0
$\begingroup$

In GR, is spacetime just a mathematical abstraction, and in reality, it's the vacuum - whatever that is!!- is what curves, bends, and warps? In other words, is the distinction between spacetime and vacuum of physical or mathematical nature?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Spacetime is the "place" where vacuum or matter is located. Vacuum is the "content" of this place when matter is absent. Spacetime is referred to as "where". Vacuum is referred to as "what". $\endgroup$ – safesphere Jul 19 '18 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ yes, but again, when we talk about the curvature of spacetime, is the "what" that is really curved, and the curvature of spacetime follows as a mathematical description of the dynamics of vacuum ? $\endgroup$ – Mohammad Al Jamal Jul 19 '18 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ If you put a ball in a box and then move or squeeze the box, then the ball would be also moved or squeezed. This does not mean the movement was caused by the dynamics of the ball. Also curvature is relative as an equivalent of acceleration. For a free falling observer, local spacetime is flat. Before general relativity, location and speed were relative, but acceleration was absolute. In general relativity, acceleration is also relative. Also, if you are asking about quantum vacuum, then your question is a subject of quantum gravity that has not been developed. $\endgroup$ – safesphere Jul 19 '18 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ Because curvature is relative, it is the "where" (location) that is curved while the "what" (content) is affected by the curvature of its container or not depending on the reference frame and motion. The curvature of spacetime is described by the metric that does not take into account the properties of vacuum. In fact, vacuum has no properties in the classical theory (except for the "dark energy" nonsense). And again, if you are talking quantum, it is an open field of research with controversial concepts of zero point energy and such. $\endgroup$ – safesphere Jul 19 '18 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ Spacetime includes time, vacuum refers to empty space only. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Jul 19 '18 at 16:34
0
$\begingroup$

Vacuum is a particular state in a vector space, which is defined in terms of quantum mechanics, while spacetime is a whole topological (or vector) space, defined in terms of general (or special) relativity.

This means that spacetime is a classical phenomenon while vacuum is a quantum phenomenon. However, there is also a vacuum state in classical physics, but it is a thermodynamical state where there isn't any content at all, that's why in classical physics it is sometimes called free space.

In quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is represented by a vector, $| \Omega \rangle$ or $| 0 \rangle$, in a Hilbert space, and it has a non-zero energy, but the avarage number of particles is zero even if it fluctuates by virtual particles popping into existence and vanishing all the time. In classical thermodynamics, the vacuum state is represented by a particular configuration where all the content that has energy or momentum is removed. Therefore, in general relativity, it corresponds to a vanishing energy-momentum tensor, however it does not necessarily mean the curvature of spacetime is flat, i.e., the cosmological constant can contribute to the spacetime curvature even it is in a vacuum state.

Note that spacetime is a classical object to our most recent knowledge. If a model of a quantum gravity theory comes into play, then we would define a quantum spacetime as well. But for now, even in quantum mechanics, the spacetime is classical (and flat).

More precisely, spacetime is a topological space endowed with a metric field and a connection, where other fields, either classical or quantum, can have values at each of its elements. When those fields have all their (expectation) values at all points in a region of spacetime set to zero, then it is called the vacuum.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Spacetime is not a vector space: physics.stackexchange.com/a/192887/109928 $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Jul 20 '18 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ You are right. I intended to give special relativity as an example but later decided to generalize the answer but didn't change the term "vector" into "topological". Now I edit. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Oktay Doğangün Jul 20 '18 at 11:55
0
$\begingroup$

It is really the coordinates (x,t) of things in spacetime that define its geometry. For example, a test object moving in space (vacuum) where there is gravity traces out a curved trajectory as time passes.

This (x,t) trajectory of free fall in vacuum is a geodesic of a 4-dimensional manifold M. This manifold is then called 'spacetime', abstracted from the test object tracing it out. So, where there is gravity, empty space and time are not really 'bent and warped', but the trajectories of falling objects in it are.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.