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Space Science

Prof. Stephen Hawking: Great Scientist, Bad Gambler 231

Posted by timothy
from the maybe-he's-still-placing-the-bet dept.
astroengine writes "World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has announced that he was likely wrong about his view that the Higgs boson doesn't exist — an outcome he doesn't find very exciting — conceding that he lost a $100 wager. Speaking at the Beckman Auditorium in Caltech, Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday (April 16), the British physicist gave a public lecture on 'The Origins of the Universe,' summarizing new revelations in modern astrophysics and cosmology. After the lecture, Caltech physicist and colleague John Preskill commented on Hawking's fondness for placing bets when faced with conflicts of physics ideas. Hawking lost a famous wager to Preskill in 2004 in a debate over whether or not black holes destroy information (theory suggests they do not, opposing Hawking's argument). 'To love Stephen Hawking is to not always agree with Stephen Hawking,' Preskill quipped. 'He's usually right, but he's not always right. Sometimes we haven't been able to resolve our differences and we've resorted to making bets it's sad to say that although Stephen Hawking is without doubt a great scientist, he's a bad gambler.'"
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Prof. Stephen Hawking: Great Scientist, Bad Gambler

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  • It's OK (Score:4, Funny)

    by aglider (2435074) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:25AM (#43481757) Homepage
    As long as it goes to science advancements!
    • Re:It's OK (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:32AM (#43481867) Homepage

      Maybe he plays to lose just to goad the other guy into finishing his research.

      • Re:It's OK (Score:5, Informative)

        by Brucelet (1857158) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:57AM (#43482125)
        Actually my recollection is that he often deliberately bets against his favored hypotheses so that in case he's wrong he still gets some reward. Hedging his bets with the universe, as it were.
        • Re:It's OK (Score:5, Informative)

          by alendit (1454311) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:29AM (#43482447)

          From "A Brief History of Time":

          "This was a form of insurance policy for me. I have done a lot of work on black holes, and it would all be wasted if it turned out that black holes do not exist. But in that case, I would have the consolation of winning my bet, which would win me four years of the magazine Private Eye. If black holes do exist, Kip will get one year of Penthouse. When we made the bet in 1975, we were 80% certain that Cygnus was a black hole. By now, I would say that we are about 95% certain, but the bet has yet to be settled."

      • by lorenlal (164133)

        That wouldn't surprise me.

        He even made a bet saying that black holes didn't exist. It was a hedge because it would've blown up a bunch of his own research if he had won. I rather enjoy that he doesn't take himself too seriously when it comes to these bets.

      • by gman003 (1693318)

        He actually tends to bet *against* what he thinks the more interesting possibility is. That way, either he wins the bet, or he has some exciting new science going on. He wins either way.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by wmac1 (2478314)

      He also has a view that God does not exist.

      • When you use the term God, you give definite name and conceptualization to it that is statistically impossible to be correct. It is therefore not a view, but a fact that the God to whom/which you refer does not exist.
        • by tnk1 (899206)

          I would very much like to see a valid scientific experiment that proves that a Creator entity is statistically impossible. Then I would like to see your solution of some nagging physics problems that I have been having trouble with... like Quantum Gravity and the Theory of Everything.

          • I made no such claim. The statement I made is that if there is a creator it does not exist as conceived by you (or me, or Christians, or Muslims, etc.).
            • So you are arguing that humans cannot fully accurately conceive of the "Creator entity," as the GP referred to "God." Ok, fine. Couldn't I make the *exact same argument* about basically all of science? How can humans, as non-creators, actually fully accurately understand any physics? So I guess we should pretty much throw out all science, because, after all, if we're not 100% certain that it is 100% accurate, then the entire thing is worthless.

              Or perhaps it's possible to have a "reasonably accurate" con

              • "Or perhaps it's possible to have a "reasonably accurate" conception based on what we are reasonably sure of knowing?"

                OK, Pastor Einstein. Go ahead and tell us everything you know about God.

                As far as the statistically impossible part, it is simple. Pick a concept of God. Out of the infinite possibilities, what are the chances that you picked the right one?

                • I am not the one claiming the statistically impossible (or, in my case, statistically certain) part.

                  So... pick a concept of reality. Out of the infinite possibilities, what are the chances you picked the right one?

