The Sea of Light

Bill church was out of gas. Ordinarily, this would not be a situation that could ruin an entire day.


But in 1973, in the grip of America’s first oil crisis, getting your car filled up with gas depended upon two things: the day of the week and the last number of your license plate. Those whose plates ended in an odd number were allowed to fill up on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays; even numbers on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with Sunday a gas-free day of rest.


Bill had an odd number and the day was Tuesday. That meant that no matter where he had to go, no matter how important his meetings, he was stuck at home, held hostage by a few Middle Eastern potentates and OPEC. Even if his license plate number matched the day of the week, it still could take up to two hours waiting in lines that zigzagged around corners many blocks away.


That is, if he could find a gas station that was still open.

Two years before, there had been plenty of fuel to send Edgar Mitchell to the moon and back. Now half the country’s gas stations had gone out of business. President Nixon had recently addressed the nation, urging all Americans to turn down their thermostats, form car pools and use no more than 10 gallons a week.


Businesses were asked to halve the lighting in work areas and to turn down lights in halls and storage areas. Washington would set the example by keeping the national Christmas tree on the White House front lawn turned off. The nation, fat and complacent, used to consuming energy like so many cheeseburgers, was in shock, forced, for the first time, to go on a diet. There was talk of rationing books being printed.


Five years later Jimmy Carter would term it the ‘moral equivalent of war’, and it felt that way to most middle-aged Americans, who hadn’t had to ration gas since the Second World War.

Bill stormed back inside and got on the phone to Hal Puthoff to complain.


Hal, a laser physicist, often acted as Bill’s scientific alter-ego.

‘There has got to be a better way,’ Bill shouted frustratedly.

Hal agreed that it was time to start looking for some alternatives to fossil fuel to drive transportation - something besides coal, wood or nuclear power.

‘But what else is there?’ said Bill.

Hal ticked off a litany of current possibilities.


There was photovoltaics (using solar cells), or fuel cells, or water batteries (an attempt to convert the hydrogen from water into electricity in the cell). There was wind, or waste products, or even methane. But none of these, even the more exotic among them, were turning out to be robust or realistic.

Bill and Hal agreed that what was really needed was an entirely new source: a cheap, endless, perhaps as yet undiscovered, supply of energy. Their conversations often veered off in this kind of speculative direction. Hal, in the main, liked cutting-edge technology - the more futuristic, the better. He was more an inventor than your ordinary physicist, and at 35 already had a patent on a tuneable infrared laser.


Hal was largely self-made and had put himself through school after his father died when he was in his early teens. He’d graduated from the University of Florida in 1958, the year after Sputnik 1 went up, but he’d come of age during the Kennedy administration.


Like many young men of his generation, he’d taken to heart Kennedy’s central metaphor of the US embarking on a new frontier. Through the years and even after the space program had fallen away due to lack of interest as well as lack of funding, Hal would retain a humble idealism about his work and the central role science played in the future of mankind.


Hal firmly believed that science drove civilization. He was a small, sturdy man with a passing resemblance to Mickey Rooney and a sweep of thick chestnut hair, whose seething inner life of lateral thought and what-if possibility hid behind a phlegmatic and unassuming exterior.


At first glance, he hardly looked the part of the frontier scientist. Nevertheless, it was Hal’s sincere view that frontier work was vital for the future of the planet, to provide inspiration for teaching and for economic growth. He also liked getting out of the laboratory, trying to apply physics to solutions in real life.

Bill Church might be a successful businessman, but he shared much of Hal’s idealism about science improving civilization. He was a modest Medici to Hal’s Da Vinci. Bill had cut his own career in science short when he was drafted to run the family business, Church’s Fried Chicken, the Texan answer to Kentucky Fried Chicken.


He’d spent 10 years at it and recently he’d taken Church’s to the market. He’d made his money and now he was in the mood to return to his youthful aspirations - but with no education, he’d had to do it by proxy.


In Hal he’d found his perfect counterpart - a gifted physicist willing to pursue areas that ordinary scientists might dismiss out of hand.


In September 1982, Bill would present Hal with a gold watch to mark their collaboration:

‘To Glacier Genius from Snow,’ it read.

The idea was that Hal was the quiet innovator, tenacious and cool as a glacier, with Bill as ‘Snow’, throwing new challenges at him like a constant barrage of fine new powder.

‘There is one giant reservoir of energy we haven’t talked about,’ Hal said.

Every quantum physicist, he explained, is well aware of the Zero Point Field.


Quantum mechanics had demonstrated that there is no such thing as a vacuum, or nothingness. What we tend to think of as a sheer void if all of space were emptied of matter and energy and you examined even the space between the stars is, in subatomic terms, a hive of activity.

The uncertainty principle developed by Werner Heisenberg, one of the chief architects of quantum theory, implies that no particle ever stays completely at rest but is constantly in motion due to a ground state field of energy constantly interacting with all subatomic matter. It means that the basic substructure of the universe is a sea of quantum fields that cannot be eliminated by any known laws of physics.

