Are Classical Black Holes Hot or Cold?


In the early 1970s it is was realized that there is a striking formal analogy between the Laws of black-hole mechanics and the Laws of classical thermodynamics. Before the discovery of Hawking radiation, however, it was generally thought that the analogy was only formal, and did not reflect a deep connection between gravitational and thermodynamical phenomena. It is still commonly held that the surface gravity of a stationary black hole can be construed as a true physical temperature and its area as a true entropy only when quantum effects are taken into account; in the context of classical general relativity alone, one cannot cogently construe them so. Does the use of quantum field theory in curved spacetime offer the only hope for taking the analogy seriously? I think the answer is 'no'. To attempt to justify that answer, I shall begin by arguing that the standard argument to the contrary is not physically well founded, and in any event begs the question. Looking at the various ways that the ideas of "temperature" and "entropy" enter classical thermodynamics then will suggest arguments that, I claim, show the analogy between classical black-hole mechanics and classical thermodynamics should be taken more seriously, without the need to rely on or invoke quantum mechanics. In particular, I construct an analogue of a Carnot cycle in which a black hole "couples" with an ordinary thermodynamical system in such a way that its surface gravity plays the role of temperature and its area that of entropy. Thus, the connection between classical general relativity and classical thermodynamics on their own is already deep and physically significant, independent of quantum mechanics.



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Erik Curiel
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

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