Thinking Outside of the Hole
Not many things can mystify the mind like black holes do. When examined in depth, black holes aren’t all that confusing, in fact in some cases, black holes can be incredibly helpful! Thanks to the discoveries of physicists, we have a pretty good hold on what black holes are, and how they function, and how they affect our own galaxy. First, though, one must know the basics of the physics that we apply to black holes.
Gravity is the essence of black holes. Gravity is a well-known force, as it has an enormous effect on the earth and everything on it. Whether you are conscious of it or not, gravity is constantly working on you. When you jump, it is what pulls you back down to earth, but even after you’ve landed, gravity’s force is still applied. For example, you need to use a chair to keep you up when sitting because if not gravity would pull you to the ground. This goes for all objects on and around the Earth. The factors that affect the force of gravity are the universal gravitational constant, the mass of said planet and the radius of said planet. Therefore, the gravitational force is different on each planet, not taking into account that distance between planets which also effects their gravitational pull on each other. The force of gravity on earth is equivalent to about 9.8 meters per second squared. That is equal to the acceleration at which objects are pulled back down to earth. As a more advanced way of thinking of gravity, Tia Ghose defines it in What Is Gravity as: “the consequence of the fact that matter warps space-time.”
Now that there is a general understanding of what gravity actually is, lets examine how gravity works within a black hole and what a black hole actually is. Black holes form by the death of stars. When they die, most stars will just form white dwarfs, but the largest of stars will become black holes. A star’s lifetime is dependent on the chemical composition within the star’s core. All stars are made up of different molecules that fuse together to create new molecules. The energy from these fusions work against the star’s massive gravitational pull and keep the star alive. At some point, though, these molecules fuse to form iron and that fusion does not give off enough energy to hold up against the gravitational pull. Then gravity takes over the star and creates white dwarfs, but it is not the same case for supermassive stars. These stars will quite literally go out with a bang, exploding, releasing all the fiery strength in less than a second before gravity takes over, leaving behind nothing but their stellar core. The remnants of the star will then collapse in on itself, thus creating a black hole.
Black holes are essentially invisible on the black canvas of the universe, but their intense gravitation pull and their effect on the stars around them give away their location. Though these elusive beings are depicted as a huge danger to the universe, and to our own planet, there is no need to be alarmed. As National Geographic explains in Black Holes 101, “if our sun was suddenly replaced by a black hole of similar mass, our planetary family would continue to orbit unperturbed, if much less warm and illuminated.” Our own milky way is out of the way of danger of any impending black holes.
The physics that we apply to black holes are governed by Einstein’s field equations. These equations stem from Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Through extensive calculation of these formulas, we discover that a “black hole,” isn’t a hole at all, but rather a singular point of such large gravitational pull. This pull is so strong that no object within the event horizon could ever gain enough velocity to escape its gravitational force. The event horizon is, as the author of What is a Black Hole explains, “the last distance from which light can escape the pull of the black hole. Inside the event horizon, everything, including light, must move inward, getting crushed at the centre.” Some theorize that a black hole could be used as a worm hole if entering only the event horizon in just the right way.
This is because the gravitation pull of black holes is so intense that it even warps spacetime. Every mass in space slightly alters spacetime, almost like a dent. Think of spacetime as elastic, the heavier the object, the more of a dent it makes. Planets like earth make a small dent, but it is nothing in comparison to that of a supermassive black hole. This effect can be visible, Robert Britt describes an example of this in Einstein’s Warped View of Space Confirmed, “In observations of activity around black holes in 1997, researchers noted that gasses spiraling into the black hole wobbled, or precessed, like a top.” Unusual motions can also be seen of light when entering a black hole. Picture the spacetime continuum again like that elastic, but with parallel lines that remain parallel until they curve around the black hole. Light curves with those lines around the hole until it is out of its immediate gravitational reach, but if the steam of light happens upon a parallel line that essentially “touches” the black hole, it will disappear into the darkness.
As stated before, though black holes can sound very intimidating, there is nothing to fear. It is common knowledge that the milky way has its very own supermassive black hole at its center, and studies suggest that there are thousands more joining it. Nell Greenfieldboyce states in Center of Milky Way Has Thousands of Black Holes, Study Shows: “Their calculations show that there must be several hundred more black holes paired with stars in the galactic center, and about 10,000 isolated black holes.” These entities though, do not negatively affect the earth because we are lightyears away from their event horizons, and essentially out of danger.
Over the past decades, scientists have made incredible strides researching black holes, and there is plenty more to come. No one can really know what is to come of further black hole research, but scientists are diving further into the idea of wormholes and harnessing them for the use of time travel. Using Einstein’s rules of general relativity, many have theorized the existence of entities called “white holes.” A better explanation is given by Jessica Krall and Jessica Felhofer in The Future of Black Holes,” The idea of wormholes first came from the idea of white holes. The equations of general relativity have an interesting mathematical property: they are symmetric in time. This means that you can take any solution to the equations and imagine that time flows backwards rather than forwards, and you will get another valid solution to the equations. If you apply this rule to the solution that describes black holes, you receive a white hole. Since a black hole is a region of space from which nothing can escape, the time-reversed version of a black hole is a region of space into which nothing can fall. So, just as a black hole sucks things in after they pass the event horizon, a white hole would spit these things out.” The future of black holes is more than promising and could mold the future of not just this planet, or the milky way, but the future of the entire universe. That is completely dependent, though, on the idea that all we know about black holes today is correct. We depend on those well educated in the field of cosmology to study and make conclusions for us… but who is to know if they are correct?