What we believe to be our stable, static universe is in fact a seething maelstrom of subatomic particles fleetingly popping in and out of existence. Although Heisenberg’s principle most famously refers to the uncertainty attached to measuring the physical properties of the subatomic world, it also has another meaning: that we cannot know both the energy and the lifetime of a particle, so a subatomic event occurring within a tiny time frame involves an uncertain amount of energy.


Largely because of Einstein’s theories and his famous equation E = mc2, relating energy to mass, all elementary particles interact with each other by exchanging energy through other quantum particles, which are believed to appear out of nowhere, combining and annihilating each other in less than an instant - 10-23 seconds, to be exact - causing random fluctuations of energy without any apparent cause.


The fleeting particles generated during this brief moment are known as ‘virtual particles’. They differ from real particles because they only exist during that exchange - the time of ‘uncertainty’ allowed by the uncertainty principle. Hal liked to think of this process as akin to the spray given off from a thundering waterfall.1

This subatomic tango, however brief, when added across the universe, gives rise to enormous energy, more than is contained in all the matter in all the world. Also referred to by physicists as ‘the vacuum’, the Zero Point Field was called ‘zero’ because fluctuations in the field are still detectable in temperatures of absolute zero, the lowest possible energy state, where all matter has been removed and nothing is supposedly left to make any motion.


Zero-point energy was the energy present in the emptiest state of space at the lowest possible energy, out of which no more energy could be removed - the closest that motion of subatomic matter ever gets to zero.2


But because of the uncertainty principle there will always be some residual jiggling due to virtual particle exchange. It had always been largely discounted because it is ever-present. In physics equations, most physicists would subtract troublesome zero-point energy away - a process called ‘renormalization’.3 Because zero-point energy was ever-present, the theory went, it didn’t change anything. Because it didn’t change anything, it didn’t count.4

Hal had been interested in the Zero Point Field for a number of years, ever since he’d stumbled on the papers of Timothy Boyer of City University in New York in a physics library.


Boyer had demonstrated that classical physics, allied with the existence of the ceaseless energy of the Zero Point Field, could explain many of the strange phenomena attributed to quantum theory.5 If Boyer were to be believed, it meant that you didn’t need two types of physics - the classical Newtonian kind and the quantum laws - to account for the properties of the universe.


You could explain everything that happened in the quantum world with classical physics - so long as you took account of the Zero Point Field.

The more Hal thought about it, the more he became convinced that the Zero Point Field fulfilled all the criteria he was looking for: it was free; it was boundless; it didn’t pollute anything.


The Zero Point Field might just represent some vast unharnessed energy source.

‘If you could just tap into this,’ Hal said to Bill, ‘you could even power spaceships.’

Bill loved the idea and offered to fund some exploratory research.


It wasn’t as though he hadn’t funded crazier schemes of Hal’s before. In a sense the timing was right for Hal. At 36, he was at a bit of a loose end. His first marriage had broken up, he’d just finished co-authoring what had become an important textbook on quantum electronics.


He’d got his PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford just five years before, and had made his mark in lasers. When academia had proved tedious to him, he’d moved on, and was presently a laser researcher at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a gigantic farmers’ market of a research site, at the time affiliated with Stanford University.


SRI stood like its own vast university of interlocking rectangles, squares and Zs of three-storey red-brick buildings hidden in a sleepy little corner of Menlo Park, sandwiched between St Patrick’s seminary and the city of Spanish-tiled roofs representing Stanford University itself.


At the time, SRI was the second largest think-tank in the world, where anyone could study virtually anything so long as they were able to get the funding for it.

Hal devoted several years to reading the scientific literature and doing some elementary calculations. He looked at other related aspects of the vacuum and general relativity in a more fundamental way. Hal, who tended toward the taciturn, attempted to keep himself within the confines of the purely intellectual, but occasionally he couldn’t prevent his mind from giddily racing ahead.


Even though these were early days, he knew he’d stumbled onto something of major significance for physics. This was an incredible breakthrough, possibly even a way to apply quantum physics to the world on a large scale, or perhaps it was a new science altogether. This was beyond lasers or anything else he had ever done. This felt, in its own modest way, a little like being Einstein and discovering relativity.


Eventually, he realized just what it was that he had: he was on the verge of the discovery that the ‘new‘ physics of the subatomic world might be wrong - or at least require some drastic revision.

Hal’s discovery, in a sense, was not a discovery at all, but a situation that physicists have taken for granted since 1926 and discarded as immaterial. To the quantum physicist, it is an annoyance, to be subtracted away and discounted. To the religious or the mystic, it is science proving the miraculous. What quantum calculations show is that we and our universe live and breathe in what amounts to a sea of motion - a quantum sea of light.


According to Heisenberg, who developed the uncertainty principle in 1927, it is impossible to know all the properties of a particle, such as its position and its momentum, at the same time because of what seem to be fluctuations inherent in nature. The energy level of any known particle can’t be pinpointed because it is always changing.


