The excellent science writer Dennis Overbye brings news of a red-hot controversy roiling the world of physics. The gist:

Being incinerated as you entered a black hole would certainly contradict Einstein’s dictum of no drama. If this were true, you would in fact die long before the bungee-jumping ride ever got anywhere close to the bottom. The existence of a firewall would mean that the horizon, which according to general relativity is just empty space, is a special place, pulling the rug out from under Einstein’s principle, his theory of gravity, and modern cosmology, which is based on general relativity. This presented the scientists with what Dr. Bousso calls the “menu from hell.” If the firewall argument was right, one of three ideas that lie at the heart and soul of modern physics, had to be wrong. Either information can be lost after all; Einstein’s principle of equivalence is wrong; or quantum field theory, which describes how elementary particles and forces interact, is wrong and needs fixing. Abandoning any one of these would be revolutionary or appalling or both.

Dr. Polchinski was very surprised by the result. “It seemed like such a simple argument that it must have been considered and resolved earlier,” he said. After trying to kill it by talking to colleagues in Santa Barbara, he e-mailed Dr. Susskind of Stanford, an old hand at black holes and information, expecting that Dr. Susskind would point out the error.

“But after a week or two of disbelief,” Dr. Polchinski said, “he was as confused as we” were.

Dr. Susskind said: “The arguments are very clear. Nobody knew what to make of them.”

It gets weirder. This whole argument entails how space and time are structured. I am going to drink my second cup of coffee and re-read this piece, and think about it some more. I’ll let you know if I solve the problem.

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