You are on page 1of 11

SERIES  ARTICLE

Snippets of Physics
23. Real Effects from Imaginary Time

T Padmanabhan

S o m e o f th e c u rio u s e ® e c ts in q u a n tu m th e o ry
a n d sta tistic a l m e ch a n ic s c a n b e in te rp re te d b y
a n a ly tic a lly c o n tin u in g th e tim e c o o rd in a te to
p u r e ly im a g in a ry v a lu e s. W e e x p lo r e so m e o f
th e se issu e s in th is in sta lm e n t.
T Padmanabhan works at In o n e o f th e p rev io u s in sta lm en ts [1 ], w e d iscu ssed h ow
IUCAA, Pune and is
o n e ca n stu d y th e tim e ev o lu tio n o f a q u a n tu m w av e
interested in all areas
of theoretical physics,
fu n ctio n u sin g a p a th in teg ra l p ro p a g a to r g iv en b y
especially those which X
have something to do with K (q 2 ;t2 ;q 1 ;t1 ) = ex p iA [p a th ] ; (1 )
gravity. p a th s

w h ere A is th e cla ssica l a ctio n eva lu a ted a lo n g a p a th


co n n ectin g (q 1 ;t1 ) w ith (q 2 ;t2 ) a n d w e a re u sin g u n its
w ith ~ = 1 . T h is p a th in teg ra l k ern el a llow s y o u to
d eterm in e th e w av e fu n ctio n a t tim e t2 if it is k n ow n a t
tim e t1 th ro u g h th e in teg ra l
Z+ 1
à (q 2 ;t2 ) = d q 1 K (q 2 ;t2 ;q 1 ;t1 )à (q 1 ;t1 ) : (2 )
¡1

T h ese ex p ressio n s a re q u ite g en era l. B u t w h en th e H a m il-


to n ia n H d escrib in g th e sy stem is tim e in d ep en d en t,
w e ca n in tro d u ce th e en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s th ro u g h th e
eq u a tio n H à n = E n à n . W e h av e a lso seen in th e ea rlier
in sta lm en t [1 ] th a t th e k ern el ca n b e ex p ressed in term s
o f en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s th ro u g h th e fo rm u la
X
K (T ;q 2 ;0 ;q 1 ) = Ã n (q 2 )Ã n¤(q 1 ) ex p (¡ iE n T ) : (3 )
Keywords n
Imaginary time, density matrix,
tunneling, black, hole tempera-
S o , if th e en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s a n d eig en va lu es a re g iv en
ture, Schwinger effect. o n e ca n d eterm in e th e k ern el.

1060 RESONANCE  November 2009


SERIES  ARTICLE

d irectly b y eva lu a tin g o r a p p rox im a tin g th e p a th in teg ra l. T h e q u estio n a rises


a s to w h eth er o n e ca n d eterm in e th e en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s a n d eig en va lu es b y
`in v ertin g ' th e a b ov e rela tio n . In p a rticu la r, o n e is o ften in terested in th e g ro u n d
sta te eig en fu n ctio n a n d th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y o f th e sy stem . C a n o n e ¯ n d th is
if th e k ern el is k n ow n ?
It ca n b e d o n e u sin g a n in terestin g trick w h ich v ery o ften tu rn s o u t to b e m o re
th a n ju st a trick , h av in g a ra th er p erp lex in g d o m a in o f va lid ity. T o a ch iev e
th is, let u s d o th e u n im a g in a b le b y a ssu m in g th a t tim e is a ctu a lly co m p lex a n d
a n a ly tica lly co n tin u e fro m th e rea l va lu es o f tim e t to p u rely im a g in a ry va lu es
¿ = it. In sp ecia l rela tiv ity su ch a n a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n w ill ch a n g e th e lin e
in terva l fro m L o ren tzia n to E u clid ea n fo rm th ro u g h

d s 2 = ¡ d t2 + d x 2 ! d ¿ 2 + d x 2 : (4 )

B eca u se o f th is rea so n , o n e o ften ca lls q u a n tities eva lu a ted w ith a n a ly tic co n tin -
u a tio n to im a g in a ry va lu es o f tim e a s `E u clid ea n ' q u a n tities a n d o ften d en o tes
th em w ith a su b scrip t `E ' (w h ich sh o u ld n o t b e co n fu sed w ith en erg y !). If w e
n ow d o th e a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n o f th e k ern el in (3 ) w e g et th e resu lt
X
K E (T E ;q 2 ;0 ;q 1 ) = Ã n (q 2 )Ã n¤(q 1 ) ex p (¡ E n T E ) : (5 )
n

