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Thread: What's the problem with "black hole" threads?

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    What's the problem with "black hole" threads?

    We've just had two suspensions in quick succession arising from responses to a simple question about black holes in Q&A.
    It's a recurring pattern. Why do questions about black holes so often result in speculative, ATM or just plain wrong answers?
    Are black hole threads worth the effort? Should we ban discussion of black holes, or restrict it some terrible limbo thread like the one dealing with the nature of reality?

    Grant Hutchison

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    We're patiently waiting until that other thread reaches the Chandrasekhar Limit. Then we'll let it implode as a practical example for the black hole threads.

    But, thanks for taking the time and effort to answer so many of the black hole threads, even those that seem just silly argumentative types.
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    if I could use this thread for a question: what are the boundaries for what is and what isn't mainstream with regards to black holes? Is the idea that collapsing bodies don't form event horizons really within the ATM realm? As I have argued before, science is about theory and evidence. Is there really enough evidence for event horizon models to be the mainstream, and non-event-horizons to be definitely ATM?
    ................................

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    C'mon, Sag A

    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    if I could use this thread for a question: what are the boundaries for what is and what isn't mainstream with regards to black holes? Is the idea that collapsing bodies don't form event horizons really within the ATM realm? As I have argued before, science is about theory and evidence. Is there really enough evidence for event horizon models to be the mainstream, and non-event-horizons to be definitely ATM?
    We'll know within the next few months . . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    We've just had two suspensions in quick succession arising from responses to a simple question about black holes in Q&A.
    It's a recurring pattern. Why do questions about black holes so often result in speculative, ATM or just plain wrong answers?
    Are black hole threads worth the effort? Should we ban discussion of black holes, or restrict it some terrible limbo thread like the one dealing with the nature of reality?

    Grant Hutchison
    Maybe because black holes appear superficially simple and people think they can apply an intuitive understanding based on popular science articles. This appears to be the case in one of the recent examples - the other seems to be a straightforward case of someone with their own alternative ideas of how science should be.

    I hope the idea of banning them was tongue in cheek; I have learnt a lot from your and other’s answers here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    if I could use this thread for a question: what are the boundaries for what is and what isn't mainstream with regards to black holes? Is the idea that collapsing bodies don't form event horizons really within the ATM realm? As I have argued before, science is about theory and evidence. Is there really enough evidence for event horizon models to be the mainstream, and non-event-horizons to be definitely ATM?
    I think the rules are pretty clear. There is no problem discussing these various theories. But insisting that black holes (event horizons) don’t exist would, fairly obviously, be ATM.

    This would, presumably, change if a generally accepted theory of quantum gravity were to show event horizons didn’t form. (Or we manage to visit a black hole and find it doesn’t have an event horizon.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I think the rules are pretty clear. There is no problem discussing these various theories. But insisting that black holes (event horizons) don’t exist would, fairly obviously, be ATM.

    This would, presumably, change if a generally accepted theory of quantum gravity were to show event horizons didn’t form. (Or we manage to visit a black hole and find it doesn’t have an event horizon.)
    Event horizons might be hard to provide conclusive evidence about either way, even if there was one on our 'doorstep'.
    ................................

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I hope the idea of banning them was tongue in cheek; I have learnt a lot from your and other’s answers here.
    It was a serious suggestion. Black hole threads must generate a lot of work for the mods, and I think probably generate more heat than light for some question posters. I think it's valid to ask if they're worth the bother.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    Event horizons might be hard to provide conclusive evidence about either way, even if there was one on our 'doorstep'.
    I think evidence would be quite straightforward and conclusive. But it would be good not to start a black hole sidebar discussion on a thread in Feedback, I think..

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2018-Mar-11 at 12:38 AM. Reason: added a "be"

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    My theory is that black holes break math in fun ways. There is the impetuous to continue down the broken pathway, because that is a place where speculation is possible. Math is not easy for me, so in many cases I would speculate in the wrong direction, to things that have clear (yet subtle) answered by the math. It is a complex situation.

    On the internet, there is a drive to be economical with words, so people who have speculative requests may refine their thoughts to the point where it seems like promotion. Then they run all over the rules and bad stuff happens. If you tried, I am sure you could pull many ideas from ATM and phrase it just right, so that you could post outside of that area. Math is math, so you can say "right or wrong". Verbal models are messy and are never entirely "correct", so disaster results. The trick is in the phrasing.

    Edit - Amusing aside: On BSG, one of the characters said the words: "Naked Singularity!" The other characters looked at him in shock and surprise at the idea coming from him of all people. The situation was rather meta, it could have been the case that the other ACTORS looked at speaker in shock, as if to say "We don't do that on this show!" It works either way. Phrasing is everything.
    Last edited by Solfe; 2018-Mar-10 at 02:26 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    My theory is that black holes break math in fun ways.
    Except they don't. But, as Grant says, that discussion is off topic here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Should we ban discussion of black holes, or restrict it some terrible limbo thread like the one dealing with the nature of reality?
    I don't think it is that much of a problem that we have to ban such discussions. Though we have had to ban a couple of topics, either permanently or temporarily, given that black holes are one of the topics in astronomy that attracts a large public interest, I think we will have failed as an astronomy forum if we have to ban such a topic.

