"The Alternate View" columns of John G. Cramer

*Alternate View Column AV-70*

Keywords: Casimir effect
negative energy quantum nonlocality tachyons extra dimensions

Published in
the February-1995 issue of **Analog Science Fiction & Fact
Magazine**;

This column was written and submitted 7/13/94 and is
copyrighted ©1994 by John G. Cramer.

All rights reserved. No part may be
reproduced in any form without

the explicit permission of the author.

This column is the second of two about the *Advanced Quantum/Relativity
Theory Propulsion Workshop *(AQRTP), a gathering held at the Caltech Jet
Propulsion Laboratory which I attended last week (May 16-17, 1994). It was
sponsored by NASA's Office of Advanced Concepts and Technology, and its purpose
was to bring together a group of experts and interested parties to review
quantum mechanics and relativity theory as applied to concepts like space-time
wormholes, trans-relativistic physics, space-time structure, and quantum
nonlocality. In other words, we were to brainstorm possible physics routes to
faster-than-light (FTL) travel and/or communication. The AQRTP Workshop was
organized by Dr. Robert H. Frisbee of JPL, with some help from Bob Forward.

In my last AV Column I wrote about our new ideas on wormholes, which has now
resulted in a physics paper already submitted for publication, with six of the
Workshop attendees as co-authors. In this column I want to discuss the other
items on our FTL agenda. Like wormholes, some of the other FTL loopholes that
we discussed have been featured in my previous AV columns.

**The Casimir Effect **[see also my column in
*Analog*, Mid-December, 1990]:
Quantum theory tells us that "empty space" is not empty at all. At the quantum
level it is full of fireworks made with virtual particles - quarks and
antiquarks, electrons and positrons, photons and neutrinos, that flash into a
brief existence and disappear again, their short life spans made possible with
energy borrowed on Heisenberg's credit card, i.e. from the time-energy part of
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The existence of this quantum fireworks
gives a certain energy to the vacuum, energy that is in principle there but
that cannot normally be measured or changed.

There is, however, a tricky way of changing the vacuum energy. It is called the Casimir Effect. If one places a pair of grounded conducting parallel plates close together, with only a narrow gap separating them, some of the quantum fireworks is suppressed. The virtual particles cannot exist if they have a half-wavelength greater than the gap between the plates and interact electrically with the plates. The energy reduction result is that the vacuum energy between the plates is reduced as the fourth power of the plate gap distance. This energy reduction results in a net force pushing the grounded plates together, a force that has been measured in the laboratory.

The Casimir Effect is relevant to FTL considerations because it has been
predicted from quantum electrodynamics that the speed of light is greater in
the energy-depleted vacuum between the Casimir plates than in free space. This
increase in velocity is a tiny effect because the amount of vacuum energy
depletion possible in practical Casimir experiments is small and because the
speedup of the light velocity **c** (normally a fundamental constant defined
to be exactly 2.99792458 × 10^{8} m/s) depends on the amount of energy
removed.

The idea suggested in our AQRTP Workshop was that one might conceivably surround a space vehicle with a "bubble" of highly energy depleted vacuum, in which it could travel at FTL velocities, carrying the bubble along with it. This speculation produced the following thought experiment. Suppose that one produces an energy-depleted region of space using the Casimir Effect and then somehow makes the parallel conducting plates disappear. What happens to the "bare" volume of energy-depleted space left behind? Does it return to normal space? If so, where does the energy come from to make up for the energy that is missing? Does the volume of energy-depleted space persist as a "bubble"? If so what shape does it assume? Does it expand or contract?

We were not able to answer these questions at the Workshop. Physicists often
generate more questions than answers.

**Quantum Nonlocality **[see also my columns in *Analog*,
January, 1990 and
October, 1991]: Quantum mechanics, the theory describing the behavior of
matter and energy at the smallest distance scale, implies the persistence of
correlations between the separated parts of an overall quantum system, even
when the parts are separated by light-years of distance. These correlations
manifest themselves instantaneously in all parts of the system whenever a
measurement is performed on any part of it. This property is called
*nonlocality*, and it carries with it the implication that Nature arranges
such correlations using some faster-than-light linking process. Einstein
called nonlocality "spooky actions at a distance" and regarded it as
demonstrating a fundamental flaw in the formulation of quantum mechanics.
However, from the experimental tests of Bell's Inequality, we now understand
that quantum nonlocality is "not a bug but a feature", as the programmers
say.

At the AQRTP Workshop we considered the question of whether quantum nonlocality
was a possible medium for FTL communication. In the context of standard
quantum mechanics there is good reason for believing that it is not. Eberhard
has proved a theorem demonstrating that the outcomes of separated measurements
of the same quantum system, correlated by nonlocality though they are,
*cannot* be used for FTL observer-to-observer communication. A possible
loophole in Eberhard's theorem could arise if, following the work of Nobel
Laureate Steven Weinberg, one modifies conventional quantum mechanics by
introducing a small non-linear element into the standard QM formalism. It has
been shown that in slightly non-linear quantum mechanics, the observable
nonlinear effects that would arise would make possible FTL communication
through nonlocality.

