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Space Science

Black Holes Don't Trap Information Forever 384

sciencehabit writes "New calculations suggest that black holes are not a one-way street. Anything that falls into them may eventually come out. The findings lend important support to quantum gravity, but fly in the face of Einsteinian relativity. They also support Stephen Hawking's reluctant admission that information couldn't be destroyed by black holes. Penn State researcher Ahbay Ashtekar was quoted saying, 'Once we realized that the notion of space-time as a continuum is only an approximation of reality, it became clear to us that singularities are merely artifacts of our insistence that space-time should be described as a continuum.' Let the physics infighting begin."
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Black Holes Don't Trap Information Forever

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  • Oh great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:15AM (#23428836)
    So I can't even wipe my drives by throwing them into a black hole?!? Grumble... (fires up microwave)
  • pretty continua (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:16AM (#23428850)
    Continua are so much prettier mathematically though. Couldn't quantisation just be an artifact of a closed universe i.e. standing wave modes in a finitely sized continuum ? Quantum theory is so damn *ugly* compared to GR and its extensions (Kaluza-Klein, Einstein-Cartan). Sigh.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:23AM (#23428900)
      Its just that the simulator for this universe has a cell-size, so anything below a plank length is just being approximated to speed up the calculations.
      • wrong (Score:5, Funny)

        by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:16AM (#23429546)

        Its just that the simulator for this universe has a cell-size, so anything below a plank length is just being approximated to speed up the calculations.
        No they tried that and if failed. It turned out that really the simulations of our world are being done in a 6 dimensional world. Since it's six dimensional it's not really a burden on their computers. FOr example, if you lived on a 2-d plane of finite size and tried to simulate another 2-d world, you'd end up like you say having to make the simulation smaller than the world it lives in and hence cell-size effects would pop up and you'd consume a good fraction of all the resources in your 2-d world to represent another 2-d world.

        But if you live in a 3-d world then having a bunch of 2-d simmulations is like have a ream of paper. 500 sheets of paper stack up nicely and consume very little of our 3-d world.

        in 6-d our 3-d world is a trivial piece of it and computers can easily simmulate it.

        No the problem is that there's not an algebraic solution to any polynomial greater than fifth order. Thus they wind up having to numerically approximate the mappings from 6D and this has round off errors from the finite bit floating point representation in Exel 6D.

        • Re:wrong (Score:5, Funny)

          by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:25AM (#23432194)
          I'll admit it. That stuff is so far over my head I can't tell if you are insightful or funny. I feel like the 2 year old little child laughing with his parents even though he has no understanding of what is going on. Speaking of that, I have to go poopie.
      • The universe is the simulation. Why run a simulation of a universe when you can run a universe? After all, any simulation is going to be just an approximation of what would happen in a universe. And you can't create a complete universe, start to finish, unless you create a deterministic universe. To create a universe where random events occur you have to run the universe so the random events resolve themselves into one outcome or another. I postulate that a run of a universe is over once all of the ran
    • by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:44AM (#23429054) Homepage Journal
      >> Couldn't quantisation just be an artifact of a closed universe i.e. standing wave modes in a finitely sized continuum ?

      Yes, however, I think the more critical questions are:

      Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
      Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?
      Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?
      Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip?
    • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:04AM (#23429146) Journal

      The quantum unit of information is a "ficton".

      The rest of the jokes write themselves.

      • Well, actually, the quantum unit of information is a bit.
        • No (Score:5, Insightful)

          by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:45AM (#23429376) Journal

          Well, actually, the quantum unit of information is a bit.

          No, the binary quantum unit of information is a bit. A ficton is several orders of magnitude "smaller" than that. A bit can be true or false. A light that's on or off. A ficton is a value that represents the smallest possible division of "possibly true". The universe is not binary at a very fine scale. Things fade in and out of frame with increasing and decreasing probability in the present moment. It's only when the arrow of entropy has passed and the frame is set that a thing was or was not, from our point of view.

        • by Vectronic ( 1221470 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:48AM (#23429392)
          is a bit what?... damnit man, finish your sentences! /kidding
        • by mi ( 197448 )

          Well, actually, the quantum unit of information is a bit.

          Is it? There may be a piece of information smaller than one bit or otherwise not integer number of bits... For example, confirmation of the more probable of two possible options would be less than a bit, while choosing the less probable one would be more than a bit (but less than two)...

