Feeling Unlucky? Don’t Worry, Even Stephen Hawking Lost Some Scientific Wagers
From time to time, every person that places bets on a game of chance, whether it’s a sports bet or another type of a wager, is likely to fail at some point. If you are feeling unlucky about not winning a bet, then keep in mind that even Stephen Hawking manages to lose several wagers during his lifetime.
Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century, loved to bet on scientific topics, but he also had a very poor winning record.
The Black Hole Wager
In 1975, Hawking bet Kip Thorne, a Caltech physicist that there was no black hole at the center of the X-ray source, which was known as Cygnus X-1. Hawking, by that time, had done a lot of work on black holes and all of his scientific work could be wasted it turned out that black holes did not exist.
If Thorne was to prove that black holes do exist, Hawking would owe him a subscription to the Penthouse magazine for a year but if Hawking was to win, he would get a four-year subscription to the Private Eye magazine.
Hawking described in a Brief History of Time in 1988 that the odds were not in his favor as when the bet was made in 1975, they were 80% certain that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole and by 1988 they were about 95% certain.
Two years later, in 1990, Hawking acknowledged that there was enough evidence to say it was a black hole and conceded the bet.
Just one year later, Hawking bet against Thorne and theoretical scientist John Preskill that a naked singularity cannot be of existence. Hawking stated that a singularity can only exist behind the event horizon of a black hole
Preskill and Thorne argued about the possibility for an existence of a singularity even without an event horizon of the black holes. In 1997, Hawking conceded his claims and re-framed his statement that naked singularity cannot be formed under certain generic conditions.
The Black Hole Information Paradox
The third bet that Hawking made was the Thorne – Hawking – Preskill bet. This time Hawking made a bet with Thorne against Preskill, where the two argued that information would be lost in a black hole, whereas Preskill stated the opposite.
This formal wager stated that when an initial pure quantum state goes through a gravitational collapse in order to create a black hole, then the final condition at the very end of that black hole evaporation will always be in a pure quantum state.
The winner of this formal wager would receive an encyclopedia of their own choosing. In 2004, Hawking admitted that his theory was wrong and gave John Preskill a baseball encyclopedia.
In the early 2000s, Hawking wagered with physics professor Gordon Kane that the Higgs particle would never be found. This particle was seen as the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics.
Hawking was not happy to see the discovery of this particle as he worried that it would solidify the Standard Model without aiming for a more coherent theory. The finding of the Higgs was confirmed in July 2012, which was hailed by Hawking as an important result.
When the Higgs boson was found in 2012, Hawking claimed that “physics would be much more interesting if it wasn’t found” and after congratulating Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their discovery and the Nobel Prize that followed, he added “the discovery of the new particle came at a personal cost. I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn’t be found. The Nobel prize cost me $100.
Hawking had supported Higgs’ nomination for the Nobel Prize ahead of him winning it.
Hawking also said that Peter Higgs, one of the most famous theoretical physicists that proposed the particle 48 years before the acknowledgment, should receive a Nobel Prize, which he did the following year.
Out of all 4 scientific wagers that Hawking has made over the years, this was the only one that involved money. This meant that apart from winning the bet, Kane also won $100 Hawking.
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