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Why do we assume that zero point energy is infinite?

  1. Mar 13, 2010 #1
    I have been doing some research and many sources have stated that "zero point energy" exists in all points in space and there is an infinite amount of it. Is this true? please back up what you say. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2010 #2


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    This is hearsay. Please state who has been saying what exactly.
  4. Mar 14, 2010 #3
    This sounds like something out of one of those 'free energy' sites. Look, not everything you read on the internet is true :) That statement is not only wrong, it's crazy.
  5. Mar 14, 2010 #4
    This is the usual mashup of science and fantasy that is pseudoscience. Blame your sources, not us, and get the clue that if "it's not backed up" it ISN'T SCIENCE. :rolleyes:
  6. Mar 14, 2010 #5


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    It's a consequence of Quantum Field Theory:

    It hasn't been experimentally verified that I know of, but I think most of you are misinterpreting it. It's not energy that can be used to do work. Remember that only differences in energy are measurable.

    Read the two sections of the wiki here for more:

    "Naively, it is infinite, but only differences in energy are physically measurable. The infinity can be removed by renormalization. In all practical calculations, this is how the infinity is handled. It is also arguable that new physics takes over at the Planck scale, and that the energy growth is cut off at that point."

    Free Energy Devices:
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  7. Mar 14, 2010 #6
    ...Unless you consider the possible role in universal expansion. Anyway, there is a vast difference between the scientific QM concept of the Quantum Vacuum and its many properties (expectation value, polarization, etc), but "zero point energy" is really just pseudoscience, which is why it is tied to "free energy devices". Perturbation of the vacuum may drive universal expansion, but as you say, it's not energy that is open to use on a lesser scale.
  8. Mar 14, 2010 #7


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    No, zero point energy is a well defined scientific concept. It is the intrinsic energy of a quantum system that is not accessible to do external work. Don't let the kooks take ownership of this concept ... it is the idea of harnessing ZPE to do work, not the concept itself, that is crazy-talking pseudo-science.
  9. Mar 14, 2010 #8
    I am yet to encounter a situation where using the term "zero point energy" doesn't make the kooks yodle like madmen, and the scientific bunch flinch a little. I know you're right, but in practice it's hard to lead with what sounds (these days) like the opening of "The Secret Part 2: Cold Fusion In Your Pants!" :wink:

    By the way, I just read a SciAm article in which the author (a psychologist) termed the Default Mode Network (neurological term) of the brain to be its "Dark Energy" which was, and I quote now, "With a nod to our Astronomer colleagues, our group came to call this intrinsic activity the brain's dark energy, a reference to the unseen energy that also represents most of the mass of the universe."

    Shoot me now. *groan* No term which is open to popular culture is a safe term to use anymore. :(
  10. Mar 14, 2010 #9


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    Zero-point energy is not "really just pseudoscience". We didn't call the ultraviolet catastrophe pseudoscience, either, even though it led to infinite energy. What we do is find where the misconception is. It's the theoretical result of as scientific theory.

    Also, relevant to the title of this thread, we don't actually assume infinite zero point energy. It's a result of quantum field theory. I.e., it's a result of our assumptions. That would be a rather weird assumption to start off with.

    The people claiming that they can make free energy devices from the zero-point energy are the ones to be wary of, not the idea of zero-point energy itself.
  11. Mar 21, 2010 #10
    Yes - ZPF is not psuedoscience. It has experimental varification as well, such as the positive and negative attraction of the Casimir Force.
  12. Mar 21, 2010 #11
    i think ZPE is in harmonic oscillator..but in a rigid rotator there is no ZPE..is this correct?
  13. Mar 21, 2010 #12
    1) There is another explanation by Lifgarbagez and Pitaevskii of the Casimir effect in terms of van der Waals force. References are on the wikipage by the way. Please keep in mind that van der Waals forces are well established.
    2) Even if there was no other explanation, the tiny effect of Casimir requires for its measurement to spend quite some amount of energy in various cooling of the plates. No experimental device could use the Casimir effect to produce free energy.
  14. Mar 21, 2010 #13
    Yep, all Casimir plates prove is that lower regions of energy density OR van der Waals forces are at play. Geckos don't need ZPE machines after all! :rofl:

    This is why I said earlier that the TERM "ZPE" is often used in reference to the idea of EXTRACTING energy to do Work, not the existence of it.
  15. Mar 21, 2010 #14
    I've heard of this other explanation. I'm waiting for it to catch on with the academic comminuty, if you don't mind. I'll, sick to the ZPE, the same thing predicted to exist before the observation of the Casimir Force.
  16. Mar 21, 2010 #15
    Sure, it's up to you. But I'd be interested to know who it is you call "academic community". Is MIT good enough for you ? There are quite a few professional researchers on this very forum who like van der Walls and would call Lifgarbagez "academic".

    Casimir effect and the quantum vacuum
    Phys. Rev. D 72, 021301 (2005)
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2010
  17. Mar 21, 2010 #16
    Right now, the scientific community has a greater stance on it being the ZPF. Until that dissipates, i will not believe it.
  18. Mar 21, 2010 #17
    I do not think your answer is very interesting, as it does not even address who you call "the scientific community". But I agree that there is an academic debate. I'd just be interested if you could instead share references. For instance
    The Casimir force between real materials: experiment and theory
    Casimir energy, dispersion, and the Lifgarbagez formula
  19. Mar 21, 2010 #18

    You want papers? Anyone can surf the net for papers on the ZPF - i am assuring you, the papers you follow are not widely-accepted.
  20. Mar 21, 2010 #19
    Well it's better than nothing. The people I quoted where invited speakers in the plenary session at the international conference "60 years of Casimir effect" in 2008. In fact, Milton (second paper) even gave the opening talk. Bob Jaffe was formerly director of the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2010
  21. Mar 21, 2010 #20
    Yes... and I agree with that... BUT... SO what? Science isn't done by a poll; the issue is that more than one explanation exists which cannot be ruled out. The community ACCEPTS both possiblities if it's smart.
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