This result is not particularly satisfying because the experimental work,
mainly in atomic systems, that followed Weinberg's description of non-linear
observables placed very low upper limits on the possible size of such effects.
Our AQRTP Workshop participants turned to the question of where one might look
for quantum nonlinearities with a better chance of finding them than in atoms.
We concluded that such a breakdown in quantum linearity would most likely be
observed at the smallest scales of time and distance, i.e. in experiments
conducted at the highest available energies. To our knowledge, however, no
consideration has been given to Weinberg-type quantum linearity tests by the
high-energy physics community.

**Tachyons **[see also my column in Analog, October, 1993]: Measurements of
the mass of the electron neutrino in tritium beta-decays experiments at six
different laboratories suggests that the electron neutrino may have a
mass-squared that has a negative value. The statistical uncertainties in
these mass-squared determinations are presently too large to be compelling, but
the measured negative mass-squared values, if taken seriously, would require
that the electron neutrino is a tachyon.

Tachyons are hypothetical could-be particles that always travel faster than the velocity of light and that slow down to closer to the velocity of light when they are given additional kinetic energy. The rest mass of a tachyon is imaginary (like the square root of -1), but the net mass energies of tachyons are always real because they are never at rest.

At the AQRTP Workshop we considered the possibility of tachyonic neutrinos and
their implications for FTL communication. Indeed, it would seem that a FTL
signal could be transmitted by creating an information-modulated beam
low-energy neutrinos, perhaps using an accelerator, and then detecting the
modulation of the neutrino intensity at some distant location. The creation
and modulation of such neutrinos are more-or-less feasible with current
technology. However, the *detection* of the particles is not currently
feasible. The only working neutrino detectors operate on neutrinos that have
energies of around 1,000,000 electron volts, preferably much more. If electron
neutrinos are tachyons, the experiments suggest an imaginary rest mass of
around 10 electron volts (10 eV). Therefore, in order to exploit their
tachyonic properties, one would have to be able to detect electron neutrinos
with kinetic energies around 10 eV, or preferably much less. We have no way of
doing this.

The Workshop kicked around the idea of accelerating target nuclei in a storage
ring so that the nucleus to be transmuted by the incoming 10 eV neutrino beam
would be accelerated into the neutrinos, providing enough energy for a nuclear
reaction. This method is semi-plausible but would undoubtedly have severe
problems with detection rates and with background processes. Our conclusion
was that even if the electron neutrino is confirmed to be a tachyon in the next
few years, the prospects for using it soon as a medium for FTL communication
are very dim.

**Extra Dimensions **[see also my column in Analog, April, 1985]: The NASA
organizers of the AQRTP Workshop asked that we consider whether some of the
recent work on extra dimensions, for example the Klein-Kaluza theory that uses
compactified (rolled-up) extra dimensions to explain the fundamental forces,
has implications for FTL communication or travel. Our first-order answer was
"no". Even if infinitesimal superstrings and/or compactified dimensions do
provide the inner structure of the universe, they do not offer any direct
opportunity for breaking the lightspeed barrier.

However, Matt Visser offered a variant approach to extra dimensions that could provide such an opportunity. The basic problem with hypothesizing the existence of extra dimensions in which our universe is embedded is to explain why we are not aware of them, and in fact see no evidence of them. The Klein-Kaluza theory solves this problem by "compactification", by looping the extra dimension on itself and reducing the radius of the loop to a distance scale at which it would have little or no experimental consequences. Visser has another solution: the extra dimension (or dimensions) form a bowl-shaped energy well, and our everyday world lies at the bottom of that well. Since the well-bottom lies at a single point in the extra dimension, we have no evidence of its existence.

To rise above the bottom of the well would require (a) adding energy to the system, i.e., doing work against the restoring force that holds the system at the well-bottom, and (b) acquiring momentum in the extra dimension that moves the system away from the well-bottom. We agreed that (a) might be easier than (b), but we had no real suggestions about how to do either.

The implications of this approach to extra dimensions is that the velocity of
light might be different from **c** away from the well-bottom where we live
and perform experiments, just as it is in the energy-depleted space produced by
the Casimir Effect and discussed above. This, then, is a rationalization for
the "hyperspace" described in countless SF stories. There could be a
hyperspatial domain in which the velocity of light is higher than **c**.

**Summary:** On the second day of the AQRTP Workshop we covered many FTL
possibilities. None of them have sent us running for a patent application
form, but I think we came away from our discussions convinced that Nature's
door is not absolutely closed to the possibility of FTL communication and
travel.

** SF
Novels by John Cramer: **
my two hard SF novels,

**AV
Columns Online**: Electronic
reprints of about 177 "The Alternate View" columns by John G. Cramer,
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*This page was created by John G. Cramer
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