Shadows on a Distant Wall: Nikodem Poplawski Says We Might Be Living in a Black Hole

In a new theory worthy of Alice in Wonderland, the Washington Post reports today that a cosmologist, Nikodem Poplawski, posits that each black hole may contain a universe inside of it, and we ourselves may be inside a black hole:

We could be living inside a black hole. This head-spinning idea is one cosmologist’s conclusion based on a modification of Einstein’s equations of general relativity that changes our picture of what happens at the core of a black hole.

In other words, we might be living down Alice’s rabbit hole for real. Who needs drugs? As a guru, declining an offer to try LSD, once said,

If you’re already in Detroit, you don’t need a bus to Detroit.

And Nikodem Poplawki’s theory matches rather nicely with the idea that we live in a holographic universe (see here and here).

But Poplawski’s idea also rests on the notion that black holes do not, in fact, collapse matter and energy down to a singularity, and this is a controversial proposition. Here’s how the Washington Post tries to explain Poplawski’s theory of what happens in a black hole:

The scenario resembles what happens when you compress a spring: Poplawski has calculated that gravity initially overcomes torsion’s repulsive force and keeps compressing matter, but eventually the repulsive force gets so strong that the matter stops collapsing and rebounds. Poplawski’s calculations show that space-time inside the black hole expands to about 1.4 times its smallest size in as little as 10{+-}{+4}{+6} seconds.

This staggeringly fast bounce-back, says Poplawski, could have been what led to the expanding universe we observe today.

And the theory, being scientific and not merely a philosophical speculation, makes predictions and is testable:

How would we know if we are living inside a black hole? Well, a spinning black hole would have imparted some spin to the space-time inside it, and this should show up as a “preferred direction” in our universe, says Poplawski. Such a preferred direction would result in the violation of a property of space-time called Lorentz symmetry, which links space and time. It has been suggested that such a violation could be responsible for the observed oscillations of neutrinos from one type to another.

Nikodem Poplawski’s theory of what happens in black holes might also be a boost for string theory. The holographic principle, afterall, derives from string theory. The holographic principle is this: a two-dimensional area—the cosmological horizon 13.7 billion light years away from where we think that we are—may be sufficient for accounting for all the information in the universe. And the two-dimensional cosmological horizon may be projecting everything—including us—into three dimensions. What this means is that our three-dimensional experience—our experience of local volume—may not be fundamental. We may be two-dimensional beings, our information being holographically projected into three dimensions from the cosmological horizon. Again, this cosmological horizon is 13.7 billion light years away from where we imagine that we are.

An article on gravity in the New York Times puts it this way:

Black holes, in effect, are holograms — like the 3-D images you see on bank cards. All the information about what has been lost inside them is encoded on their surfaces. Physicists have been wondering ever since how this “holographic principle” — that we are all maybe just shadows on a distant wall — applies to the universe and where it came from.

Shadows on a distant wall. That may be our home. That may be us. Is your mind blown yet?

And if we live in a black hole, is there anything really worth getting hung up about? Would widespread knowledge that our experiences of life are, in fact, insubstantial holographic projections from the two dimensional walls of a black hole drive people to a collective Hindu passivity or Nietzschean nihilism?

I mean, does anything really matter?  Other than what you’re doing and making of the flickering holographic projections from the distant walls of a black hole, what’s the larger point?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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16 Responses to Shadows on a Distant Wall: Nikodem Poplawski Says We Might Be Living in a Black Hole

  1. Pingback: Paul Davies Says Stephen Hawking’s New Book Doesn’t Quite Get Rid of God Completely « Prometheus Unbound

  2. concerned christian says:

    To borrow from an old commercial is it real or is it Memorex? Well it took us more than 2000 years to move from Plato’s cave to Poplawski/Hawking’s black hole, but humans are still the same and they are still trying to figure out who are they and what are they doing here?

    • santitafarella says:


      I’ll see if I can find that commercial at YouTube.

      I agree with you that Plato’s cave returns here with a vengence, but Plato’s cave analogy posits that people are gazing at a cave wall (having a two dimensional perception of fire-cast shadows) even as they really live in a much larger dimensioned world; the holographic principle seems almost to assert the opposite: our three dimensional experience is the projection; the “flat” two-dimensional world is where we’re really located; what’s “real.”



