Friday, May 01, 2015

Leonard Susskind: "The Black Hole War", making the universe safe for information retention (and maybe the afterlife)

Author: Leonard Susskind
Title: “The Black Hole War”

Subtitle: “My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics”
Publication: 2008: Hachette/Back Bay, ISBN 978-0-316-01641-4, 470 pages, paper, indexed
Amazon link
I picked up this book, in conjunction with one by Brian Greene (March 7), out of interest in the basic for spirituality, religion, and the afterlife, to the extent that cosmology can support it.  This book is a little older than the Greene book.

Stephen Hawking had somewhat startled the world of physics a couple decades ago when he said that information would be lost forever inside black holes.  He has since changed his mind somewhat, at least partially.  This book by Susskind is a lengthy and heavily illustrated exploration (along with the histories of various meetings and conferences) of the way the author followed up on the problem over many years.
The essential components of the cosmos that must interact seem to be energy and entropy, which itself is a logarithmic measure of the number of specific states or combinations of undetermined information can exist.  Entropy is the reason we have ideas like probability and statistics.  Entropy also explains why we cannot completely predict, for example, whether a tornado will form over a specific location (my house) during a severe weather outbreak.  Both concepts are related to heat.

Other ideas that he gets into would include black hole complementarity (almost with a twinge of Vatican morality), and D-branes.  He gets into string theory late in the game, and isn’t as interested as Greene in the multiverse idea. Susskind also rehearses the old depilatory theorems:  Black holes are hairless enough for Men’s Health (which may sound like an unfortunate pun).  But that may not be true after all.  They may be more like beards after neat grooming and trimming after all. 

The basic idea, in the end, is that quantum mechanics eventually leads us to black hole evaporation, of Hawking radiation, which could release the information back to the universe, however scrambled.  In terms of quantum physics, burning a book doesn’t destroy its information.
The subject is further explored in the April 2015 issue of “Scientific American”, titled “Burning Rings of Fire”, p. 36, by Joseph Polchinski, link here (paywall subscription required).  (I found this mag in a Harris Teeter, hidden by a "17" issue with a cover of Ansel Elgort!)  Princeton physicist Juan Maldacena has more calculations and theories, which come closer to resolving the controversy.  One confounding idea is that a black hole could be surrounded by a “firewall”, or “ring of fire”, which obliterates anything that hits it, and separates the interior from space-time completely.
In general, very large black holes could be inconspicuous.  Entering one out of self-indulgent curiosity could be a non-event.  You just can never leave – a kind of life-without-parole. Theories have suggested that the entire solar system could be inside a black hole and we would never know until we got too close to the singularity in the center and were suddenly obliterated like “Lot’s wife” in Genesis).   But the firewall idea (thanks to Webroot, maybe) trashes this hope.

Micro black holes might exist because of the way other unused dimensions (in string theory) allow gravity to work (and Susskind goes into a lot of discussion about why gravity is so “weak” compared to other forces).  They would be likely to evaporate quickly into Hawking radiation.  Could a firewall “protect” a micro black hole? 

All of this matters, because information storage (in Planck units of 10 to the -70 power square meters per bit) is always related to area, not to volume (p. 140 of the book).  The relation of area to volume of a sphere seems to be 3/r.  It would seem that tiny black holes could be efficient in storing the “information” of someone’s personal consciousness and provide a conduit to reincarnation or afterlife. 

Another idea is that the three dimensions that we experience in daily life really are a mathematical hologram projected onto two dimensions (maybe like a 3-D movie), since information is based on area.

Pictures: Does my train set (where UFO abductees are “trained”), whatever its three dimensions (with the chutes) look like a hologram?

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