          Considering, that humans give birth to slightly more girls than boys, announcing to your family, that your child is a female transfers (very slightly) less than a

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sm62704 ( 957197 )
        The rest of the jokes write themselves.

        No, all the jokes write themselves [uncyclopedia.org]. Except the one about black holes [uncyclopedia.org]. As TFA says, information can escape from a black hole, but after getting out of one of the damned things it's way too tired to talk and besides, it has a headache right now.
    • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gerzel ( 240421 ) <brollyferret@gEI ... minus physicist> on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:11AM (#23429182) Journal
      Don't worry.

      This too will be shown to just be an approximation which doesn't actually reflect how the universe works.

      That's all physics is in the end.
      • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Interesting)

        by joggle ( 594025 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:57AM (#23429440) Homepage Journal
        That's a metaphysical question. Is the universe infinitely complex? Most physicists don't believe it is. If you try doing some google searches along the line of 'infinitely complex universe' you may find some interesting metaphysics debates on the subject.
        • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Insightful)

          by GunFodder ( 208805 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:29AM (#23429634)
          I suspect most physicists would rather believe that they are working towards a final description of the universe rather than just another step on an infinite progression.

          Asking a physicist if the universe is infinitely complex is like asking a salesman if his product is shoddy. They both have a vested interest in the answer.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            That doesn't make sense. If eventually the universe was completely described, what use would there be for science? It would be good for one person's place in the history books to discover the Ultimate Final Secret of the Entire Universe, but boring as hell thereafter.

            Probably anyone would like to make a discovery on that scale, but which world would you rather live in?
            • Re:pretty continua (Score:4, Insightful)

              by mazarin5 ( 309432 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:54AM (#23430768) Journal
              That's a tough choice; futility or having nothing to do next.

              Then again, even if there is no end, there's always the next secret waiting, and who know what that could be? If there's no end to what we could know and what we could do, then life may take an inconceivable direction.

              Even if we do discover the last secret though, there will be a million minds invested in the application of those secrets, and it's my naive hope, for the betterment of mankind.

              (Also, I wanted to make a pun about black hole being black boxes, but I just don't think it's going to work out.)
              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by sm62704 ( 957197 )
                Understanding the entire universe is kind of like knowing every human being that ever lived and will be born, except that every human being that ever lived and will ever be born are only a teeny tiny fraction of one of the infinite number of planets in the universe itself.
            • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Informative)

              by Herve5 ( 879674 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @06:13AM (#23430874)
              You remind me of what Lord Kelvin was telling his students 100 years ago. Something like: "I'm sad for you, since the Physics is now complete" . Just after that sentence, quantum physics and relativity were discovered ;-)
              • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Intron ( 870560 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:09AM (#23432006)
                "There are grounds for cautious optimism that we may now be near the end of the search for the ultimate laws of nature."
                  - Stephen Hawking making the same mistake much more recently
                • by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:12AM (#23432826)
                  I've always wondered about the following:

                  if two particles are quantum-entangled, and you separate them, they remain entangled and you can monitor the state of one using the other. (Although I never understood what happens when one particle is accelerated to near light speed: how do two particles on different time scales stay connected?)

                  So now drop one particle of the pair into a black hole.

                  If they remain entangled, then you clearly have a way to pass information out of the black hole (although time may be stretched so it's not instantaneous anymore). This breaks known physics.

                  If their entanglement is broken off, then it means the gravitation boundary of a black hole trumps quantum entanglement. But that breaks known physics.

                  I'll take questions from the audience now. Yes, Dr Kip Thorne?

                  Thorne: You bastard.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                    by Anonymous Coward
                    Quantum entanglement will probably end up seeming entirely intuitive to physicists in a couple of generations.

                    In the mean time, a reasonable stab at an intuitive understanding is that two particles of unknown state are entangled when the examination of one reveals the state of both.

                    The "spooky" things about entanglement are that (a) the unknown state can persist for long time intervals and (b) the quantum states of one of the particles cannot be fully described without knowing the quantum states of the othe
            • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples.gmail@com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @06:53AM (#23431074) Homepage Journal

              If eventually the universe was completely described, what use would there be for science?
              I can think of a use or forty-two...

              It would be good for one person's place in the history books to discover the Ultimate Final Secret of the Entire Universe, but boring as hell thereafter.
              Boring my left buttock. The brilliant minds who had devoted their lives to science would likely devote their lives to engineering.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by burtosis ( 1124179 )

                If eventually the universe was completely described, what use would there be for science?