    But, as I said, I don't think such draconian measures are required here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    if I could use this thread for a question: what are the boundaries for what is and what isn't mainstream with regards to black holes?
    The answer is the same as the answer for all such questions (and it is the answer that most of the people who ask that question don't like).

    Mainstream science is whatever the majority of scientists say is the current science on that topic, as interpreted by the moderators of this forum. We are not going to get down to a written description of what that exactly is for any topic at any particular point in time.

    As always, one can always ask about any aspect of a topic, mainstream or not. You can ask further questions, so as to clarify. But if you start asking questions so as to cast doubt on the mainstream idea, or to offer your alternative idea, you are going to get into trouble.

    This is a much more sensitive issue in Q&A. The answers in Q&A MUST be mainstream answers. Q&A threads are not general discussion threads, they are not for speculation. Speculations that we might let pass in a S&T or Astronomy thread are not going to be allowed in Q&A. If you are not sure of the mainstream science behind the answer, then maybe you should not be answering the question.

    Sometimes the mainstream answer is "we don't know" or "it is yet to be determined". That is not carte blanche for people to speculate on non-mainstream answers, particularly in Q&A. I think trying to go beyond the "we don't know" answer, no matter how unsatisfactory that answer may be, is one thing that get people into trouble.
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    We had the same problem with discussions of 'Heavy Lift' a few years ago.
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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    if I could use this thread for a question: what are the boundaries for what is and what isn't mainstream with regards to black holes?
    I would like to add one other thought to my earlier post...

    It is rarely been my experience that the trouble people run into is that they didn't know where the boundary was between mainstream and ATM for a given topic. I don't recall, for example, anyone every saying (after being warned or infracted for advocating an ATM position) "Oh!, I thought that was the mainstream opinion on the topic". The closest to that I ever get is along the lines of "I thought speculation was OK on this topic because the mainstream answer is unclear". As I've already said, sometimes the mainstream answer is "we don't know" and that is the only acceptable answer.

    I think more often than not, people know where the boundary is, and they just like to see how close they can get to it, or how far they can push it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I think more often than not, people know where the boundary is, and they just like to see how close they can get to it, or how far they can push it.
    I think that's certainly true, but I have the impression that there are some folk who genuinely can't tell the difference between "stuff they've read in books" and "stuff they've thought up for themselves while interpreting what they've read in books".
    (We all do this with our memories, of course, and the less clear our memories are, the more likely we are to confabulate realistic-seeming detail.)
    If maths is your route to understanding, then I think that's less likely, because you do run into a wall at which you say, "Hmmm, I don't actually know if that's true." But if you reason from analogy, analogy can take you a long way in the wrong direction without ever noticing how far out on a limb you've gone.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think that's certainly true, but I have the impression that there are some folk who genuinely can't tell the difference between "stuff they've read in books" and "stuff they've thought up for themselves while interpreting what they've read in books".
    Which is why we always start with the benefit of the doubt. We advise people, and then we warn people. Both of the people recently involved in this problem had received advise, then warnings, then infractions, and still did it again. We would hope that if you keep getting burned by black holes, you would learn to leave them alone.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Sometimes the mainstream answer is "we don't know" or "it is yet to be determined". That is not carte blanche for people to speculate on non-mainstream answers, particularly in Q&A. I think trying to go beyond the "we don't know" answer, no matter how unsatisfactory that answer may be, is one thing that get people into trouble.
    I think this is a point worth expanding. In the case of an area where there is no prevailing mainstream theory, if someone advocates any of the competing hypotheses/theories...whether its their own or from a notable scientist/publication/institution...they are posting against the mainstream. In the ATM sub forum, they assume a rule 13 burden to defend it. Anywhere else, they’re breaking the rules, most especially in Q&A.

    In the Q&A subforum, I think a fair answer would be something like, “Theories A, B, and C seem to be the most actively researched.” Singling any of them out as a correct answer would not.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Except they don't. But, as Grant says, that discussion is off topic here.
    Not trying to off topic, but there are cases (like this very thread) where I thought I had a handle on the concept, but really didn't. I happened to have two or three really wrong ideas in a black hole thread just this week and Grant took the time to explain it to me and point me to the correct answers. I appreciate that, even though it is unlikely that I will ever have a good handle on the subject matter. I like it, but it's not my thing. I like that I can get answers here and will learn more than what I know, right now. I will never be good at it. I have to deal with this, not knowing everything is a normal state of affairs. If you want Latin America history, I'm your guy... black holes are just an interest of mine. I won't pass a test on them.

    What I find disturbing is when our staff and long time posters embrace our mission of public education, but then have to deal with someone who does not understand basic education, has a some details wrong and attempt to "tell someone like they believe it to be". Usually with a chip on their shoulder and double dose of attitude. Those threads end rather badly. I think that is what is happening with all the black hole threads. Some people can't hear the words: "No, that is wrong and this is why." They aren't in the correct mindset to learn or be appreciative of assistance.

