California Literary Review

Susskind Quashes Hawking in Quarrel Over Quantum Quandary

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July 8th, 2008 at 12:41 pm

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Leonard Susskind

Leonard Susskind [Photo by Anne Elizabeth Warren]

CLR INTERVIEW: Leonard Susskind is the Felix Bloch Professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University. His new book, The Black Hole Wars, details his battles with Stephen Hawking over the true nature of black holes. The resulting theory postulates that every object in our world is actually a hologram being projected from the farthest edges of space. Seriously. Below is Dr. Susskind’s interview with the California Literary Review.

The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind
The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics
by Leonard Susskind
Little, Brown and Company, 480 pp.

Would you give us an overview of what a black hole is?

A black hole is what you get if you compress so much mass into a region of space that it collapses, under its own weight, to an infinitely small, dense, point called the “singularity.” Everything that gets too close to the black hole gets sucked in, and squashed beyond recognition. There is no escape from the singularity, even for a light ray. Someone falling into a black hole might try to send a message, on a beam of light, to the outside world: “Help, I’m being sucked in.” But even the light ray gets pulled back to the singularity.

There is a certain radius—a particular distance from the dangerous singularity—that I like to call “the point-of-no-return.” If you accidentally pass the point-of-no-return there is nothing you can do to escape; you and all your messages will get swept to the singularity and destroyed. The point-of-no-return is also called the horizon of the black hole.

Passing the horizon seems very innocent while it is happening. It’s like being in a rowboat above Niagara Falls. If you accidentally pass the point where the current is moving faster than you can row, you are doomed. But there is no sign—DANGER! POINT OF NO RETURN—to warn you. Maybe on the river there are signs but not at the horizon of a black hole.

Stephen Hawking once said something about black holes that apparently upset you. What was it?

Stephen said that when a bit of information falls into a black hole it is permanently lost to the outside, despite the fact that he also proved that black holes evaporate and eventually disappear. That claim touched off a crisis in physics, a clash of basic principles like no other since Einstein was young.

The problem that upset me is that the most basic principle of physics—the principle that underpins everything including classical physics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, energy conservation, that physicists have believed for hundreds of years—is that information is never truly lost. It can be scrambled beyond recognition, but it is never completely erased.

Hawking’s claim was outrageous, but he had very good reasons for it. So good that it took more than two decades to figure out why he was wrong. And the question led to a tremendous paradigm shift in the way we think about space, time, matter, and bits of information.

Why was this so important?

Well it’s probably not important for curing cancer, or knocking down enemy missiles, or speeding up your computer. But it is important to the future of physics and cosmology. The universe is controlled by two fundamental laws: Einstein’s gravity theory (the General Theory of Relativity) and Quantum Mechanics. Stephen argued very convincingly that the two (GTR and QM) were on a collision course. Gravity and Quantum Mechanics were just plain incompatible. One or the other would have to give, at least by Hawking’s logic.

Stephen was wrong, but his astonishing question has changed the history of physics, and there is much more to come.

So, what do you believe happens to matter sucked into a black hole?

Remember that in a monumental contribution to physics, Hawking showed that black holes evaporate, like puddles of water on a hot day. It happens very slowly but the black hole does emit particles, and eventually disappears. The answer is that the evaporation products—the photons and other particles—carry away every bit of information, BUT in an extremely scrambled form. What we have learned is that black holes are not information-erasers but information-scramblers.

What was the final outcome of your competing theories?

The short answer is that Stephen was wrong and I was right. But that is a tremendous oversimplification and I would not like history to see it that way. Stephen asked an audacious, bold, and very brave question —do black holes erase information? Just realizing that there was a question took profound insight. It was enough to make anyone’s reputation. The outcome was a whole new paradigm called the Holographic Principle. The Holographic Principle says something astonishing and completely beyond intuition. The world is a kind of hologram: an image projected from a distant mathematical film, far at the edges of the universe. To understand how we got from black holes to holograms you’ll have to read my book, but here is a hint. The horizon of a black hole (a two dimensional surface like a film) somehow stores all the information that ever fell into the hole.