Part of this principle also stipulates that no subatomic particle can be brought completely to rest, but will always possess a tiny residual movement. Scientists have long known that these fluctuations account for the random noise of microwave receivers or electronic circuits, limiting the level to which signals can be amplified.


Even fluorescent strip lighting relies on vacuum fluctuations to operate.

Imagine taking a charged subatomic particle and attaching it to a little frictionless spring (as physicists are fond of doing to work out their the field equations). It should bounce up and down for a while and then, at a temperature of absolute zero, stop moving. What physicists since Heisenberg have found is that the energy in the Zero Point Field keeps acting on the particle so that it never comes to rest but always keeps moving on the spring.6

Against the objections of his contemporaries, who believed in empty space, Aristotle was one of the first to argue that space was in fact a plenum (a background substructure filled with things).


Then, in the middle of the nineteenth century, scientist Michael Faraday introduced the concept of a field in relation to electricity and magnetism, believing that the most important aspect of energy was not the source but the space around it, and the influence of one on the other through some force.7 In his view, atoms weren’t hard little billiard balls, but the most concentrated center of a force that would extend out in space.

A field is a matrix or medium which connects two or more points in space, usually via a force, like gravity or electromagnetism. The force is usually represented by ripples in the field, or waves.


An electromagnetic field, to use but one example, is simply an electrical field and a magnetic field which intersect, sending out waves of energy at the speed of light. An electric and magnetic field forms around any electric charge (which is, most simply, a surplus or deficit of electrons). Both electrical and magnetic fields have two polarities (negative and positive) and both will cause any other charged object to be attracted or repelled, depending on whether the charges are opposite (one positive, the other negative) or the same (both positive or both negative).


The field is considered that area of space where this charge and its effects can be detected.

The notion of an electromagnetic field is simply a convenient abstraction invented by scientists (and represented by lines of ‘force’, indicated by direction and shape) to try to make sense of the seemingly remarkable actions of electricity and magnetism and their ability to influence objects at a distance - and, technically, into infinity - with no detectable substance or matter in between.


Simply put, a field is a region of influence.


As one pair of researchers aptly described it:

‘Every time you use your toaster, the fields around it perturb charged particles in the farthest galaxies ever so slightly.’ 8

James Clerk Maxwell first proposed that space was an ether of electromagnetic light, and this idea held sway until decisively disproved by a Polish-born physicist named Albert Michelson in 1881 (and six years later in collaboration with an American chemistry professor called Edward Morley) with a light experiment that showed that matter did not exist in a mass of ether.9


Einstein himself believed space constituted a true void until his own ideas, eventually developed into his general theory of relativity, showed that space indeed held a plenum of activity. But it wasn’t until 1911, with an experiment by Max Planck, one of the founding fathers of quantum theory, that physicists understood that empty space was bursting with activity.

In the quantum world, quantum fields are not mediated by forces but by exchange of energy, which is constantly redistributed in a dynamic pattern. This constant exchange is an intrinsic property of particles, so that even ‘real’ particles are nothing more than a little knot of energy which briefly emerges and disappears back into the underlying field.


According to quantum field theory, the individual entity is transient and insubstantial. Particles cannot be separated from the empty space around them. Einstein himself recognized that matter itself was ‘extremely intense’ - a disturbance, in a sense, of perfect randomness - and that the only fundamental reality was the underlying entity - the field itself.10

Fluctuations in the atomic world amount to a ceaseless passing back and forth of energy like a ball in a game of pingpong. This energy exchange is analogous to loaning someone a penny: you are a penny poorer, he is a penny richer, until he returns the penny and the roles reverse.


This sort of emission and re-absorption of virtual particles occurs not only among photons and electrons, but with all the quantum particles in the universe. The Zero Point Field is a repository of all fields and all ground energy states and all virtual particles - a field of fields. Every exchange of every virtual particle radiates energy.


The zero-point energy in any one particular transaction in an electromagnetic field is unimaginably tiny - half a photon’s worth.

But if you add up all the particles of all varieties in the universe constantly popping in and out of being, you come up with a vast, inexhaustible energy source - equal to or greater than the energy density in an atomic nucleus - all sitting there unobtrusively in the background of the empty space around us, like one all-pervasive, supercharged backdrop.


It has been calculated that the total energy of the Zero Point Field exceeds all energy in matter by a factor of 1040, or 1 followed by 40 zeros.11


As the great physicist Richard Feynman once described, in attempting to give some idea of this magnitude, the energy in a single cubic meter of space is enough to boil all the oceans of the world.12

The Zero Point Field represented two tantalizing possibilities to Hal. Of course, it represented the Holy Grail of energy research. If you could somehow tap into this field, you might have all the energy you would ever need, not simply for fuel on earth, but for space propulsion to distant stars. At the moment, travelling to the nearest star outside our solar system would require a rocket as large as the sun to carry the necessary fuel.

