The Black Hole Initiative: Towards a Center for Interdisciplinary Research
President and Fellows of Harvard College
This is a proposal to establish an interdisciplinary Black Hole Initiative (BHI) with the ultimate goal of creating a permanent Center. It will usher in a science of black holes not owned by a single field, just as neuroscience began by overstepping traditional bounds. Located at Harvard University, the Initiative will combine the observation, theory, mathematics, and philosophy of black holes--engaging a wide scientific, philosophical and public community. Every galaxy similar to or larger than the Milky Way has a supermassive black hole at its center. The observational component of the BHI focuses on these entities through the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). This earth-spanning effort will link radio dishes into an array capable of directly imaging the shadows cast by the central black holes in the Milky Way and Virgo A galaxies. EHT observations will join with theory, models, and simulations to fuel new inquiries into the astrophysics of black holes, forging links to colliding black holes and their ability to rip apart and devour entire stars. Astonishing as black holes are, the classical story is incomplete. Singularities and intense spacetime curvature brings in quantum physics—giving rise to the “information paradox,” pitting general relativity (no information escapes a black hole which ultimately evaporates) against quantum physics (information is never lost). The information paradox may link to EHT observations—and to mathematical inquiries into the nonlinear partial differential equations at the core of general relativity. Even more: black holes raise questions about physical and philosophical explanation. What becomes of space, time, information, and determinism near a singularity? Does quantum geometry challenge time and space—basic to philosophy since Kant? Is the inside of a black hole physically real? Theory, observation, philosophy—even filmmaking cross-pollinate, as we collectively address this extraordinary thing, the black hole.