Where does biology fit into a theoretical physicist’s thinking? Do the attempts at an elegant “Theory of Everything” include life’s impulse to survive and replicate?

Physicists don’t like to think that their science is anything like biology. Biology is messy, imprecise, and complicated. Physics is simple, crystal clear, and elegant, or so the argument goes. But physicists have been hit over the head with some “ugly” facts. There are powerful reasons to believe that the universe may also be a consequence of random mutation. It sounds crackpot, or at best, like fringe speculation, but by now the idea is very firmly established in the mainstream physics and cosmology literature. That’s was what my book “The Cosmic Landscape” was all about.

According to String Theory the tiniest dimensions of space are curled up and twisted into an analog of the Double Helix. The Double Helix is a frame on which base-pairs can be arranged. And as you know, the pattern of base pairs determines the properties of a given biological entity.

Microscopic space (according to String Theory) is not a Double Helix, but something similar: a Calabi Yau manifold (don’t ask). The analog of the base pairs of DNA are called “fluxes.” The details don’t matter. What does matter is that there exists an incredibly rich set of possibilities—you can call them blueprints—for the construction of a universe. And according to modern cosmological theory, the universe is filled with sub-universes of every allowable kind, formed from a process similar to random mutation.

If this is so then the question, “Why our universe is the way it is?” may have an “anthropic” component: we live in a very rare environment where the ordinary laws are such that life can exist. Where else would we live? Where else would it be possible to ask the question?

How about consciousness or awareness? Are there any physicists who see consciousness as a distinct but interwoven part of the universe?

I suppose there are. My own view is similar to Richard Feynman’s when he was asked whether the conceptual puzzles of quantum mechanics confused him. He said that quantum mechanics was so puzzling that he wasn’t even sure if there was a puzzle. There are other questions like that—questions that you can’t even imagine what an answer could be like. “Why does mathematics work?” “Why does logic work?” “What is the purpose of the universe?” “What is the connection between mind and matter?” As I said, these seem like legitimate questions, but you can’t imagine what answers would be like. My sense is that consciousness is one of those questions.

Incidentally, I don’t mean to imply that these questions will never get answers; just right now I don’t have a clue. But then again I am not a licensed cognitive scientist.

If I understand it correctly, you’ve recently written that our universe may just be one of an infinite number of universes, each with unique properties or laws of physics. Is this where you think our knowledge is headed and if so, do you find that discouraging or encouraging in terms of what we can ultimately know about the universe?

First of all I am not in the least bit alone in this view, nor am I the originator of it. It has been around for a long time. But since I wrote “The Cosmic Landscape,” it has practically become the conventional view.

As to whether I find it discouraging or not—no—not at all. There are people who do, but I think they are victims of their own prejudices and hopes. The universe is far more interesting and challenging than we imagined. The next generation of physicists and cosmologists will have the fun and excitement of discovering the right mathematical formulation of a “multiverse.” Finding observational (astronomical?) ways to confirm that we live in such a diverse world is another challenge. Only the old fogies who thought that physics was almost finished are disappointed. The only thing that I would find discouraging would be that we run out of questions.

Heard any good theoretical physics jokes lately?

Yup, and you’ll find them in my book.

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  • Hech Baan

    [A black hole is what you get if you compress so much mass into a region of space that it collapses, under its own weight, to an infinitely small, dense, point called the “singularity.”]

    This is what Einstein’s gravity theory tells us. But it means that the theory is not consistent, for it predicts black hole and Big Bang “singularities”. Therefore, we don’t have a consistent theory predicting black holes. Thus, we are not really sure what black hole is, are we?

