I have seen - and participated in - a nearly infinite discussion at Backreaction, started by a paper about not-quite-conservative solutions to the black hole paradox, where a couple of armchair physicists (and sometimes professional armchair physicists) were simply not able to understand some basic things about statistical physics, thermodynamics, and their relationships. I am always amazed where the self-confidence of the people who are parametrically as dumb as a door knob comes from. These pompous fools never want to realize that they're just wasting other people's time by their stupidity - or maybe they do realize it? Besides Sabine, a physics kibitzer called Peter was genuinely obnoxious. Why are so many loud people who talk nonsense about physics called Peter?
As far as I understand the sociology of these things, basic philosophical postulates of statistical physics and thermodynamics - and their key relationships - should be taught and usually are taught when you're a sophomore, an undergraduate student. These things have been known for more than a century - in classical physics - and quantum mechanics has only made certain limited corrections to this basic philosophy (related to the probabilistic nature of predictions and quantization of various quantities). It's just completely baffling for me when someone who has misunderstood everything about these basic issues is flooding some weblogs that are trying to pretend to be close to the actual physics research.
Black holes: progress
In the last decade, the field of quantum gravity i.e. string theory has made a substantial progress that allows us, for the first time in history, to treat black holes on par with other physical systems with many degrees of freedom. The black hole revolution in string theory can be summarized in this way. In this text, I will explain why and how our present description of a black hole - and observers who fall into it - is completely analogous to our description of a toy train, a large bound state of iron atoms.
This text has several goals. First, it should shed some light on various basic principles that are important for our microscopic description of black holes and black hole processes. But there is another goal which is more elementary: to actually explain what's happening with the toy train degrees of freedom and where the "friction" and "irreversibility" in generally come from because this question seems to be misunderstood by many people, too.
- the microscopic description,
- the macroscopic description
- can we reconstruct the information with the most accurate gadgets that are conceivable according to the laws of physics?
- can we reconstruct the information with gadgets whose size is L "atomic" radii (or Planck lengths, in the gravity case) and that can measure periodicities of vibrations up to the L "atomic" times (or Planck times, in the gravity case) accuracy?
But we already know a lot, for example that the postulates of quantum mechanics and the basic links between statistical physics and thermodynamics are completely general and cover the black hole physics, too.