Black holes? They are like a hologram

According to new research, black holes could be like a hologram, where all the information is amassed in a two-dimensional surface able to reproduce a three-dimensional image

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IMAGE: What researchers have done is apply the theory of the holographic principle to black holes. In this way, their mysterious thermodynamic properties have become more understandable: focusing on predicting that… view more  Credit: Gerd Altmann for PIxabay

We can all picture that incredible image of a black hole that travelled around the world about a year ago. Yet, according to new research by SISSA, ICTP and INFN, black holes could be like a hologram, where all the information is amassed in a two-dimensional surface able to reproduce a three-dimensional image. In this way, these cosmic bodies, as affirmed by quantum theories, could be incredibly complex and concentrate an enormous amount of information inside themselves, as the largest hard disk that exists in nature, in two dimensions. This idea aligns with Einstein’s theory of relativity, which describes black holes as three dimensional, simple, spherical, and smooth, as they appear in that famous image. In short, black holes “appear” as three dimensional, just like holograms. The study which demonstrates it, and which unites two discordant theories, has recently been published in Physical Review X.

The mystery of black holes

For scientists, black holes are a big question mark for many reasons. They are, for example, excellent representatives of the great difficulties of theoretical physics in putting together the principles of Einstein’s general theory of relativity with those of quantum physics when it comes to gravity. According to the first theory, they would be simple bodies without information. According to the other, as claimed by Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking, they would be “the most complex existing systems” because they would be characterised by an enormous “entropy”, which measures the complexity of a system, and consequently would have a lot of information inside them.

The holographic principle applied to black holes

To study black holes, the two authors of the research, Francesco Benini (SISSA Professor, ICTP scientific consultant and INFN researcher) and Paolo Milan (SISSA and INFN researcher), used an idea almost 30 years old, but still surprising, called the “holographic principle”. The researchers say: “This revolutionary and somewhat counterintuitive principle proposes that the behavior of gravity in a given region of space can alternatively be described in terms of a different system, which lives only along the edge of that region and therefore in a one less dimension. And, more importantly, in this alternative description (called holographic) gravity does not appear explicitly. In other words, the holographic principle allows us to describe gravity using a language that does not contain gravity, thus avoiding friction with quantum mechanics”.

What Benini and Milan have done “is apply the theory of the holographic principle to black holes. In this way, their mysterious thermodynamic properties have become more understandable: focusing on predicting that these bodies have a great entropy and observing them in terms of quantum mechanics, you can describe them just like a hologram: they have two dimensions, in which gravity disappears, but they reproduce an object in three dimensions”.

From theory to observation

“This study,” explain the two scientists, “is only the first step towards a deeper understanding of these cosmic bodies and of the properties that characterise them when quantum mechanics crosses with general relativity. Everything is more important now at a time when observations in astrophysics are experiencing an incredible development. Just think of the observation of gravitational waves from the fusion of black holes result of the collaboration between LIGO and Virgo or, indeed, that of the black hole made by the Event Horizon Telescope that produced this extraordinary image. In the near future, we may be able to test our theoretical predictions regarding quantum gravity, such as those made in this study, by observation. And this, from a scientific point of view, would be something absolutely exceptional”.


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Jeff Id
June 7, 2020 3:37 am

I have always liked this explanation, works for me.

Stewart Pid
Reply to  Jeff Id
June 7, 2020 7:30 am

I just finished re-reading Kip Thorne’s book on black holes. Read it if you are interested …. a short article like this is a waste of time regarding black holes IMO … u need a good knowledge base prior to discussing black holes or the discussion is about as useful as a dog discussing the mind of Newton.

Do black holes matter?

Reply to  Stewart Pid
June 7, 2020 2:47 pm
Carl Friis-Hansen
June 7, 2020 4:11 am

Does a block hole appear the same way from angles? – A hologram doesn’t.

