Following on this Were Feynman diagrams motivated by the cosmological constant problem? and this Who was the first to estimate the vacuum energy discrepancy by 120 orders of magnitude? I found a recurring phrase in popular sources saying something like:

John Wheeler and Richard Feynman, famously predicted the value of the energy density of vacuum energy to be an astronomically huge number, $10^{112}$ ergs/cm$^3$. This value is so massive that Feynman and Wheeler said it would take only a teacup of this type of energy to boil the Earth’s oceans

Source: Ellie Gabel What is vacuum energy really 2022.

Note that (as pointed in the comments) the source above even provides a ridiculously high value for the vacuum energy density.

After looking for this, the closest I found was the lead of the Wikipedia article for Zero-point energy, which sources points to a The Guardian article Mark Pilkington, Zero point energy, 2003, quote:

Wheeler and Richard Feynman calculated that there is enough such energy in the vacuum inside a single light bulb to boil all the world's oceans.

Looking a bit further I found that sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his book The songs of a distant Earth (1986):

An admittedly naive calculation by Richard Feynman suggests that every cubic centimetre of vacuum contains enough energy to boil all the oceans of Earth. Another estimate by John Wheeler gives a value a mere seventy-nine orders of magnitude larger. When two of the world’s greatest physicists disagree by a little matter of seventy-nine zeros, the rest of us may be excused a certain scepticism; but it’s at least an interesting thought that the vacuum inside an ordinary light bulb contains enough energy to destroy the galaxy... and perhaps, with a little extra effort, the cosmos.

Is there a pre-1986 article by Wheeler and/or Feynman on zero point energy or on the cosmological problem? I unable to find it and this phrasing only appears in popular sources. Maybe it comes from some educational material by Feynman? or was this fabricated by Clarke?

  • $\begingroup$ At ${10}^{112}$ ergs/cm$^3,$ there's hardly any realistic difference between boiling all the oceans and boiling/killing a single bacterium (factor of ${10}^{36}).$ The total sun energy released per second is $3 \times {10}^{33}$ ergs. The total sun energy released in $10$ billion years is ${10}^{51}$ ergs, which is about the same amount of energy released in a supernova (which would totally vaporize Earth at its present distance from the sun). The total energy released if every one of the $300$ billion stars in our galaxy went supernova is about $3 \times {10}^{59}$ ergs. (continued) $\endgroup$ Aug 5 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ So using $10^{112}$ ergs to boil all the oceans is roughly like using $10^{17}$ many galaxies of $300$ billion supernovas each to boil/kill a bacterium. $\endgroup$ Aug 5 at 23:44


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