But there was also a larger implication of a vast underlying sea of energy. The existence of the Zero Point Field implied that all matter in the universe was interconnected by waves, which are spread out through time and space and can carry on to infinity, tying one part of the universe to every other part. The idea of


The Field might just offer a scientific explanation for many metaphysical notions, such as the Chinese belief in the life force, or qi, described in ancient texts as something akin to an energy field. It even echoed the Old Testament’s account of God’s first dictum:

‘Let there be light’, out of which matter was created.13

Hal was eventually to demonstrate in a paper published by Physical Review, one of world’s most prestigious physics journals, that the stable state of matter depends for its very existence on this dynamic interchange of subatomic particles with the sustaining zero-point energy field.14


In quantum theory, a constant problem wrestled with by physicists concerns the issue of why atoms are stable.


Invariably, this question would be examined in the laboratory or mathematically tackled using the hydrogen atom. With one electron and one proton, hydrogen is the simplest atom in the universe to dissect. Quantum scientists struggled with the question of why an electron orbits around a proton, like a planet orbiting around the sun. In the solar system, gravity accounts for the stable orbit.


But in the atomic world, any moving electron, which carries a charge, wouldn’t be stable like an orbiting planet, but would eventually radiate away, or exhaust, its energy and then spiral into the nucleus, causing the entire atomic structure of the object to collapse.

Danish physicist Niels Bohr, another of the founding fathers of quantum theory, sorted the problem by declaring that he wouldn’t allow it.15


Bohr’s explanation was that an electron radiates only when it jumps from one orbit to another and that orbits have to have the proper difference in energy to account for any emission of photon light.


Bohr made up his own law, which said, in effect,

‘there is no energy, it is forbidden. I forbid the electron to collapse’.

This dictum and its assumptions led to further assumptions about matter and energy having both wave- and particle-like characteristics, which kept electrons in their place and in particular orbits, and ultimately to the development of quantum mechanics.


Mathematically at least, there is no doubt that Bohr was correct in predicting this difference in energy levels.16

But what Timothy Boyer had done, and what Hal then perfected, was to show that if you take into account the Zero Point Field, you don’t have to rely on Bohr’s dictum. You can show mathematically that electrons lose and gain energy constantly from the Zero Point Field in a dynamic equilibrium, balanced at exactly the right orbit.


Electrons get their energy to keep going without slowing down because they are refueling by tapping into these fluctuations of empty space. In other words, the Zero Point Field accounts for the stability of the hydrogen atom - and, by inference, the stability of all matter. Pull the plug on zero-point energy, Hal demonstrated, and all atomic structure would collapse.17

Hal also showed by physics calculations that fluctuations of the Zero Point Field waves drive the motion of subatomic particles and that all the motion of all the particles of the universe in turn generates the Zero Point Field, a sort of self-generating feedback loop across the cosmos.18 In Hal’s mind, it was not unlike a cat chasing its own tail.19


As he wrote in one paper, the ZPF interaction constitutes an underlying, stable ‘bottom rung’ vacuum state in which further ZPF interaction simply reproduces the existing state on a dynamic-equilibrium basis.20

What this implies, says Hal, is a ‘kind of self-regenerating grand ground state of the universe’,21 which constantly refreshes itself and remains a constant unless disturbed in some way. It also means that we and all the matter of the universe are literally connected to the furthest reaches of the cosmos through the Zero Point Field waves of the grandest dimensions.22

Much like the undulations of the sea or ripples on a pond, the waves on the subatomic level are represented by periodic oscillations moving through a medium - in this instance the Zero Point Field. They are represented by a classic sideways S, or sine curve, like a jump rope being held at both ends and wiggled up and down.


The amplitude of the wave is half the height of the curve from peak to trough, and a single wavelength, or cycle, is one complete oscillation, or the distance between, say, two adjacent peaks or two adjacent troughs.


The frequency is the number of cycles in one second, usually measured in hertz, where 1 hertz equals one cycle per second. In the US, our electricity is delivered at a frequency of 60 hertz or cycles per second; in the UK, it is 50 hertz. Cell phones operate on 900 or 1800 megahertz.

When physicists use the term ‘phase’, they mean the point the wave is at on its oscillating journey.


Two waves are said to be in phase when they are both, in effect, peaking or troughing at the same time, even if they have different frequencies or amplitudes. Getting ‘in phase’ is getting in synch.

One of the most important aspects of waves is that they are encoders and carriers of information. When two waves are in phase, and overlap each other - technically called ‘interference’ - the combined amplitude of the waves is greater than each individual amplitude. The signal gets stronger. This amounts to an imprinting or exchange of information, called ‘constructive interference’.


If one is peaking when the other is troughing, they tend to cancel each other out - a process called ‘destructive interference’.


Once they’ve collided, each wave contains information, in the form of energy coding, about the other, including all the other information it contains. Interference patterns amount to a constant accumulation of information, and waves have a virtually infinite capacity for storage.

If all subatomic matter in the world is interacting constantly with this ambient ground-state energy field, the subatomic waves of The Field are constantly imprinting a record of the shape of everything.


As the harbinger and imprinter of all wavelengths and all frequencies, the Zero Point Field is a kind of shadow of the universe for all time, a mirror image and record of everything that ever was. In a sense, the vacuum is the beginning and the end of everything in the universe.23

Although all matter is surrounded with zero-point energy, which bombards a given object uniformly, there have been some instances where disturbances in the field could actually be measured.


