Are black holes surrounded by walls of fire? Does this imply that one (or more) of our most cherished physical principles—and here I’m talking about biggies like quantum theory, the conservation of information or Einstein’s equivalence principle—is wrong? Any may our savior come in the form of wormholes? These are the questions consuming some of the world’s foremost theoretical particle physicists as they argue about potential solutions to what has become known as the “black hole firewall” problem—perhaps the most important paradox in physics since Stephen Hawking proposed his first black hole information paradox nearly four decades ago.
The black hole firewall paradox has caused no small amount of wonder and confusion amongst particle physicists. It appears as though one of our core beliefs about the universe is wrong: Either particles can be promiscuously entangled, leading to quantum disaster (basically no one takes this option seriously; quantum theory and the no-promiscuous-entanglement rule are far too well supported by decades of experimental evidence), or information is not conserved (another non-starter), or black holes have firewalls (even Polchinski considers this a reductio ad absurdum), or… we just don’t fully understand what’s really going on.
And so in an effort to sort the mess out, physicists gathered this week at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB to talk over the options. (They’ve been doing a great job uploading videos of all the talks, so if you’re interested in watching smart folks try to hash out knotty thought experiments in near-real time, you can follow along at home.) One of the most intriguing possibilities for a solution comes from Juan Maldacena and Leonard Susskind, building on the ideas of Mark Van Raamsdonk and Brian Swingle. Maldacena and Susskind posit that the solution to the firewall problem may come in the form of wormholes.
It makes you wonder if ALL entanglement isn't an example of wormholes, ahem, Einstein-Rosen Bridges attached to particles. Hence, the title.