                I can think of a use or forty-two...

                It would be good for one person's place in the history books to discover the Ultimate Final Secret of the Entire Universe, but boring as hell thereafter.

                Boring my left buttock. The brilliant minds who had devoted their lives to science would likely devote their lives to engineering.

                LOL That is like saying that now that we have *finally* figured out the -rules- of chess we are masters of the game and thus it is boring forever.

                Figuring out the rules is just the first step. The set of all possibilities under those rules should be staggering to any level of intellect and experience.

        • Re:pretty continua (Score:4, Insightful)

          by master_p ( 608214 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @07:14AM (#23431200)
          The universe may be infinitely complex, but that does not mean it can not be described with a single mathematical formula. PI is infinite, but it can represented by the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.

          Perhaps the universe's formula is something like a fractal, with infinite complexity and depth.
      • by MadnessASAP ( 1052274 ) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:09AM (#23429498)
        Hah! That pretty much describes all the science classes I've ever taken. First day of class always went something like this "Just kidding all that hard work you did was actually pointless. This is hows the universe "actually" works. *snicker*"
      • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:20AM (#23429566) Journal

        This too will be shown to just be an approximation which doesn't actually reflect how the universe works. That's all physics is in the end.

        +0.99999997387120382 Insightful

             
    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:33AM (#23429302)

      Continua are so much prettier mathematically though
      I can see you're not a computer scientist! Give me finite discrete quantities any day :)
    • Re:pretty continua (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:47AM (#23429386)
      Just because we haven't figured out the beautiful way to describe it doesn't mean it's not beautiful. I think both GR and QM are inherently beautiful for revealing to us that the universe really doesn't work at all in the way we think it does. We're too large to experience everyday quantum effects, too small for relativistic effects. We live in the boring middle. Whether the math is beautiful or not, the reality certainly is.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 )
        Just because we haven't figured out the beautiful way to describe it doesn't mean it's not beautiful. I think both GR and QM are inherently beautiful for revealing to us that the universe really doesn't work at all in the way we think it does.

        Perhaps that explains why we find women attractive.
             
    • No phase transitions (Score:5, Interesting)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:08AM (#23429486)
      It's interesting they are only just realizing it. Thermodynamic folks have had to deal with a related issue for a long time.

      Almost everything interesting in thermo has to do with a phase transitition popping up somewhere.

      THe funny thing is this. There are no phase transitions in the real world. THey only occur on paper continuuum models. However there are a lot of things that look awfully like phase transitions so they are useful to think about.

      What am I babbling about. Well phase transitions happen at places where infinite derivatives occur in mappings. And that's all fine on paper where you have an infinite number of states. If you think of states as being something like basis vectors then it' like saying you can write a fourier transform of a square edge with a continuum of frequencies.

      But since there's only a finite number of states available to any system, you dont have enough basis vectors to describe a discountinuty.

      So phase transitions dont' exist technically speaking. There's always some transition zone around the edge of the transition.

      I think this is what they are talking about here.
    • Re:pretty continua (Score:4, Informative)

      by utnapistim ( 931738 ) <[dan.barbus] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:11AM (#23430224) Homepage

      Continua are so much prettier mathematically though. [...] Quantum theory is so damn *ugly* compared to GR and its extensions (Kaluza-Klein, Einstein-Cartan). Sigh.


      I wouldn't call quantum theory ugly, just counter-intuitive, and that, I think, comes from the fact that at our magnification level, we don't see anything that behaves quite like anything at quantum level.

      The most insightful thing I've ever read on that is Feynman's introduction to quantum theory:

      On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. So do not take the lecture too seriously, feeling that you really have to understand in terms of some model what I am going to describe, but just relax and enjoy it. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possible avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get 'down the drain', into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, Feynman said something even more apposite to the topic. I don't have the quotation handy, so I'll have to paraphrase. He observed that so long as you treated space as a continuum, then you needed an infinite amount of information to describe what is going on in any finite volume, no matter how small. He considered that counterintuitive - why should you need an infinite amount of information to describe something arbitrarily small? Gregory Chaitin put it another way, when he said that he didn't bel
  • by LeafOnTheWind ( 1066228 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:18AM (#23428862)