One such disturbance caused by the Zero Point Field is the Lamb shift, named after American physicist Willis Lamb and developed during the 1940s using wartime radar, which shows that zero-point fluctuations cause electrons to move a bit in their orbits, leading to shifts in frequency of about 1000 megahertz.24

Another instance was discovered in the 1940s, when a Dutch physicist named Hendrik Casimir demonstrated that two metal plates placed close together will actually form an attraction that appears to pull them closer together.


This is because when two plates are placed near each other, the zero-point waves between the plates are restricted to those that essentially span the gap. Since some wavelengths of the field are excluded, this leads to a disturbance in the equilibrium of the field and the result is an imbalance of energy, with less energy in the gap between the plates than in the outside empty space.


This greater energy density pushes the two metal plates together.

Another classic demonstration of the existence of the Zero Point Field is the van der Waals effect, also named after its discoverer, Dutch physicist Johannes Diderik van der Waals. He discovered that forces of attraction and repulsion operate between atoms and molecules because of the way that electrical charge is distributed and, eventually, it was found that this again has to do with a local imbalance in the equilibrium of The Field. This property allows certain gases to turn into liquids.


Spontaneous emission, when atoms decay and emit radiation for no known reason, has also been shown to be a Zero Point Field effect.

Timothy Boyer, the physicist whose paper sparked Puthoff in the first place, showed that many of the Through-the-Looking-Glass properties of subatomic matter wrestled with by physicists and leading to the formulation of a set of strange quantum rules could be easily accounted for in classical physics, so long as you also factor in the Zero Point Field.


Uncertainty, wave-particle duality, the fluctuating motion of particles: all had to do with the interaction of matter and the Zero Point Field. Hal even began to wonder whether it could account for what remains that most mysterious and vexatious of forces: gravity.

Gravity is the Waterloo of physics. Attempting to work out the basis for this fundamental property of matter and the universe has bedeviled the greatest geniuses of physics. Even Einstein, who was able to describe gravity extremely well through his theory of relativity, couldn’t actually explain where it came from.


Over the years, many physicists, including Einstein, have tried to assign it an electromagnetic nature, to define it as a nuclear force, or even to give it its own set of quantum rules - all without success.


Then, in 1968, the noted Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov turned the usual assumption on its head.


What if gravity weren’t an interaction between objects, but just a residual effect? More to the point, what if gravity were an after-effect of the Zero Point Field, caused by alterations in the field due to the presence of matter? 25

All matter at the level of quarks and electrons jiggles because of its interaction with the Zero Point Field.


One of the rules of electrodynamics is that a fluctuating charged particle will emit an electromagnetic radiation field. This means that besides the primary Zero Point Field itself, a sea of these secondary fields exists. Between two particles, these secondary fields cause an attractive source, which Sakharov believed had something to do with gravity.26

Hal began pondering this notion. If this were true, where physicists were going wrong was in attempting to establish gravity as an entity in its own right. Instead, it should be seen as a sort of pressure. He began to think of gravity as a kind of long-range Casimir effect, with two objects which blocked some of the waves of the Zero Point Field becoming attracted to each other,27 or perhaps it was even a long-range van der Waals force, like the attraction of two atoms at certain distances.28


A particle in the Zero Point Field begins jiggling due to its interaction with the Zero Point Field; two particles not only have their own jiggle, but also get influenced by the field generated by other particles, all doing their own jiggling. Therefore, the fields generated by these particles - which represent a partial shielding of the all-pervasive ground state Zero Point Field - cause the attraction that we think of as gravity.

Sakharov only developed these ideas as a hypothesis; Puthoff went further and began working them out mathematically.


He demonstrated that gravitational effects were entirely consistent with zero-point particle motion, what the Germans had dubbed ‘zitterbewegung’ or ‘trembling motion’.29


Tying gravity in with zero-point energy solved a number of conundrums that had confounded physicists for many centuries. It answered, for instance, the question of why gravity is weak and why it can’t be shielded (the Zero Point Field, which is ever-present, can’t be completely shielded itself). It also explained why we can have positive mass and not negative mass.


Finally, it brought gravity together with the other forces of physics, such as nuclear energy and electromagnetism, into one cogent unified theory - something physicists had always been eager to do but had always singularly failed at.

Hal published his theory of gravity to polite and restrained applause. Although no one was rushing to duplicate his data, at least he wasn’t being ridiculed, even though what he’d been saying in these papers in essence unsettled the entire bedrock of twentieth-century physics. Quantum physics most famously claims that a particle can also simultaneously be a wave unless observed and then measured, when all its tentative possibilities collapse into a set entity.


With Hal’s theory, a particle is always a particle but its state just seems indeterminate because it is constantly interacting with this background energy field.


Another quality of subatomic particles such as electrons taken as a given in quantum theory is ‘nonlocality’ - Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance’. This quality may also be accounted for by the Zero Point Field. To Hal, it was analogous to two sticks planted in the sand at the edge of the ocean about to be hit by a rolling wave.