  • Dan Pasternak

    Multi universe is ridiculous, from the logical stance. If they, the Multi universe, exit and they have impact on our universe, then they are part of our universe and all the multi universes, include our, is one universe. If the other universes have not any impact on our universes than from our logical point of view they are not exit.

    String theory is ridiculous theory. If the vibration is the practices and the energy than the stings themselves what they are? Mass? Energy? They must be something. If so you must to develop theory that explain them and the processes that occur inside them .If so you receive two kinds of mass, energy. The one is result of their vibrations and the second the sting themselves .from the logical stance we have logical failure.

    In my point view unit theory must be totally mathematical abstract and not image, like the sting ( theory), of some things that exit in our surrounding world.

  • Kent

    @Hech Baan: You don’t fully make sense but it might be wise at this stage to point out that there are big differences between the singularity at the Big Bang and the singularity of a black-hole. For example, the former has a much higher energy (in fact all the energy of the universe) and it expanded thanks to cosmic inflation & dark energy. All of this is described in General Relativity.

    @Dan Pasternak: In string theory, another universe only has an effect on our universe via. some very weak force(s)/coupling(s). I think two reasonable criteria that object A & B exist in the same universe are: 1) object A must have the possibility of interacting with object B via. the four known fundamental forces, and 2) there must exist a possible path for which object A can reach object B. Both of these are not satisfied if object A & object B exist in different universes of a multiverse described by string theory.

    I would like to add one further comment to both. Although lively discussion on matters of particle physics & cosmology is most welcomed, I remind you that the most intelligent men & women in the past 100 years have analysed these problems thoroughly as a full-time occupation. It is very improbable, although not impossible, that someone sitting at home reading articles on the internet or watching documentaries can out-do their best efforts.

  • Hech Baan

    @Kent: According to Hawking & Penrose there is no much difference between Black Hole and Big Bang singularities. Moreover, the Universe expanded not because of cosmic inflation & dark energy, e.g. Friedmann models expand without inflation or dark energy. All of this is described in General Relativity (Hawking, Ellis – The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time; Misner, Thorne, Wheeler – Gravitation):-)

    My point is simple: there is no consistent theory describing black holes. GR predicts singularities; therefore black hole is not a real solution. We believe it is very close to the “real” solution, but without Quantum Gravity we are not 100% sure.

    Agreed with your last point.

  • maze

    possibly the “singularity” is a single string. luckily the information is stored in the event horizont! when earth will be sucked up by the lhc black hole a type 3 race could recover us from there! only have to put a sign on the moon where we are to be found! hahaha!!!!
    btw: thank you mister susskind for your lecture on youtube!

  • romkeh

    my brain is going to explode sometime soon. i really can’t comprehend how these people can fathom such insanely ridiculous/awesome/intelligent theories.

  • maze

    poor stephen hawking! leonard susskind kicked his …! no, just making fun…again! in fact he is one of the greatest! i saw him once (2002 or 3) live in munich talking about his book “universe in a nutshell” (is it called like this in the english edition?). very impressive…and funny! he ended with a joke about god stiching the universe with a needle like a balloon…what does this mean now????

  • http://educa8ed@hotmail.com andrey anderson

    fire up the supercollider and see if it has the answer

  • John Dunford

    It will be fascinating to see what the LHC at CERN will reveal. By the way, Leonard Susskind has some great online video courses in physics. The trouble is, I’ve forgotten where they are.

    Yours sinc… sinc… sinc-something-or-other

    Jim ‘Hemispheres’ Memorizatron
    University of Neurones
    Britain

  • barry

    Hello. I am currently reading “The Black Hole War”, and there are a a couple of questions I have, if anyone can help me in simple language. I understand a black hole to be basically spherical in space/time. From this, I would have thought that the horizon was a ‘larger sphere’ (obviously not in a physical sense, but only as a mathematical shape) surrounding the black hole. I think I understand that the information lost into a black hole is stored in the horizon, but the area in which the information is stored is only a quarter of the area of the ‘spherical’ horizon, which is exactly the area of a flat circle with the same radius as the horizon ‘sphere’. Am I correct in this idea?
    Secondly, I understand that if anything entering the region of a black hole actually passes the horizon, there is no way out. What then is Hawking radiation? Is this coming only from outside the horizon’s radius? If not, and there actually is radiation coming from inside the horizon’s radius, how does it escape?
    Thanks.

