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A Black Hole in His Heart

Bekenstein

Dr. Jacob Bekenstein, ZL

The groundbreaking theoretical physicist Dr. Jacob Bekenstein died on August 16, 2015, at the age of sixty-eight. Although not well-known in popular culture, he played a key role in developing ideas which transformed much of modern physics. He was the Polak Professor of Theoretical Physics for many years at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Racah Institute of Physics. Hebrew University is one of the targets of the BDS campaign to boycott and isolate Israel.

It’s easy to boycott a place: don’t go there. It’s easy to boycott a thing: don’t use it. It’s a little more difficult though when the thing is ubiquitous in society, such as much of modern medicine, or the technology behind most computers and cel phones. It’s difficult, but it’s possible. Despite his declared support for the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, the physicist Stephen Hawking has failed to give up the communications technology which allows his disease-racked body to talk to the world. It runs on a chip designed in Israel.

It’s even more awkward to boycott an idea, especially when that idea is the foundation of your most important accomplishments: the theories that brought you fame and honor, the work your reputation is built on. Stephen Hawking anyonewhoboycottswon’t boycott or give up his communication system. Nor will he boycott a physics theory from Israel, which powers the ideas he communicates.

A Black Hole in His Heart

Hawking is famous for his work on Black Holes. His two-faced support of the BDS movement demonstrates though that Hawking’s greatest disability is the black hole in his heart, not his disease. Neil Radow, a physics student at Bar-Ilan University eloquently explains the issues at hand.

*****

Israel, BDS and the Hawking Hypocrisy

We’re under attack through the BDS- Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions- movement. Particularly jarring is the academic boycott. That seemingly intelligent people have such a misguided view of the region is astounding. Not so long ago, the most famous living scientist, Stephen Hawking, joined the boycott.

Not only is his choice upsetting, it is- in his case- particularly hypocritical. Crippled by a horrible disease (Lou Gehrig’s syndrome), Stephen Hawking to all accounts is a story of success against all odds. Almost completely paralyzed, he moves and talks via machine; his robotic voice is recognized the world over. Despite his disability, Hawking has made important contributions to such fields as M-Theory (Superstring Theory) and the so-called “wave function of the universe.” His most important contribution, however, was his work on Black Holes. In 1974, Stephen Hawking showed that Black Holes emit radiation. This discovery earned him investiture as a Fellow at the Royal Society. Indeed, Black Hole radiation is now known as “Hawking Radiation.” The discovery proved that something actually does escape from Black Holes, as opposed to what had been previously believed. The new physics theory excited the science world.

Hawking’s work, like that of all science and scientists, is highly derivative. In this case, Stephen Hawking’s prediction of Black Hole radiation was derived almost entirely from the work of one man, the Israeli physicist Jakob Berkenstein, who passed away on August 16, 2015. Berkenstein has made many contributions to physics- particularly in the field of Black Hole thermodynamics, and was a professor of physics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Of note, Berkenstein predicted that Black Holes would have entropy, essential to Hawking’s later prediction of Black Hole radiation.

The Bekenstein–Hawking entropy formula for a black hole

The Bekenstein–Hawking entropy formula for a black hole

To understand why, one must first understand what entropy is. For laymen entropy is often defined as the state of disorder of a system. A more accurate description in scientific terms is, however, more difficult. A complex system (i.e. group of different gasses in the air) can be thought of as a deck of cards. If the cards are arranged in order- aces, twos, threes, etc.) that represents the system’s state of highest order, or lowest entropy. Any other arrangement of cards in the deck is a higher entropy configuration. Therefore, entropy could be defined as the number of microscopic arrangements of particles that would be indistinguishable on a macroscopic level. In this example of a deck of cards, any random order of cards could be considered a high entropy state. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy in a closed system will nearly always increase. It is important to note that this is a statistical law: entropy of a system CAN increase, it is just exceedingly unlikely. This tendency of entropy to increase is often cited as the reason that time flows in only one direction – the so-called arrow of time.

When Stephen Hawking first read Berkenstein’s paper, he found it hard to believe that Black Holes have entropy. Eventually however, he accepted the results and built upon them, to make the most important breakthrough of his career. Hawking realized that if Black Holes have entropy, they must have a temperature (heat). He was even able to calculate what this temperature must be – the larger the Black Hole, the lower the temperature. If Black Holes have heat, he conjectured, then they must, too, emit radiation. This turned Black Hole physics on its head. Prior to Hawking’s discovery of Hawking Radiation, it was generally believed that nothing could escape from a Black Hole. According to Stephen Hawking, not only is this incorrect, but all Black Holes will eventually evaporate away to nothing. Today, most scientists accept this to be true.

A little over a year ago, Hawking was invited to the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres for a conference about moving towards the future. Hawking initially accepted the invitation, but backed out at the last minute, a decision influenced by pressure from Palestinian academics and American radical linguist Noam Chomsky.

Despite its support by Hawking and others, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is inherently misguided and, in the case of Hawking, extremely hypocritical. If Stephen Hawking wants to boycott Israel, he should retract his previous findings, which would have been impossible without the work of Israeli physicists on which it is based. ∞

Neil Radow

*****

It’s traditional upon hearing about the death of someone you know of to say “May his memory be a blessing.” Not many people outside the world of physics know about the life, death or works of Dr. Bekenstein. We can say with certainty that his memory is a blessing, that his science and brilliance is a blessing that in the long run benefits all people. Despite Hawking’s professed boycott, the black hole in his heart cannot dim the brilliance that shone from the Racah Institute of Physics. Despite many attempts to portray Israel as a black hole in the world, despite the BDS desire to make it into a closed system, Israel will continue to astound its detractors with the science, wisdom and righteousness it radiates to the world. Dr. Jacob Bekenstein and Israel continue to be a light unto the nations.

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet

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