Quantum Effects and the Zero Point Energy (ZPE)

Barry Setterfield, April, 2015

(this short article is in response to a number of questions pertaining to this subject)

The Double Slit Experiment
Quantum Entanglement
Superposition and the ZPE


In Quantum Electro-Dynamics, or QED physics, a sub-atomic particle’s position and momentum are claimed to be indeterminate until actually measured, according to the reigning Copenhagen interpretation. This uncertainty is the result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP). The size of this uncertainty is dependent upon Planck’s constant, h.  Furthermore, QED physics claims that the result of taking any physical measurement is to collapse the particle from its previous uncertainty into a state in which the measured property appears instantaneously. 

In Stochastic Electro-Dynamics, or SED physics, the established quantum uncertainty comes about because of the battering of subatomic particles by the impacting electromagnetic fields and waves of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE) which are intrinsic to the vacuum. These impacting waves cause the particle to execute a “jitter-motion”, (technically called the Zitterbewegung). For an electron, there are over 1020 impacts per second by these ZPE waves.  As a result, the position, momentum and other properties of sub-atomic particles are “uncertain” since, at any instant that we can reasonably make a measurement, the “jitter” is occurring at a speed close to that of light. In this way, SED physics gives an intuitive reason for quantum uncertainty. Indeed, it has been demonstrated by SED physicists that many quantum phenomena can be described intuitively by classical physics when the action of the ZPE is added in. Furthermore, as it was formulated in Planck’s second paper, published in 1911, Planck’s constant, h, is not only a measure of the quantum uncertainty, but also a measure of the strength of the ZPE; the two are intimately connected.

These two approaches to quantum phenomena result in different understandings of what is actually going on at the atomic or subatomic level as various results are examined. Here we consider three important situations; the Double Slit experiment, Quantum Entanglement, and Quantum Superposition. The second of these has received some attention in the popular press.

The Double Slit Experiment.

According to QED physicists the double slit experiment is meant to support their position. First, a word of explanation is in order here. If you allow water waves to go through two slits close together, the waves emerging on the opposite side will produce an interference pattern of maximum and minimum intensities. The two diagrams below illustrate the situation.

merging waves 1 meerging waves2

If you have only one slit, there is only one peak in the wave intensity opposite the slit. The contrast is shown in the image below.

slit patterns

When something similar is done with a beam of electrons, a single slit again produces a single intensity peak in electron distribution on a screen immediately opposite the slit. A beam of electrons fired at a double slit produces an interference pattern on the screen behind, just as exists for waves. This shows that there is a wave associated with the electrons. The situation is illustrated below. On the right, the pattern can be seen building up as more and more individual electrons are fired at the screen.

electrons electron patterns

These electron “waves” have different origins on QED and SED physics. Wave-particle duality is deeply embedded in QED theory. In the approach adopted in that theory, all the information about a particle is encoded in its “wave function,” a complex mathematical expression, which describes its behavior in the form of a wave. On the basis of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP), QED physics then states that if the position of the particle is determined by an observation or measurement, the wave-like nature of the particle will disappear, or colloquially, the “wave function will collapse.” As a result, the interference pattern will not be seen on the screen behind the double slit.

In contrast, the SED position is that a moving electron is being continually “jiggled” by the impacting waves of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE). But only those waves of the Zero Point Energy whose wavelength is about the same as the size of the electron cause it to jitter. As a result, the frequency of the jitter is fairly sharply defined, so the electron oscillates or jitters at what is called the Compton frequency, which is 1.235 x 1020 times per second or hertz (Hz.).

However, some of the impacting waves are a bit longer, while others are a bit shorter than the exact size of the electron. In this situation, where two or more waves of slightly different wavelength are acting together to produce the electron jitter, the superposition of these waves produces another waveform. This waveform, sometimes called a ‘beat’ wave, travels in the same direction as the electron, but with a different wavelength and frequency. This wave-pattern may be considered to form a sort of envelope around the particle or electron and can be depicted as in the diagram below.

In this diagram, for the sake of the illustration, the longest waves have a frequency, f, of 100 hertz while the shortest has a frequency of 110 hertz (Hz). These waves may be likened to the longest and shortest wavelengths of the ZPE which can cause the electron to “jiggle.” The outcome is that, together, they combine to give rise to a wave, a ‘beat’ wave, which, in this illustration, has a frequency of 10 hertz. A similar beat wave accompanies the electron wherever it goes, and has its equivalent in all other subatomic particles.

beat wave

It is this overall ‘beat’ wave pattern which accompanies the electron wherever it goes as a traveling wave. SED calculations then show that this ‘beat’ wave is the same size as the expected de Broglie waves which are expected to accompany all subatomic particles. So an electron can again be considered as both a particle and a wave on the SED model. However, the act of observation will not interfere with the production of the traveling wave, since the jitter motion continues whether or not we are observing. Therefore, unlike the QED situation, the interference pattern produced by these ‘beat’ waves should remain when observation or measurement occurs, according to SED physics. The question is which situation is closer to actual reality rather than being a theoretical entity alone?

