Bro, Do You Even Black Hole?



The headlines are reporting on a recent paper submitted to arXiv, which has not, as of this writing, emerged from peer-review, although it builds on the author’s earlier work which has. The paper’s primary author, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a theoretical physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, claims her work proves that black holes cannot form in the first place. “I’m still not over the shock,” she said in a written statement issued by the university. “We’ve been studying this problem for more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”

Mersini-Houghton is not the first one to claim that black holes don’t exist. Stephen J. Crothers has been claiming to have disproven their existence for quite some time, and even Stephen Hawking has issued a statement that “there are no black holes” (although he didn’t mean that literally).

Mersini-Houghton’s claims are even more extraordinary, however. (And we all know what extraordinary claims require.) In order to conclude that black holes don’t exist, she claims to have united general relativity with quantum mechanics, a feat which has been a sort of “holy grail” of modern physics.

If anyone is going to find this particular Holy Grail, I’ve always believed it’s likely going to be a young turk scientist, and not a member of the old guard. If took a youthful Einstein to overturn the Newtonian order, and even he was kind of blindsided shortly thereafter by quantum mechanics, and never seemed to get completely comfortable with it.

ASIDE: Nobody is comfortable with quantum physics. It’s too deeply weird and anyway our brains don’t function at that level.

But for now, color me deeply skeptical of Mersini-Houghton’s claims and conclusions.