Will the ‘Information Paradox’ Pioneered by Stephen Hawking Ever Be Resolved?

The problem inspired a famous physics bet and a „black hole war.“

Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Science enthusiasts around the world are mourning the loss of Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist and beloved public figure, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 76. Hawking spent his life exploring the universe’s deepest mysteries and advancing sophisticated frameworks to explain its most elusive phenomena, such as black holes, alternate universes, and the tenuous future of life on Earth and elsewhere.

The motor neurone disease ALS confined him to a wheelchair and necessitated that he communicate through an electronic speech aid, but Hawking’s own immense passion for the cosmos—along with his cheeky sense of humor—shone through in his many popular science books, public appearances, and mountains of academic research.

In the midst of heartfelt tributes from his friends, colleagues, and fans, the scientific community continues to build on Hawking’s prolific academic contributions, which cement his legacy as one of the most forward-thinking cosmologists in a field that has no lack of trippy cosmic visions.

One major question that Hawking identified, but did not live to see resolved, is the black hole information paradox. This heady problem dates back to Hawking’s 1974 prediction that black holes aren’t completely black—they “radiate,” losing small amounts of mass over time. This theoretical evaporation of black holes, known as Hawking radiation, may sound benign enough, but it challenges the laws of the universe as we know them.

At the crux of the paradox is a classic clash between quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Quantum mechanics is built on the assumption that the universe’s physical “information,” which means properties of elemental matter like mass, spin, or configuration, cannot be permanently destroyed. While physical forms might change—a piece of coal can be compressed into a diamond, for instance—information about cosmic junk is never deleted.

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