In 1987, Mittelstaedt et al. went some way to disprove the QED position experimentally using photons [1]. However, because their procedure was not precise enough, some doubts were raised about the outcome. However, in 2012, Menzel et al. were able to identify the path that each particle had taken in their experiment. Yet at the same time they demonstrated that this procedure had no effect on the interference pattern [2]. In other words, the QED position is called into question and the SED position supported. Furthermore, since the very basis of the QED position was the HUP, this principle may also be considered suspect. As a result, the SED explanation of uncertainty, due to the action of the ZPE, is favored. In fairness to Menzel et al., they did try to account for their results using other (secondary) QED phenomena, but the primary result still stands and severe doubts are thereby cast on the QED approach.

Quantum Entanglement.

The situation with what has been called “quantum entanglement” may be another case where SED physics has an intuitive answer that has eluded QED physicists. Quantum entanglement has been described in this fashion:

“Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of subatomic particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum characteristics of each particle cannot be described independently – instead, a quantum state can be given for the system as a whole. Measurements of physical properties such as position, momentum, spin, polarization and so on that are performed on entangled particles are found to be appropriately correlated. For example, if an entangled pair of particles is generated in such a way that their total spin is known to be zero, and one particle is found to have clockwise spin on a certain axis, then the spin of the other particle, measured on the same axis, will be found to be counterclockwise.” [3].

The problem that arises for QED physics is that, before the measurement is made, the spin (or whatever property is being considered) is indefinite by the uncertainty principle. However, if a measurement is made on either of the entangled particles, it not only collapses the state of the particle being measured, but so (also instantaneously) does that of its companion particle, no matter how far away that particle has gone. This occurs before any transmitted information could have reached the other particle; that is, faster than the speed of light. Remember that, according to QED physics, it is only the action of making a measurement, such as the particle’s spin, that collapses the state of the particle so that it has a definite spin (either up or down) along the axis of measurement.

The outcome of the measurement process is considered to be random, with each possibility having a probability of 50%. These concepts result in the problem of how one particle instantaneously “knows” what has happened to the other particle. There is no doubt that the results are genuine; they have been reproduced many times. So QED physicists are left with the dilemma of how one particle of an entangled pair can communicate instantaneously with the other, apparently faster than the speed of light. As a result, Einstein’s postulate of nothing traveling faster than light is called into question. This is what has happened in a recent experiment as linked earlier as well.

SED physics may provide an answer to the dilemma. In 1935, Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (EPR) were, at least partly, on their way to a solution [4]. They claimed in their EPR paper that the entangled particles in question really had these correlated properties in advance of observation. These real properties then predetermined the outcomes of the entanglement observations. Einstein had no difficulty accepting that entangled particles’ properties in different places could be correlated. What he could not accept was that an intervention at one place could influence, immediately, affairs at the other. In that way the “spooky action at a distance,” as he called it, was avoided. This approach meant that each particle carried all the required information with it, and nothing needed to be transmitted from one particle to the other at the time of measurement [4].

The EPR paper was widely discussed in the scientific community. However, as the discussion went on, it was noticed that these real properties of particles, fixed in advance of observation, are not contained in QED formalism. In other words, the obvious uncertainty in all the measurements could not be accounted for. Therefore, the EPR approach using classical physics was incomplete. This approach became known as the “hidden variables theory.”

The option was to see where the EPR approach, based on classical physics, was failing, or, alternately, show how QED physics was right and seek a solution to the communication problem. In his key 1964 paper, "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox," physicist John S. Bell presented a response [5]. In this response, he drew a key distinction between QED physics and the world described by classical concepts. He said that no physical theory of local hidden variables can reproduce the predictions of QED theory because of the uncertainty principle and the consequent un certainty in the measurements.

A key issue that Bell and QED physicists had about measuring spin along different axes is that these measurements cannot have definite values at the same time. They are incompatible in the sense that these measurements' maximum simultaneous precision is constrained by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This is contrary to what is found in classical physics, where any number of properties can be measured simultaneously with arbitrary accuracy. Bell’s paper swung the whole argument back in favor of QED physics.  So today, what is called “Bell’s Inequality” is quoted as the reason why the EPR classical approach must be dropped entirely in favor of QED physics.

However, while the Heisenberg uncertainty principle reigns supreme in QED physics, SED physics points out that this uncertainty originates in the action of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE). Therefore, the classical physics approach, that EPR used, failed to give quantum results because it did not take note of the real ZPE that gave the uncertainty to atomic phenomena.  Furthermore, Bell’s treatment of the problem faced by the EPR approach is also insufficient because it, too, ignores the action of a real ZPE. Therefore, Bell’s inequality is not a sufficient reason to reject the proposition that entangled particles already possess their physical characteristics from the beginning.

In summary, then, it may be stated that particle entanglement is real and that measurement reveals that they have appropriately correlated quantities. The QED physicist claims that the particles properties do not start off correlated, but once a measurement is made on one particle, this forces the other particle to assume the correlated property no matter where that particle may be. This leads to the dilemma of particles signaling each other faster than light.

