Hawking proposes way for information to escape destruction in black hole

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Stephen Hawking makes his presentation today at an extraordinary gathering of world-leading physicists at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

It might not settle the argument over what happens to information trapped in black holes, but Stephen Hawking’s new theory dominated the discussion today at a specially-convened meeting of world-leading physicists, held at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Black holes don’t actually swallow and destroy physical information, according to a theory Hawking proposed at the Hawking Radiation conference. Instead, they store it in a two-dimensional hologram, and then it gets severely jumbled up.

You might ask yourself why this distinction matters, but it addresses one of the most baffling questions facing a generation of physicists: What happens to the information about the physical state of things that are swallowed up by black holes? Is it destroyed, as our understanding of general relativity would predict?

If so, that would violate the laws of quantum mechanics. So, which theory of physics is right? Hawking’s answer appears to be they both are.

Hawking is in town for the weeklong conference, which is co-sponsored by  Nordita, UNC and the Julian Schwinger Foundation. Nordita is co-hosted by KTH and Stockholm University. Internationally renowned UNC Physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton organized and assembled 30 of the world’s leading physicists to tackle the problem, which stems from contradictions between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Everything in our world is encoded with quantum mechanical information; and according to the laws of quantum mechanics, this information should never entirely disappear, no matter what happens to it. Not even if it gets sucked into a black hole.

But Hawking has dropped the idea that the information goes down the hole. His new idea is that the information doesn’t make it inside the black hole at all. Instead, it’s permanently encoded in a 2D hologram at the surface of the black hole’s event horizon, or the field surrounding each black hole which represents its point of no return.

As we understand them, black holes are regions of space-time where stars, having exhausted their fuel, collapse under their own gravity, creating a bottomless pit that swallows anything approaching too closely. Not even light can escape them, since their gravitational pull is so infinitely powerful.

“The information is not stored in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but in its boundary — the event horizon,” he said. Working with Cambridge Professor Malcolm Perry (who spoke afterward) and Harvard Professor Andrew Strominger, Hawking formulated the idea that information is stored in the form of what are known as super translations.

“The idea is the super translations are a hologram of the ingoing particles,” Hawking said. “Thus they contain all the information that would otherwise be lost.”

This information is emitted in the quantum fluctuations that black holes produce, albeit in “chaotic, useless form,” Hawking said. “For all practical purposes the information is lost.”

But in his lecture in Stockholm the previous night, Hawking also offered compelling thoughts about where things that fall into a black hole could eventually wind up.

“The existence of alternative histories with black holes suggests this might be possible,” Hawking said. “The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe.

“So although I’m keen on space flight, I’m not going to try that.”

The Hawking Radiation conference is co-sponsored by Nordita, UNC and the Julian Schwinger Foundation. Nordita is co-hosted by KTH and Stockholm University.

David Callahan

Watch the presentation

5 thoughts on “Hawking proposes way for information to escape destruction in black hole

  1. Stefan

    Brilliant work, although this was treated as science fiction way back when comic books firstly introduced superheroes and seeing it now as an actual scientific theory is astonishing.

  2. David W

    Always love to hear Hawking speak. I think he is only partly correct. < I know, "how arrogant." < so sue me. I think it is a necessity for some of the information as well as matter to transverse the the EH, and leave this plane, so that it will arrive in a new plane. (subsitute Brane for plane if you'd like.)
    I am left unsure of what Hawkings now believes is "within" the cyclotronic beams of "Hawking Radiation?" < I believe they are initially super relativistic, include both coherent and incoherent information as well as detuned string.

    Thank you Dr. Hawking (and Dr, Susskind )

  3. Nick Jacob

    The reason he only makes a vague notion of string theory and transportation of information to another universe (or membrane as you said) is because it’s purely theoretical with zero support. He isn’t suggesting that’s his theory but just his thoughts.

    I could suggest delving through a black hole portals you back in time through the 11th dimension, it holds just as little weight really.

    An interesting theory albeit one that I’m not a believer of yet. We can’t see into these things for a reason yet, so one would assume that’s for a very good reason and will be revealed to us in good time.

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