Does light consist of oscillating vacuum fluctuations?

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  • #1
epotratz
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TL;DR Summary
How does light carry its force?
Hello,

I've been studying electromagnetics, electromagnetic radiation, and bit of quantum electrodynamics for about 12 months, but I'm stumped on an issue..

This is what I understand so far:

  • Charge consists of countless "vacuum fluctuations" (i.e., virtual particles).
  • Accelerated charges make light, and light consists of "oscillating charge".
  • Light exerts a force on charged particles, but light is not charged.

Would it be accurate to say that light consists of oscillating vacuum fluctuations? Or is there some other way electromagnetic radiation can carry force?

Thank you.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #3
epotratz
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Hey Wierdoguy,

Thanks for the links. I read through them. It seems the author Arnold Neumaier is highly critical of descriptive narratives regarding nature of light, electric force, etc., and I didn't see him present his own alternative narrative. @A. Neumaier do you have a physical description for charge or electric forces?

In regards vacuum fluctuations and virtual photons, it seems to me that they must represent reality to some degree, as they are being actively probed in current research:

Dispersion Interactions between Neutral Atoms and the Quantum Electrodynamical Vacuum
Passante R
Symmetry , 2018

Electric field correlation measurements on the electromagnetic vacuum state
Benea-Chelmus IC, Settembrini FF, Scalari G, Faist J
Nature, 2019

Chiral Casimir forces: Repulsive, enhanced, tunable
Jiang QD, Wilczek F
Phys. Rev. B Condens. Matter, 2019


Either way I'm not intending to prove the existence of fluctuations or virtual particles. I'm just interested in gaining a plausible explanation for attractive/repulsive electric forces, especially for light.

Thanks,
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
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Are you asking a question or are you telling everyone they are wrong? Pick one or the other.
 
  • #5
weirdoguy
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and I didn't see him present his own alternative narrative.

What alternative narrative? What he says in those insights is a standard knowledge that you will find in most textbooks on quantum field theory. Nothing alternative, just the way things are.
 
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  • #6
epotratz
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What alternative narrative? What he says in those insights is a standard knowledge that you will find in most textbooks on quantum field theory. Nothing alternative, just the way things are.

I'm just looking for a plausible explanation for explaining the forces of things, if vacuum fluctuations (virtual particles) are just a myth and not valid for explaining physical forces.
 
  • #7
DaveE
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Sounds like you are searching for the luminiferous aether in vacuum fluctuations. I would suggest first studying EM waves/photons as a force carrier which don't require matter for transmission, and then studying QM and vacuum fluctuations. Then you will understand this better than I, and can work to combine them. They are fairly separate things in my mind. One is as real as your cell phone, the other a mathematical model that seems to work for particle physicists.
There are many things in physics that can't be explained in terms that match our personal experience of the world. How photons work is one of those things, IMO.
 
  • #8
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Would it be accurate to say that light consists of oscillating vacuum fluctuations?

No. Light carries nonzero energy. Oscillating vacuum fluctuations carry net zero energy.

Or is there some other way electromagnetic radiation can carry force?

Electromagnetic radiation is not the same thing as electromagnetic force, so your question is based on a misunderstanding.
 
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  • #9
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vacuum fluctuations (virtual particles)

These are not the same thing. "Vacuum fluctuations" can be modeled in perturbation theory as virtual particle-antiparticle pairs being created and then annihilating with no net energy present. But virtual particles can also be present (if we are using the same kind of perturbation theory models) where there is net energy present, for example because you have two charged objects exerting a force on each other. So explaining that force using perturbation theory as virtual particle exchange does not imply that the force is being carried by "vacuum fluctuations".

Also, note that I kept on saying "perturbation theory" above. Perturbation theory is an approximation, which works well for certain purposes, but is still an approximation, not a fundamental theory. And there are plenty of experimentally observed phenomena that cannot be modeled using perturbation theory. That includes the strong nuclear force (since it is too strong for a useful perturbative treatment). So trying for a general "narrative" using virtual particles to explain all forces is doomed to failure.

I'm just looking for a plausible explanation for explaining the forces of things

There might not be one for your definition of "plausible". The best general theory we have for this is quantum field theory, specifically the Standard Model of particle physics. What I said above about the limitations of perturbation theory applies to this theory.
 
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  • #10
weirdoguy
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Chiral Casimir forces: Repulsive, enhanced, tunable

Casimir force can be described without virtual particles. Use 'search' options, there are quite a few threads about that issue :smile: And also other issues you raised, misconceptions about virtual particles are quite widespreaded so this topic was discussed here multiple times.
 
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  • #12
vanhees71
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Hey Wierdoguy,

Thanks for the links. I read through them. It seems the author Arnold Neumaier is highly critical of descriptive narratives regarding nature of light, electric force, etc., and I didn't see him present his own alternative narrative. @A. Neumaier do you have a physical description for charge or electric forces?
There's only one adequate description of what you are asking, i.e., relativistic quantum field theory. The language of nature is math, as already Galilei knew, and thus to understand the "narratives" regarding the "nature of light" you have to learn QED.
 
