Information Singularity?

When I was a graduate student, my interests were primarily in the realm of the physics of “normal” matter: quantum, classical, and statistical mechanics; and electromagnetics. I did have to take a course in General Relativity; it wasn’t required but since it was taught by the department head and he was a member of my committee, prudence dictated that I should take the course. Besides he was a good teacher as  well as lecturer which set him apart from the faculty herd.

This is not to say that physicists are noted for being great lecturers. The bulk of lecturers were delivered facing one of the blackboards that covered three sides of any classroom while writing equations, interspersed with a few emphasizing words, on the board of the moment. Style was not key, nor rhetoric. I can recall that one of the clearest courses I took as an undergraduate was taught by a professor who had grown up in Japan and whose English language skills were more than adequate for writing articles but not for lecturing. Hence, his lectures were “lectures” were completely on the blackboard except for the occasional Japanese exclamation, largely wasted on us, as emphasis.

Needless to say, a podium was almost a useless appliance in a physics classroom except as something for the lecturer to lean upon as he delivered nasty announcements – examinations, or answered a question that maths would clearly not illuminate, such as what joyous surprises were not covered in the catalog description like long nights writing computer code at the campus computer center – that was in the days of ONLY mainframes and if you were far enough along to be taking physics major courses you better know how to write code – or lab sessions that far transcended the catalog’s one hour of credit – 3 hours per week. A four hour physics course was usually good for at least twenty hours of attention span each week.

The general relativity course was quite different. First of all, there were only two of us in the class, myself and a fellow who had gotten a maths masters and decided he didn’t want to be a mathematician. It was a three hour course which meant it normally met twice a week for two hours per session – semester credit on quarter duration, a very neat way of handling terms. Instead, we met five days a week, two hours a day, and the other student and I alternated with presenting the assignment, seminar fashion.

The textbook was Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, a massive three thousand page dog killer, and the first paperback that I ever paid a hundred dollars for. That book went with me. When I went to lunch or the toilet, the book went. When I drove it sat, open, on the passenger seat so I could snatch a paragraph at stop lights. And the course was taught in the summer so we often ran over the allotted two hours without anyone barging into the classroom.

It was great! I went into the course knowing only a bit of special relativity, as taught in sophmore modern physics and in graduate electromagnetics courses. I left able to read (and if inclined, write) journal articles in the field.

A good portion of the course  was taken up with gravitational singularities. In those days, the state of the knowledge was such that for all we knew everything that crossed the event horizon was like Charley on the MTA – lost and gone forever, but we could throw sandwiches in. This was long before any thought about quantum leakage across the horizon or anything like that. And we didn’t think very much about the information lost in the collapse. Heck, we didn’t worry about information in physics in those days.

So in later years, once we started thinking about the information locked up in matter, we began to worry about how all that information got gobbled up by the singularities. Now, [Link] some folks at Case Western Reserve U have come up with an answer – maybe. Based on the reportage, I haven’t read the paper yet, evidently the information gets transferred to the electromagnetic field before the horizon forms (or presumably before the matter crosses the horizon? – not clear in the reportage.)

So its still great! Even if I didn’t do it. But my interests have stayed with the more conventional domains if not applications.

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