Humans could survive black hole journey, but would be adrift from reality

21 Feb 2018

Image: Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Travelling through a black hole would instantly kill you, right? Not necessarily, according to new research.

Science fiction has, for years, put forward the idea that travelling through a black hole might transport you to another location in space or time.

While we understand little about them, we have generally come to the consensus that if anything or anyone gets too close to one, the giant gravity vacuum will tear the subject apart down to the smallest atom.

However, a mathematician from the University of California, Berkeley, believes he has evidence to suggest that some black holes might actually allow someone to pass through and survive – but not without some serious mind-melting consequences.

The existing principle is that experiencing a horrible death from entering a black hole would prevent observers from actually entering a region of spacetime where their future was not uniquely determined.

First proposed 40 years ago, the theory holds the idea of determinism at its core – that is, given the past and present, the physical laws of the universe do not allow for more than one possible future.

Adrift from concept of reality

However, in a paper published to Physical Review Letters, postdoctoral fellow Peter Hintz detailed calculations showing that in universes such as our own – which is expanding at an accelerating rate – it is possible to survive the passage from a deterministic world into a non-deterministic black hole.

This would mean that for any unfortunate person travelling through it, their past would be obliterated and they could have an infinite number of possible futures, leaving them somewhat adrift from our concept of reality.

Importantly, this theory does not conflict with Einstein’s equations of general relativity, but leaves us with no idea of what an unpredictable universe might be like.

Physical and philosophical

“No physicist is going to travel into a black hole and measure it. This is a maths question,” Hintz said.

“But, from that point of view, this makes Einstein’s equations mathematically more interesting. This is a question one can really only study mathematically, but it has physical, almost philosophical, implications, which makes it very cool.”

Even if someone were to make it to a small black hole to try the theory, the tidal forces close to the event horizon – or point of no return – are enough to ‘spaghettify’ anything.

However, this work has encouraged other researchers to examine the idea, one of whom suggests that most well-behaved black holes will not violate determinism. Hintz insists that one instance of violation is one too many.

“People had been complacent for some 20 years, since the mid-1990s, that strong cosmological censorship is always verified,” he said. “We challenge that point of view.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic