Physicists may have just manipulated 'pure nothingness'
Even nothing is something in the quantum world.
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January 20, 2017, 5:09 p.m.What happens when you squeeze a vacuum? (Photo: University of Konstanz)
It's one of those philosophical questions we occasionally ponder: What is nothing? Can nothing be something? If not, then how can something come from nothing?
If there's one scientific field on the forefront of such conceptual paradoxes, it's quantum theory. And in quantum theory, nothing actually is something ... sort of.
See, according to quantum mechanics, even an empty vacuum is not really empty. It's filled with strange virtual particles that blink in and out of existence in timespans too short to observe. Nothingness, on the quantum level, exists on a level of intuitive absurdity; a kind of existence that is paradoxical but, in some conceptual sense, necessary.
Science isn't usually comfortable dealing with phenomena that can't be observed. That's what makes this latest breakthrough, from physicists at University of Konstanz in Germany, so very profound and important. According to their research, recently published in the journal Nature, the nothingness that exists on the quantum level is not only something, but its fluctuations can be grasped, manipulated, and perhaps even observed.
That's not supposed to be possible on the quantum level. One of the truly mind-bending axioms of quantum mechanics relates to something called Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Basically, it's the idea that you can't measure something on the quantum level without fundamentally altering it. In other words, as soon as you attempt to observe some quantum system, the very act of observing it destroys it.
What the University of Konstanz researchers are claiming goes against this fundamental principle. They claim to have peered directly into the darkness and to have seen it for what it truly is. Or at least, they believe they have uncovered a method for actually observing things on the quantum level without destroying it.