Allen Stoner
June 7, 2020 4:24 am

talk about a skin deep explanation.
If they really are 2 dimensional, what happened to the material that absolutely was at the center and working outward until the point at which the mass created an event horizon?
Is the event horizon something that propagates from the center point outwards and as it propagates it transforms this material into the event horizon surface? And thus, despite all this gravity, the material at the center of the black hole moves outward? I guess instead of a black hole, what they really should be considered is black balloons?
I always assumed the event horizon formed outside the mass at some distance from the surface of the mass. Energy leaving the surface of the mass at light speed is slowed by the gravity well until it eventually stops by the time it gets to the event horizon.

Ron Long
Reply to  Allen Stoner
June 7, 2020 5:45 am

Allen Stoner, your comment about “the event horizon being outside the mass” is right on. The Law of Gravity only requires capture of anything nearby without sufficient velocity to escape. Herein is the clue to “seeing” a black hole: the photon stream originating behind the black hole and proceeding toward the observer will refract, and this effect is visible from all observer locations, so black holes are three-dimensional and their shape is controlled by gravity.

Reply to  Ron Long
June 7, 2020 2:44 pm

“There is no evidence that matter can collapse to “near infinite density” under gravity’s influence. Black holes are phantoms that can never be observed, since their so-called “event horizons” are impenetrable, allowing no direct observations. No light can escape, so they are invisible at any wavelength. They are pure theory, and have no basis for existence in the natural world”

Ron Long
Reply to  jmorpuss
June 7, 2020 4:26 pm

jmorpuss, OK, I read the thunderbolts article and do not agree. The plasma in any star is mostly the nucleus with the electrons blown away, with ionized nuclii, and dense subatomic particles, circulating in a dense ball controlled by gravity (with complications from a powerful and complex magnetic field). The fusion of nuclii creates higher atomic numbers and the density increases. It is not hard to imagine collapsing nuclii creating higher and higher densities. The alternative to blowing away the electrons is with an initial state of nuclii without electrons, then failure of the accumulating mass drives the dense material apart and electrons are captured.

Reply to  Ron Long
June 8, 2020 3:18 pm

Hi Ron, have you just described a universal battery.??
and what’s holding those electrons in place ? Because electrons with their negative charge would only want to get the hell away from each other.
Do you think black holes are flat or spherical ?

Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 4:59 am

Leonard Susskind Lecture 2 Black Holes and the Holographic Principle 1:30:00 Four years ago.

Easily understood with a thorough grounding in Professor Susskind’s Theoretical Minimum in physics. If one has not attended closely to Professor Susskind’s vast on-line lectures then you best get to it! He’s about 90 y.o. and a true treasure.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 5:05 am

In brief, the Holographic Principle is that all information content can be coded on to the one dimensionally reduced surface. Conceptually, analogously, the information coded in 2-D text on a sheet of paper could be coded on to the edge of the sheet.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 6:16 am

In theory.

If I have a binary logic gate a 1 could be 5 volts and a 0 could be 0 volts. If I want to know whether there’s a 1 or a 0, I can measure it with my volt meter. We call the voltage a symbol and it represents one binary digit (bit).

I could code more information by having more voltage levels.
0 volts = 0 decimal = 00 binary
1 volt = 1 decimal = 01 binary
2 volts = 2 decimal = 10 binary
3 volts = 3 decimal = 11 binary
If I have four voltage levels, I can encode two binary digits. So, one symbol (ie. voltage level) can represent two bits.

In theory, I can represent as many bits as I want by having enough voltage levels. There’s a practical limit because the difference between the voltage levels becomes so tiny that any noise at all changes the symbol.

Holograms aren’t magic. They encode information and they are limited by resolution and noise, something like Shannon’s law.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 11:23 am

The lecture ‘The World As Hologram’, black holes and the universe as a hologram can be found at

June 7, 2020 5:40 am

Some folks don’t like the idea that information can be lost. They subscribe to a conservation of information theory, similar to conservation of mass, etc. Imagine being able to take the current state of the universe and calculate backward everything that happened since the beginning of time.

Some folks seem to think information is the foundation of everything. link

Charles Higley
Reply to  commieBob
June 7, 2020 7:13 am

None of this explains why there are about nine different models for black holes, which all determine paces aspects of the universe. Why so many models? Because they do not work in terms of real observations of the Universe. However, they say that they will figure out the “details” later and want to look for them anyhow—more funding, please. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and even NASA have said that blacks holes are not possible. We are probably detecting incredibly powerful EM nexi that have very high energy signatures, which they , of course, interpret to be black holes.

michael hart
June 7, 2020 5:44 am

We can all picture that incredible image of a black hole that travelled around the world about a year ago.

