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<   No. 1213   2006-05-23   >

Comic #1213

1 Paris: So Spanners, how's the Vegan Catholic church thing working out?
1 Spanners: Oh, I left. I had a conflict of physics.
2 Paris: Physics? Their dogma didn't match observed scientific fact?
3 Spanners: No. I just found the communion service to be without any meaning or focus.
4 Paris: You don't mean...
4 Spanners: I don't believe in zero-point mass.

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Recall Spanners' conversion back in #1130.

Zero-point energy is defined as the lowest possible amount of energy that a quantum mechanical system can possess. Unlike a classical mechanical system, in which no motion would correspond to no energy, quantum systems are governed by the expectation value of the Hamiltonian operator describing the system. In many cases, even relatively simple ones, the lowest energy expectation value is non-zero, meaning that the system has some energy even when in the lowest possible energy state.

A simple example is the quantum harmonic oscillator, which has a first eigenstate with a minimal energy of Planck's constant times the oscillator frequency, divided by 4π. (As opposed to zero. Don't worry, that's the hard part over.)

Since pretty much everything is governed by quantum mechanics, this leads to the idea that even in a vacuum, such as deep space, the electric and magnetic fields are in a constant state of oscillation at this minimal energy. The problem is that this implies that every point in space has a non-zero zero-point energy. Then from Einstein's principle of mass-energy equivalence and general relativistic formulation of gravity, every point in space has a non-zero mass equivalence that should be generating a gravitational field. (i.e. a zero-point mass. Okay, I lied about the hard part being over.) In other words, this should produce an infinite cosmological constant, which would accelerate the expansion of the universe to infinity infinitely quickly, and the universe shouldn't exist.

Clearly something is wrong somewhere.

The details of the interaction of zero-point energy, its equivalance to a zero-point mass, and the cosmological implications are one of the great unsolved problems of modern physics.


2015-10-12 Rerun commentary: "Zero-point mass", meaning there's no point to it.

Phew, I'm glad I finally explained the tricky part of that joke.

The other odd thing about Vegan Catholicism is that they classify beavers and capybaras as vegetables.

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