Horizons of Description: Black Holes and Complementarity

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (2003)
Abstract
Niels Bohr famously argued that a consistent understanding of quantum mechanics requires a new epistemic framework, which he named complementarity . This position asserts that even in the context of quantum theory, classical concepts must be used to understand and communicate measurement results. The apparent conflict between certain classical descriptions is avoided by recognizing that their application now crucially depends on the measurement context. ;Recently it has been argued that a new form of complementarity can provide a solution to the so-called information loss paradox. Stephen Hawking argues that the evolution of black holes cannot be described by standard unitary quantum evolution, because such evolution always preserves information, while the evaporation of a black hole will imply that any information that fell into it is irrevocably lost---hence a "paradox." Some researchers in quantum gravity have argued that this paradox can be resolved if one interprets certain seemingly incompatible descriptions of events around black holes as instead being complementary. ;In this dissertation I assess the extent to which this black hole complementarity can be undergirded by Bohr's account of the limitations of classical concepts. I begin by offering an interpretation of Bohr's complementarity and the role that it plays in his philosophy of quantum theory. After clarifying the nature of classical concepts, I offer an account of the limitations these concepts face, and argue that Bohr's appeal to disturbance is best understood as referring to these conceptual limits. ;Following preparatory chapters on issues in quantum field theory and black hole mechanics, I offer an analysis of the information loss paradox and various responses to it. I consider the three most prominent accounts of black hole complementarity and argue that they fail to offer sufficient justification for the proposed incompatibility between descriptions. ;The lesson that emerges from this dissertation is that we have as much to learn from the limitations facing our scientific descriptions as we do from the successes they enjoy. Because all of our scientific theories offer at best limited, effective accounts of the world, an important part of our interpretive efforts will be assessing the borders of these domains of description
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Peter Bokulich (2011). Interactions and the Consistency of Black Hole Complementarity. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (4):371-386.
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