Good for Roger Penrose in standing up to the Hawking-cult (represented by Lisa Kendall), when he said Hawking’s achievements were “astounding” given his physical condition. lightly debunking claims he was the greatest physicist of our time, comparable with Einstein. (BBC interview 14 March 2018)
Penrose did speak for the many UK physicists who find the cult of Stephen Hawking is embarrassing. Our physics so firmly based on explaining reality has been sidelined by esoteric ‘theories’ far removed from observation and experiment.
Penrose said one can’t compare Hawking with Newton or Einstein – these two created theories that encompassed whole areas of physics. Hawking worked within theories accepted at the time. He did combine relativity theory with concepts of quantum mechanics and the one thing due to him that people don’t dispute covers ‘hawking’ radiation from black holes. Penrose continued in the interview to say that he disagrees with Hawking on quantum physics (Hawking reversed his position), on whether Black Holes swallow information. They stayed friendly but did not collaborate further after this, while Penrose increasingly came out as a critic of the cosmo-physics orthodoxy.
The information paradox has been followed by the firewall paradox. Hawking in 2014 proposed allowing light to penetrate the event horizon via quantum fluctuation, effectively destroying ‘no escape’ black holes . But he wouldn’t take the logical step of abandoning black holes for ‘horizonless’ high-gravity objects. Both he and Penrose have invested too much in the concept of a ‘trapped surface’ being essential in solutions to the Einstein field equation; this despite the demonstration of solution classes without this paradox-generating concept
Flirting with ‘god’
Hawking has taken up space-travel for recent filming, though showing no specialist knowledge of the physical or biological issues. The grand phrase about our “ultimate destiny” lying beyond Earth betrays a religious inclination. His best-selling A Brief History of Time concludes with a similar salvo: “the ultimate triumph of human reason — we should know the mind of God”. Philosopher Antony Flew tore into this, though pointing out Hawking admitted considering omitting it, but “had I done so, the sales might have been halved”. Compare it with “God does not play dice” which reflected Einstein’s realist stance and opposition to a capricious God/Nature.
In contrast to Einstein’s exploration of the philosophical basis of physics, Hawking treated philosophy with disdain. He declared in 2010 (in The Grand Design) that philosophy was “dead” because it had “not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics”. He never accepted that his physics – by which he means abstruse cosmo-quantum physics – is replete with conceptual problems
– the fundamental reality of time – Lee Smolin
– multiverse of possible quantum ‘realities’
– universe origin as a spontaneous fluctuation
– overall claims that mathematical models are the reality, including the 11-dimensional space of M-theory that he then advocated.
Together these show reasons a-plenty to call in the philosophers.
The persistence of paradox in black hole theories has been most striking. While the quantum information and firewall paradoxes do trouble the black-hole community, paradoxes in general-relativity of time travel and infinite passage time (measured in the external universe) through the ‘time horizon’ are tolerated. Einstein was not free from this with his ‘worm-hole’ proposition. At that time, physicists devised thought (‘gedanken’) experiments to exclude theories with inconsistencies. Rather than sitting in awe of cosmo-physicists trying to resolve the Black Hole paradox(es), we should suspect that the highly persistent paradoxes do point up a basic inconsistency. Do we need philosophers to insist on paradoxes being resolved?
It’s become commonplace for cult followers to say ‘black holes’ are consequential on Einstein and relativity. Not so – Einstein’s 1939 paper denied the black hole solution, the basis was set by the 1939 paper of Oppenheimer and Snyder (OS). The Penrose-Hawking topological description of ‘trapped surfaces’ supplied underpinning, when it might have exposed the OS solution as paradoxical. Now alternative solutions for a collapsing massive body in general relativity have been identified (eg. Trevor Marshall, in Entropy 2016) without trapped surfaces, which overcome the violations of causality etc. It takes courage to disbelieve Hawking and followers, but let’s dare to think – the paradox means Hawking’s Black Hole has no clothes !