At the time of completing this blog post, Word told me that it equalled 144,499 bytes of data. Now what I’ve always been fascinated by - at least since being able to comprehend the word delete - is what it means to actually remove something. What would happen to those 144,499 bytes if I drag the file to the animated recycling icon and click empty? Where is this virtual landfill? These are questions I’ve asked family members over the years to no avail, often accompanied by a suspicious shrug of the shoulders, but really it’s actually pretty interesting.
Thermodynamics tells us that energy and matter are impossible to delete. The same applies to information, every time you erase a file or photo on your laptop the information it was made up of gets transferred into heat, which is why laptops get hot and burn your lap - thanks thermodynamics! If you really have to get rid of a pesky Word document that isn’t worth the heat it’ll become, then there is one place that you could consider dumping it - a black hole.
Black holes are bizarrely fascinating. Created when a star the size of a million suns violently explodes, these black voids evoke a sense of deadly curiosity and unnecessary anxiety. For arguments sake let’s say the Hyperdrive installed in your Millennium Falcon is faulty and in a moment of madness you decide to voyage into the heart of a supernova; not only are you facing the bleak fate of spaghettification, but you’re also facing – if hypothetically you survived long enough - something totally mind bending, in that some scientists believe if look both backwards and forwards within you’ll see everything that has and will fall into the black hole with you. Pretty cool, right?
Yet to return to the thread of information, Stephen Hawking claimed in the 1970s that these star eaters emit super hot radiation from their event horizons, which is likely to cause them to grow smaller and smaller until they evaporate, deleting the undeletable. And out of this the black hole information paradox was born!
Jacob Bekenstein, an Israeli-American theoretical physicist, has been one of many to attempt to solve this paradox. Eventually though he resigned to the idea that while he’d never be able to read the consumed information, he could, alternatively, calculate how much entropy (hidden information) a given black hole contained. Interestingly, we’d be wrong to assume that the amount of entropy would be equal to the volume of the central singularity (the point where the laws of physics break down), in the same way we’d reckon how much water is in a swimming pool by calculating the volume of that pool. Bekenstein found that the amount of entropy wasn’t equal to the volume of the black hole itself, but was actually identical to the area of the event horizon’s surface. What this means is that when something approaches the black hole it would become glued to it like the square pieces of mirror on one of those retro disco balls.
Let’s bring back our black hole jumping Millennium Falcon! If the black hole happened to be big enough then we’d pass the event horizon (the point of no return) without much awareness of anything being wrong, yet if that’s really the case what does it mean for Bekenstein's theory of becoming plastered to the event horizon’s surface as soon as we enter? Well, if we left Chewbacca behind to observe our one-way journey into the darkness, Chewie would see us get incinerated and scattered across the surface (like a stereogram - where 3D information looks scrambled in a 2D format), while simultaneously we as the doomed adventurer would be seemingly unharmed (although we'd soon end up ripped to shreds by some intense gravity). These are two very different images that would appear to be happening at the exact same moment. But both perspectives can’t be correct, right? Well the crazy thing is they would be. Effectively everything inside of the black hole is a hologram, and what Chewie would see as the observer is the the 3D information of our Falcon scrambled and scattered in a 2D format across the surface (back to that sterogram comment) and what's happening beyond the event horizon is actually a "projection" of that information.
There’s a theory from physicist Leonard Susskind that states this could be the case for the entire universe; that our daily three-dimensional lives are actually a hologram of a lower dimensional universe. Just like the example of Chewie, it’s theorised that what's happening when an object falls into a black hole is, somehow, a copy is being taken, preserving it as an image. The "copied" three-dimensional information is then encoded directly onto the surface of the black hole, which is where the holographic principle - in all its mind-bending logic - comes into play.
While the holographic principle doesn’t exist to make us believe we’ve been living a fake reality, it does offer an exciting and possibly revolutionising idea that shows how incredibly fascinating the universe really is - way cooler than those boring physics lessons at school!
The work that Kurokawa is going to be presenting when our Kickstarter is successful isn’t the subject of black holes, the information paradox or the holographic principle, but is very much about the birth of stars, which without I certainly wouldn’t be attempting to write this.
Want to read more about the commission of Ryoichi Kurokawa? Then head on over to Kickstarter to show your support.