Nov 22, 2014

INTERSTELLAR – Blockbuster Movie features Decisive Black-Hole Effect

Posted by in category: cosmology

The movie is grandiose and beautifully done. Especially the young girl at the outset is an incredibly strong real-life personality. The movie brings together the issue of planetary survival – under the onslaught of a never explained progressive lethal scourge – with the redeeming power of black holes used as a vehicle to reach a distant twin earth to be colonized by a select few.

The scenario is ingenious because the two topics – planetary survival and black holes – are intertwined on our own planet as well. The movie therefore functions much like a nightly dream which reshuffles some elements of the daylight reality to enable the sleep to go on while still remaining decipherable after waking up. The current terrestrial situation is not at all unrelated – with black holes figuring decisively in it as well.

In this optically and acoustically overwhelming immersion, for the first time in history the basic effect which a black hole exerts on its vicinity is made palpable. The viewer becomes an eyewitness to the emotional ordeal gone through by the protagonist (a trained jet pilot originally) when he suddenly realizes what it means that he and his buddy are by a technical problem forced to stay for a few more minutes fairly deep down in the gravitational funnel of a giant black hole: That this means that decades will pass by on the outside during those very minutes – so his young daughter whom he so much longs to see again will afterwards be older than he is now. And indeed, when he returns at the end of the movie, she is lying on her death bed in old age, with all her descendants assembled around her.

The movie thereby makes “gravitational time dilation” a palpable experience on the viewer’s own body and mind. And it does the same thing to the specialists’ minds, so I am sure. Textbook knowledge can never replace being made an eyewitness in person. You are now able to realize yourself what happens if you get even closer to the surface (or “horizon” as my friend Wolfgang Rindler named it) of a black hole. The answer is that you will in the limit of going down to the horizon itself be faced with an infinitely old universe on your return.

The movie in a less vivid way also employs a “wormhole” at one point – using an Einstein-Rosen bridge between a black hole and a white hole glued together at the waist – in order reach a very far-away sister earth. However, this is a forgivable dramaturgic effect. In reality, the bridge is unfortunately closed unless putting up with a twice-infinite traveling time as far as the outside world is concerned is made part of the mission.

When you have watched the movie and do now read this, you will have difficulty believing me that this intuitive time-delaying effect, witnessed when you saw the captain cringe under the sacrifice of losing years of simultaneity with his beloved daughter, happens to be strangely unknown to the specialists of the trade. My task is now to explain this second paradox which is not a physical one.

I almost feel tempted to act like my friend John Wheeler did when a journalist pressed him to explain why he no longer believed in the many-worlds theory of his pupil Hugh Everett, replying: “Please, Mr. X, spare me the task of explaining because I then might suffer a relapse.” But in earnest: No one can explain this historical blind spot of the scientific community. Or to stress the positive side: No one can explain how Kip Thorne, the movie’s scientific adviser and former pupil of Wheeler’s, could possibly conceive of the mentioned scene with the father’s deep sorrow, for it is so maximally hard to go against the grain of a whole learned community – even if what is at stake as here is as maximally uncontroversial and simple as the “immortal scene” witnessed by us.

So that scene is uncontroversial? Absolutely, but totally unknown. The explanation is a historical one. No other field in science is as difficult as black hole theory is in the famous formalism of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Only nerds survive: They eventually can swim freely but have by then lost contact to the shore. Nothing is wrong with their elegant swimming suits – the mathematical “transformations” used to get farther out with a solution. Only the connection to the shore got severed. These transformations are allowed mathematically but not physically. So it could happen that the viewers and the movie makers alike would get decoupled from the specialists in effect – not for their being less but for their being more knowledgeable for once. The scene with the slowed bodily clocks is common knowledge on paper in principle but not at all in the hearts. It indeed is no one’s fault that the two hemispheres in the heads of the scientific community were never forced together before. This makes the scene and the movie unique.

But why does this point make the whole movie vitally important? This has to do with our own planet. Humankind is doing everything it can to produce miniature black holes down on earth. This was attempted for three years already, and the plan is to after a year’s pause for reconstruction continue at twice the power in a few weeks’ time from now. Yet the experimenters hereby forgot the fact that nothing can get-in into a black hole in finite outer time. This follows from the scene in the movie by assuming the astronauts to have plunged deeper and deeper. And the experimenters forgot, too, that nothing can get out from the horizon in finite outer time. Black holes are never even finished in finite universe time since everything gets infinitely slowed-down – “frozen” – in their vicinity as we witnessed with the minutes that corresponded to years when one was still quite far outside. Since the horizon does not even form in finite outer time, the commonly accepted “life insurance” against mini black holes produced down on earth – the famous “Hawking evaporation” – is only an elegant mathematical formula that has no substance physically speaking. So it does not prevent – as everyone in the community unfortunately believes it does – that a first successfully produced mini black hole will get stuck inside earth to grow there exponentially. Presently, Ebola is doing the same thing on the surface of the earth as everyone has learned. Yet even here, no one appears to fully understand what “exponential growth” means: that it may soon be too late to save a whole capital or country or continent. Remember the disbelieving king in the fable who underestimated the number of rice grains on his checkerboard when every next field contains twice as many? 2 to the 64 is big. But 64 is not the end in reality. This growth law is what makes for a genuine scourge whereever it applies. The earth would be shrunk to 2 cm after a silent period of only a few years, by a mini black hole got stuck inside, no one denies.

This is the atmosphere into which the science-fiction movie INTERSTELLAR got released on our real earth. The European Nuclear Research organization which tries to produce the minis has so far decided not to renew their 6 years old Safety Report ahead of restarting at twice the power in a few weeks’ time from now. Once INTERSTELLAR has turned a whole planet into specialists in understanding gravitational time dilation by using their own guts and hearts, however, earth’s citizens can no longer be denied the right to be offered a renewed safety report. Thus after a fictional movie gave away the decisive secret of black holes, a whole planet now has a brighter future if the present report or its gist is taken up by the media. I believe that one reader will make this happen.

CERN could then attempt to stem the tide by getting the movie off the screen to have the dangerous scene removed. More effective would be to stop advertising the movie. But I am dreaming: Why should anyone believe me? It is the young people who have watched the movie. Each viewer has suddenly come close to Einstein’s heart. Conversely, Einstein is maximally pleased – so I can dare say from what I learned from John Wheeler about him – regarding the fact that the time-slowing scene gives the planet an enhanced chance for survival by getting the 6 years old safety report renewed as an inalienable birth right. So I simply stop after saying that Johnny Wheeler would be proud of Kip Thorne for his opening-up the eyes of a whole planet with a movie! And after not forgetting to remind the young actress from the movie’s beginning to, please, remain as strong as you are!

For J.O.R.


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  1. Otto E. Rossler says:

    In Germany the theaters are crowded.