L et u s co n sid er th e fo rm o f th is ex p ressio n in th e lim it o f T E ! 1 . If th e en erg y


eig en va lu es a re o rd ered a s E 0 < E 1 < :::: th en , in th is lim it, o n ly th e term w ith
th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y w ill m a k e th e d o m in a n t co n trib u tio n a n d rem em b erin g
th a t g ro u n d sta te w av e fu n ctio n is rea l fo r th e sy stem s w e a re in terested in , w e
g et,

K E (T E ;q 2 ;0 ;q 1 ) ¼ Ã 0 (q 2 )Ã 0 (q 1 ) ex p (¡ E 0 T E ); (T E ! 1 ) : (6 )

S u p p o se w e n ow p u t q 2 = q 1 = 0 , ta k e th e lo g a rith m o f b o th sid es a n d d iv id e b y
T E , th en in th e lim it o f T E ! 1 , w e g et a fo rm u la fo r th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y :
· ¸
1
¡ E 0 = lim ln K E (T E ;0 ;0 ;0 ) : (7 )
TE! 1 TE
S o if w e ca n d eterm in e th e k ern el b y so m e m eth o d w e w ill k n ow th e g ro u n d sta te
en erg y o f th e sy stem . O n ce th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y is k n ow n w e ca n p lu g it
b a ck in to th e a sy m p to tic ex p a n sio n in (6 ) a n d d eterm in e th e g ro u n d sta te w av e
fu n ctio n .

RESONANCE  November 2009 1061


SERIES  ARTICLE

V ery o ften , w e w o u ld h av e a rra n g ed m a tters su ch th a t th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y


o f th e sy stem is a ctu a lly zero . W h en E 0 = 0 th ere is a n icer w ay o f d eterm in in g
th e w av e fu n ctio n fro m th e k ern el b y n o tin g th a t

lim K (T ;0 ;0 ;q) ¼ Ã 0 (0 )Ã 0 (q ) / Ã 0 (q ) : (8 )
T!1

S o th e in ¯ n ite tim e lim it o f th e k ern el { o n ce w e h av e in tro d u ced th e im a g in a ry


tim e { a llow s d eterm in a tio n o f b o th th e g ro u n d sta te w av e fu n ctio n a s w ell a s
th e g ro u n d sta te en erg y. T h e p ro p o rtio n a lity co n sta n t o f à 0 ca n b e ¯ x ed b y
n o rm a lisin g th e w av e fu n ctio n .
O f co u rse, th ese id ea s a re u sefu l o n ly if w e ca n co m p u te th e k ern el w ith o u t k n ow -
in g th e w av e fu n ctio n s in th e ¯ rst p la ce. T h is is p o ssib le { a s w e d iscu ssed in [1 ]
{ w h en ev er th e a ctio n is q u a d ra tic in th e d y n a m ica l va ria b le. In th a t ca se, th e
k ern el in rea l tim e ca n b e ex p ressed in th e fo rm

K (t2 ;q 2 ;t1 ;q 1 ) = N (t1 ;t2 ) ex p [iA c (t2 ;q 2 ;t1 ;q 1 )] ; (9 )

w h ere A c is th e a ctio n eva lu a ted fo r a cla ssica l tra jecto ry a n d N (t2 ;t1 ) is a n o r-
m a liza tio n fa cto r. T h e sa m e id ea s w ill w o rk ev en w h en w e ca n approxim ate
th e k ern el b y th e a b ov e ex p ressio n . W e saw in th e la st in sta lm en t th a t in th e
sem i-cla ssica l lim it th e w av e fu n ctio n s ca n b e ex p ressed in term s o f th e cla ssica l
a ctio n . It fo llow s th a t th e k ern el ca n b e w ritten in th e a b ov e fo rm in th e sa m e
sem i-cla ssica l lim it. If w e n ow a n a ly tica lly co n tin u e th is ex p ressio n to im a g in a ry
va lu es o f tim e, th en u sin g th e resu lt in (8 ) w e g et a sim p le fo rm u la fo r th e g ro u n d
sta te w av e fu n ctio n in term s o f th e E u clid ea n a ctio n (th a t is, th e a ctio n fo r a
cla ssica l tra jecto ry o b ta in ed a fter a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n to im a g in a ry v a lu e o f
tim e):

