Saved From the Singularity: Quantum Effects Rule Out Black Holes

Laura Mersini-Houghton is perhaps one of the most interesting and unlikely transformative forces of nature in cosmology today. Born the daughter of a professor of mathematics in TiranĂ«, Albania during Enver Hoxha’s quasi-Maoist dictatorship - not a known fertile ground for astrophysicists - she teaches today at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, not at Princeton, Caltech, or Harvard. And yet, she seized Archimedes’ proverbial lever and took a stand where the evidence led her. This may have moved the world of theoretical physics by blowing up most of her colleagues’ assumptions about black holes with a quantum effect that may reverberate for a long time across her discipline’s standard narrative of how our universe began, and about some of its most intractable phenomena known as black holes. As we had all long heard, the universe came into being with a Big Bang - allegedly. But then Mersini-Houghton does not believe in “the universe.” Her signature line of argument, within the landscape of string theory,[1] has long been for the existence of a multitude of universes as wave functions - a “multiverse.” In that aspect of string theory, for which at least some hard evidence appears to exist,[2] our universe is merely one of 100500 possible ones,[3] as Hugh Everett, III had first proposed in his 1957 many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics.[4] She claims that, as a logical result, standard Big Bang cosmology has been plain wrong. And, no, Mersini-Houghton is assuredly not a scientific undercover agent of creationism, either. In fact, she professes: “I am still not over the shock.”[5] 

A matter of speculation since its first known conception in 1783 by British philosopher John Michell,[6] black holes have fueled human and scientific imagination ever since.  Later, Einstein’s general relativity defined a black hole as a region in spacetime where immense gravitational attraction prevents everything including light from escaping, and in 1931 Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar derived from special relativity that a white dwarf above 1.4 solar masses had no stable solution.[7] But already in 1924, Arthur Eddington[8] had showed that the singularity (also known as the event horizon) disappears after a change in coordinates, leading early to speculation that the singularity was indeed a singularity of coordinates only, not one physical in nature.[9] Soon after, in 1931, Eddington, Georges Lemaitre and Lev Landau[10] already hypothesized that an as yet unknown mechanism would intervene to stop the dying star’s collapse into such an infinitesimally small point,[11] drawing with it all evidence of its existence and leaving no trace. While experimental proof still seems beyond realistic reach, even theoretical proof of that idea had to wait until September 2014 when Mersini-Houghton presented her fascinating mathematical evidence on arXive, showing that Landau’s 1931 conjecture had indeed been correct. She identified the deus ex machina mechanism that prevent a singularity in every single instance of an emergent stages of a black hole:[12] Quantum effects, specifically Hawking radiation that gradually diminishes both mass and energy of a black hole,[13] will stop the creation of a “true” black hole by “evaporation.” However, it can be an exceedingly slow process: a black hole featuring one solar mass evaporates in 2.098 × 1067 years, a period considerably longer than the current age of the universe at 13.798 ± 0.037 x 109 years,[14] though many smaller black holes will have a significantly shorter life span. The predicted singularity born of the collapse of mass under its own gravity into a single point in space therefore never happens in reality and the invisible membrane called event horizon never comes into existence. Mersini-Houghton’s mathematics shows that a point of no return whereafter a black hole’s gravitational pull becomes so powerful that not even light can escape may be approached but is never reached. From her mathematical proof, far too complex to discuss here in meaningful ways, it appears that the famous contradiction between Einstein’s theory of gravity under general relativity on one hand and quantum theory’s statement on the other hand that no information can ever disappear from the universe (the famous “information loss paradox”)[15] may have been harmonized by Mersini-Houghton in favor of quantum theory. The consequences are enormously significant and have not been assessed to date.

Based solely on theoretical quantum mechanics, Stephen Hawking had predicted in 1974 that, in accordance with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, a rotating black hole had to emit radiation.[16] Mersini-Houghton agrees but claims that, in so doing, it also sheds mass in an intensity sufficient to prevent the dying star from ever reaching a level of density that would be required to turn it into an veritable black hole by passing the event horizon.

But if a singularity can thus never come into existence, how, then, exactly did the reverse process occur in the Big Bang, with the elements of an infinitely condensed universe unfolding out of a rapidly unfolding singularity? It might be possible for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to generate highly unstable “micro black holes” that will evaporate very quickly yet may permit certain aspects of experimental verification.[17]

[1] Rubenstein, Mary-Jane. Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse. New York: Columbia University Press (2014). See also her bio here and publications
[2] Zurek, Wojciech. “Hard evidence for the multiverse found, but string theory limits the space brain threat.” Not Even Wrong and Chown, Marcus. “The void: imprint of another universe?New Scientist No. 2631, 2007-11-24     
[3] Ananthaswamy, Anil. Mystery of a giant void inspace.” New Scientist No. 2635, 2007-12-22. 
[4] Everett, Hugh. Theory of the Universal Wavefunction. Thesis, Princeton University (1956, 1973), 1-140; Everett, Hugh. “Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics.” 29 Reviews of Modern Physics (1957), 454-462.  DeWitt, Bryce Seligman. “Quantum Mechanics and Reality: Could the solution to the dilemma of indeterminism be a universe in which all possible outcomes of an experiment actually occur?” Physics Today, 23(9), 30–40 (September 1970): "every quantum transition taking place on every star, in every galaxy, in every remote corner of the universe is splitting our local world on earth into myriads of copies of itself." See also Physics Today, letters followup 24(4), (April 1971), 38–44.
[5]WNCN, “UNC prof says black holescan’t exist.” 2014-09-24  
[6] Michell, John. 74 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1783),35.
[7] Venkataraman, G. Chandrasekhar and His Limit. Hyderabad, Universities Press (1992), 89.
[8] Padmanabhan, Thanu. "The dark side of astronomy.”  Nature 435 (7038) 2005, 20.
[9] ‘t Hooft, G. Introduction tothe Theory of Black Holes. Utrecht: Institute for Theoretical Physics / Spinoza Institute 2009, 47–48. 
[10]  Id.
[11] Detweiler, Steven. "Resource letter BH-1: Black holes". American Journal of Physics 49 (5) (1981),394–400.
[12] An approximate solution is presented in Mersini-Houghton, Laura. “Back-reaction of the Hawking radiation flux on a gravitationally collapsing star I: Black holes?” Physics Letters B 30496, 16 September 2014 and on arXiv; the exact solution came a few months later in Mersini-Houghton, Laura; Pfeiffer, Harald P. “Back-reaction of the Hawking radiation flux on agravitationally collapsing star II: Fireworks instead of firewalls.”   
[13] Matson, John. "Artificialevent horizon emits laboratory analog to theoretical black hole radiation". Scientific American Oct 1, 2010, 
[14] Planck Collaboration. "Planck 2013 results. XVI. Cosmological parameters.” 
[15] Giddings, Steven B. "The Black Hole Information Paradox". Particles, Strings and Cosmology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Workshop on Current Problems in Particle Theory 19 and the PASCOS Interdisciplinary Symposium 5 (1995).  
[16] DeWitt, Bryce. Quantum Gravity: “The New Synthesis” in General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey. Stephen Hawking and W Israel, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010, 696.
[17] Giddings, Steven B. and Thomas, Scott D. "High-energy colliders as black holefactories: The End of short distance physics," on arXiv and in Physical Review D 65 056010 (2002)


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