Physical realism struggles to explain how light waves travel in the void of space. Water waves move as fast as the elasticity of the water medium allows and the same is true of every physical wave. At the end of the nineteenth century it was expected that light, as a wave, would move at a speed defined by the elasticity of an ether that fills all space. As the earth orbits the sun at 108,000 km per hour and the sun orbits the galaxy even faster, we can’t be stationary with respect to such an ether (Figure 1.4). The speed of light should vary with direction but in 1887 Michelson and Morley found that it was the same in every direction, so there could not be a physical ether.
Einstein then traded Newton’s absolute space and absolute time for an equally absolute space-time where:
“…absolute space-time is as absolute for special relativity as absolute space and absolute time were for Newton …” (Greene, 2004, p51)
This changed the question from how light vibrates empty space to how it vibrates a space-time matrix but the latter gives no basis for elasticity either. In an example of reverse logic, the speed of light is now said to define the elasticity of space, so the wave defines the medium it passes through! Fitting theory to facts is not what science is supposed to do!
To understand the problem, imagine a space that contains things as an ocean contains fishes:
1. Any object in that space needs a not-that-object boundary to exist.
2. Unless a world is entirely objects, it must contain a “not-any-object”, i.e. empty space.
3. If that space is nothing at all, the world is only objectsand so has no basis for movement.
4. If that space exists as objects do, the logic returns to #1, so it needs another “space” to exist in.
A thing needs a not-itself boundary to exist but if that is also a thing then nothing can move. The buck of “thingness” must stop somewhere and for us space is it. It follows that space cannot exist as the objects it contains do but neither can it be nothing. In a purely physical world, space is “nothing at all” but both Einstein and Newton saw that space must be something for objects to move in it:
“According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable; for in such a space there would not only be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time …” (Einstein, 1920, in May 5th address at the University of Leyden)
Note that his term “ether” isn’t the physical ether that Michelson and Morley dismissed but describes that which acts like nothing. While a physical ether has been discredited, a non-physical one has not:
“Since 1905 when Einstein first did away with the luminiferous aether, the idea that space is filled with invisible substances has waged a vigorous comeback.” (Greene, 2004) p76
The paradox is that while space physically acts like nothing, it must actually be something, and the Casimir effect, that space exerts a “pressure”, supports this.
When a computer has nothing to do its processor doesn’t sit idle but runs a null process. Even if one isn’t pressing keys or moving the mouse, a 4 GHz computer still processes about 4,000 times a second. If empty space is null processing it is nothing only in the sense that it has no output but it is something in that it is an activity. A virtual space that is null processing doesn’t need to exist in another space because it is something itself, namely quantum processing.
In processing terms, space is the null element, so empty space is a processing output that only differs from an electron or a photon in that it happens to be null. Whether quantum processing outputs an electron or space is like whether a screen point has a value or not. Even a blank screen, with no images on it, still refreshes at some cycle rate so it isn’t nothing. If one turns a screen off, to see it in itself, that destroys the images upon it, so if the quantum screen turned off, the physical universe including its space and time would disappear instantly.
Quantum realism concludes that empty space is null processing not nothing.