  • Jakob R, Drucker, P.E.

    Just as there are BLACK HOLES perhaps there are WHITE HOLES where the matter is being emitted out of as the black hole evaporates. This alone would go along with the physics principle that matter is not destroyed but only changes form.

    There is another possibility that the matter drawn into a black hole is re-introduced into another universe of dimension where the two are in conjunction with each other. That is matter funneled into our black hole is poured out into some other universe or dimension. There for we should be looking for a point or place in our universe where matter is being “created.”

    I would like to hear back from others who have similar ideas.

  • Michael Shapiro

    OMG, Mr. Drucker. I have been saying exactly what you said for years now. the fact that scientists have not postulated such a simple and elegant answer leads me to believe that you and I may just be ignorant… or brilliant!!

  • Karl

    I would suggest that beliefs have to be transcended, then all of this stuff becomes clear. By that I mean, believing in things such as matter and non-matter, energy, motion, etc. and rather recognizing and fully realizing that there in fact are no such things will make things a lot less confusing.

  • Brendan O’Dwyer

    I never have favoured you greatly,clear Aristotle,with your studious eyes brow-bent to the earth,with your love of the hard smooth outline of stone,definite,precise..That which can be known,palpable to the hand or your methodic measurement,your method has known.But the exact definition remains what it always has been-an ideal,and a part of the hungry mind’s urge to know and possess,aloof and escaping the net. define me a bird.Have you got the electric,brief shimmer of wings,iridescent,antennae atrail,the swift,curving beak alert?What you define is a dead and glassy-eyed cage in a museum,without apulse of the spirit’s breathing.But the merit’s in striving;the meal’s joy is hunger.The struggle to make the unknown known is eternal;finiting the infinite kills it.When Plato,the thief of infinity,reached up to heaven with longing,snatched at its jewels,brought them to earth in his bosom,the instant he touched them the warm fire fled them,staying in heaven;left him with onyx and marble,a temple certainly,made lyric with his sighs of regret.But you,Aristotle,with your Macodonian zeal for mastery,you must conquer the whole known world and the best that one could say for you was that your logic seemed mere commonsense.You took the oriental splendour of riches and pronounced on them the irrevocable doom of a fossil museum.

  • Aman

    It was a great introductory book. Some of you people who don’t think so can write your own and than we’ll see who’s better. Like Fennyman said, “FIX IT”. I would like to know a relationship between Quantum fluctuation and time field.

  • http://manonmars.co.uk Sci-Fi-Si

    There is no ‘singularity’ there is no ‘infinite density’ (infinite anything does not and cannot exist) energy and mass are interchangable. What IS happening is that the visible dimensions of space are being folded in on itself.

    If light travels in a straight line and gravity can curve spacetime sufficiently (gravitational lensing) that if strong enough ‘space’ folds in on itself – then of coarse light can’t ‘escape’.

    This does not require ‘infinite’ density it does not require a point ‘infinitely small’ it does not require that the laws of physics ‘break down’ it simply requires a sufficient focus of energy/mass in one place to manipulate dimensions.

    I’m saying that spacetime itself is a medium through which atoms can exist.

