I was intrigued, and wondered whether Dr. Hawking was referring to physical black holes, those mysterious bottomless pits lurking somewhere out in the universe where space and time meet, sucking in anything that gets too close; or was he perhaps talking about metaphysical black holes, those deep feelings of dark despair into which can be lost one's hope, happiness, peace of mind and well-being?
Stephen Hawking, possessed of a superlatively brilliant mind in a body that was already failing him when he was diagnosed at age 21 with ALS, is certainly the world's expert on black holes, of both the cosmic and existential kind.
But the article was in fact about a lecture Dr. Hawking gave last year on his latest theory on black holes: whereas he'd previously concluded that information - by which he means the elements that come together to make up any physical or abstract entity - that is sucked into a black hole is destroyed, gone, lost forever, he has more recently concluded that information that falls prey to a black hole is not in fact destroyed because it's not in the nature of something that has ever existed to cease to exist. Rather, Stephen Hawking now asserts, for information that falls into a black hole there can be one of two outcomes: the information can either linger on the edge - known as the event horizon - of the black hole in a useless state or it can pop out of the black hole in a different universe. But what information that ends up in a black hole can never do is return to its original universe.
And yet, though his was a discourse on quantum physics, the symbolic - and inspirational - element of it all was not lost on Dr. Hawking. Perhaps it was for the sake of those of us whose minds exist on a lower cerebral plane that he concluded his lecture with a life metaphor : "The message of this lecture is that black holes ain't as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought...So if you feel you are in a black hole, don't give up - there's a way out."
It's good to be reminded of this by someone who knows.