à 0 (q ) / ex p [¡ A E (T E = 1 ;0 ;T E = 0 ;q )]
/ ex p [¡ A E (1 ;0 ;0 ;q)] : (1 0 )

A s a n a p p lica tio n o f th ese resu lts, co n sid er a sim p le h a rm o n ic o scilla to r w ith


th e L a g ra n g ia n L = (1 = 2 )(q_2 ¡ ! 2 q 2 ). T h e cla ssica l a ctio n w ith th e b o u n d a ry
co n d itio n s q (0 ) = q i a n d q (T ) = q f is g iv en b y
! £ 2 ¤
A c = (q i + q f2 ) co s ! T ¡ 2 q iq f : (1 1 )
2 sin ! T

1062 RESONANCE  November 2009


SERIES  ARTICLE

T h e a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n w ill g iv e th e E u clid ea n a ctio n co rresp o n d in g to iA c to


b e ¡ A E w h ere
! £ 2 ¤
A E = (q i + q f2 ) co sh ! T ¡ 2 q iq f : (1 2 )
2 sin h ! T
U sin g th is in (1 0 ) w e ¯ n d th a t th e g ro u n d sta te w av e fu n ctio n h a s th e fo rm

à 0 (q) / ex p ¡ [(! = 2 )q 2 ] (1 3 )

w h ich , o f co u rse, is th e sta n d a rd resu lt. Y o u ca n a lso o b ta in th e g ro u n d sta te


en erg y (1 = 2 )~ ! b y u sin g (7 ). W h a t is a m a zin g , w h en y o u th in k a b o u t it, is th a t
th e E u clid ea n k ern el in th e lim it o f in ¯ n ite tim e in terva l h a s in fo rm a tio n a b o u t
th e g ro u n d sta te o f th e q u a n tu m sy stem . T h is is th e ¯ rst ex a m p le in w h ich
im a g in a ry tim e lea d s to a rea l resu lt!
T h e a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n to im a g in a ry va lu es o f tim e a lso h a s clo se m a th em a tica l
co n n ectio n s w ith th e d escrip tio n o f sy stem s in th erm a l b a th . T o see th is, co n sid er
th e m ea n va lu e o f so m e o b serva b le O (q ) o f a q u a n tu m m ech a n ica l sy stem . If th e
sy stem is in a n en erg y eig en sta te d escrib ed b y th e w av e fu n ctio n à n (q ), th en th e
ex p ecta tio n va lu e o f O (q ) ca n b e o b ta in ed b y in teg ra tin g O (q)jà n (q)j2 ov er q . If
th e sy stem is in a th erm a l b a th a t tem p era tu re ¯ ¡1 , d escrib ed b y a ca n o n ica l
en sem b le, th en th e m ea n va lu e h a s to b e co m p u ted b y av era g in g ov er a ll th e
en erg y eig en sta tes as w ell w ith a w eig h ta g e ex p (¡ ¯ E n ). In th is ca se, th e m ea n
va lu e ca n b e ex p ressed a s
Z
1 X
hO i = d q à n (q)O (q )à n¤(q) e ¡ ¯ E n
Z
Zn
1
´ d q ½ (q ;q )O (q ) ; (1 4 )
Z
w h ere Z is th e p a rtitio n fu n ctio n a n d w e h av e d e¯ n ed a den sity m atrix ½ (q ;q 0)
by
X
½ (q ;q 0) ´ à n (q )à n¤(q 0) e ¡¯ E n (1 5 )
n

in term s o f w h ich w e ca n rew rite (1 4 ) a s

T r (½ O )
hO i = ; (1 6 )
T r (½ )

RESONANCE  November 2009 1063


SERIES  ARTICLE

w h ere th e tra ce o p era tio n in v o lv es settin g q = q 0 a n d in teg ra tin g ov er q . T h is


sta n d a rd resu lt sh ow s h ow ½ (q ;q 0) co n ta in s in fo rm a tio n a b o u t b o th th erm a l a n d
q u a n tu m m ech a n ica l av era g in g . In fa ct, th e ex p ressio n fo r th e d en sity m a trix in
(1 5 ) is ju st th e co o rd in a te b a sis rep resen ta tio n o f th e m a trix co rresp o n d in g to
th e o p era to r ½ = ex p (¡ ¯ H ). T h a t is,