If you didn’t know about the wave, and both sticks fell down because of it one after the other, you might think one stick had affected the other at a distance and call that a non-local effect. But what if it were zero-point fluctuation that was the underlying mechanism acting on quantum entities and causing one entity to affect the other?30


If that were true, it meant every part of the universe could be in touch with every other part instantaneously.

While continuing with other work at SRI, Hal set up a small lab in Pescadero, in the foothills of the northern California coastline, within the home of Ken Shoulders, a brilliant lab engineer he’d known from years before whom he’d lately recruited to help him. Hal and Ken began working on condensed charge technology, a sophisticated version of scuffling your foot across a carpet and then getting a shock when you touch metal.


Ordinarily, electrons repel each other and don’t like to be pushed too closely together. However, you can tightly cluster electronic charge if you calculate in the Zero Point Field, which at some point will begin to push electrons together like a tiny Casimir force. This enables you to develop electronics applications in very tiny spaces.

Hal and Ken began coming up with gadget applications that would use this energy and then patenting their discoveries.


Eventually they would invent a special device that could fit an X-ray device at the end of a hypodermic needle, enabling medics to take pictures of body parts in tiny crevices, and then a high-frequency signal generator radar device that would allow radar to be generated from a source no larger than a plastic credit card. They would also be among the first to design a flat-panel television, the width of a hanging picture.


All their patents were accepted with the explanation that the ultimate source of energy,

‘appears to be the zero-point radiation of the vacuum continuum’.31

Hal and Ken’s discoveries were given an unexpected boost when the Pentagon, which rates new technologies in order of importance to the nation, listed condensed-charge technology, as zero-point energy research was then termed, as number 3 on the National Critical Issue List, only after stealth bombers and optical computing.


A year later, condensed-charge technology would move into the number two slot.


The Interagency Technological Assessment Group was convinced that Hal was onto something important to the national interest and that aerospace could develop further only if energy could be extracted from the vacuum.

With the US government endorsing their work, Puthoff and Shoulders could have had their pick of private companies willing to fund their research. Eventually, in 1989, they went with Boeing, which was interested in their tiny radar device and planned to fund its development on the back of a large project. The project languished for a couple of years, and then Boeing lost the funding. Most of the other companies demanded a full-scale prototype before they would fund the project.


Hal decided to set up his own company to develop the X-ray device. He got halfway along that route before it occurred to him that he was about to take an unwelcome detour. It might make him a lot of money, but he was only interested in the project for the money he could use to fund his energy research.


Setting up and running this company would take at least 10 years out of his life, he figured, much as Bill’s family business had consumed a decade of his. Far better, he thought, simply to look for funding for the energy research itself. Hal made the decision then and there. He would keep his eye firmly on the altruistic goal he’d started with - and would eventually bet his entire career on it.


First service, then glory and last, if at all, remuneration.

Hal would wait nearly 20 years for anyone else to replicate and expand his theories. His confirmation came with a telephone message, left at 3 a.m., that would seem braggardly, ridiculous even, to most physicists. Bernie Haisch had been wrapping up a few last details in his Lockheed office in Palo Alto, getting ready to embark on a research fellowship he’d got at the Max Planck Institute at Garching, Germany.


An astrophysicist at Lock-heed, Bernie was looking forward to spending the rest of his summer doing research on the X-ray emission of stars and considered himself lucky to have landed the opportunity.


Bernie was an odd hybrid, a formal and cautious manner belying a private expressiveness which found its outlet in writing folk songs. But in the laboratory he was as little given to hyperbole as his friend Alfonso Rueda, a noted physicist and applied mathematician at the California State University in Long Beach, who’d left the message.

Physicists were hardly noted for a sense of humor about their work, and the Colombian was a quiet detail man, certainly not given to boastfulness. Maybe it was Rueda’s idea of a practical joke.

The message left on Haisch’s answering machine had said,

‘Oh my God, I think I’ve just derived F = ma.’

To a physicist, this announcement was analogous to claiming to have worked out a mathematical equation to prove God.


In this case, God was Newton and F = ma the First Commandment.


F = ma was a central tenet in physics, postulated by Newton in his Principia, the Holy Bible of classical physics, in 1687, as the fundamental equation of motion.


It was so central to physical theory that it was a given, a postulate, not something provable, but simply assumed to be true, and never argued with. Force equals mass (or inertia) times acceleration. Or, the acceleration you get is inversely proportional to mass for any given force. Inertia - the tendency of objects to stay put and be hard to get moving, and then once moving, hard to stop - fights your ability to increase the speed of an object.


The bigger the object, the more force is needed to get it moving. The amount of effort it takes to send a flea flying across a tennis court will not begin to shift a hippopotamus.

