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41

[Edit June 2, 2016: A significantly updated version of the material below can be found in the two articles https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/misconceptions-virtual-particles/ and https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/physics-virtual-particles/ ] Let me give a second, more technical answer. Observable particles. In QFT, observable (hence real) ...


38

$$\sin(x) = x-\frac{x^3}{3!} + trigonometric\;fluctuations$$ Above you can see why I don't like the language of "quantum fluctuations" -- what people mean by them is just "terms in perturbation series that we can make classical sense of". Similarly the phrase ... particles pop in and out of existence... Is a yet another naive attempt of describing ...


24

The short answer to your question is that the statements that "virtual particles need not conserve energy" and "intermediate components of Feynman diagrams need not be on the mass shell" are equivalent statements, but from two different historical perspectives. The concept of a virtual particle was introduced into physics in the mid-1920s while the ...


21

The reason for many contradictory statements regarding the nature of virtual particles is that they are often invoked for heuristical explanations of phenomena that arise within the framework of quantum field theory. One then tries to justify those explanations by attributing certain properties to virtual particles they do not actually possess. What ...


19

Ever since Newton and the use of mathematics in physics, physics can be defined as a discipline where nature is modeled by mathematics. One should have clear in mind what nature means and what mathematics is. Nature we know by measurements and observations. Mathematics is a self consistent discipline with axioms, theorems and statements having absolute ...


19

The paths of the Feynman path integral are not actually taken. The phrase "takes every possible path" is a mangled statement of the mathematical instruction to take the integral of $\exp(-\mathrm{i}S)$ over all possible paths for the action $S$ to get the probability amplitude of something happening. It is a fact of quantum mechanics that this integral ...


17

I'm neither an expert on QFT, nor do I have a very deep knowledge of how the ideas developed - so this is at best a partial answer. I always thought that your first guess is what they actually meant: A virtual particle is an "off-shell"-particle, which means that it does not obey the usual energy-momentum equation. Now people tend to interpret this as the ...


15

Here are from wikipedia drawings of the field lines of two magnets in two orientations, like-like, like-unlike . North pole to north pole North pole to south pole. The lines distort but do not intersect. These field lines are solutions of the formal Maxwell differential equations. Differential equations do not give discontinuous solutions, as ...


14

In Physics "nothing" is generally taken to be the lowest energy state of a theory. We wouldn't normally use the word "nothing" but instead describe the lowest energy state as the "vacuum". I can't think of an intuitive way to describe the QM vacuum because all the obvious analogies have "something" instead of nothing "nothing", so I'll do my best but you may ...


14

Photons do not exhibit the property of virtual particles, but it is not your reasoning that is faulty, you have simply fallen prey to an imprecise use of terminology. Let me start with my view of the wave/particle duality. Most of the images of "particles" and "waves" comes from a time when we really didn't understand the quantum world, and some ...


14

This answer is basically an argument about why you should treat the terms of a perturbation series as interesting objects under the right circumstances. It doesn't really change the fact that these are just mathematical terms, but it shows that they have explanatory value in addition to simply being part of the sum because each term can be the leading term ...


13

There is only one kind of photon. Indeed, when we describe elementary interactions between two electrons for example, we call the photon "virtual" as opposed to a physical photon that might exist outside of this process. Still, these are the same particles, i.e. excitations of the same fundamental field, as the photons that make up light for example. ...


11

I don't think the particle-anti-particle picture is a very good one to grasp what's going on. Essentially, it's a consequence of zero-point energy. In classical physics, the lowest energy state of a system, its ground state, is zero. In quantum mechanics, it's a non-zero (but very small) value. The easiest way to see how this zero point energy arises is ...


11

Virtual particles refer to actual, nonzero features in the quantum fields of real objects, but they are features that are not particles in many ways so you should not expect anything from their being named "particle". Basically, the idea of virtual particles was invented as a device for when you want to hold on to the particle picture while doing quantum ...


10

No, the virtual photon is not a particle, since a virtual particle is what one calls the internal lines in a Feynman diagram, and there are no asymptotic particle states associated to these lines, so a virtual particle is not a particle in the usual (or any other rigorous) sense. Therefore, the question is non-sensical because it is not clear what an ...


