Nature news feature Astrophysics: Fire in the hole! edit:
Event horizon —- meeting point of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
[TL;DR: either accept that firewalls exist and that general relativity breaks down, or accept that information is lost in black holes and quantum mechanics is wrong]
The Maldacena hologram model envisages a 3D universe containing strings and black holes that are governed only by gravity, bounded by a 2D surface on which elementary particles and fields obey ordinary quantum laws without gravity. “I found that there’s a mathematical dictionary that allows you to go back and forth between the languages of these two worlds,” Maldacena explains. Hypothetical residents of the 3D space would never see this boundary because it is infinitely far away. But that wouldn’t matter: anything happening in the 3D universe could be described equally well by equations in the 2D universe, and vice versa. “This is the deepest ever insight into gravity because it links it to quantum fields,” says Polchinski, who compares Maldacena’s result […] to the nineteenth-century discovery that a single theory connects light, electricity and magnetism.
This meant that even 3D black-hole evaporation could be described in the 2D world, where there is no gravity, where quantum laws reign supreme and where information can never be lost. And if information is preserved there, then it must also be preserved in the 3D world. Somehow, information must be escaping from the black holes.
To escape this paradox, Polchinski and his co-workers realized, one of the entanglement relationships had to be severed. Reluctant to abandon the one required to encode information in the Hawking radiation, they decided to snip the link binding an escaping Hawking particle to its infalling twin. But there was a cost. “It’s a violent process, like breaking the bonds of a molecule, and it releases energy,” says Polchinski. […] “The event horizon would literally be a ring of fire that burns anyone falling through,” he says.
And that, in turn, violates the equivalence principle and its assertion that free-fall should feel the same as floating in empty space — impossible when the former ends in incineration. So they […] presented physicists with a stark choice: either accept that firewalls exist and that general relativity breaks down, or accept that information is lost in black holes and quantum mechanics is wrong.
Polchinski admits that he thought they could have made a silly mistake. So he turned to Susskind, one of the fathers of holography, to find it. “My first reaction was that they were wrong,” says Susskind. He posted a paper stating as much, before quickly retracting it, after further thought. “My second reaction was that they were right, my third was that they were wrong again, my fourth was that they were right,” he laughs. “It’s earned me the nickname, ‘the yo-yo,’ but my reaction is pretty much the same as most physicists’.” So far nobody has found a flaw in the team’s logic. “It’s a really beautiful argument proving that there’s something inconsistent in our thinking about black holes,” says Don Page, the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
The reluctance to revisit Hawking’s old argument (that information is lost in black holes) is a sign of the immense respect that physicists have for Maldacena’s dictionary relating gravity to quantum theory, which seemingly proved that information cannot be lost.
Maldacena is flattered that most physicists would back him in a straight-out fight against Einstein, although he believes it won’t come to that. “To completely understand the firewall paradox, we may need to flesh out that dictionary,” he says, “but we won’t need to throw it out.”
Full text: Astrophysics: Fire in the hole! by Zeeya Merali
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