The point was, no one mathematically proved a commandment. You use it to build an entire religion upon. Every physicist since Newton took that to be a fundamental assumption and built theory and experiment based upon this bedrock. Newton’s postulate essentially had defined inertial mass and laid the foundation of physical mechanics for the last 300 years. We all know it to be true, even though nobody could actually prove it.32

And now Alfonso Rueda was claiming, in his phone message, that this very equation, the most famous in all of physics besides E = mc2, was the end result of a fevered mathematical calculation that he had been grinding away at late into the night for many months.


He would mail details to Bernie in Germany.

Although he was embroiled in his aerospace work, Bernie had read some of Hal Puthoff ’s papers and himself got interested in the Zero Point Field, largely as a source of energy for distant space travel. Bernie had been inspired by the work of British physicist Paul Davies and William Unruh of the University of British Columbia.


The pair had found that if you move at a constant speed through the vacuum, it all looks the same. But as soon as you start to accelerate, the vacuum begins to appear like a lukewarm sea of heat radiation from your perspective as you move.

Bernie began wondering if inertia - like this heat radiation - is caused by acceleration through the vacuum.33

Then, at a conference, he’d met Rueda, a well-known physicist with an extensive background in high-level mathematics, and after much encouragement and prodding from Bernie, the ordinarily dour Rueda began to work through the analysis involving the Zero Point Field and an idealized oscillator, a fundamental device used to work through many classic problems in physics.


Although Bernie had his own technical expertise, he needed a high-level mathematician to do the calculations. He’d been intrigued by Hal’s work on gravity and considered that there might be a connection between inertia and the Zero Point Field.

After many months, Rueda had finished the calculations. What he found was that an oscillator forced to accelerate through the Zero Point Field will experience resistance, and that this resistance will be proportional to acceleration. It looked, for all the world, as though they’d just been able to show why F = ma. No longer was it simply because Newton had deigned to define it as such.


If Alfonso was right, one of the fundamental axioms of the world had been reduced to something you could derive from electrodynamics. You didn’t have to assume anything. You could prove that Newton was right simply by taking account of the Zero Point Field.

Once Bernie had received Rueda’s calculations, he contacted Hal Puthoff, and the three of them decided to work together. Bernie wrote it up as a very long paper. After some foot-dragging, Physical Review, a very prestigious mainstream physics journal, published the paper unchanged in February 1994.34


The paper demonstrated that the property of inertia possessed by all objects in the physical universe was simply resistance to being accelerated through the Zero Point Field. In their paper they showed that inertia is what is termed a Lorentz force - a force that slows particles moving through a magnetic field. In this instance, the magnetic field is a component of the Zero Point Field, reacting with the charged subatomic particles. The larger the object, the more particles it contains and the more it is held stationary by the field.

What this was basically saying is that the corporeal stuff we call matter and to which all physicists since Newton have attributed an innate mass was an illusion. All that was happening was that this background sea of energy was opposing acceleration by gripping on to the subatomic particles whenever you pushed on an object.


Mass, in their eyes, was a ‘bookkeeping’ device, a ‘temporary place holder’ for a more general quantum vacuum reaction effect.35

Hal and Bernie also realized that their discovery had a bearing on Ein-stein’s famous equation E = mc2.


The equation has always implied that energy (one distinct physical entity in the universe) turns into mass (another distinct physical entity). They now saw that the relationship of mass to energy was more a statement about the energy of quarks and electrons in what we call matter caused by interaction with the Zero Point Field fluctuations.


What they were all getting at, in the mild-mannered, neutral language of physics, was that matter is not a fundamental property of physics. The Einstein equation was simply a recipe for the amount of energy necessary to create the appearance of mass. It means that there aren’t two fundamental physical entities - something material and another immaterial - but only one: energy.


Everything in your world, anything you hold in your hand, no matter how dense, how heavy, how large, on its most fundamental level boils down to a collection of electric charges interacting with a background sea of electromagnetic and other energetic fields - a kind of electromagnetic drag force. As they would write later, mass was not equivalent to energy; mass was energy.36


Or, even more fundamentally, there is no mass. There is only charge.

Noted science writer Arthur C. Clarke later predicted that the Haisch-Rueda-Puthoff paper would one day be regarded as a ‘landmark’ 37, and in 3001: The Final Odyssey, gave a nod to their contribution by creating a spacecraft powered by an inertia-cancelling drive known as the SHARP drive (an acronym for ‘Sakharov, Haisch, Alfonso Rueda and Puthoff ’).38


As Clarke wrote, in justifying his immortalization of their theory:

It addresses a problem so fundamental that it is normally taken for granted, with a that’s-just-the-way-the-universe-is-made shrug of the shoulders.

The question HR & P asked is:

‘What gives an object mass (or inertia) so that it requires an effort to start it moving, and exactly the same effort to restore it to its original state?'

Their provisional answer depends on the astonishing and - outside the physicists’ ivory towers - little-known fact that so-called empty space is actually a cauldron of seething energies - the Zero Point Field... HR&P suggest that both inertia and gravitation are electromagnetic phenomena resulting from interaction with this field.

There have been countless attempts, going all the way back to Faraday, to link gravity and magnetism, and although many experimenters have claimed success, none of their results has ever been verified.


