Time is one of the most difficult concepts in physics. It enters in the equations in a rather artificial way – as an external parameter. Although strictly speaking time is a quantity that we measure, it is not possible in quantum physics to define a time-observable in the same way as for the other quantities that we measure (position, momentum, etc.). The intuition that we have about time is that of a uniform flow, as suggested by the regular ticks of clocks. Time flows undisturbed by the variety of events that may occur in an irregular pattern in the world. Similarly, the quantum vacuum is the most regular state one can think of. For example, a persistent superconducting current flows at a constant speed – essentially forever. Can then one use the quantum vacuum as a clock? This is a fascinating dispute in condensed-matter physics, formulated as the problem of existence of time crystals. A time crystal, by analogy with a crystal in space, is a system that displays a time-regularity under measurement, while being in the ground (vacuum) state.
Then, if there is an energy (the zero-point energy) associated with empty space, it follows via the special theory of relativity that this energy should correspond to an inertial mass. By the principle of equivalence of the general theory of relativity, inertial mass is identical with the gravitational mass. Thus, empty space must gravitate. So, how much does empty space weigh? This question brings us to the frontiers of our knowledge of vacuum – the famous problem of the cosmological constant, a problem that Einstein was wrestling with, and which is still an open issue in modern cosmology.
Finally, although we cannot locally extract the zero-point energy of the vacuum fluctuations, the vacuum state of a field can be used to transfer energy from one place to another by using only information. This protocol has been called quantum energy teleportation and uses the fact that different spatial regions of a quantum field in the ground state are entangled. It then becomes possible to extract locally energy from the vacuum by making a measurement in one place, then communicating the result to an experimentalist in a spatially remote region, who would be able then to extract energy by making an appropriate (depending on the result communicated) measurement on her or his local vacuum. This suggests that the vacuum is the primordial essence, the ousia from which everything came into existence.