In contrast, an SED position from classical physics is to state that, once entangled, the particles’ properties are already correlated, and the subsequent measurements only serve to confirm that. The quantum uncertainty before, during and after entanglement and in the later measurement process, is due entirely to the action of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE) and is in addition to the existing (classical) correlation. The treatment by both EPR and Bell (who denied the possibility of correlated properties at the time of entanglement) does not address the action of the ZPE. Both EPR and Bell are thereby deficient in their conclusions about the matter. The problem of particles signaling to each other faster than light is thereby eliminated by the SED approach.

Superposition and the ZPE

If the outcome for quantum entanglement is accepted, there is the related question of what quantum superposition really is according to SED physics as compared with QED physics. The QED approach is currently the majority approach to the topic. QED physics is based firmly on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which is meant to describe the strange behavior of subatomic particles. According to QED physics, this means that the position, momentum, spin, or polarization or other properties of a subatomic particle are all indeterminate or uncertain until the moment a measurement is made. At that instant, the particle will adopt one of the many possibilities as far as the quantity being measured is concerned, and collapse into a fixed state.

The QED approach to quantum superposition states that:

“A physical system—such as an electron—exists partly in all its particular theoretically possible states (or, configuration of its properties) simultaneously. But when it is measured or observed, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations. The principle of quantum superposition states that if a physical system may be in one of many configurations (or arrangements of particles or fields), then the most general state is a combination of all of these possibilities.”[6]

Another way of expressing this is to say that QED physics indicates that quantum superposition describes the manner in which subatomic particles appear to exist in all possible states simultaneously because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It is considered to be a property inherent in all matter. Thus, if we take an electron as an example, its spin can be expressed mathematically as either + ½ or – ½. However, because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in a condition where it is not observed the electron will be in a sort of “limbo” between the two possible spin states. Its configuration is then a combination of both possibilities so it can be said that the electron is “partly” in both states. Importantly, all the other properties or “states” of the electron are in an exactly similar situation. So on the QED approach, any unobserved subatomic particle is meant to exist in all possible states simultaneously. This is what is called superposition. However, the moment it is observed, the particle takes on one specific state out of the many.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle therefore plays a key role in the formulation of QED physics and its interpretations. The uncertainty itself is proportional to Planck’s constant, h. However, it is at this point that SED physics enters the picture. In his second paper, published in 1911, Planck demonstrated that what is now called Planck’s constant, h, was basically a measure of the strength of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE) which permeates the whole universe. Since it is also a measure of quantum uncertainty, the two are closely related.

SED physics takes the ZPE as a real (not just virtual) entity. Because it is composed of many more electromagnetic waves of short wavelengths than long, the ZPE has its greatest effects at the smallest scales. For this reason, subatomic particles undergo an intense battering by the impacting waves of the ZPE. In the case of the electron, it receives more than 1020 random hits per second by these ZPE waves that cause it to execute a “jitter-motion”. It is this ZPE-induced jitter which, on the SED system, accounts for the uncertainty in the properties of sub-atomic particles. This uncertainty thus has a real physical cause (the ZPE) and is not just some strange property of matter as QED physics requires.

It is generally acknowledged that particles which are entangled are also in a state of quantum superposition. The outcome from the entanglement discussion is that the properties of subatomic particles are fixed after their last interaction. Thus an electron will have its current properties fixed as a result of that interaction. However, those properties will all have the uncertainty imparted to them by the ZPE jitter and which are all proportional to h. This is not a superposition of many states, but the existence of a defined state which all the indefiniteness comes from the ZPE jitter.

In the case of an entangled pair of electrons, each electron has its own defined state with each separate state also having the indefiniteness that comes from the ZPE jiggling. If, for example, the spin of one electron is + ½ and the other is – ½ , the final result of the system will be zero spin as the states are additive. However, on top of the resultant zero spin for the complete system, is also the ZPE jitter for each electron. This jitter imposed on both particles gives rise to an uncertainty for the complete system which is definitely not zero.

We can summarize by saying that the QED approach to superposition is that any particle or collection of particles will exist in all possible states simultaneously. As a result, the most general state for the system is a combination of all these possibilities. For the SED case, it can generally be stated that, for any collection of particles, each particle will have its own defined state, which was determined by its last interaction. However, each of these individual states will have an uncertainty imposed upon them by the ZPE jitter. The overall state of the system will then be the sum of the individual states along with the overall effects of the ZPE jitter. This is somewhat different to the QED approach to superposition.


[1]. Mittelstaedt, P., Prieur, A., Schieder, R. (1987), “Unsharp Particle-Wave duality in a Photon Split-Beam Experiment,” Foundations of Physics 17(9):891-892.
[2]. Menzel, R. et al (2012), “Wave-particle dualism and complementarity unraveled by a different mode,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109 (24):9314-9319.
[3]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement
[4]. Einstein A, Podolsky B, Rosen N (1935). "Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?" Phys. Rev. 47 (10): 777–780.

[5]. Bell, John (1964). "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox". Physics 1 (3): 195–200.

[6]. See for example  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_superposition