However, if HR&P’s theory can be proved, it opens up the prospect - however remote - of anti-gravity ‘space drives’ and the even more fantastic possibility of controlling inertia. This could lead to some interesting situations: if you gave someone the gentlest touch, they would promptly disappear at thousands of kilometers an hour, until they bounced off the other side of the room a fraction of a millisecond later.


The good news is that traffic accidents would be virtually impossible: automobiles - and passengers - could collide harmlessly at any speed.39

Elsewhere, in an article about future space travel, Clarke wrote:

‘If I was a NASA administrator... I’d get my best, brightest and youngest (no one over 25 need apply) to take a long, hard look at Puthoff et al.’s equations.’40

Later, Haisch, Rueda and Daniel Cole of IBM would publish a paper showing that the universe owes its very structure to the Zero Point Field. In their view, the vacuum causes particles to accelerate, which in turn causes them to agglutinate into concentrated energy, or what we call matter.41

In a sense, the SHARP team had done what Einstein himself had not done.42


They had proved one of the most fundamental laws of the universe, and found an explanation for one of its greatest mysteries. The Zero Point Field had been established as the basis of a number of fundamental physical phenomena.


Bernie Haisch, with his NASA background, had his sights firmly on the possibilities open to space travel of having inertia, mass and gravity all tied to this background sea of energy. Both he and Hal received funding to develop an energy source extracted from the vacuum, in Bernie’s case from a NASA eager to advance space travel.

If you could extract energy from the Zero Point Field wherever you are in the universe, you wouldn’t have to carry fuel with you, but could just set sail in space and tap into the Zero Point Field - a kind of universal wind - whenever you needed to. Hal Puthoff had showed in another paper, also with Daniel Cole from IBM, that in principle there was nothing in the laws of thermodynamics to exclude the possibility of extracting energy from it.43


The other idea was to manipulate the waves of the Zero Point Field, so that they would act like a unilateral force, pushing your vehicle along. Bernie imagined that at some point in the future, you might be able to just set your zero-point transducer (wave transformer) and go.


But perhaps even more exotic, if you could modify or turn off inertia you might be able to set off a rocket with very low energy, but just modify the forces that stop it from moving. Or use a very fast rocket, but modify the inertia of the astronauts so that they wouldn’t be flattened by G forces. And if you could somehow turn off gravity, you could change the weight of the rocket or the force required to accelerate it.44


The possibilities were endless.

But that wasn’t the only aspect of zero-point energy with potential. In some of his other work, Hal had come across studies of levitation. The modern cynical view was that these feats were performed by sleight of hand, or were the hallucinations of religious fanatics. Nevertheless, many of the people who’d attempted to debunk these feats had failed. Hal found exquisite notes about the events.


To the physicist in him, who always needed to take a given situation apart and examine the pieces, as he had in his youth with ham radios, what was being described appeared to be a relativistic phenomenon. Levitation is categorized as psychokinesis, the ability of humans to make objects (or themselves) move in the absence of any known force.


The recorded instances of levitation that Hal had stumbled across only seemed possible in a physics sense if gravity had somehow been manipulated. If these vacuum fluctuations, considered so meaningless by most quantum physicists, did amount to something that could be harnessed at will, whether for automobile fuel or to move objects just by focusing one’s attention on them, then the implications not only for fuel but for every aspect of our lives were enormous.


It might be the closest we have to what in Star Wars was called ‘The Force’.

In his professional work, Hal was careful to stay firmly within the confines of conservative physics theory. Nevertheless, privately he was beginning to understand the metaphysical implications of a background sea of energy.


If matter wasn’t stable, but an essential element in an underlying ambient, random sea of energy, he thought, then it should be possible to use this as a blank matrix on which coherent patterns could be written, particularly as the Zero Point Field had imprinted everything that ever happened in the world through wave interference encoding.


This kind of information might account for coherent particle and field structures.


But there might also be an ascending ladder of other possible information structures, perhaps coherent fields around living organisms, or maybe this acts as a non-biochemical ‘memory‘ in the universe. It might even be possible to organize these fluctuations somehow through an act of will.45


As Clarke had written,

‘We may already be tapping this in a very small way: it may account for some of the anomalous ‘over-unity’ results now being reported from many experimental devices, by apparently reputable engineers.’46

Hal, like Bernie, was first and last a physicist who didn’t let his mind run away with itself, but when he did allow himself a few moments of speculation, he realized that this represented nothing less than a unifying concept of the universe, which showed that everything was in some sort of connection and balance with the rest of the cosmos.


The universe’s very currency might be learned information, as imprinted upon this fluid, mutable field of information. The Field demonstrated that the real currency of the universe - the very reason for its stability - is an exchange of energy. If we were all connected through The Field, then it just might be possible to tap into this vast reservoir of energy information and extract information from it.


With such a vast energy bank to be harnessed, virtually anything was possible - that is, if human beings had some sort of quantum structure allowing them access to it.


But there was the stumbling block.


That would require that our bodies operated according to the laws of the quantum world.

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