Ontological aspects of the Casimir Effect

W.M.R. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The role of the vacuum, in the Casimir Effect, is a matter of some dispute: the Casimir force has been variously described as a phenomenon resulting "from the alteration, by the boundaries, of the zero-point electromagnetic energy" (Bordag, Mohideen, & Mostepanenko, 2001), or a "van der Waals force between the metal plates" that can be "computed without reference to zero point energies" (Jaffe, 2005). Neither of these descriptions is grounded in a consistently quantum mechanical treatment of matter interacting with the electromagnetic field. However, the Casimir Effect has been canonically described within the framework of macroscopic quantum electrodynamics (Philbin, 2010). On this general account, the force is seen to arise due to the coupling of fluctuating currents to the zero-point radiation, and it is in this restricted sense that the phenomenon requires the existence of zero-point fields. The conflicting descriptions of the Casimir Effect, on the other hand, appear to arise from ontologies in which an unwarranted metaphysical priority is assigned either to the matter or the fields, and this may have a direct bearing on the problem of the cosmological constant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-88
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Issue numberPart A
Early online date6 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


  • Casimir Effect
  • Casimir–Lifshitz forces
  • Quantum field theory
  • Macroscopic quantum electrodynamics
  • Vacuum
  • Cosmological constant


Dive into the research topics of 'Ontological aspects of the Casimir Effect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this