Stephen Hawking was wrong about black holes. In his previous theories, he was wrong. Hawking has long been praised as one of the most intelligent minds of our time. He has made incredible strides in the field of astrophysics and is arguably the most innovative influencers in said field. He has theorized many properties of black holes that we take to be truth today. Many more theories have stemmed from these, furthering our understanding of black holes and the way in which they function, or so we think. Consider though, if Stephen Hawking is not in fact correct in his current theories. If these theories are incorrect, not only will they lead us to the wrong conclusions when studying black holes, but they also limit our creativity when viewing black holes conceptually.
One of Hawking’s most well-known theories is Hawking radiation. This theory is basically an answer to the question: If black holes absorb particles, what do they emit? Joel Hruska better explains this theory in Stephen Hawking may have finally solved the black hole ‘information’ problem as: “black holes do emit particles in the form of so-called Hawking radiation. That means that over time- an absolutely fantastic amount of time- black holes evaporate. But if a black hole can evaporate, what happens to the information about the material it once absorbed?” The problem with this theory is that seemingly whatever happens to the information stored in black holes, contradicts quantum mechanics.
If the particles do in fact just disappear with the black hole, that defies the principals of quantum mechanics, but if they do not ever escape the hole, that also would not be quantumly possible. From this complication, stems more theories. This next theory, also masterminded by Hawking, gives an answer to this. He considers the idea that the particles absorbed never actually enter the black hole, but rather are trapped in the boundaries of the black hole. Those boundaries we call “super translations.” So, for this to be possible, Joel Hruska again explains in the same article that, “the physical material (information) swallowed by the black hole never actually enters it at all. Instead, it’s smashed into the point of no return and encoded as a two-dimensional hologram.” This may seem incredibly hard to believe, but the theory behind them is very strong.
This information is then released in the form of quantum fluctuations. These are ripples in a quantum field, like an electric field. These quantum fields still exist even if there are no particles existing within them. Even if this is the case, these fields are never actually quiet. Described by Matt Strassler in Quantum Fluctuations and Their Energy, “Even in what we consider empty space, the fields are still there, sitting quietly in empty space, much as there’s water in the pond even if no wind or pebbles are making ripples on its surface, and there’s still air in the room even if there’s no sound.” The amount of energy that a single fluctuation can produce in just one cubic meter is millions upon millions of times larger than that of ordinary matter. This energy has enough power to cause mass destruction throughout the universe, and that is just within one cubic meter of these fluctuations! So, it is not impossible to imagine that these fluctuations release an incredible amount of information.
One must remember that these theories are still just that, theories. No theories are considered always true, because these theories go through extensive tests and critiques until they evolve into newer, more accurate theories. Because the dangers of black holes prevent us from being able to study them and test theories physically, the only other ways to are mathematically and theoretically. Though numbers don’t lie, the theory could be completely wrong, and what is known about black holes today could be at least distorted in comparison to reality. It seems that if Hawking’s theories are indeed correct, the idea of a wormhole within a black hole seems completely impossible, at least the way we envision it today. Even though, there are still many theories surrounding this idea, as it is still on the forefront of the astrophysics curiosities. There are surely many other theories like this as well, and it is reasonable to predict that most of these are incorrect.
Perhaps the most interesting theory is that of wormholes. This theory comes from the idea of spacetime and the curvature of it. Space time can be visualized as elastic, or almost like a trampoline, except it isn’t ejecting any planets into other parts of space. When a mass is placed on a trampoline, the trampoline sinks around the mass, and it creates a sort of dent in. Now, if one pictures spacetime as two trampolines on top of each other we can use Kevin Bonsor and Robert Lamb’s logic in How Time Travel Works to explain how this effect creates wormholes, “Placing the baseball on the top side will cause a curvature to form. If an equal mass were placed on the bottom part of the sheet at a point that corresponds with the location of the baseball on the top, the second mass would eventually meet with the baseball. This is similar to how wormholes might develop.” This is why black holes are often theorized to be wormholes as well. They have the largest mass and gravitational force in the universe that we know of, and if the spacetime curvature was large enough, it could be used as a much faster passage to another part of the universe. This is only one of the theories that could be proven by different mean if not for Hawking’s theories.
If Hawking’s theories are neglected completely, there is a world of opportunity to explore new ideas about black holes. If we neglect everything we know about them, there is a completely blank slate to start anew on. One could theorize that black holes don’t crush anything, but act solely as wormholes, or that the event horizon acts as a shield and keeps any particles out of the center of black holes. The possibilities are endless. If Hawking had never theorized Hawking radiation, many different advancements in the studies of black holes would have been made, and the course of black hole studies could have been drastically different. The reputations of highly regarded astrophysicists generally deter any doubt or second thoughts about these theories, but just as time is, credibility is relative.
