- (Information) Paradox Lost
Here is the problem. The dynamics of quantum field theories is always reversible. It also preserves probabilities which, taken together (assuming linearity), means the time-evolution is unitary. That quantum field theories are unitary depends on certain assumptions about space-time, notably that space-like hypersurfaces – a generalized version of moments of ‘equal time’ – are complete. Space-like hypersurfaces after the entire evaporation of black holes violate this assumption. They are, as the terminology has it, not complete Cauchy surfaces. Hence, there is no reason for time-evolution to be unitary in a space-time that contains a black hole. What’s the paradox then, Maudlin asks.
First, let me point out that this is hardly news. As Maudlin himself notes, this is an old story, though I admit it’s often not spelled out very clearly in the literature. In particular the Susskind-Thorlacius paper that Maudlin picks on is wrong in more ways than I can possibly get into here. Everyone in the field who has their marbles together knows that time-evolution is unitary on “nice slices”– which are complete Cauchy-hypersurfaces – at all finite times. The non-unitarity comes from eventually cutting these slices. The slices that Maudlin uses aren’t quite as nice because they’re discontinuous, but they essentially tell the same story.
What Maudlin does not spell out however is that knowing where the non-unitarity comes from doesn’t help much to explain why we observe it to be respected. Physicists are using quantum field theory here on planet Earth to describe, for example, what happens in LHC collisions. For all these Earthlings know, there are lots of black holes throughout the universe and their current hypersurface hence isn’t complete. Worse still, in principle black holes can be created and subsequently annihilated in any particle collision as virtual particles. This would mean then, according to Maudlin’s argument, we’d have no reason to even expect a unitary evolution because the mathematical requirements for the necessary proof aren’t fulfilled. But we do.
So that’s what irks physicists: If black holes would violate unitarity all over the place how come we don’t notice? This issue is usually phrased in terms of the scattering-matrix which asks a concrete question: If I could create a black hole in a scattering process how come that we never see any violation of unitarity.
Maybe we do, you might say, or maybe it’s just too small an effect. Yes, people have tried that argument, which is the whole discussion about whether unitarity maybe just is violated etc. That’s the place where Hawking came from all these years ago. Does Maudlin want us to go back to the 1980s?
In his paper, he also points out correctly that – from a strictly logical point of view – there’s nothing to worry about because the information that fell into a black hole can be kept in the black hole forever without any contradictions. I am not sure why he doesn’t mention this isn’t a new insight either – it’s what goes in the literature as a remnant solution. Now, physicists normally assume that inside of remnants there is no singularity because nobody really believes the singularity is physical, whereas Maudlin keeps the singularity, but from the outside perspective that’s entirely irrelevant.
It is also correct, as Maudlin writes, that remnant solutions have been discarded on spurious grounds with the result that research on the black hole information loss problem has grown into a huge bubble of nonsense. The most commonly named objection to remnants – the pair production problem – has no justification because – as Maudlin writes – it presumes that the volume inside the remnant is small for which there is no reason. This too is hardly news. Lee and I pointed this out, for example, in our 2009 paper. You can find more details in a recent review by Chen et al.
The other objection against remnants is that this solution would imply that the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy doesn’t count microstates of the black hole. This idea is very unpopular with string theorists who believe that they have shown the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy counts microstates. (Fyi, I think it’s a circular argument because it assumes a bulk-boundary correspondence ab initio.)
Either way, none of this is really new. Maudlin’s paper is just reiterating all the options that physicists have been chewing on forever: Accept unitarity violation, store information in remnants, or finally get it out.
The real problem with black hole information is that nobody knows what happens with it. As time passes, you inevitably come into a regime where quantum effects of gravity are strong and nobody can calculate what happens then. The main argument we are seeing in the literature is whether quantum gravitational effects become noticeable before the black hole has shrunk to a tiny size.
So what’s new about Maudlin’s paper? The condescending tone by which he attempts public ridicule strikes me as bad news for the – already conflict-laden – relation between physicists and philosophers.