    Once we realized that the notion of space-time as a continuum is only an approximation of reality, it became clear to us that singularities are merely artifacts of our insistence that space-time should be described as a continuum.
    I already discovered this during a wild acid trip 30 years ago. Man, the space time continuum is just an illusion - it's all about the singularities. When will The Man start listening and give me my Nobel Prize.
  • Come out again?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ink_13 ( 675938 ) <erlogan@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:23AM (#23428902)
    I was under the impression that due to the relativistic effects, stuff (photons, matter, information, whatever) wasn't so much destroyed by a black hole as indefinitely delayed, owing to the massive bending of space-time by the singularity. Or do they mean by "eventually" what I mean: it might eventually come out, but the time it takes approaches infinity.
  • by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw@ y a h o o . com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:26AM (#23428924) Journal
    Wow, I can't wait to see how the writers of The Big Bang Theory will use this new theory to move Leonard's and Penny's love story along. Maybe Sheldon will make an oblique reference to it?
  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:27AM (#23428926) Homepage
    Black holes, however, are not "hairy" either. That is to say, a black hole can be entirely characterized by its position/velocity/acceleration, mass, charge, and rotation. There is (literally) no other definable characteristic of a black hole besides these things.
    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:40AM (#23429032)
      But if information can escape a black hole, that cannot be true. The information must be in there, and must be itself a characteristic of the black hole.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Black holes, however, are not "hairy" either. That is to say, a black hole can be entirely characterized by its position/velocity/acceleration, mass, charge, and rotation. There is (literally) no other definable characteristic of a black hole besides these things.
      ...when seen from the outside.
    • by jibster ( 223164 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:37AM (#23430670)
      I am afraid that we have to say goodbye to one of the great memes of physics, namely, "black holes don't have hair." This statement, we are sure now, is simply incorrect. A black hole is defined by far more that spin, charge and mass.

      Mondern Thermodynamics, Information Theory and after a bitter battle event Quantium Mechanics and GR have admited that black holes indeed do have hair. Even Hawkins has given up this battle and admitted he was wrong. (sidenote: It is an interesting story how Hawkins would say he he proved this point in a recent paper. Many physicsts dispute his version of events as it was already obvious which way the wind was blowing and regard Hawkins paper as a refolumation of the results from the work of others in the above sciences - and not even the most useful formulation at that).

      As the artical says what goes in to the black hole will eventually escape or to put it in another more correct way, the information concerning the state of the matter and light that once *fell* in to the BH will become available to the universe again at some, possible distant, point in the future.

      I have a feeling the meme "black holes don't have hair" is so atractive and addictive we will be living with and debunking it on slashdot for many years to come but lets be very clear, black holes do have hair.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:30AM (#23428952)
    Does that mean that there's the slightest probability to unsee goatse and live a normal life again?
  • LHC (Score:5, Funny)

    by ViX44 ( 893232 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:38AM (#23429010)
    It is a pity that, after they fire up the Large Hadron Collider, we won't survive to hear Hawking's reluctant admission that tiny black holes don't evaporate.
  • by urcreepyneighbor ( 1171755 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:43AM (#23429050)

    Let the physics infighting begin.
    I dare you to tell me Hawking doesn't secretly control a robot army!

    Also, $100 on Kaku. I don't know why, but I suspect he knows jujutsu....
  • by martinX ( 672498 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:44AM (#23429056)
    Great. First I learn Newton is only an approximation, atomic theory is only an approximation, Gas *laws* are an approximation and now even Einstein (who I can't understand anyway) is only an approximation as well.

    Will the real reality please reveal itself!
    • In 1687, Isaac Newton wrote is Principia, which defined about half of calculus, and all of Newtonian physics - defining laws of both gravity, and inertia. It is understandable, then with no understanding of quantum mechanics at all, that he did not explicitly mention quantum monkeys at all.

      Maxwell then went on to explain Ether as a medium through which light traveled in 1878, later being disproved in 1881 by Michelson, and laying the groundwork for the discovery of quantum monkeys though the discovery of constant velocity light.

      This was established as mathematically sound in Einstein's theory of special relativity in 1905. General relativity, which explained gravitational effects on light and particles/waves moving fractionally close to the speed of light, was finally established in 1915 by Hilbert and Einstein, surprisingly without mention of quantum monkeys, despite all indications.