I somehow manged to miss it, but I’m trying to imagine what it might have looked like. Other than being black and hole-shaped, that is.

Reply to  michael hart
June 8, 2020 3:34 am

Seeing a documentary on how a ‘Black Hole’ so called ‘image’ was constructed by many scientists in teams at their laptops using different algorithms on the data from the many telescopes involved in the project and their excitement until they got a cleaned up image they all liked, made me a little skeptical about that said image as it both resembled what they expected & wanted and a similar image of a entangled (just google entanglement image) ‘particle’. #JustSaying

Reply to  Stargrazzer
June 8, 2020 3:53 am

Part of the documentary Here:

Joel O’Bryan
June 7, 2020 6:24 am

“In this way, these cosmic bodies, as affirmed by quantum theories, could be incredibly complex and concentrate an enormous amount of information inside themselves, as the largest hard disk that exists in nature, in two dimensions. “

I think the obvious is ignored here. Our universe is space-time, 4-D, as described by Einstein’s GR. Gravity curves and distorts both. A black hole collapses time and folds spacetime into a sphere. The “one less dimension” inside the black hole is time. What we perceive as time is increasing entropy. Increasing entropy is the passage of the future of many possibilities into the immutable past, the collapse of uncertainty of many superpositions of possibilities to one realization. Entropy is maximum in black holes, thus time stops. Time is the dimension that collapses. We see 3 dimensions from the outside, but time has stopped on the inside since entropy can no longer increase.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 7, 2020 6:40 am

We know for example that time runs slower the deeper into the gravity well one goes. Clocks on Earth’s surface run slower than a clock in orbit. This GR effect is demonstrated by experiment. GPS time calculations takes this effect into consideration to correct for time distortion between the atomic clocks on 4 space vehicles and those on Earth in the simultaneous calculation of both time and location by the receiver (4D).

Eventually as one descends into ever stronger gravity fields time slows, as seen by the outside observer. Unfortunately tidal forces will begin to sphagettify the observer so the outcome is not “good” as one is dissembled on this one way trip to maximum entropy.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 7, 2020 7:21 am

And, from inside the gravity well an observer would see time outside speed up (until the time when sphagettification occurs). So which time is true reality? Each reality is true, it just depends on the position of the particular observer. Everything is relative to the position of the observer.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 7, 2020 9:26 am

dissemble: v.: “talk or act hypocritically; disguise or conceal Not to be confused with: disassemble – take to pieces; take apart dis·sem·ble (dĭ-sĕm′bəl) v. dis·sem·bled, dis·sem·bling, dis·sem·bles v.intr. To disguise or conceal one’s real nature, motives, or feelings behind a false appearance. To disguise or conceal behind a false …”

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
June 7, 2020 10:39 am

“disassembled” is of course what I meant to write. Spell check gives an option of correct spellings of what it thinks you want. I chose the wrong one without careful reading.

“Spaghettifiction” of course is also the correct correct spelling for what I wrote. It’s a word the spellcheck dictionary does not like.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 8, 2020 7:48 am

Joel O’Bryan:
so the outcome is not “good” as one is dissembled on this one way trip to maximum entropy.

Reminds me of Dr McCoy’s complaint about the Enterprise’s transporter, “Damn thing might scatter my molecules all over the universe”.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 7, 2020 11:04 am

“Our universe is space-time, 4-D, …”. BS. Dimensionalities up to 23 have been useful and 9 and 10 are commonly used. 4 dimensions are space-like, true, but not so useful.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 12:21 pm

Hypothesized. Simply conjectured mathematical constructs that have as many variations as there are physicists who write out the equations.

23, 9, 10 dimensions….Not observed. String theory, M-theory… all still conjecture.
4 dimensions, 3 of spatial extent, 1 of time are observed. Everything else to date is conjecture.
The ultimate problem for experimental confirmation is of course we don’t know how to step outside the box to see if any others exist.

