As already mentioned in Section 2, after the area theorem was proven, Bekenstein [13, 14] proposed a way out of this difficulty: Assign an entropy, , to a black hole given by a numerical factor of order unity times the area, , of the black hole in Planck units. Define the generalized entropy, , to be the sum of the ordinary entropy, , of matter outside of a black hole plus the black hole entropy

Finally, replace the ordinary second law of thermodynamics by the generalized second law (GSL): The total generalized entropy of the universe never decreases with time, Although the ordinary second law will fail when matter is dropped into a black hole, such a process will tend to increase the area of the black hole, so there is a possibility that the GSL will hold.Bekenstein’s proposal of the GSL was made prior to the discovery of Hawking radiation. When Hawking radiation is taken into account, a serious problem also arises with the second law of black hole mechanics (i.e., the area theorem): Conservation of energy requires that an isolated black hole must lose mass in order to compensate for the energy radiated to infinity by the Hawking process. Indeed, if one equates the rate of mass loss of the black hole to the energy flux at infinity due to particle creation, one arrives at the startling conclusion that an isolated black hole will radiate away all of its mass within a finite time. During this process of black hole “evaporation”, will decrease. Such an area decrease can occur because the expected stress-energy tensor of quantum matter does not satisfy the null energy condition – even for matter for which this condition holds classically – in violation of a key hypothesis of the area theorem.

However, although the second law of black hole mechanics fails during the black hole evaporation process, if we adjust the numerical factor in the definition of to correspond to the identification of as temperature in the first law of black hole mechanics – so that, as in Eq. (9) above, we have in Planck units – then the GSL continues to hold: Although decreases, there is at least as much ordinary entropy generated outside the black hole by the Hawking process. Thus, although the ordinary second law fails in the presence of black holes and the second law of black hole mechanics fails when quantum effects are taken into account, there is a possibility that the GSL may always hold. If the GSL does hold, it seems clear that we must interpret as representing the physical entropy of a black hole, and that the laws of black hole mechanics must truly represent the ordinary laws of thermodynamics as applied to black holes. Thus, a central issue in black hole thermodynamics is whether the GSL holds in all processes.

It was immediately recognized by Bekenstein [13] (see also [12]) that there is a serious difficulty with the GSL if one considers a process wherein one carefully lowers a box containing matter with entropy and energy very close to the horizon of a black hole before dropping it in. Classically, if one could lower the box arbitrarily close to the horizon before dropping it in, one would recover all of the energy originally in the box as “work” at infinity. No energy would be delivered to the black hole, so by the first law of black hole mechanics, Eq. (7), the black hole area, , would not increase. However, one would still get rid of all of the entropy, , originally in the box, in violation of the GSL.

Indeed, this process makes manifest the fact that in classical general relativity, the physical temperature of a black hole is absolute zero: The above process is, in effect, a Carnot cycle which converts “heat” into “work” with 100% efficiency [49]. The difficulty with the GSL in the above process can be viewed as stemming from an inconsistency of this fact with the mathematical assignment of a finite (non-zero) temperature to the black hole required by the first law of black hole mechanics if one assigns a finite (non-infinite) entropy to the black hole.

Bekenstein proposed a resolution of the above difficulty with the GSL in a quasi-static lowering process by arguing [13, 14] that it would not be possible to lower a box containing physically reasonable matter close enough to the horizon of the black hole to violate the GSL. As will be discussed further in the next Section 4.2, this proposed resolution was later refined by postulating a universal bound on the entropy of systems with a given energy and size [15]. However, an alternate resolution was proposed in [94], based upon the idea that, when quantum effects are taken into account, the physical temperature of a black hole is no longer absolute zero, but rather is the Hawking temperature, . Since the Hawking temperature goes to zero in the limit of a large black hole, it might appear that quantum effects could not be of much relevance in this case. However, despite the fact that Hawking radiation at infinity is indeed negligible for large black holes, the effects of the quantum “thermal atmosphere” surrounding the black hole are not negligible on bodies that are quasi-statically lowered toward the black hole. The temperature gradient in the thermal atmosphere (see Eq. (12)) implies that there is a pressure gradient and, consequently, a buoyancy force on the box. This buoyancy force becomes infinitely large in the limit as the box is lowered to the horizon. As a result of this buoyancy force, the optimal place to drop the box into the black hole is no longer the horizon but rather the “floating point” of the box, where its weight is equal to the weight of the displaced thermal atmosphere. The minimum area increase given to the black hole in the process is no longer zero, but rather turns out to be an amount just sufficient to prevent any violation of the GSL from occurring in this process [94].

The analysis of [94] considered only a particular class of gedankenexperiments for violating the GSL involving the quasi-static lowering of a box near a black hole. Of course, since one does not have a general proof of the ordinary second law of thermodynamics – and, indeed, for finite systems, there should always be a nonvanishing probability of violating the ordinary second law – it would not be reasonable to expect to obtain a completely general proof of the GSL. However, general arguments within the semiclassical approximation for the validity of the GSL for arbitrary infinitesimal quasi-static processes have been given in [105, 90, 101]. These arguments crucially rely on the presence of the thermal atmosphere surrounding the black hole. Related arguments for the validity of the GSL have been given in [48, 82]. In [48], it is assumed that the incoming state is a product state of radiation originating from infinity (i.e., IN modes) and radiation that would appear to emanate from the white hole region of the analytically continued spacetime (i.e., UP modes), and it is argued that the generalized entropy must increase under unitary evolution. In [82], it is argued on quite general grounds that the (generalized) entropy of the state of the region exterior to the black hole must increase under the assumption that it undergoes autonomous evolution.

Indeed, it should be noted that if one could violate the GSL for an infinitesimal quasi-static process in a regime where the black hole can be treated semi-classically, then it also should be possible to violate the ordinary second law for a corresponding process involving a self-gravitating body. Namely, suppose that the GSL could be violated for an infinitesimal quasi-static process involving, say, a Schwarzschild black hole of mass (with much larger than the Planck mass). This process might involve lowering matter towards the black hole and possibly dropping the matter into it. However, an observer doing this lowering or dropping can “probe” only the region outside of the black hole, so there will be some such that the detailed structure of the black hole will directly enter the analysis of the process only for . Now replace the black hole by a shell of matter of mass and radius , and surround this shell with a “real” atmosphere of radiation in thermal equilibrium at the Hawking temperature (10) as measured by an observer at infinity. Then the ordinary second law should be violated when one performs the same process to the shell surrounded by the (“real”) thermal atmosphere as one performs to violate the GSL when the black hole is present. Indeed, the arguments of [105, 90, 101] do not distinguish between infinitesimal quasi-static processes involving a black hole as compared with a shell surrounded by a (“real”) thermal atmosphere at the Hawking temperature.

In summary, there appear to be strong grounds for believing in the validity of the GSL.

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