½ (q;q 0) = hqje ¡¯ H jq 0i : (1 7 )

B u t w h a t is in terestin g is th a t w e ca n n ow rela te th e d en sity m a trix o f a sy stem


in ¯ n ite tem p era tu re { so m eth in g v ery rea l a n d p h y sica l { to th e p a th in teg ra l
k ern el in im a g in a ry tim e. T h is is o b v io u s fro m co m p a rin g (1 5 ) w ith (3 ). W e ¯ n d
th a t th e d en sity m a trix ca n b e im m ed ia tely o b ta in ed fro m th e E u clid ea n k ern el
by:

½ (q;q 0) = K E (¯ ;q ;0 ;q 0) : (1 8 )

W h a t is su rp risin g n ow is th a t th e im a g in a ry tim e is b ein g id en ti¯ ed w ith th e in -


v erse tem p era tu re. V ery cru d ely, th is id en ti¯ ca tio n a rises fro m th e fa ct th a t th er-
m o d y n a m ics in ca n o n ica l en sem b le u ses e ¡¯ H w h ile th e sta n d a rd tim e ev o lu tio n
in q u a n tu m m ech a n ics u ses e ¡itH . B u t b ey o n d th a t, it is d i± cu lt to u n d ersta n d
in p u rely p h y sica l term s w h y im a g in a ry tim e a n d rea l tem p era tu re sh o u ld h av e
a n y th in g to d o w ith ea ch o th er.
In o b ta in in g th e ex p ecta tio n va lu es o f o p era to rs w h ich d ep en d o n ly o n q { lik e th e
o n es u sed in (1 4 ) { w e o n ly n eed to k n ow th e d ia g o n a l elem en ts ½ (q ;q ) = K E (¯ ;q;
0 ;q ). T h e k ern el in th e rig h t h a n d sid e ca n b e th o u g h t o f a s th e o n e co rresp o n d in g
to a p erio d ic m o tio n in w h ich a p a rticle sta rts a n d en d s a t q in a tim e in terva l ¯ .
In o th er w o rd s, p erio d icity in im a g in a ry tim e is n ow lin k ed to ¯ n ite tem p era tu re.
B eliev e it o r n o t, m o st o f th e resu lts in b la ck h o le th erm o d y n a m ics ca n b e o b ta in ed
fro m th is sin g le fa ct b y n o tin g th a t th e sp a cetim es rep resen tin g a b la ck h o le, fo r
ex a m p le, h av e th e a p p ro p ria te p erio d icity in im a g in a ry tim e. C o n sid erin g th e
eleg a n ce o f th is resu lt, let u s p a u se fo r a m o m en t a n d see h ow it co m es a b o u t.
C o n sid er a cu rv ed sp a cetim e in g en era l rela tiv ity w h ich h a s a lin e in terva l
d r2
d s 2 = ¡ f (r)d t2 + + dL 2
? ; (1 9 )
f (r)

w h ere d L 2? rep resen ts m etric in tw o tra n sv erse d irectio n s. F o r ex a m p le, w e sa w in


a p rev io u s in sta lm en t [2 ] th a t th e S ch w a rzsch ild m etric rep resen tin g a b la ck h o le
h a s th is fo rm w ith f (r ) = 1 ¡ (r g = r ), w h ere r g = (2 G M = c 2 ) = 2 M (in u n its w ith

1064 RESONANCE  November 2009


SERIES  ARTICLE

G = c = 1 ) a n d d L 2? rep resen ts th e sta n d a rd m etric o n a tw o sp h ere. T h e o n ly


p ro p erty w e w ill a ctu a lly n eed is th a t f (r) h a s a sim p le zero a t so m e r = a w ith
f 0(a ) ´ 2 · b ein g so m e co n sta n t. In th e ca se o f th e b la ck h o le m etric, · = (1 = 2 r g ).
W h en w e co n sid er th e m etric n ea r th e h o rizo n r ¼ a , w e ca n ex p a n d f (r) in a
T ay lo r series a n d red u ce it to th e fo rm

d l2
d s 2 = ¡ 2 · ld t2 + + dL 2
? ; (2 0 )
2· l
w h ere l ´ (r ¡ a ) is th e d ista n ce fro m th e h o rizo n . If w e n ow m a k e a co o rd in a te
tra n sfo rm a tio n fro m l to a n o th er sp a tia l co o rd in a te x su ch th a t (· x )2 = 2 · l, th e
m etric b eco m es

d s 2 = ¡ · 2 x 2 d t2 + d x 2 + d L 2
? : (2 1 )

T h is rep resen ts th e m etric n ea r th e h o rizo n o f a b la ck h o le.


