Some would like to argue that zero-point energy state or a ground states or a vacuum state (ZPE or G or V states) is nothing.”Nothing”, or “nothingness” can be summed to be not a property, not a field, not a potential, not a force, not a cause or anything actual. “Nothingness” on its own does not even have the potential to be something simply because nothingness has nothing. “Nothingness” has no being. Nothingness cannot become actual by itself, for it to become something, it would be creation ex nihilo.
What does science say about ZPE or G or V states?
1) A ZPE or G or V state is a state with the lowest possible energy and NO particles.
2) Such a state is impossible to achieve experimentally.
3) Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have.
4) ALL physical systems have a zero-point energy that is greater than zero.
5) ZPE or G or V states may differ relatively, and is defined only in relation to some given or reference state.
6) A virtual particle is generated by a disturbance to the ZPE or G or V state.
There is not anything from the above that suggests that ZPE or G or V states are nothing or “nothingness”. If it is not “nothing” or “nothingness” then it has “being”. So where does it fit into the Aristotelian scheme of things? Does is have real being or logical being? If it has real being, can it be a substance (incorporeal or corporeal), prime matter, pure actuality or an accident?
ZPE or G or V states as having Real Being:
1) ZPE or G or V states as Pure Actuality?
ZPE or G or V states have the potential to generated virtual particles, thus they have potentiality and cannot be pure actuality.
2) ZPE or G or V states as pure potentiality or prime matter?
1) Prime matter is pure potentiality.
2) Prime matter is that which underlies substantial change
3) Prime matter itself does not undergo change
4) Prime matter has no form
5) It is the closest there is to nothingness without being nothingness
6) Prime matter or pure potentiality is a state of being without form, and since science deals with substances and all substances have a substantial form, this state is impossible to achieve experimentally.
7) Prime matter cannot actualize itself since it has no actuality, it is only actualized by something actual.
There can be a strong argument towards the notion that the contemporary understanding of ZPE or G or V states in physics is analogous to the classical understanding of prime matter or pure potentiality. It might be argued that (5) “it closest there is to nothingness without being nothingness” and (2) that it “is that which underlies virtual particle change” and (7) it “cannot actualize itself into virtual particles, it has to be disturbed by something else” and (1) it has potentiality but (6) is impossible to achieve experimentally.
If we where to apply this to the concept of substantial change, then it would look something like Figure 1:
Substance A and B (e.g. virtual particle A and B or whatever) are thus composites of substantial form A and B and quantum vacuum. If ZPE or G or V states just is prime matter/pure potentiality then arguments for why ZPE or G or V states have no form and do not undergo change itself need to be made. So the view that ZPE or G or V state just is prime matter/pure potentiality is arguably a supportable notion.
3) ZPE or G or V states as incorporeal substances?
Incorporeal substances are composites of actuality and potentiality, essence and existence. Incorporeal substances have no physical, material body and are not spatially extended. Quantum vacuums can be argued to be spatially extended and thus exclude it from being an incorporeal substance. The idea that they are, like the fundamental forces, incorporeal substances remains an interesting idea. Perhaps someone else can take it further?
4) ZPE or G or V states as corporeal substances?
Corporeal substances are composites of actuality and potentiality, substantial form and prime matter, essence and existence. Corporeal substances have a physical, material body or is spatially extended e.g. particles. It can of course be argued that ZPE or G or V states are empty space with dimensions i.e. they are spatially extended and thus have a physical, material body without any parts but perhaps systems of vacuum energy or not.
If it is argued that a ZPE or G or V state is a kind of corporeal substance, then it has to have some sort of substantial form and it has to be spatially extended and be able to undergo change (accidental and substantial) as it is a composite of prime matter and substantial form. By taking the concept of “a ZPE or G or V state is a corporeal substance” to substantial and accidental change, then it would look something like figure 2:
Substance X (e.g. quantum state X) is thus able to undergo accidental change (perhaps fluctuations?) as well as substantial change e.g. quantum state X change into virtual particle Y. What kind of form quantum states have remains an open question.
5) ZPE or G or V states as accidents?
Perhaps ZPE or G or V states are not prime matter or a kind of substance. It is after all a “state”. From an Aristotelian perspective, a state is an intrinsic, absolute quality of a substance. So what is it a state of? Well:
In quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, the vacuum is defined as the state (i.e. solution to the equations of the theory) with the lowest possible energy (the ground state of the Hilbert space).
It is a state of Hilbert space. What is Hilbert space? It is a mathematical concept. For ZPE or G or V states to have real being, Hilbert space will have real being and be a substance of some sort. A strong argument can be made that Hilbert space have no real being, only logical being since it is a mathematical concept such as 2D Euclidean planes. This would then imply that ZPE or G or V states have no real being, only logical being. The Scholastic definition of logical being is “that which has objective being merely in the intellect”.
Of course if ZPE or G or V states have no real being or existence outside the intellect (because it only has logical being) , it can still be argued to be founded in reality and has a foundation in the very nature of real, actual things and hence why it is so successful as a scientific theory.
From an Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view, I would argue that ZPE or G or V states (like Hilbert space) are not nothing. They have being, however, I would argue that they have no real being, they have logical being founded in reality and abstracted with our intellects.