12. The Black Hole War, Leonard Susskind

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12. The Black Hole War, Leonard Susskind

Post  jrpstonecarver on Tue Mar 02, 2010 7:20 pm

Some time back I read two books on string theory by Brian Greene. Both were interesting, well written, and managed to explain complicated physics in a manner that made them somewhat easier to understand.

It turns out that a lot has changed in physics since those books were written, or that those books don't cover a bunch of things going on in the field. The Black Hole War describes many thing Greene doesn't, but does so in passing, as it tells the story of a significant disagreement over the fate of information that gets sucked into black holes.

The resolution of that argument took a long time. Susskind describes a meeting in 1981 where Stephen Hawking made the claim that any information entering a black hole is lost forever. Susskind and Gerard 't Hooft were bothered by this - it violated a fundamental principle - and began trying to prove it incorrect. It took until 2007 before Hawking admitted he was wrong.

In those 26 years physics saw huge changes. String theory, among other things, made a big impact. But many other discoveries were made as well, and a lot of physicists were involved. Susskind describes all kinds of interesting physics in this book, and credits many other physicists with important discoveries that helped make his case.

Overall The Black Hole War is a good read, and it explores some fascinating ground, but there is a problem. Maybe it's that Susskind has too many things to cover to make his case, so he cannot cover individual topics in enough depth to make them clear. I suspect, though, that Susskind isn't quite as good at explaining these non-intuitive concepts as Greene is.

For example, a few hours after finishing the book I couldn't explain the holographic principle to my wife, and it's a key element of the proof Susskind is making.

Perhaps the failure is mine, or the material is so strange that it doesn't make sense to humans given the way we've evolved, but I think it could be described more clearly, even without resorting to the incredibly complicated math that backs it up. At least I hope so.

In any case it is clear that there is a lot of current physics that I don't understand, and didn't know was being researched before I read this book.

Recommended, but I hope that Warped Passages by Lisa Randall - when I get to it - provides a clearer explanation of at least some of the underlying physics.
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