S o fa r w e h av e n o t d o n e a n y th in g n o n -triv ia l. N ow w e sh a ll a n a ly tica lly co n -
tin u e to im a g in a ry va lu es o f tim e w ith it = ¿ a n d d en o te · ¿ = µ . T h en th e
co rresp o n d in g a n a ly tica lly co n tin u ed m etric b eco m es

d s 2 = x 2 d µ 2 + d x 2 + d L 2? : (2 2 )

B u t d x 2 + x 2 d µ 2 is ju st th e m etric o n a tw o -d im en sio n a l p la n e in p o la r co o rd in a tes


a n d if it h a s to b e w ell b eh av ed a t x = 0 , th e co o rd in a te µ m u st b e p erio d ic w ith
p erio d 2 ¼ . S in ce µ = · ¿ , it fo llow s th a t th e im a g in a ry tim e ¿ m u st b e p erio d ic
w ith p erio d 2 ¼ = · a s fa r a s a n y p h y sica l p h en o m en o n is co n cern ed . B u t w e saw
ea rlier th a t su ch a p erio d icity o f th e im a g in a ry tim e is m a th em a tica lly id en tica l
to w o rk in g in ¯ n ite tem p era tu re w ith th e tem p era tu re

· 1 ~c 3
¯ ¡1 = = = ; (2 3 )
2¼ 4 ¼ rg 8¼ G M

w h ere th e ¯ rst eq u a lity is va lid fo r a g en era l cla ss o f m etrics (w ith su ita b ly d e¯ n ed


· b y T ay lo r ex p a n sio n ) w h ile th e la st tw o resu lts a re fo r th e S ch w a rzsch ild m etric
a n d in th e ¯ n a l ex p ressio n w e h av e rev erted b a ck to n o rm a l u n its. T h is is p recisely
th e H aw k in g tem p era tu re o f a b la ck h o le o f m a ss M w h ich w e o b ta in ed b y a
d i® eren t m eth o d in a p rev io u s in sta lm en t [3 ]. H ere w e co u ld d o th a t ju st b y
lo o k in g a t th e fo rm o f th e m etric n ea r th e h o rizo n a n d u sin g th e rela tio n b etw een
p erio d icity in im a g in a ry tim e a n d tem p era tu re. W h ile th ese resu lts h av e b een

RESONANCE  November 2009 1065


SERIES  ARTICLE

v eri¯ ed b y sev era l o th er m eth o d s in th e co n tex t o f g en era l rela tiv ity, a tra n sp a ren t
p h y sica l u n d ersta n d in g is still la ck in g .
T h e im a g in a ry tim e a n d E u clid ea n a ctio n also p lay a n in terestin g ro le in th e ca se
o f tu n n elin g . T o see th is, let u s sta rt w ith th e ex p ressio n fo r th e cla ssica l a ctio n
w ritten in a slig h tly d i® eren t fo rm :
Z Z Z Z
A = d tL = d t(p q_ ¡ H ) = pdq ¡ H dt : (2 4 )

W h ile u sin g th e a ctio n p rin cip le, w e u su a lly co n cen tra te o n tra jecto ries w ith ¯ x ed
en d p o in ts (t1 ;q 1 ) a n d (t2 ;q 2 ). W h en th e H a m ilto n ia n is in d ep en d en t o f tim e, w e
ca n a lso stu d y cla ssica l tra jecto ries o f p a rticles w ith a ¯ x ed va lu e fo r en erg y E .
In th is ca se, th e seco n d term in (2 4 ) b eco m es ju st E t apn d th e n o n -triv ia l va ria tio n
a ctu a lly co m es fro m th e ¯ rst term . E x p ressin g p a s 2 m (E ¡ V ) fo r a p a rticle
o f m a ss m m ov in g in a p o ten tia l V , w e g et a n a ctio n { clo sely rela ted to w h a t is
ca lled `J a co b i a ctio n ' { g iv en b y
Z Zp
S = pd q = 2 m (E ¡ V )d q : (2 5 )

