What is the cause of radioactive decay?

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Summary:

quantum fluctuations may cause changes in Energy making decay energetically favorable

Main Question or Discussion Point

A prior closed post inquired as to precisely what determines the time of any given decay. I wasn't able to comment during that thread, but most responses were about probability and other aspects of the problem. I did not see however any mention of quantum fluctuations as possibly participating in determining the exact time of a decay.

Due to the Energy-time uncertainty principle, quantum fluctuations (QF) permit violations of Energy conservation delimited by time so as to force consistency with Planck's constant. Thus it seems reasonable that QF in the vicinity of whatever system is about to undergo the probabilistic event may provide temporarily physically very real changes in energy which may convert between energetically favorable and unfavorable thus enabling or disabling a decay at the specific time over which the QF exists.

Since QF are taking place everywhere in all of space at all times, there are a great many virtual particles participating which provides a context for probabilistic assessments. While QF may provide a reasonable explanation for what may likely cause Energy fluctuations (EF) in a physical system, and these EF will certainly modify the energy balance in those systems for the limited times they exist before the virtual particles disappear, this could explain why a system decays precisely when it does, that is, when the specific time arrived when it was energetically favorable to do so. To say another way, when a QF occurs, so does an EF and that may make decay energetically favorable as certainly as a stone falling down a hill. Since the EF does not always exist, not all rocks fall down the hill, or not all systems undergo the decay. Precisely when they do, those times are precisely when EFs take place in their vicitinities causing them to become monetarily and temporarily inevitable, unavoidable and unstoppable.

This does not in any way offer any deterministic way to predict the time of any given decay insofar as no QF can ever be predicted. These times of QF are inherently unpredictable as to the size of the EF and duration of the time allotted to that EF, but it does provide a physical mechanism (temporary energy favorability) which explains why the decay happens when they do without offering predictabiity of that time.
 
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Answers and Replies

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Understood that vacuum fluctuations (VF) and quantum fluctuations (QF) are identical, yes. No special nuance was intended by use of QF.

However, in bulk taken as a whole set of VFs they are not as ephemeral, vaporous and without physical effects and physcial reality "as you think they are" lol

Is it agreed that the true quantum-electron-field point-charge in quantum field theory is infinite?

Is it agreed that renormalization in QED is the process by which an infinite theoretical charge is made practically finite, as observed?

Therefore, given all of the nuances the Insight articles are correctly identifying, I believe it remains factual that VF as a whole in bulk collectively do indeed have macrosopic real observable physical effects, namely infinite charges are not observed, yet they are understood theoretically as infinite charges. The identification of every finite-charge particle is evidence of physicaally observable effects of VF in bulk, though only collectively as a whole not individually. (I stand corrected if I did talk about them individually in post #1. Any claims about individual VFs or VPs are now withdrawn.)

Every finite-charge particle indeed is at root a theoretically infinite point-charge which is dressed by the VF around it. Therefore, if the physical charge distribution is modified by bulk VF then so also can be its energy distribution also. In short, if there's a renormalization of the charge, there can also be a renormalization of the energy.

If bulk VF effects be granted to modify other properties of real particles than just charge, in particular to energy, then it is not necessary for the initial suggestion in post #1 that these energy distribution modifications be localized or attributed to individual VFs or VPs. All the suggestion intended was that any change in the energy distrubution could possibly be so as to tip the balance to enable a specific decay to happen at a particular time, namely the time of the imbalance in the energy distribution.

This is the sort of energy distribution change which I was intending to suggest in post #1 that could provide the precise timing for the appearance of a certain specific energy imbalance which on average disapears over longer time scales. However, the energy imbalance if it satisfies a condition which renders a decay energetically favorable could be responsible for triggering a decay event at that specific time.

Note this description in no way attempts to pin down the location or attribute any real physical quantity of any partocuclar VF or VP, which both of my responders correctly point out cannot be attributed to VFs or virtual particles (VP). To repeat I withdraw any previous remarks where I may have attributed real properties to individual VFs or VPs.

However, I would still venture the suggestion that fluctuations in the distribution of energy are permissible for the short times of h/E in the set of VFs as a whole. This I am suggesting might provide a basis for a theory which determines the precise time of a decay.

There remains no way to predict the timing of the decay or variation in energy distribution but the observation of precise times of decay would in reverse imply that such a qualifying energy distribution fluctuation did take place at a time denoted by an observable decay.

So I can of course modify my language to describe distributions and never individual VPs since it is agreed individual VPs and VFs have no physical reality. However, the VFs and VPs in bulk do have very real effects as clear a fact as that finite-charge particles are observed not infinite ones. It is not inconsistent then to attribute VPs and VFs as capable of causing energy distribution fluctuations which could tip the energy balance in favor of decay event timing. This is the original concept proposed in post #1.
 
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  • #5
PeterDonis
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in bulk taken as a whole set of VFs they are not as ephemeral, vaporous and without physical effects and physcial reality "as you think they are" lol
If you are going to take this dismissive attitude towards the information provided in response to your question, and indulge in personal speculations, we'll just close this thread since discussion is obviously pointless.
 

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