Stephen Hawking is widely known across the globe and recognized as one of the most brilliant minds of our time. He is ranked among the greats of astrophysics next to Einstein and Newton, and he has been formally recognized for his great accomplishments. These accomplishments though, are only as credible as we assume them to be. As of now, it is impossible to explore and examine black holes closely enough to prove Hawking and his theories to be correct or incorrect. Therefore, because his theories lie within the confines of physics, his word is taken as fact because he is so highly regarded. At the end of the day, Hawking is merely a human, and humans are not always correct.
It is no lie that Hawking is absolutely brilliant and deserves the utmost respect for his incredible dedication to the study of astrophysics and cosmology. He has been awarded with several medals including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Albert Einstein metal, the Albert Einstein award and so many more. Even with all these, well deserved, awards, it is very likely that Hawking was not correct in all of his theories on the basis that he is human. Hawking himself has shown signs of doubt about his own theories.
One example involves his multiverse hypothesis and fine tuning. Fine tuning, as BioLogos describes it in What do Fine-tuning and the multiverse say about God, “refers to the surprising precision of nature’s physical constants and the early conditions of the universe.” Certain values in our universe are so precise that if they were changed even slightly, life would never have been possible. A few of these include gravity, the formation of carbon, and the stability of DNA. For example, Philip Goff in Did the dying Stephen Hawking really mean to strengthen the case for God, explains how gravity could have affected life as we know it: “if gravity had been slightly stronger, stars would have lived for thousands rather than billions of years, not leaving enough time for biological evolution to take place.” Luckily, all of these tedious details came together to allow life in the milky way. The problem with this arises within Hawking’s multiverse theory.
The multiverse theory basically describes that if there are an infinite number of universes, there is a very high chance that the conditions for life exist within another universe, if not several. With such a huge number of universes there is also a very good chance that some of these universes infringe upon the fine-tuned laws of the universe. Goff again explains, “Stephen Hawking defended a naturalistic explanation of fine-tuning in terms of the multiverse hypothesis. According to the multiverse hypothesis, the universe we live in is just one of an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of universes. If there are enough universes, then it becomes not so improbable that at least one will chance upon the right laws for life.” The problem with this arises when the situation is evaluated numerically. Peter May explains this in Fine Tuning the Multiverse Theory; the number of universes needed for this theory to be even slightly probable would is unimaginably high. It is estimated at about 10 to the 500th power. Taking into consideration that the total number atoms in the entire universe is about 10 to the 80th power, the multiverse theory becomes incredibly unlikely .
Not only is this current theory unlikely, but it also has changed over time. The older version had large varieties among to universes, but, the laws of fine-tuning have forced that theory to change. In his latest paper on the multiverse theory, Hawking himself doubts the multiverse theory’s ability to explain fine-tuning. Other physicists also have these concerns and have begun looking to quantum physics to explain what the multiverse theory could not. It is known that Stephen Hawking is a very adamant atheist, and the inability if his theory to explain fine-tuning leaves only quantum physics to explain, allowing more room to justify a Godly being, and possibly nullifying what Hawking believes in most strongly.
Another topic that is widely controversial is that of alien life. Hawking was a strong believer in alien life and conducted a one hundred million dollar hunt for aliens. Considering Hawking’s multiverse theory, the universe should be rich with alien life, but, as Sarah Kaplan points out in Scientists believe there’s other life in the universe. Why haven’t we found it yet? “If the universe is so full of the ingredients for alien life, why haven’t we found it yet? Or, more pertinently, considering how young humans are (100,000 years) compared to the age of the universe (13.8 billion years), why haven’t the aliens found us?” With the given age of humanity compared to the rest of the universe, if there is alien life there is a very good chance that it developed way before we did, and there is strong evidence that suggests that alien life would have the means to contact us. Not only have we never made contact with, or received contact from any kind of alien life, but the one hundred million dollar search has been unsuccessful as of yet. It is not a stretch to claim that Hawking could be incorrect in his theory about alien life. If Hawking could be wrong about this, and even doubts his own theory’s ability to explain fine tuning, there is always the possibility that he could be wrong in any of his theories.
Topics like black holes, that are much more complicated both mathematically and conceptually, challenge the mind even the of the most virtuoso people. There is a strong likelihood that Hawking was in fact wrong about at least one of his theories on black holes. Not just because black holes are so hard to understand, but also because he has made changes to his previous theories and beliefs several times. There have been numerous times that Hawking has changed his mind and made contradictory statements about his theories. One time he even stated that black holes do not exist at all. As it is a common part of the thought process to change one’s mind, this is a drastically different stance than what he had theorized before. Stephen Hawking was an incredible man with a brilliant mind, that being said, even he been erroneous. If he happens to be wrong about his theories, that could change everything that we know about black holes and the universe as it is today.