A s lo n g a s E > V , th is w ill lea d to a rea l va lu e fo r S . T u n n elin g o ccu rs, h ow ev er,


w h en E < V . T o sim p lify m a tters a little b it, let u s co n sid er th e ca se o f a p a rticle
w ith E = 0 (w h ich ca n a lw ay s b e a ch iev ed b y a co n sta n t to th e H a m ilto n ia n )
m ov in g in a p o ten tia l V > 0 . In th a t ca se th e a ctio n b eco m es p u re im a g in a ry
a n d is g iv en by
Zp
S = i 2m V d q ; (2 6 )

a n d th e co rresp o n d in g b ra n ch o f th e sem i cla ssica l w av e fu n ctio n (stu d ied in th e


la st in sta lm en t) w ill b e ex p o n en tia lly d a m p ed :
µZ p ¶
à / ex p (iS ) = ex p ¡ 2m V d q : (2 7 )

T h is rep resen ts th e fa ct th a t y o u ca n n o t h av e a cla ssica l tra jecto ry w ith E = 0


in a reg io n in w h ich V > 0 .
It is h ow ev er p o ssib le to h av e su ch a tra jecto ry if w e a n a ly tica lly co n tin u e to
im a g in a ry va lu es o f tim e. In rea l tim e, th e co n serva tio n o f en erg y fo r a p a rticle
w ith E = 0 g iv es (1 = 2 )m (d q = d t)2 = ¡ V (q) w h ich ca n n o t h av e rea l so lu tio n s w h en

1066 RESONANCE  November 2009


SERIES  ARTICLE

V > 0 . B u t w h en w e set t = ¡ i¿ th is eq u a tio n b eco m es (1 = 2 )m (d q = d ¿ )2 = V (q )


w h ich , o f co u rse, h a s p erfectly va lid so lu tio n s w h en V > 0 . S o th e tu n n elin g
th ro u g h a p o ten tia l b a rrier ca n b e in terp reted a s a p a rticle m ov in g o ® to im a g -
in a ry va lu es o f tim e a s fa r a s th e m a th em atics g o es. T h e E u clid ea n a ctio n w ill
n ow b e
Zp
SE = 2m V d q : (2 8 )

A ll th a t w e n eed to d o to o b ta in th e tu n n elin g a m p litu d e is to rep la ce iS b y ¡ S E


in th e a rg u m en t o f th e releva n t ex p o n en tia l so th a t th e w av e fu n ctio n in (2 7 )
b eco m es:
µZ p ¶
à / ex p iS = ex p ¡ 2 m V d q = ex p (¡ S E ) : (2 9 )

S o w e ¯ n d th a t th e tu n n ellin g a m p litu d e a cro ss th e p o ten tia l ca n a lso b e rela ted


to a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n in th e im a g in a ry tim e a n d a n d th e E u clid ea n a ctio n .
F in a lly w e w ill u se th ese id ea s to o b ta in a rea lly n o n -triv ia l p h en o m en o n in q u a n -
tu m electro d y n a m ics, ca lled th e S ch w in g er e® ect, n a m ed a fter J u lia n S ch w in g er
w h o w a s o n e o f th e crea to rs o f q u a n tu m electro d y n a m ics a n d receiv ed a N o b el
P rize fo r th e sa m e. In sim p lest term s, th is e® ect ca n b e sta ted a s fo llow s. C o n -
sid er a reg io n o f sp a ce in w h ich th ere ex ists a co n sta n t, u n ifo rm electric ¯ eld .
O n e w ay to d o th is is to set-u p tw o la rg e, p a ra llel, co n d u ctin g p la tes sep a ra ted
b y so m e d ista n ce L a n d co n n ect th em to th e o p p o site p o les o f a b a ttery. T h is
ch a rg es th e p la tes a n d p ro d u ces a co n sta n t electric ¯ eld b etw een th em . S ch w in g er
sh ow ed th a t, in su ch a co n ¯ g u ra tio n , electro n s a n d p o sitro n s w ill sp o n ta n eo u sly
a p p ea r in th e reg io n b etw een th e p la tes th ro u g h a p ro cess w h ich is ca lled p a ir
p ro d u ctio n fro m th e va cu u m .
T h e ¯ rst q u estio n o n e w o u ld a sk is h ow p a rticles ca n a p p ea r o u t o f n ow h ere.
T h is is n a tu ra l sin ce w e h av en 't seen ten n is b a lls o r ch a irs a p p ea r o u t o f th e
va cu u m sp o n ta n eo u sly. In q u a n tu m ¯ eld th eo ry, w h a t w e ca ll `va cu u m ' is a ctu a lly
b ristlin g w ith q u a n tu m ° u ctu a tio n s o f th e ¯ eld s w h ich ca n b e in terp reted in term s
o f v irtu a l p a rticle-a n tip a rticle p a irs (see [4 ]). U n d er n o rm a l circu m sta n ce, su ch a
v irtu a l electro n -p o sitro n p a ir w ill b e d escrib ed b y th e situ a tio n in th e left fra m e
o f F igu re 1 . W e th in k o f a n electro n a n d p o sitro n b ein g crea ted a t th e ev en t A
a n d th en g ettin g a n n ih ila ted a t th e ev en t B . In th e a b sen ce o f a n y ex tern a l ¯ eld s,
th ere is n o fo rce a ctin g o n th ese v irtu a l p a irs a n d th ey co n tin u o u sly a p p ea r a n d
d isa p p ea r q u ite ra n d o m ly in th e sp a cetim e.

