Stephen Hawking recently discussed black holes and the often contradictory properties associated with them during a lecture at Harvard. The Harvard Gazette said recently that Hawking specifically explained that, if information is really lost in black holes, then we will have been misunderstanding not only black holes, but the science of determinism, for the last 200 years.

Hawking said that particles that fall into a black hole “can’t just emerge when the black hole disappears.” Instead, “the particles that come out of a black hole seem to be completely random and bear no relation to what fell in. It appears that the information about what fell in is lost, apart from the total amount of mass and the amount of rotation.”

To put that more simply, it’s like someone shooting a basketball into a hoop and, instead of the ball coming out of the basket, something totally different comes out. But that’s not what Hawking is concerned about – he’s more concerned with the fact that the basketball – or information – seems to vanish altogether.

There are many ways to read that – for one, where does that information go? Somewhere else? In the past, Hawking has suggested that it’s possible these black holes lead elsewhere – other universes, maybe. But even crazier, Hawking says that because we don’t know what happens to this information, we also can’t be sure of the science of determinism in other aspects of our being.

“If determinism breaks down, we can’t be sure of our past history either,” Hawking said. “The history books and our memories could just be illusions. It is the past that tells us who we are. Without it, we lose our identity.”

“Black holes are stranger than anything dreamed up by science fiction writers, but they are clearly matters of science fact.”

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