Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How strange can things get?

Modern physics dealing with the fabric of our universe is deeply fascinating. This is one of my personal interests and I spend many hours reading books, watching lectures and thinking about this stuff. There are certain concepts out there that are so mind-bending that I cannot help but marvel and them and share them out to anyone who is interested.

Take black hole physics for example. There is this field of study called 'black hole thermodynamics' which has to do with the entropy (yes, good old entropy again!) of black holes. At first, it was thought that black holes were 'hairless', given their unescapable gravity well, they didn't radiate, their temperature was absolute zero and as a result they would exist for an infinite amount of time. Then this fellow named Stephen Hawking came around, did a bit of thinking about life near the event horizon of a black hole at the quantum level and concluded that black holes do indeed radiate and will eventually evaporate altogether. So called 'Hawking Radiation'. Add some string theory to the mix and we arrive at probably the most mind-boggling concept I know of, the so-called 'Holographic Principle'. First postulated by Gerard 't Hooft (Dutch!), it states that the three-dimensional reality as we experience it is really a projection of information stored in quantum bits on a two-dimensional boundary surrounding us. Yeah, read that a few times and see if it makes sense. If you go deeper into this and see how they came to this bewildering conclusion, it starts making just a teeny tiny bit more sense but it still gives me headaches every time I think about it.

OK, that is enough crazy talk. I came across a lecture by another Dutchman, Robbert Dijkgraaf, who explains these and many other fascinating things. Again, sit back, open your mind and take it all in.

Want to go deeper? Read 'The Black Hole War'. Sounds like a sci-fi novel, but really an account of two theories of black hole physics and their bewildering but immensely interesting ramifications.

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