that the key to understanding the origin and fate of the universe may be a careful accounting of these proliferating varieties of absence.

“We’re learning there’s a lot more to learn about nothing than we thought,” said Isabel Garcia Garcia, a particle physicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in California. “How much more are we missing?”

So far, such studies have led to a dramatic conclusion: Our universe may sit on a platform of shoddy construction, a “metastable” vacuum that is doomed — in the distant future — to transform into another sort of nothing, destroying everything in the process.

Quantum Nothingness. Nothing started to seem like something in the 20th century, as physicists came to view reality as a collection of fields: objects that fill space with a value at each point (the electric field, for instance, tells you how much force an electron will feel in different places). In classical physics, a field’s value can be zero everywhere so that it has no influence and contains no energy. “Classically, the vacuum is boring,” said Daniel Harlow, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Nothing is happening.”

But physicists learned that the universe’s fields are quantum, not classical, which means they are inherently uncertain. You’ll never catch a quantum field with exactly zero energy. Harlow likens a quantum field to an array of pendulums — one at each point in space — whose angles represent the field’s values. Each pendulum hangs nearly straight down but jitters back and forth.

Left alone, a quantum field will stay in its minimum-energy configuration, known as its “true vacuum” or “ground state.” (Elementary particles are ripples in these fields.) “When we talk about the vacuum of a system, we have in mind in some loose way the preferred state of the system,” said Garcia Garcia.

Most of the quantum fields that fill our universe have one, and only one, preferred state, in which they’ll remain for eternity. Most, but not all... (MORE - details)
Magical Realist Offline
Lot's of physical vacuums out there. But what interests me most is the metaphysical void. The absolute absence presupposed by the presence of all existents in it. What can we say about it? How deep does it go before turning inside out and nowhere becomes everywhere? And what does nothingness entail for the meaning of our lives? Man's experience of nothingness comes to him in the form of not-being. Sartre had some thoughts about it:

“We have to deal with human reality as a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

"My thought is me: that's why I can't stop. I exist because I think… and I can't stop myself from thinking. At this very moment - it's frightful - if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire." ---Jean-Paul Sartre

“Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being - like a worm.”--Sartre
Syne Offline
Since we cannot ever demonstrate a physical infinity, the universe is finite without boundary, at best. It's like a torus. It's finite in size, but you can travel infinitely in one direction...eventually arriving where you started. Claiming the universe is infinite is a leap of faith, as there's no science that even theorizes a way to substantiate a physical infinity.

So even in the case of being without boundary, it still leaves the question of exterior to the universe a possibility. Postulating other universes is, again, just another infinite regress, that is no more demonstrable than a single, infinite universe.

Existential nothing is simple. Nothing is the negation of something. So it must entail the possibility for the something it negates. Now whether you believe such can exist prior to, of without something is up for debate.

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