RESONANCE  November 2009 1067


SERIES  ARTICLE

Figure 1. In the vacuum there will exist


virtual electron-positron pairs which are
constantly created and annihilated as
shown in the left frame (a) An electron-
positron pair is created at A and annihi-
lated at B with the positron being inter-
preted as an electron going backward in
time. The right frame (b) shows how, in
the presence of an electric field, this
virtual process can lead to creation of
real electrons and positrons.

C o n sid er n ow w h a t h a p p en s if th ere is a electric ¯ eld p resen t in th is reg io n o f


sp a ce. T h e electric ¯ eld w ill p u ll th e electro n in o n e d irectio n a n d p u sh th e
p o sitro n in th e o p p o site d irectio n sin ce th e electro n s a n d p o sitro n s ca rry o p p o -
site ch a rg es. In th e p ro cess th e electric ¯ eld w ill d o w o rk o n th e v irtu a l p a rticle-
a n tip a rticle p a ir a n d h en ce w ill su p p ly en erg y to th em . If th e ¯ eld is stro n g
en o u g h , it ca n su p p ly a n en erg y g rea ter th a n th e rest en erg y o f th e tw o ch a rg ed
p a rticles w h ich is ju st 2 £ m c 2 w h ere m is th e m a ss o f th e p a rticle. T h is a llow s
th e v irtu a l p a rticles to b eco m e rea l. T h a t is h ow th e co n sta n t electric ¯ eld b e-
tw een tw o co n d u ctin g p a ra llel p la tes p ro d u ces p a rticles o u t o f th e va cu u m . It
essen tia lly d o es w o rk o n th e v irtu a l electro n -p o sitro n p a irs w h ich a re p resen t in
th e sp a cetim e a n d co n v erts th em in to rea l p a rticles a s sh o w n in th e rig h t fra m e
o f F igu re 1 (b ). O n e w ay to m o d el th is is to a ssu m e th a t th e th e p a rticle tu n n els
fro m th e tra jecto ry o n th e left to th e o n e o n th e rig h t th ro u g h th e sem icircu la r
p a th in th e low er h a lf. T h e tra jecto ries o n th e left a n d rig h t a re rea l tra jecto ries
fo r th e ch a rg ed p a rticle b u t th e sem icircle is a `fo rb id d en ' q u a n tu m p ro cess. W e
w ill n ow see h ow im a g in a ry tim e m a k es th is p o ssib le.
T o d o th is, w e b eg in w ith th e tra jecto ry in rea l tim e w h ich w ill co rresp o n d to
rela tiv istic m o tio n w ith u n ifo rm a ccelera tio n g = qE = m . W e h av e w o rk ed th is
o u t in a p rev io u s in sta lm en t [3 ] a n d th e resu lt is g iv en { w ith su ita b le ch o ice o f
in itia l co n d itio n s { b y
x = (1 = g ) co sh (g ¿ ); t = (1 = g ) sin h (g ¿ ); x 2 ¡ t2 = 1 = g 2 : (3 0 )
T h e tra jecto ry is a (p a ir o f) h y p erb o la in th e t ¡ x p la n e sh ow n in F igu re 1 (b ).
If w e n ow a n a ly tica lly co n tin u e to im a g in a ry va lu es o f ¿ a n d t, th e tra jecto ry
2 2 2