  • http://freeornottobe.org Harley Borgais

    Thanks to ten solid years of study, and a theory: “The Genesis of Relativity”(@ freeornottobe.org), here are some answers:
    Q1:“Why does mathematics work?”, “Why does logic work?”
    A1:’Math and logic are like building blocks, you can imagine then as geometric forms, they fit together in certain ways which can be continuously added onto. It is because of the consistency of the laws of space and time (which give us properties like distance and length, area and volume), that these maths and logics continue to work the same way. These laws of physics remain consistent (relatively -even light speed is increases with increased gravity), because they are forms of energy (spherical=particles, spirals=magnetism, circular spin/paddle effect of spinning magnetic field=Electro-motive force), which are all mutually inductive. Mutually inductive means that all forces are fundamentally patterns of motion, and can relay momentum from one to another. Energies change form at 90-degrees, so an electron moving creates a spiral magnetic pole at 90-degrees (tangent) to it direction, that pole spins, and an EMF is created at 90 degrees to that pole. This EMF is how electrons fortify one-anothers orbits in atoms, and it is how all atoms relay momentum back and forth, and ‘Homogenize’ the geometries of the three forms of energy which make up our three visible dimensions, Magnetism, Electro-Motive Force, and Momentum (or Motion). That is basically Faraday’s or Lenz’s law.

    “What is the purpose of the universe?” If you don’t believe in God or a creator, then there simply is no purpose to existence or life. If you believe in God, then it is for God to grow, and have more experience, and also for us to grow and mature as souls to become companions to God. These are two parts of the same agenda. God never does anything for only one reason because everything is connected by God.

    “What is the connection between mind and matter?”
    The mind is the combination of all EM fields of all Neurons, which when as complex as the Human Mind, create a certain geometry (discussed in “Genesis of Relativity) which causes reactions in a new, fifth dimension. This extra dimension of freedom of movement can account for the unique creative free-will of humans, and the confusing disconnection between matter and mind. It is important to understand that magnetic, electric, and motion forces always exist together. The magnetic pulses generated by Neurons all interact with one-another and therefore all Neurons communicate at light speed with all other Neurons. It is this combined energy pattern that forms the complex mind. It is a large dipole, toroid, with many tiny details.

    “It is very improbable, although not impossible, that someone sitting at home reading articles on the internet or watching documentaries can out-do their best efforts.”
    Maybe after many years of research, but a college education is not necessary, and sometimes debilitating actually.

    “My point is simple: there is no consistent theory describing black holes.”
    The Genesis of Relativity does:
    When a star explodes, and there is enough matter, Neutrons can remain (due to there exceptional magnetic strength and gravity), and form a Neutron Rich mass. The expanding force of the nova super expands and cools the Neutron mass creating a “Bose Einstein Condensate” where particles can now occupy the same space (partially). Just like cannon balling in a pool, the force comes rushing back quickly and now it super compresses this super magnetic and gravitational COUPLED Neutron mass (magnetically coupled in pairs) into a smaller volume, creating an unusually strong magnetic field, much faster spin, and gravity. When an amount of uncoupled matter equal to the center mass exists on all six sides of the black hole (like in the MIT experiments), it can collapse the black hole. This is how galaxies multiply like cells (which has been observed).
    When High Energy photons manage to contact a couple neutron pair (and not be absorbed into another uncoupled outer atom, formed into a new Neutron, or radiated during a “Jet”) then sometimes the Neutrons can uncouple, like the photons which could break down the Bose Einstein Condensate experiments.

    “There is no ’singularity’ there is no ‘infinite density’ (infinite anything does not and cannot exist) energy and mass are interchangable. What IS happening is that the visible dimensions of space are being folded in on itself.”
    I agree, except that the ‘Folding’, is the forming of more complexity in less space (Volume) by compressing more curvatures (particles) into less area (volume). Black holes are not point singularities (like Electrons may be) and there is not necessarily any connection to other universes or times, but the idea of traveling through energy channels between planets, stars and galaxies (their central black holes) is as valid as Quantum Tunneling. There definitely are magnetic waves coming from our sun. These make the channel. These channels could be used to guide propulsion technologies.
    I like answering questions: harleyborgais@gmail.com

  • http://freeornottobe.org Harley Borgais

    I have a lot more where that came from, ask me anything.