    (Ugh, one more edit. I am not disagreeing with your assessment of my skill set. I simply don't know what I don't know. I believe what you said is true and I also believe that a discussion about my lack of understanding is off topic. But I did want to explain how I think people deal with misunderstood concepts, and that sometimes the mission of the boards is sometimes not what people are expecting from the internet. The internet is not the most polished place.)
    Last edited by Solfe; 2018-Mar-11 at 03:52 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    (Ugh, one more edit. I am not disagreeing with your assessment of my skill set. I simply don't know what I don't know. I believe what you said is true and I also believe that a discussion about my lack of understanding is off topic. But I did want to explain how I think people deal with misunderstood concepts, and that sometimes the mission of the boards is sometimes not what people are expecting from the internet. The internet is not the most polished place.)
    I suspect you and Strange are at cross-purposes. When you said that black holes "break math" I think that he (like me) understood you to mean that mathematics can't handle black holes - whereas our understanding of black holes is entirely mathematical.
    It seems you were saying something about your own skill set, however, if I understand you correctly now.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I suspect you and Strange are at cross-purposes. When you said that black holes "break math" I think that he (like me) understood you to mean that mathematics can't handle black holes - whereas our understanding of black holes is entirely mathematical.
    It seems you were saying something about your own skill set, however, if I understand you correctly now.

    Grant Hutchison
    Yes, that is right. There are a subset of math formulas which relate to black holes that I might understand. Being able to approach one, two or three simple formulas is different that understanding a whole field of study or life's work. Those small ideas which are critical to having the basic concept of a black hole are not the whole story at all. My personal favorite aspect of black holes is the accretion disc. For those playing along at home, you may mentally give me a grade on a scale of one to ten on that subject. You will quickly realize that my handle on math is rather poor because a kind and generous grade would be 0 point something, on a scale of 1-10.

    And while I (might) know that, sometimes I either forget or don't convey that information. My personal favorite quote is "to what level?". Poor Shaula has probably heard that line from me 10 times a year for his whole time here because I give a simplistic answer to a topic while he and others happen to have a life's worth of knowledge on the subject.
    Last edited by Solfe; 2018-Mar-11 at 05:03 PM. Reason: and to while in last sentence.
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    What Grant said: I certainly wasn't commenting on your abilities (most of the mathematics of GR is over my head, as well).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    What Grant said: I certainly wasn't commenting on your abilities (most of the mathematics of GR is over my head, as well).
    My lack of ability in math is a point of humor to me. I am notoriously bad at it, despite having some amount of interest. I mock myself.

    I also like to sing, but people move away from me when I do it.
    Solfe

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    You should see the endless relativity thread over at ISF. (No, you really shouldn't.) The title says it'll be disproven in 2016 or 2017 and it's still going.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    You should see the endless relativity thread over at ISF. (No, you really shouldn't.) The title says it'll be disproven in 2016 or 2017 and it's still going.
    the thing with the theorised event horizon is that it might be like the mythical invisible pink unicorn; it may exist, but is hard to prove one way or the other.(I don't want to take this thread off topic, but it seems to have been answered by the mods anyway.)
    ................................

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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    the thing with the theorised event horizon is that it might be like the mythical invisible pink unicorn; it may exist, but is hard to prove one way or the other.(I don't want to take this thread off topic, but it seems to have been answered by the mods anyway.)
    So why take it off topic? Particularly by raising a point that has been refuted for you umpteen times already.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by WaxRubiks View Post
    the thing with the theorised event horizon is that it might be like the mythical invisible pink unicorn; it may exist, but is hard to prove one way or the other.(I don't want to take this thread off topic, but it seems to have been answered by the mods anyway.)
    As I've said multiple times, if you are typing any variant of "I probably shouldn't say this but..." you are almost always correct. You recognize you are discussing something you shouldn't and you do so anyway. Zero point infraction.
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    hopefully this isn't off topic.
    I can understand that Grand may weary of defending the mainstream in regard to black holes, so maybe it might help to have a subforum specifically for black hole questions and discussion that might attract more defenders of that particular main stream, to the forum, where there could be a FAQ sticky. As Swift said there is a lot of public interest in black holes, and with the movie Black Hole supposed to come out later this year, this may grow.
    Black holes are one of the most extreme environments in astrophysics, so it is kind of unique and important to science, I would think.
    ................................

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    no we are not opening an extra session for black holes, they fit very well in Q&A if you don't understand something, and in S&T or Astronomy, if you want to discuss something.
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    I'm not weary of "defending the mainstream". I'm weary of the frequency with which answers of the form "Here's what I think!" turn up in Q&A in general and black hole threads in particular.
    It's not nearly as bad as it used to be - I wandered off for a few years when Q&A had turned into a sort of teenage debating society - but it's still something of a mystery to me (it's not like instructions aren't clear, or no warnings have been given), and I'm sure it's at least a minor source of annoyance for the mods.

    Grant Hutchison

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