  • #14
epotratz
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These are not the same thing. "Vacuum fluctuations" can be modeled in perturbation theory as virtual particle-antiparticle pairs being created and then annihilating with no net energy present. But virtual particles can also be present (if we are using the same kind of perturbation theory models) where there is net energy present, for example because you have two charged objects exerting a force on each other. So explaining that force using perturbation theory as virtual particle exchange does not imply that the force is being carried by "vacuum fluctuations".

Ah yes, I was misunderstanding "vacuum fluctuations" and "virtual particle" assuming they were the same general field disturbances mediating electromagnetic force.

With this in mind, I assume "field disturbances", "field fluctuations", and "field ripples" are all synonymous in describing an electromagnetic field? (i.e., charge)

Thanks,
 
  • #15
epotratz
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Electromagnetic radiation is not the same thing as electromagnetic force, so your question is based on a misunderstanding.

Right, I'm referring to electromagnetic radiation exerting a force on charged particles.

I'm trying to find an acceptable description for the electromagnetic radiation for a lay audience. Such as electromagnetic radiation is oscillating fluctuations in the electromagnetic field ?
 
  • #16
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I'm referring to electromagnetic radiation exerting a force on charged particles.

As in, for example, an antenna?

I'm trying to find an acceptable description for the electromagnetic radiation for a lay audience.

What's wrong with Maxwell's Equations and the Lorentz force? Or, for a lay audience, a layperson's description of them?

Such as electromagnetic radiation is oscillating fluctuations in the electromagnetic field ?

Sure, that's fine for a classical description. And if you're interested in EM radiation exerting force on charged particles, as in an antenna, a classical description works perfectly well.

However, you started this thread in the quantum physics forum. Are you looking for a quantum description of electromagnetic radiation? For that you need quantum electrodynamics (QED). But for pretty much any case that a lay person would describe as "EM radiation exerting force on charged particles", QED is overkill; the classical EM description works just fine.
 
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  • #17
epotratz
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As in, for example, an antenna?

What's wrong with Maxwell's Equations and the Lorentz force? Or, for a lay audience, a layperson's description of them?

Sure, that's fine for a classical description. And if you're interested in EM radiation exerting force on charged particles, as in an antenna, a classical description works perfectly well.

However, you started this thread in the quantum physics forum. Are you looking for a quantum description of electromagnetic radiation? For that you need quantum electrodynamics (QED). But for pretty much any case that a lay person would describe as "EM radiation exerting force on charged particles", QED is overkill; the classical EM description works just fine.

I'm referring to light exerting an effect on biological matter (e.g., DNA), so yes, similar to an antenna.

I was hoping QED could lead to a more lucid description of light, given that its much newer than Maxwell's equations. I'm also looking to illustrate (draw) some of these light upon matter interactions so I wanted to make sure I had an accurate visualization.

What bothers me is the "oscillating electric field" description of light. The lay person doesn't have any understanding of what constitutes an "electric field", let alone an oscillating one, so I wanted to give a more detailed description of it.

My Photochemistry book (2015, Nicholas Turro) states "But Maxwell brought light to the level of matter when he proposed that light is composed of a force field of oscillating electric charges (i.e., electrostatic force)."

This made light very easy to visualize for me, even though light isn't charged.

So I came here with questions...
 
  • #18
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I was hoping QED could lead to a more lucid description of light, given that its much newer than Maxwell's equations.

It's not a matter of "more lucid", it's a matter of whether the greater complexity of QED leads to significantly different predictions or not. For an antenna, not.

What bothers me is the "oscillating electric field" description of light. The lay person doesn't have any understanding of what constitutes an "electric field", let alone an oscillating one, so I wanted to give a more detailed description of it.

If a lay person can't grasp what an oscillating electromagnetic field is, they're going to have even more trouble understanding QED. So I don't see how QED is an improvement here.

This made light very easy to visualize for me

And the description you quote is entirely classical.
 
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  • #19
DaveE
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I always liked the explanation of EM fields via the insertion of a hypothetical "test" charge. What if you put an electron here, or anywhere, what force would it feel. Then if you take the particle away, you can still imagine a field there ready to exert force. Purely classical, of course. But if people aren't comfortable with fields in classical EM, they probably aren't ready for any QED.
 
  • #20
epotratz
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Yes, that could be a good model.

I'm not trying to introduce QED to the lay person, I was just hoping it could provide a more detailed description of light and charge interactions.
 
  • #21
Robert100
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I have a question about the description of virtual particles. I've been told that this is a good resource. I just wanted to double-check. Is this a mainstream view of virtual particles?

Virtual Particles: What are they?, By Matt Strassler.

https://profmattstrassler.com/artic...ysics-basics/virtual-particles-what-are-they/
Acomment on this post notes that "You need to distinguish between virtual particles which show up as internal states of Feynman diagrams (i.e. in perturbation theory), and virtual particles as “disturbances in a field” (e.g. in vacuum polarization). The virtual particles in the latter category are very much real. The virtual particles in Feynman diagrams are mathematical constructs," - which Strassler agrees with.

So I hadn't realized that there were two entirely different uses of the term "virtual particle" which, if I understand correctly now, have little or nothing to do with each other?

Just trying to make sure I understand: In what ways are the virtual particles from vacuum polarization "real" - are they as real as "regular" electrons?

Robert
 
  • #22
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I have a question about the description of virtual particles.

See the links to Insights articles already posted further up in this thread.
 

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