June 7, 2020 6:39 am

This is a poor article. This theory was thought up by Leonard Susskind. You can read up on it in his book The Black Hole War and there are also many of his talks on the subject on Youtube.
The point made is that the maximum amount of information that can be stored in any 3D space is limited by how much we can fit on its surface, where every bit has a Planck length. This is not specific to black holes. This is just as true for the room you are sitting in right now as well as the chocolate box in front of you.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Matt
June 7, 2020 7:45 am

Matt: Your comment is interesting, and the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article here: , would certainly seem to support what you say.

The conceptual difficulty, I think, is that such a proposed (but not exactly sure fire), information theory principle doesn’t necessarily seem to resolve issues of what is really happening in three dimensions of space and one of time. For instance, even just as a theory or hypothesis, does this idea imply that gravity might actually be a regular force embedded in a more or less non-curved space, and *not* a curvature of space and time, as standard Einstein gravity always described things?

If you can’t tell what a theory says about reality, then they are still just working out the math, I suppose.

June 7, 2020 8:02 am

And the universe itself is a reverse black hole expanding faster than the speed of light. I’m waiting to fall in half, stupid intestines.

June 7, 2020 8:21 am

Far-domain inference. We’ve barely reached the edge of our solar system. Why so impatient?

Walter Sobchak
June 7, 2020 9:37 am

Mathematical onanism. Things that cannot be seen, touched, or felt. That no experiment will ever get near. This is not research. It is not science. It is fiction with numbers. The math may be correct, but it has no demonstrable connection to the real world.

Cut off their funding.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
June 7, 2020 10:10 am

My my, how narrow minded.

Some of the spicy anticipation in Gravitational Wave Observatories is the search for a Neutron Star with mass > 2 solar Masses.

Lee Smolin has well demonstrated that the theory of Cosmological Natural Selection and his NS maximum mass are (Karl) Popperian Falsifiable – and thus within Poppers boundary demarcation of science.

James Donald Bailey
June 7, 2020 10:08 am

What have they done that is new? Everything mentioned here comes straight out of Susskind. They need to have added to his work, done something he didn’t.

When all you do is repeat another’s work, that is either a review article or a textbook.

June 7, 2020 11:54 am

The whole universe is like a hologram

June 7, 2020 12:47 pm

@ commieBob
“Some folks don’t like the idea that information can be lost.”
a) Information can be created but not destroyed:
Elementary particles throughout the known universe create new information by change in the mas/energy status, in addition to the existing information related to the past history of each particle. Since present universe volume can contain only certain degrees of freedom, regardless of information being stored in the volume or in its boundary surface, the inevitable consequence is the expansion/inflation of the Universe.
b) Information can not be created or destroyed:
All information regarding future kinetic energy of all elementary particles throughout the known universe was ‘written in/created’ at the time of the ‘big bang’ in form of the energy contained within known universe, which is a contradiction of the postulate . Therefore the BB if there was one, was a stream of information from the previous ‘state’ of universe, still trickling in, in form of the background radiation from all directions into every Planck space. At the same time large part of the currently available information is sinking into the high density information wells of what is known as the ‘beyond event horizon’ the information lost to us forever, while Hawking radiation is the excess to capacity, the unprocessed information.

Reply to  Vuk
June 7, 2020 4:00 pm

My background in quantum mechanics is limited.

I understand that the probability wave function describing an elementary particle such as a photon will collapse and a new wave function will develop randomly, but conserving energy, when the photon interacts with something. There is no way that the wave function of the photon prior to collapse can be determined after it has collapsed, surely. Therefore the information must be lost.

I suppose this is where I differ with the conservation of information theory.

William Astley
June 7, 2020 1:00 pm

The Universe is a Hologram idea….. is Dead Mathematics removed from physical observations. It is not science. It does not help explain anything or point in the right direction.

The concept that there is a supermassive ‘Black’ Hole in the center of every galaxy and, in falling gas into that thing, cannot explain what is observed in and about galaxies.

Due to advances in astronomical observations, it is a fact that there are now hard paradoxes, in Astronomy.