1068 RESONANCE  November 2009


SERIES  ARTICLE

b eco m es a circle x 2 + t2E = 1 = g 2 o f ra d iu s (1 = g ) a n d th e p a ra m etric eq u a tio n s


b eco m e
x = (1 = g ) co s µ ; t = (1 = g ) sin µ ; µ = g ¿E : (3 1 )

B y g o in g fro m µ = ¼ to µ = 2 ¼ , say, w e ca n g et th is to b e a sem icircle co n n ectin g


th e tw o h y p erb o la s.
T o o b ta in th e a m p litu d e fo r th is p ro cess w e h a v e to eva lu a te th e va lu e o f th e
E u clid ea n a ctio n fo r th e sem icircu la r tra ck . T h e a ctio n fo r a p a rticle o f ch a rg e q
in a co n sta n t electric ¯ eld E rep resen ted b y a sca la r p o ten tia l Á = ¡ E x is g iv en
by
Z Z
A = ¡m d ¿ + qE xdt; (3 2 )

w h ere ¿ is th e p ro p er tim e o f th e p a rticle. S o , o n a n a ly tic co n tin u a tio n w e g et


Z Z
iA = ¡ im d ¿ + iqE xdt
Z Z
! ¡m d ¿ E + qE x d tE ´ ¡ A E : (3 3 )

T h e E u clid ea n a ctio n A E in (3 3 ) ca n b e ea sily tra n sfo rm ed to a n in teg ra l ov er


µ a n d n o tin g th a t th e in teg ra l ov er x d tE is essen tia lly th e a rea en clo sed b y th e
cu rv e, w h ich is a sem icircle o f ra d iu s (1 = g ), w e g et
Z 2¼ Z 2¼
¡ A E = ¡ (m = g ) d µ + (m = 2 g ) d µ = ¡ (m ¼ = 2 g ) : (3 4 )
¼ ¼

T h e lim its o f th e in teg ra tio n a re so ch o sen th a t th e p a th in th e im a g in a ry tim e


co n n ects x = ¡ (1 = g ) w ith x = (1 = g ) th ereb y a llow in g a v irtu a l sem i-circu la r lo o p
to b e fo rm ed a s sh ow n in F igu re 1 (b ). H en ce th e ¯ n a l resu lt fo r th e E u clid ea n
a ctio n fo r th is cla ssica lly fo rb id d en p ro cess is
¼m ¼m 2
A E = = : (3 5 )
2g 2qE
W ith th e u su a l ru le th a t a p ro cess w ith ex p iA g ets rep la ced b y ex p (¡ A E ) w h en
it is cla ssica lly fo rb id d en , w e ¯ n d th e a m p litu d e fo r th is p ro cess to ta k e p la ce to
b e A / ex p (¡ A E ). T h e co rresp o n d in g p ro b a b ility P = jA j2 is g iv en b y
P ¼ ex p ¡ (¼ m 2 = q E ) : (3 6 )

RESONANCE  November 2009 1069


SERIES  ARTICLE

T h is is th e lea d in g term fo r th e p ro b a b ility w h ich S ch w in g er o b ta in ed fo r th e


p a ir crea tio n p ro cess. (In fa ct, o n e ca n ev en o b ta in th e su b -lea d in g term s b y
tra n sferin g p a th s w h ich w in d a ro u n d sev era l tim es in th e circle b u t w e w ill n o t
g o in to it; if y o u a re in terested , ta k e a lo o k a t ref.[5 ]). O n ce a g a in th e m o ra l is
clea r. W h a t is fo rb id d en in rea l tim e is a llow ed in im a g in a ry tim e!

Suggested Reading

[1] T Padmanabhan, The Optics of Particles, Resonance, Vol.14, pp.8–18, 2009.


[2] T Padmanabhan, Schwarzschild Metric at a discounted price, Resonance, Vol.13, pp.312–318, 2008.
[3] T Padmanabhan, Why are black holes hot? Resonance,Vol.13, pp.412–419, 2008.
[4] T Padmanabhan, The Power of Nothing Resonance,Vol.14, pp.179–190, 2009.
[5] K Srinivasan and T Padmanabhan, Particle Production and Complex Path Analysis, Phys. Rev. D, Vol.60,
p.24007, 1999.

Address for Correspondence: T Padmanabhan, IUCAA, Post Bag 4, Pune, University Campus, Ganeshkhind,
Pune 411 007, India. Email: paddy@iucaa.ernet.in, nabhan@iucaa.ernet.in

1070 RESONANCE  November 2009