A Backdoor Way to Do Experiments on Exotic Gravitational Physics
The whole point of an explanation is to reduce something you don’t know to something you do. By that standard, you don’t gain much by explaining anything in terms of black holes. Appealing to the most mysterious objects known to science as an explanation sounds like using one mystery to explain another.
Yet this is precisely what physicists have been doing to make sense of high-temperature superconductors and plasmas of nuclear particles. Both of these states of matter are about as un-black-hole-like as you can imagine. They don’t suck you to your death—indeed, the force of gravity plays no role in them at all—and they don’t split open the very foundations of physics. They are hard to understand in much the same way Earth’s climate is: the laws governing their constituents are perfectly well-known, but there are just so damned many constituents. In the course of studying black holes, however, string theorists have discovered unexpected parallels, or “dualities,” between gravitational systems and non-gravitational ones. These correspondences may be purely mathematical or may reflect deeper physical linkages, but either way, you can leverage your knowledge of one domain to solve problems in another.