Saturday, April 28, 2007

Something from Nothing, the Casimir Effect

In a rather pessimistic [= realistic] rant JamesEagle referred to what one would think was a solution to our, uhm, present existential conundrum -- the possibility of obtaining unlimited energy from nothing.

He was referring to the consequence of some arcane effects predicted by quantum mechanics. The theory was first put forward by two Dutch physicists, Hendrik Casimir and Dirk Polder back in 1948.

In brief, a vacuum, that is a space empty of matter is not only a place of nothing -- it is also a place of potential, that is there is always the possibility of this that and the other thing happening. Normally, all of these possibilities cancel out and a vacuum is a vacuum.

However, under certain circumstances, force, i.e. energy, was predicted by Casimir and Polder. There has since been enough experimental evidence to not only back the theory up, but to raise the possibility that it might actually be possible to extract energy out of nothing. This is a dream older than the alchemist's of turning base metal to gold.

Imagine! Unlimited power and energy to drive our thing-um-jigs! All our problems could/would be solved!


No, wrong!

The problem is twofold.

First of all, there are no free lunches. Furthermore, there are no free breakfasts, dinners, desserts or after-dinner mints. That is to say, there is a catch to everything and if we started pulling energy out of the very fabric of cosmos, something would probably say "ouch!" And react in some way, probably catastrophic to us.

Secondly, being the bloody critters we are, if we had access to an unlimited energy source, there would go perhaps five minutes before some half-smart yokel would ask how that energy could be used to make a weapon. With unlimited energy, we'd have super energy weapons. Giant lasers and death rays would sweep the planet, turning bedrock into bubbling streams of lava, killing even the cockroaches.

Summa sumarum, if we do not succeed in realize the true potential of our common humanity, we will turn all knowledge to our mutual destruction.

Like I've said before, it is a most fortunate happenstance that the stars are so far apart. I suspect that, tops, one out of a hundred sentient species figures this out and that at least some of the nova explosions we see in the galaxies are simply another "intelligent" race failing their final exams...

Other than that, it is a lovely spring morning, in fact, here in Denmark, it is, for the moment, summer.


Cap'n Rich said...


I was just thinking the same thing.

I'm going to email this post to a couple of people that I know that are interested in the TOE.

I never really thought of the matter in quite the same light.


You're not the Crazy Bird you make out to be.

Chuck Cliff said...

Thank you, yes please do send it around if you think anyone might find it of interest.

Crazy Bird refers to the title of a song poem by the same name.