Falling through the rabbit hole: A personal essay

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Lost within a YouTube hole, I came across a silly, animated science video about black holes by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. A lot of what I heard went over my head, but I knew that the idea of black holes made me feel anxious, the way I feel in the ocean at night: so immensely swallowed that I lose myself.

These past seven months have left me reeling in a similar limbo. It feels as though there is no acting force of gravity keeping me on track. Time goes on and on and on and I am infinitely in disarray.

 ***

Some days I am exponentially radiating outward in all directions and there are endless possibilities. On other days I am taught that there is a limit to growth that is called Logistical and is Shaped like a Crooked Spine.

But what if I could just grow larger and larger and larger until the point of implosion, upon which all of that denseness of thought and energy and pure being could shrink into the size of a dust grain? Not diminished, but concentrated.

A black hole is a star that grew so massive iron bubbled up inside its core. The star, with its iron heart, sank and sank until its body couldn’t hold up its burden. The child within me could read it as a story: The Star Who Got Too Big for its Britches, or maybe just the star who got lonely despite all of its mass and gravity.

Out and then in, like a giant breath.

I lie awake in bed, tense between the shoulder blades, finding breathing insufficient. I think about the giant stars that give in to their burdens and instead of release are brought into a concentrated agony. It is and isn’t like drowning and waking on a cold mountain peak.

***

Located in the center of a black hole is what’s known as a gravitational singularity, in which a huge mass exists in an infinitely small space. This gives the point infinite density and gravity, and it warps the curvature of the universe.

If we looked at a black hole, we wouldn’t really see it. It is hidden behind the event horizon: a sphere of absolute darkness out of which nothing, not even light, escapes.

 ***

When I was younger my understanding of darkness was nothing more than fear of my own imagination, like when the lights turned off and I had to count the number of steps to my bed because there were unnamed terrors in the corners of the room. But my mother would come in and I would find that the monsters and dragons and ghouls were nothing but shadows playing on the wall, or a jacket hanging from the doorframe.

Darkness has changed since childhood. Now, I’m not afraid of the monsters but of the emptiness when I reach my hand out and feel nothing. It’s scarier when you find out your imagination is foolish and that darkness is mostly empty.

But black holes don’t represent my cynical view of darkness. They aren’t emptiness or absence. A single point at the center of a black hole, so small it has a hypothetical volume of zero, holds multiple infinities. Why did I grow up to think my imagination was insufficient?

***

In reality, if I was to enter a black hole my body would be stretched out into a long string of plasma as it is drawn closer to the singularity. I would be funneled. The gravitational funnel inside a black hole is so strong that if a star were to stray too close, its entire mass could be ripped apart.

I think about the giant stars that give in to their burdens and instead of release are brought into a concentrated agony.

Nothing can escape a black hole once it passes the horizon, because turning back around would require a moving velocity faster than the speed of light. Incapable of turning back or to the side, you are committed to what seems a lot like fate. Rapid descent toward the point from which there is no return. Like tripping through the looking glass into an unavoidable future.

For spectators watching you enter a black hole, the time it takes to cross the event horizon seems infinite because they are never given the signal that you are gone. The phantom image of yourself reflects back on them for an infinite amount of time — long after you have edged past the lip of blackness.

I could disappear with nobody knowing where and when I had gone. In thinking of this I feel lonely. And disconnected.

***

Stephen Hawking came up with a theory to describe how black holes lose energy. It’s called Hawking Radiation, and it describes how black holes evaporate.

Over time, they lose an extremely tiny amount of matter, and for the largest black hole in our universe, it might take 10,100 years, at which point it would explode with an eruption energy 1,000 times the total nuclear capacity on Earth.

But at its cease, would the knowledge of that original star and all other matter caught within the event horizon really be lost? That seems sad to me.

Black holes seem like one of those indefatigable forces of the world. It is enough to know they are up there somewhere, a virginal presence, impenetrable. But even they, with their multitudes and carefully folded legs, cannot last forever. And here I was thinking that infinity was the same as eternity.

***

It is not particles that make up our universe, but information. Information arranges the elementary particles of existence. If you lose information, you lose the possibility of creation.

The conservation of quantum information — or the no-hiding theorem — states that information can neither be created nor destroyed. But for black holes, the line is blurry.

It was originally thought that information was lost forever in a black hole’s interminable void. But Hawking also came up with what is called the information paradox, and the thinking is as follows: What if, when something enters a black hole, it leaves behind a holographic projection of its life on the screen of the event horizon before it pushes through and into the funnel toward singularity?

It would be nice, I think, to leave behind my life, with all of its tangles, on the event horizon and have the molecules and elementary particles of my physical body enter the cosmic hodgepodge of singularity.

And what if every time a particle leaves the black hole — thanks to Hawking Radiation — it takes information away with it? Like walking into a library filled with trillions of books and walking away having read only one.

This theory would make black holes a movie of the universe. Fractaling toward origin or maybe infinity.

These days, it’s easier to think of myself in the third person, as if I was watching a film reel of the moments that would be harder to bear than to watch. It would be nice, I think, to leave behind my life, with all of its tangles, on the event horizon and have the molecules and elementary particles of my physical body enter the cosmic hodgepodge of singularity. I imagine it would be a lot like giving in. Like reincarnation into something whose existence is a lot more straightforward, or maybe just different.

***

But, alas, the nearest event horizon is 1,000 light-years from my room. My haphazard trail of thought isn’t showing me any cosmic truth.

Our knowledge of black holes is nothing but logical conjecture, based on the absolutes we rely on to feel safe and comfortable.

We feel better knowing that science is reliable and that there are fundamental laws of our universe scrawled out on blackboards by geniuses with chalk on their slacks.

But logic makes breathing feel robotic, absolutes have failed me and safety is temporal.

***

I prefer to wonder about the unknown because maybe then I can stay hopeful. Maybe that black hole 1,000 light-years away contains worlds where I could be happy and held and something completely different from who I am here and now. I could be woman or otherwise, I could be two-dimensional and have no need to breathe and feel breathless. I could be a system of veins or connective tissue: a building block for something much larger than myself. I could be all my past lives all at once. I could be a supermodel or a supernova, a fetus or a mother of stars.

Contact Aliya Haas Blinman at [email protected].