Why do they refer to black holes as if they are conscious beings?

Here are two examples :



I've never heard of the earth feeding on asteroids... Or the sun feeding on matter. Does a black hole really go dormant and ignore matter around it? Or does it mean that there isn't any matter close enough to pull in so it just sits there... Until something does get too close. Then gravity pulls it in just like any other object would...just like the earth would.

It makes it seem like an object orbits a black hole for eons and then some day the black hole decides to wake up and eat it. I find the constant personification of black holes to be confusing. Making an already tricky subject more confusing. Am I missing something here?

  • $\begingroup$ Hello, Yeshia ! Welcome to Physics SE, we're glad to have you here. I think this question is primarily opinion-based and is coming from a more pop-science perspective. As such, it's not quite a good fit for this website as more specific, detailed and conceptual questions are the main focus here. I also see that you don't have the "Informed" badge so please start here. And as to your question, well, if anything it's probably because physicists aren't the best at naming things. $\endgroup$ – HsMjstyMstdn Jan 16 '18 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info. It's opinion on whether a black hole is conscious or not? It's opinion on whether a black holes gravity acts different than other massive objects? $\endgroup$ – Yeshia Jan 16 '18 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ It is true you have specific questions in here but it's quite jumbled up and your primary question (the title/header) is opinion-based. If you can edit your question to more specific things about a black hole, you might get answers. It would also greatly help if you could provide us links and examples as to where black holes are referred to as such. $\endgroup$ – HsMjstyMstdn Jan 16 '18 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ I think we'd all agree with you that these news articles are just plain wrong -- there's not really much else to say. Journalists can write whatever they want, why they wrote it is more of a sociology question than a physics question. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Jan 16 '18 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about word choices of journalists and not physics. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jan 17 '18 at 11:20

While I do see some real chance of legitimate confusion arising from the articles you posted, it is very much so that popular science websites/articles tends to sensationalise things. It might even be that human beings like to frame things in a decidedly human perspective, whether to understand them better or for any other reason. You might even get ideas or be able to draw ideas about consciousness from the usage and choice of these words, I don't know. But what I do know is that whatever it is, it isn't good physics.

As far as I know, all of this "feeding", "waking up" and "sleeping" are just words being tossed around with no real connotation to the "personhood" of the black hole. The terms have some applicable meaning but are mostly vague generalisations for things physicists don't have a specific name for/have much more specific names for (like spaghettification, event horizon, matter accretion, etc.).

In essence, all of it just means that the black hole has run out of matter around it to "spin" and "crush" and ceases to radiate strong EM waves. See this answer for more details. Also, the wikipedia page contains a wealth of information on black holes that is a good deal more accurate, a lot more detailed, a lot less sensationalist and not unnecessarily anthropomorphised like the articles you have linked.


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