It is physically impossible for a supermassive ‘black’ hole in the center of galaxy to cause pulsating gamma radiation Four Light years away from the galaxy center using …

….the infalling gas and massive black hole ‘engine’ theory to make everything that is observed happen.

Gamma ray emission, that changes and pulsates, four light years away from a supermassive black hole…..

…and the fact that there is a massive long trail of gas from the ‘black’ hole to the thing that is emitting gamma radiation, four light years removed from the black hole….

… and that the thing that is four light years removed from the black hole, is pulsating in multiple frequency bands and changing…

Provides observational evidence that the supermassive ‘black’ hole in the center of galaxies, from time to time ejects a baby pre ‘quasar’ like object, along with a enough gas to create galaxies.

“In any case, it’s just spectacular that something as small as a black hole can drive energy transport to such great distances, (William: Four light years removed from the super massive black hole),” Errando said.
“That surprised me,” Errando said. “The central black hole is the most energetic element in this whole system, so you would expect these very- high-energy gamma rays to be produced close to it.

Instead, they were emitted roughly four light years away, roughly the distance from Earth to the nearest star.

“If the black hole were as big as a university classroom,” he said, “the gamma rays would be emitted in Alaska.
“This tells us that the shocks in the particle winds are probably much more efficient than we had realized, because they are able to transport energy from the black hole great distances and still accelerate particles to these insane energies,” he said.

This observations is a paradox, as it was assumed that special conditions are required to cause a supermassive black hole to suddenly eject gas. It was assumed that only 10% of quasars ejected gas.

What was found using new astronomical observations, is it appears every Quasars ejects massive amounts of gas.

Giant glowing halos discovered around distant quasars

The study involved 19 quasars, selected from among the brightest that are observable with MUSE. Previous studies have shown that around 10% of all quasars examined were surrounded by halos, made from gas known as the intergalactic medium.

These halos extend up to 300,000 light-years away from the centres of the quasars.

This new study, however, has thrown up a surprise, with the detection of large halos around all 19 quasars observed — far more than the two halos that were expected statistically.

The team suspects this is due to the vast increase in the observing power of MUSE over previous similar instruments, but further observations are needed to determine whether this is the case.

Doug Huffman
June 7, 2020 2:30 pm

“ It is not science. It does not help explain anything or point in the right direction. “

But that is not the definition or meaning of science is it? Not mine anyway.

See The Logic of Scientific Discovery You may not like it, but there has not been an integral counter description since, only contradictions and controversion.

June 7, 2020 4:36 pm

“According to the first theory, they would be simple bodies without information. According to the other, as claimed by Jacob Bekenstein and Stephen Hawking, they would be “the most complex existing systems” because they would be characterised by an enormous “entropy”, which measures the complexity of a system, and consequently would have a lot of information inside them.”

This looks like a bit of confused science reporting to me, because it implies that Bekenstein and Hawking have misconceived what entropy is.

In Information theory, entropy is defined as uncertainty and the negative of information. This implies that the greater the entropy of a system, the less information (hence, complexity) it contains.

Consequently, if a black hole is “characterised by an enormous ‘entropy’ ”, it must contain very little information and complexity indeed.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Cassio
June 8, 2020 3:48 am

That’s amusing, anonymouse lecturing Hawking and Bekenstein on entropy. As though they could correct him.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
June 8, 2020 4:51 am

Why didn’t you read my comment properly before sneering at me? The one who needs correcting here is you!

I did not try to lecture Bekenstein and Hawking on entropy. My very first sentence after the quote made it perfectly clear that my criticism was directed at the science reporter who wrote the article, not them.

old construction worker
June 8, 2020 4:38 am

Interesting. We know there is black matter and black energy. Would it be that black holes only suck in black matter past the event horizon while light matter just spins around the outside held there by electro magmatism?

June 8, 2020 1:16 pm

Pleeeeaaaase, where’s Lubos Motl. This paper is about supersymmetric black holes, not Standard Model physics. Lovely theoretical result using assumptions that so far have no experimental confirmation.

June 8, 2020 10:23 pm

The truth behind the photos , What Hubble space telescope really sees.

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