  3. concerned christian says:

    What I find interesting, however, is that modern scientific theories about multi-universes inside black holes appear to be even less logical than a religious believe in a supernatural power, a god, who created the whole thing. For me to believe in a single prime mover, who many philosophers and religious thinkers used to explain the existence of the Universe, is less confusing than to try to understand all these multi universes and figure out how “on Earth!” they could suddenly appear. BTW some of the modern Physics theories such as string theory is more or less an act of faith than the traditional hard facts we are used to expect in science, as expressed by this opinion
    “”For more than a generation, physicists have been chasing a will-o’-the-wisp called string theory. The beginning of this chase marked the end of what had been three-quarters of a century of progress. Dozens of string-theory conferences have been held, hundreds of new Ph.D.s have been minted, and thousands of papers have been written. Yet, for all this activity, not a single new testable prediction has been made, not a single theoretical puzzle has been solved. In fact, there is no theory so far—just a set of hunches and calculations suggesting that a theory might exist. And, even if it does, this theory will come in such a bewildering number of versions that it will be of no practical use: a Theory of Nothing.” — Jim Holt.

    • santitafarella says:


      I don’t buy Jim Holt’s low estimation of string theory. And scientists theorizing about black holes are not just speculating: they are basing their ideas on data and math and established physical theory. But your larger point, I think, is valid: the world that science seems to be describing is as dumbfoundingly strange and seemingly implausible as any religious system.

      As for your belief in a single prime mover, that’s a completely reasonable position (in my view). I don’t know if it is true.

      You might like this book (if I haven’t shared it with you already): “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith” by Stephen Barr (Notre Dame Press). He’s a Catholic and a physicist, and his book is really a great reflection on science and religion; maybe the best that I’ve ever read.


  4. concerned christian says:

    I should have been careful to avoid lumping string theory with black holes. While black holes are easily described in mathematics as singularity points, and there are methods to indirectly observe their existence. String theory takes us into 10 or 11 dimension universe, which is quite a stretch of imagination. Einstein four dimension, 3 space and one time makes sense and a fifth unobserved dimension is a possibility but 11 dimensions? And also so far there was no scientific experiment that validate this theory. So it’s purely a mathematical model.

    • santitafarella says:


      String theory is beautiful, though. The way I visualize it is this: I imagine vibrations from tiny Plank-level guitars passing their “sounds waves” through 11 exotic tubas (that is, the different dimensions with their unique geometries). Each unique “sound wave” passing through each unique geometry (dimensions) manifests as a certain “note” (or particle). And the total musical effect is us.

      I think it’s time to go back and read Wallace Stevens’s “The Man with The Blue Guitar”:


  5. concerned christian says:

    Thanks for the beautiful poem and the other references you posted, in return I give the wiki link to string theory, which is actually fair and balanced! In fact I found most of the scientific wiki postings, barring Stephen Colbert Shenanigan, are very accurate.
    I also highly recommend a book about Feynman, who was not one of the proponents of String Theory.
    Gleick, James (1992) Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon. ISBN 0679747044

    • santitafarella says:

      I’ll check out the string theory article, and I like James Gleick, so I’ll be curious to see how he writes about Feynman. Thanks for that.


  6. Pingback: Atheist universes without end: Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s ironically titled new book, “The Grand Design” « Prometheus Unbound

  7. Pingback: Intelligent Design v. The Multiverse Hypothesis: Astronomer John Gribbin Cleverly Splits the Difference Between Them « Prometheus Unbound

  8. yar2010 says:

    The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.

  9. Pingback: The Universe is Young, Not Old. Really. Gregg Easterbrook Says This: “Creation glistens with the dew of morning.” | Prometheus Unbound

  10. Pingback: Blogging Brian Greene’s New Book, “The Hidden Reality” | Prometheus Unbound

  11. Pingback: Neutrino Speed-of-Light Watch: Stephen Hawking Refuses to Comment Yet | Prometheus Unbound

  12. mrchristianhunter says:

    To Nikodem,

    Thanks for summing up everything for me man, I’m impressed dude, ’cause you really didn’t seem like you were gonna remember s*** after that second Lowenbrau you knocked back @ Hawking’s after-party, you just had that stupid blank stare you get when you’re drunk.

    In any event (eheh, no pun), you did me a solid cause I think I’d just go monkeys*** crazy on the next dude that wanted me to explain all this stuff with the black holes and everything, AGAIN!  It’s like, dude, “we’re in a black hole dummy! Get over it!”

    Anyways, major nerd alert on Hawking right!  Dude kept rollin after my chick using that ridiculous ghetto slang he programmed into his talk thingie.


    Shoot me a call or somethin this weekend, I’ll bring you up to speed on some other space s*** I’ve been thinking about.


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