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The Zitterbewegung

I just love these Physics guys at Caltech.  There's no one else who can do such a great job of accentuating the utter strangeness of the physical universe that pervades our existence.  As well as the wrongness of the way we've always viewed the universe around us.  I ripped off/paraphrased most of this article from them.

According to quantum-mechanical theory, elementary particles are buffeted by zero-point fluctuations of the electromagnetic quantum vacuum. This causes them to exhibit a rapidly jittering motion which Ernest Schroedinger (an early quantum mechanics pioneer) named zitterbewegung. Its postulated that a tiny bit of the quantum vacuum energy that is, the energy inherent in the vacuum itself -- is diverted into the kinetic energy needed to cause this zitterbewegung motion.

That pure vacuum has energy is a known and experimentally proven fact. (Unfortunately, "tapping into" it for practical purposes poses some technical problems that have not yet been completely solved.) "Virtual" particle pairs are continuously created within the vacuum. Normally, they rejoin and self-destruct an instant later. However, the instantaneous expression of these specks of energy affects other particles if they happen to reside in the same location.

In principle, this phenomenon could be the origin of particle behavior that has hitherto been described by the equivalence E=mc2. If true, there need not be any physically distinct "mc2" to account for the "E". The only physically real thing would be the energy, E, associated with the zitterbewegung of the particle. In this view, there is no need for any magical, mysterious conversion of mass into energy and vice versa. One ought to think of a particle as a localized concentration of zero-point energy which gravitates and resists acceleration. No traditional "mass" term is needed to explain this.

The Casimir force acting between parallel plates is a real, macroscopic effect. It was first postulated in 1948 by Dutch physicist Hendrick Casimir and experimentally proven 10 years later. It has since been measured to a precision of about one percent and is now beginning to be developed as a source of mechanical action in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices. The Casimir force is an outcome of the electromagnetic fluctuations that constitute the quantum vacuum. Moreover, the force can be easily calculated by assuming (1) that there is a real underlying sea of zero-point energy in the form of a zero-point field, and (2) that certain wave-modes of the field are excluded in the region between the plates. This exclusion results in an attractive force between the plates. Thus, whether you believe that the zero-point field is "real" or simply "virtual", calculations assuming it to be real result in the accurate prediction of the very real Casimir force.

This approach can also be used to explain the phenomenon of inertia. Since its original conception by Galileo, the concept of inertia has never been satisfactorily derived from more basic physical principles, and so it has always been accepted as an unexplained, "inherent" component of any mass-containing object in other words, a "gremlin". Why does an object resist a change in movement or direction? If the electromagnetic quantum vacuum is represented as a zero-point field, stochastic electrodynamics predicts the existence of a zero-point energy flow in accelerated reference frames. This has been termed the "Rindler flux". Now physically, the Rindler flux must consist of virtual photons. Yet if we allow this virtual flow of energy to interact with matter in a manner analogous to the Casimir force interaction, we also arrive at a force: a reaction force with the "proportional to acceleration" characteristic that is the hallmark of inertia.

The greater the number of fundamental particles in a given volume of space, the greater the energy deficit of the electromagnetic quantum vacuum (since more of it is diverted into zitterbewegung). This creates an asymmetry in the energy-momentum flow of the zero-point fluctuations. Such an asymmetry would be perceived as a Rindler flux by a stationary observer. What we think of as active gravitational mass would be a consequence of massless particle zitterbewegung giving rise to a Rindler flux. In other words, a Newtonian gravitational field or a general relativistic curvature of spacetime previously explained by the existence of "mass" is, in actuality, merely a manifestation of a quantum vacuum energy asymmetry.

To recap: There is no mass in the Universe, only energy.  Pretty cool stuff, huh?

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