Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Einstein and the black hole firewall paradox

Einstein biographer Dennis Overbye reports in the NY Times about a wacky astrophysics idea:
This time, they say, Einstein might really be wrong.

A high-octane debate has broken out among the world’s physicists about what would happen if you jumped into a black hole, a fearsome gravitational monster that can swallow matter, energy and even light. You would die, of course, but how? Crushed smaller than a dust mote by monstrous gravity, as astronomers and science fiction writers have been telling us for decades? Or flash-fried by a firewall of energy, as an alarming new calculation seems to indicate?

This dire-sounding debate has spawned a profusion of papers, blog posts and workshops over the last year. ...

You might wonder who cares, especially if encountering a black hole is not on your calendar. But some of the basic tenets of modern science and of Einstein’s theory are at stake in the “firewall paradox,” as it is known.
No, there are no basic tenets at stake. The firewall is just a stupid idea with no connection to reallity.
After all, if Einstein hadn’t been troubled a century ago by logical inconsistencies in the Newtonian universe, we might not have GPS systems, which rely on his theory of general relativity to keep time, in our pockets today.
No, GPS would work fine without Einstein. Maybe we would have understanding some of the satellite clock errors, but that's all.
Particle physicists cried foul, saying that this violated a basic tenet of modern science and of quantum theory, that information is always preserved. From the material in the smoke and flames of a burning book, for example, one could figure out whether it was the Bible or the Kama Sutra; the same should be true of the fizz and pop of black holes, these physicists argued. A 30-year controversy ensued.
No, that is not a basic tenet of modern science or quantum theory, There is not a shred of evidence for it. It is not possible to distinguish books from the smoke and flames.
If the firewall argument was right, one of three ideas that lie at the heart and soul of modern physics, had to be wrong. Either information can be lost after all; Einstein’s principle of equivalence is wrong; or quantum field theory, which describes how elementary particles and forces interact, is wrong and needs fixing. Abandoning any one of these would be revolutionary or appalling or both.
I pick information loss. No one has ever even found an experiment that could demoetrate that information was not lost. No need to look at black holes.
The firewall paradox,” he said, “tells us that the conceptual cost of getting information back out of a black hole is even more revolutionary than most of us had believed.”
Crackpot physicists are always talking about ideas being "revolutionary". It is just paradigm-speak for not having any evidence.

Update: See Not Even Wrong for media hype about physicists clinging to another disproven theory, supersymmetry.

Update: That last quote was from Raphael Bousso. Lumo trashes his last paper on the subject.

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