9

Yes there are "virtual" Higgs bosons. A virtual particle isn't really a particle but a ripple / disturbance in a field. So a virtual electron is a ripple in the electron field. A virtual higgs is a ripple in the higgs field. Virtual particles are just a convenient conceptual model for describing field disturbances in terms of particles. Matt Strassler ...


9

Short answer: A virtual particle is not the opposite of a classical particle. While the other answer captures some aspects correctly, there are still a few flaws and inaccuracies which in the following, I will try to set straight. Wave-particle duality Strictly speaking, quantum objects are neither waves or particles. They are entities behaving like ...


9

Virtual particles are not real. They come, as I've said in many answers on this site, from a naive interpretation of Feynman diagrams which should not be taken as an actual, exact description of how the physics works. The actual description of an interaction in the quantum field theory is more complicated than "photons are exchanged". In particular, "...


9

In field theory, there are two vacua. The non-perturbative vacuum $|\Omega\rangle$ and the vacuum of the free theory $|0\rangle$. The wikipedia article makes reference to $|\Omega\rangle$ in terms of $|0\rangle$ and its excitations. The true vacuum is annihilated by the (dressed) annihilation operators, and can be thought of perturbatively in terms $|0\...


8

The space between atoms depends very much on the medium you are talking about. In solids the typical distance between atoms is about the same as the size of the atoms themselves. In everyday gases at room temperature and pressure the distance between molecules is many times their size, and in deep space you can get densities as low as one proton per cubic ...


8

The link about superluminal neutrions you cite is missing the fact that later on an error was discovered, and neutrinos do not, in fact, travel faster than light (see e.g. the Wikipedia article). To date, nothing that travels faster than light is known. The uncertainty principle does not "allow for the creation of virtual particles". The idea of such pairs ...


7

All observed particles are real particles in the sense that, unlike virtual particles, their properties are verifiable by experiment. In particular, W and Z bosons are real but unstable particles at energies above the energy equivalent of their rest mass. They also arise as unobservable virtual particles in scattering processing exchanging a W or Z boson, ...


7

The terminology "virtual particle" comes from quantum field theory. Note the third word in QFT, theory. Theory means that it is a mathematical model for calculations which will, if the theory is valid, describe concrete measurements and behaviors of physical reality. The basic building block of QFT is the Feynman diagram: a mathematical prescription that ...


7

Perhaps the most direct example in particle physics is $J/\Psi$ (or any other meson not including up and down quarks) production. The meson has a valence content of $c\bar{c}$, so it represent a pair of particles knocked on-shell from the nucleon sea. The reaction is not exactly analogous because it requires a rather large input of kinetic energy (as does ...


6

If I understand your question correctly its just a matter of what you are calculating whether you put the external particles on shell or not. If you are, for example, calculating an amplitude to use for a cross section, you'll put the external particles on-shell and it will be what you call a 'real Feynman diagram'. If you are calculating an effective action ...


6

In the normal usage, real and virtual are not properties of Feynman diagrams themselves, but of the particles depicted in them. The particles corresponding to external lines (attached to at most one vertex only) are real, the others (attached to two vertices) are virtual. A Feynman diagram may be considered as a repetitive part of a bigger diagram. This ...


6

The idea that the universe is a vacuum flucuation has been around a long time. The first public mention of the idea I know of is from Edward Tryon in 1973, but I bet it had been discussed long before that. Do you have access to old copies of Nature? If so have a look at "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?" by Edward Tryon, Nature 246, 396 - 397 (14 ...


6

Yes, light can interact with "virtual particles". It can also interact with itself via virtual particle interactions (see Delbruck Scattering), although I believe direct observation of this effect is currently outside of our experimental capability. Edit: Just realised I didn't address the second part. When a photon propagates, the propagation receives ...


6

You have to realize that when we are speaking of photons, we are speaking of elementary particles and their interactions are dominated by quantum mechanics, not classical mechanics, and in addition special relativity is necessary to calculate anything about them. In general, we know about elementary particles because we observe their traces in detectors for ...



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