ENTANGLED BLACK HOLES

The possible equivalency between general relativity's wormholes and quantum physics' entanglement that Juan Maldacena describes in “Black Holes, Wormholes and the Secrets of Quantum Spacetime” involves entangling a pair of black holes. To do so, he proposes creating a large number of entangled particle pairs that are separated into two sets, which are then manipulated into the two entangled black holes. But entangled quanta lose their entanglement when they interact with other quanta. Collecting entangled quanta into local sets and then manipulating them into local black holes would involve interactions that would destroy the entanglement before the black holes could be created.

ANTHONY WAY
Dallas, Tex.

If entangled black holes share an interior, what happens to their masses?

PETER STEGNER
via e-mail

MALDACENA REPLIES: In response to Way: Yes, it would be indeed extremely difficult to create entangled black holes as I describe because it is difficult to do manipulations in quantum systems while keeping coherence. And it would be most likely impossible to do it in practice for macroscopic black holes in our universe. The motivation to study these ideas is just to better understand how the quantum mechanics of spacetime works.

Regarding Stegner's question: The mass of the black holes is a property that we can measure from the outside. From there each of them has a mass (both equal). On the other hand, with these entangled black holes, there is no matter inside! Thus, we have mass purely from geometry, with no matter anywhere in the whole spacetime.

GRAMMAR WARS

In “Language in a New Key,” Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello criticize Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory that humans are born with a template for grammar and suggest, as an alternative, usage-based linguistics, in which children build grammatical categories and rules, based on the language they hear, with a set of general-purpose mental tools. But while this approach implies correctly that language is a form of behavior and is acquired from experiences in one's lifetime, it, like Chomsky's view, makes many untestable assumptions about unobserved mental processes.

A parsimonious and scientific theory was put forth in 1957 by experimental behavior analyst B. F. Skinner in his book Verbal Behavior. We might not be talking about Chomsky had he not penned a negative review of the book in 1959.

Unlike Chomsky's “theories” and those of most linguists, Skinner's was based on decades of basic experimental research. Moreover, as proof of its longevity, it has continued to generate research and is being used all over the world to help children with language deficits.

HENRY D. SCHLINGER, Jr.
Department of psychology
California State University, Los Angeles

TRUMP's SCIENCE FICTIONS

Before highlighting quotes from Donald Trump that show his disregard for science in “Donald Trump's Campaign for Science Illiteracy” [Science Agenda], the editors make the bland statement that they “have not fact-checked” them. Why not?! Claims that global warming is a hoax, that vaccinations cause autism or that President Barack Obama had let “Iran keep its nukes” are easily refuted.

An appalling number of my college-educated acquaintances believe, or want to believe, that Trump's unsubstantiated assertions have some basis in fact. Expanding your editorial to an additional page by the inclusion of fact-checking should have been a far higher priority than anything else contained in your November issue.

ELLIOT TRAMER
Professor emeritus
University of Toledo

ILLICIT DRUG RESTRICTIONS

In “Get Clean or Die Trying,” James Nestor says that the reason the hallucinogenic antiaddiction drug ibogaine was placed in the most restrictive category by the Drug Enforcement Administration is because it can kill users. That statement falsely makes it appear as though the DEA has been doing a fair, science-based analysis in such categorization. Ibogaine was swept into Schedule I in the same manner of cannabis and a plethora of other substances that do not directly kill people and that are orders of magnitude safer than alcohol or tobacco. That methamphetamine, cocaine and morphine are in a less restrictive category than are cannabis, peyote and psilocybin seems absurd in the light of any sort of impartial scientific analysis.

JOSH MATTHEWS
via e-mail

HALF-EMPTY EVOLUTION

In “Why Gloom Trumps Glad” [Skeptic], Michael Shermer asks why bad things seem to have more impact in politics than good ones and finds an answer in the psychology of loss aversion, in which the pain of losses outweighs the pleasure of gains. But its literature is a collection of findings rather than an explanation, and although Shermer's suggestion that the phenomenon developed as an evolutionary effect may be true, it does not add much insight.

Negativity bias is another concept in psychology that has explored the greater impact of negative information. Here the prevailing explanation rests on the relative frequency of good and bad happenings. Positive outcomes are more common, so negative information stands out and can lead to more change. Such an explanation may lie behind loss aversion, but this area and negativity bias seem to occupy separate academic silos.

ROBERT EAST
Professor emeritus of consumer behavior
Kingston University London

SHERMER REPLIES: That loss aversion is merely a finding and not an explanation for the predominance of pessimism is debatable. I think of “aversion” as both a behavioral trait and an emotional state. Because the world was a more dangerous place for our ancestors, it paid to be more risk-averse, cautious and pessimistic about future events. For a deeper explanation for why gloom trumps glad, see the aptly titled 2003 paper “The Second Law of Thermodynamics Is the First Law of Psychology,” by John Tooby and his colleagues, which posits that any ultimate evolutionary explanation for behavior must begin with entropy: “Natural selection is the only known natural process that ... offsets the inevitable increase in disorder that would otherwise take place.”

If you do nothing, entropy will take its course, and you will move toward a higher state of disorder, so the most basic purpose of life is to combat entropy by expending energy to survive, reproduce and flourish.

ERRATA

“Winds of Change,” by Jeremy Hsu [Advances], should have referred to 11.5 gigawatts as the installed capacity for offshore wind power in Europe, not the total power produced every year.

“Get Clean or Die Trying,” by James Nestor, incorrectly implied that a fatality rate of 19 in 3,500 would be lower than one in 300.

“The Problem with Tech Copycats,” by David Pogue [TechnoFiles], should have referred to Apple, not Steve Jobs, as suing Microsoft in 1988. Jobs was not part of the company at that time.