  • paul press

    what happens to the hologram mentioned in” Black Hole Wars” when a person dies?

  • Andy

    Educated Layman’s understanding: Quantum mechanics posits there is no such thing as a truly empty vaccuum. Particle-antiparitcle pairs are constantly being created and annihilating each other. One way to look at Hawking radiation is the formation of a particle-antiparticle pair at the event horizon. One particle falls in and the other escapes. The net effect is a loss of mass to the black hole, because the captured particle must have negative energy relative to the external observer. As you might expect, larger black holes with more mass radiate Hawking radiation more slowly. As black holes gradually evaporate and become smaller, the radiation intensity (and mass loss) speeds up until it terminates in an explosive collapse.

  • http://www.armabaddon.co.za clive

    Until we accept that all they are talking about is the Spirit world and that God is spirit, we will continue to have men try to play god ?
    Only once we experience new birth and unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in this life, will we gain wisdom and understanding ?

  • http://www.armabaddon.co.za clive

    Until we accept that we are dealing with spirit world and that God is spirit, we continue to have man trying to confuse us ? Nothing man can calculates, will change what God has predestined for mankind. We should fear most, what happens after this physical life !

    Only through the conception of your spirit being, will you receive understanding and wisdom.

  • Robert Scott Halik

    Of course the universe is not alone. Our univerese exists
    inside a diminsion. We only live in a partical universe inside the diminsion. With regards to a multi-verse yes of course there is a multi-verse inside the diminsion our universe resides in each universe is seperated by a vast amount of space distance is all. We know our universe is only so big, it even has a ventilation system to get rid
    of excess space. The crack has been proven with liquid photography it showed us the crack. Our universe is only so big. Outside our universe is empty space that well might not be so empty.

  • B Mishra

    Looks like we have to wait another century till any theory becomes a law. Big Bang Theory, String Theory, etc are just mathematical models to explain experimental results, they are not facts, they are more of speculations with fancy names.

  • R A.Henderson

    I’m with you. I just looked at the ‘Hawkins information’ Paradox and another show attempting to explain the physics taking place inside of a black Hole and every question these scientist posed, where they could not believe the results of their equations and findings, was answered and explain by bible scripture and the existence of and intelligent and caring everlasting God. They said that Hawkin’s amazing equation incorporating Quantum physics and Gravitational theory of Relativity yielded an unexceptable answer: INFINITY. One man actually said that scientist don’t really believe in infinity which according to the bible is Almighty God(no beginning or end). If a black hole is Gods Lake Of Fire, everything fits there scenarios). There’s timelessness, no light, infinite heat and infinite Gravity relating to the Outer darkness(outside of Time) and burning heat of scripture. And Gravity that doesn’t usually control sub-atomic particles in Quantum physics(if infinite), would hold together the body,Soul and Spirit of a man explaining the unconsumed torture beings of(Hell) scripture. Gravitity controlled sub-atomic particles is contrary to their beliefs but it fits God’s purposes doesn’t it? One scientist said that if a man(why a man example?) entered a black hole He would seem to be destroyed(Hawkins theory) but once inside would continue to exist and wouldn’t know any change had occurredt(huh – consciousness?) . That’s what I heard. Could they be staring the eternal God Jehovah) and their own punishment in the face and not be willing to admit it? That’s what the bible teaches.

    Romans;1;18 ‘For the wrath God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the TRUTH in unrighteousness. Rom 1;19 Because that which MAY BE known is manifest IN them; for God hath shown it to them.

    Rom 1;20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are CLEARLY seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his ETERNAL POWER and Godhead; so that THEY are without excuse.

    Rom 1;21 Because that when they knew God they glorified him not AS God…

    Rom 1;28 And even as they didn’t like to retain Godin their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind… Wow . ipray for these guys.

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