      Because of this work, as well as the basics of quantum mechanics established by Einstein, various scientists were able to find the six quarks: Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Charmed and Strange, the last (top) only having been confirmed in a laboratory in 1995. Strangely, however, none of the various experiments which identified quarks also identified quantum monkeys, which would have been readily observable through their quantum-picking-fleas-off-other-quantum-monkey gatherings.

      The first of these discoveries, in the early 1960s made possible a formalization of a unified model in 1970-73 of four fundamental forces, three of which can be unified mathematically under one theory and with particles that are at least indirectly observable (electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear), and a fourth which doesn't quite fit (gravity). Despite these obvious problems, no one started looking at the quantum banana-eating by quantum monkeys as a possible unifying factor.

      To establish a unified theory including gravity, scientists are currently using strings, rather than monkeys, as a unifying element. However, the majority of these theories are neither testable nor useful for the advancement of mankind. None of them so much as mention quantum poo, or postulate that quantum monkeys could have thrown it.

      To this day, the world waits for scientists start to seek out the quantum monkeys that have so long waited for proper credit to be given to them for unifying quantum forces. So we wait still, a working unified theory still out of our grasp.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:38AM (#23429324) Journal
      First I learn Newton is only an approximation...now even Einstein...is only an approximation as well. Will the real reality please reveal itself!

      Here ya go [nasa.gov]
           
    • If you wish to contact reality, please deposit one plank unit of energy into the nearest plank unit of mass and standby.

      Thank you for your patience, the Universe.
  • thermo (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @12:47AM (#23429068) Homepage
    Let me propose the newest addition to the laws of thermodynamics:

    Information can not be destroyed.
  • Go back? (Score:5, Funny)

    by myrdred ( 597891 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:07AM (#23429168)
    So, then, once you go black... you can go back?
  • by Twigmon ( 1095941 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:15AM (#23429200) Homepage
    ...but fly in the face of Einsteinian relativity.

    Sounds like God is a little grumpy about Einstein's letter coming out.
  • Do you think that's air you're breathing?
  • by trawg ( 308495 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:27AM (#23429264) Homepage
    I clicked on the link to find out what the basic unit of information was (an informatron?) and saw the bit about Hawking changing his mind about how black holes work (I assume based on new evidence).

    Given the increasing "threat" of religious propaganda (if I was an American I'd be more worried about Intelligent Design getting taught in schools than I would be about terrorists), its so awesome to see a perfect example of how scientists operate: a new, better theory comes along and the old stuff is abandoned in favour of it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The basic unit of information is the humble bit, familiar to computer programmers everywhere.

      Each bit of lost information will lead to the release of an amount kT ln 2 of heat, where k is the Boltzmann constant and T is the absolute temperature of the circuit.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landauer's_Principle [wikipedia.org]

      It's actually quite remarkable - the ONLY thing that even costs energy is destroying information.

  • Horaaaay! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @01:28AM (#23429268) Journal
    That means I'm gonna get my missing-paired socks back!
         
  • Do the words even exist to communicate what it actually is?
  • by phagstrom ( 451510 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:15AM (#23429534)
    I can get the information back from /dev/null. My compression scheme does work. Time to take over the world!
  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @02:39AM (#23429694)
    I don't understand this abhorrence of a universe in which information can be destroyed.

    I realize that we're talking about quantum information, not the Library of Congress, and the preferred simplicity of the equations that describe events that work regardless of the direction (sign) of time. Why does the universe have to be built around that principle just because we like the equations?

    I've heard "scary stories" (thanks, George Carlin) about "causality" issues, but AFAICT, they're only scary to those who insist on time-symmetry, not that the universe cannot function that way.

    Hawking's pan-dimensional replication of information really sounds like a desperate ploy to retain a childhood fantasy by spinning elaborate webs to sustain it, rather than just asking the simpler question: how would a universe work if information can be destroyed?

    Maybe, if information CAN be destroyed, it explains the apparent (at the human level, at least) directionality of time. If the universe is open, at some far-future time, when the protons, neutrons, etc, have decayed, the information of their quantum states will be gone; not transformed, gone. If the universe is closed, it will collapse back into a singularity, and again, the information will be gone. So, what?

  • Tags (Score:3, Funny)

    by azuredrake ( 1069906 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @03:15AM (#23429908)
    Due to the researcher's quote, I move this story be tagged "thereisnospoon" . Join me! :)

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