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Are Virtual Particles Less Real?

Jaeger, Gregg (2019) Are Virtual Particles Less Real? Entropy, 21. pp. 1-17. ISSN 1099-4300

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The question of whether virtual quantum particles exist is considered here in light of previous critical analysis and under the assumption that there are particles in the world as described by quantum field theory. The relationship of the classification of particles to quantum-field-theoretic calculations and the diagrammatic aids that are often used in them is clarified. It is pointed out that the distinction between virtual particles and others and, therefore, judgments regarding their reality have been made on basis of these methods rather than on their physical characteristics. As such, it has obscured the question of their existence. It is here argued that the most influential arguments against the existence of virtual particles but not other particles fail because they either are arguments against the existence of particles in general rather than virtual particles per se, or are dependent on the imposition of classical intuitions on quantum systems, or are simply beside the point. Several reasons are then provided for considering virtual particles real, such as their descriptive, explanatory, and predictive value, and a clearer characterization of virtuality—one in terms of intermediate states—that also applies beyond perturbation theory is provided. It is also pointed out that in the role of force mediators, they serve to preclude action-at-a-distance between interacting particles. For these reasons, it is concluded that virtual particles are as real as other quantum particles.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Jaeger, Greggjaeger@bu.edu0000-0002-5725-6491
Keywords: quantum field; elementary particle; quantum; scattering; perturbation theory; ontology; virtual particle
Depositing User: Dr. Gregg Jaeger
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2019 12:31
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2019 12:31
Item ID: 15858
Journal or Publication Title: Entropy
Publisher: MDPI
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Date: 2 February 2019
Page Range: pp. 1-17
Volume: 21
ISSN: 1099-4300

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