I heard in a lecture about the Higgs mechanism that the mass of a black hole has nothing to do with the Higgs mechanism. The point was made in relation to the proton mass being largely due to the energy content within the proton, not the mass of the constituent quarks.

I don't know what the claim 'the mass of a black hole has nothing to do with the Higgs mechanism' means. Once matter passes over the event horizon of a black hole, does the mass of the black hole arise through some other mechanism than simply 'adding' that mass to it?

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    $\begingroup$ You could simplify the question by asking it about a proton or some other nucleus or hadron. However, this question has been asked here before. $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Mathematically a black hole is a solution to Einstein equations without matter in the universe. So the parameter "mass" has effectively nothing to do with the Higgs field. In fact, the mass parameter is just the measure of the radius of the black hole (and when the black hole is "spinning", its angular momentum has to be taken in count). The appearance of the mass parameter has certainly something to do with the Newtonian escape velocity. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ The gravitational field of a black hole relates to the energy not just the mass - mass is just a form of energy. So are you concerned about the mass of a black hole or the gravitational field ? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ Instead of the obligatory XKCD, these vidoes by Don Lincoln are fun. The Origins of Mass and The Higgs field Explained $\endgroup$
    – mmesser314
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Good question. Still open so far. Maybe GRT switches off the Higgs field inside a black hole? $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


The answer to your question is stress-energy, not mass. Mass is just a certain form, a manifestation of something deeper, being energy. A proton and a black hole, both have stress-energy, and both cause spacetime curvature.

It's a commonly made mistake that gravity, and therefore a black hole, is caused by matter. In fact the spacetime curvature is related to a quantity called the [stress-energy tensor][1]. This is usually represented by a matrix with ten independant values in it (it's a 4x4 matrix but it's symmetric so six of the elements in it are duplicated). Only one of the elements in the matrix, $T_{00}$, depends directly on the mass, and actually that element gives the energy density, where mass is counted as energy using Einstein's equation $e = mc^2$.

Why do photons add mass to a black hole?

In GR, we use the term stress-energy, and anything and everything, massive or massless that does have stress-energy (please note that in certain cases not all parts of the stress-energy momentum tensor contribute to curvature), will cause spacetime curvature.

The mass of a black hole can be determined in the same way as we determine the mass of any other astronomical object - by observing how it deflects the paths of other objects that pass close to it. These might be objects in closed elliptic orbits (like satellites around planets) or objects in hyperbolic trajectories that are just passing through.

Black hole mass

Please note that in certain cases, we use ADM (or Bondi) mass for black holes.

Note that mass is computed as the length of the energy–momentum four-vector, which can be thought of as the energy and momentum of the system "at infinity".


So basically, when we talk about the mass of a black hole, we really mean according to GR, its energy and momentum (length of the energy-momentum four vector), and its (gravitational) effects on paths of objects that are interacting with it (its gravitational field). No need to involve the Higgs mechanism. So the answer to your question is, what causes the mass of the black hole, is ultimately stress-energy.

  • $\begingroup$ @safesphere thank you I edited both parts. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ This answer avoids the question. $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ @my2cts thank you I added a sentence at the end, saying that the ultimate cause is stress-energy. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ The Higgs field cannot be switched off when we don't need it anymore. $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @my2cts I agree, that the rest mass of certain elementary particles is due to the Higgs, but we do not know what happens to those particles when they enter the black hole and the singularity. Regardless, energy is still there. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 18:07

General relativity does not distinguish between matter and energy. As far as gravitation goes they are the same and are related by Einstein's famous equation $E = mc^2$. The gravitational field of a proton is the same whether we treat it as a mass of $1.673 \times 10^{-27}$ kg or an energy of $938.2$ MeV.

So whether or not the Higgs field confers a rest mass to the proton is irrelevant once we've dropped that proton into the black hole. Its contribution to the gravitational field would be the same either way. This is probably what the statement you read refers to.

  • $\begingroup$ This argument can also applied before matter falls into a black hole, leading to the conclusion that the Higgs mechanism is wholly irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – my2cts
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 17:49

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