                  Can't this sort of epistemology game go on more or less forever on any given topic?

                  • If it can, would that make it useless? Are idea that apply everywhere and forever not valid because they do?
                • Pick a concept of computer. Out of the infinte possible concepts of computer, what are the chances that yours is correct regarding how to connect to the internet and post on slashdot?

                  Your argument makes no sense, it attempts to use hypotheticals to disprove reality. If God exists, and he has communicated what he is like, Id say theres a pretty good chance that those he communicated to got it right; yet in that circumstance your argument would still insist that it could not be so.

            • by tnk1 (899206)

              If you mean that I am unable to pick out the exact characteristics of a deity myself, and get them all right... sure, I suppose you're right. Considering that there are actually orthodoxies out there, however, I'd say that for the most part a lot of people can agree on the broader outlines. There are actually a lot fewer choices out there than you think. And I mean *serious* choices, not just theoretical thought problems where the characteristics of a god can be put in a hopper. People may develop Flyin

              • "Considering that there are actually orthodoxies out there, however, I'd say that for the most part a lot of people can agree on the broader outlines."

                Even if everyone agrees that the world is flat, it is still spherical. I'm sorry you are having trouble understanding this simple concept. OTOH, I'm not about to waste more time trying to explain it to you, so HANL.

                • by tnk1 (899206)

                  The spherical shape of the Earth is a falsifiable hypothesis within the realm of the scientific method. Thus, it can be tested and it's factual basis established objectively which allows it to stand against consensus. The existence of a deity is not falsifiable, and therefore normal scientific inquiry is not sufficient. Popular agreement doesn't make it true either, but it certainly doesn't make it false.

                  In any case the point I was addressing is that you're stating that everyone is wrong about God. And

            • by ultranova (717540)

              The statement I made is that if there is a creator it does not exist as conceived by you (or me, or Christians, or Muslims, etc.).

              It is unlikely that your concept of any entity - even yourself - is entirely accurate, so your argument seems rather like splitting hairs.

              • It's not an "argument". I'm simply pointing out a simple fact. There is no hair splitting. You are on the verge of understanding it, though. All that is necessary for you to do now is to openly admit that it is a fact that God doesn't exist.
        • Your reasoning is fundamentally illogical, yet you tout it as provable. How ironic and sad that someone would insist on his infallible logic when it's fundamentally flawed.

          1. You are presupposing you know what others mean when they use the term "God." What you're actually doing is reasoning based on your own conception of God.

          2. God is, by definition, above and beyond and outside of us and our universe. Statistics is a human-created field. It cannot prove anything which is by definition outside its re

          • My reasoning is perfect, and your assertions about my claim show a basic inability to read and understand what you read. For example, I never once presupposed that I know what they are thinking. I merely stated that whatever it that they are thinking, they couldn't possibly get it right.

            " If God is real, then he is real and he is who he is, regardless of what we feel, think, or believe about him."

            And yet I can easily deduce you think it's a "him", thereby making you a pretty serious moron.

            • My experience is that those who insist that something they have done or concieved of is perfect, it usually is not.

              In fact, most maxims about "wisdom" I have ever seen or read tend to indicate that wisdom consists in large part of recognizing your flaws, rather than engaging in hubris.

          • 1. You are presupposing you know what others mean when they use the term "God." What you're actually doing is reasoning based on your own conception of God.

            "God" [wikipedia.org] is pretty well defined. Really. Some people out there have been doing nothing but that for millennia now.
            You seem to be confusing "God" for a "deity". Now THAT [wikipedia.org] can mean a lot of different things.

            2. God is, by definition, above and beyond and outside of us and our universe. Statistics is a human-created field. It cannot prove anything which is by definition outside its realm.

            By definition, "God" is exactly opposite of that.

            He is inside all of us and everything else in the universe, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omni- everything else.
            You seem to be confusing a "God" with a mere "Creator" or "Experimenter".
            Which is akin to defining Superman as "a man wearing red underwear

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        He also has a view that God does not exist.

        Did he wager $100 on that, too? From the article, he is wrong more often than he is right.

      • by johnjaydk (584895)

        He also has a view that God does not exist.

        Chanting every morning with my head in an arbitrary direction:There is no god and Richard Dawkins is his prophet!

    • Re:It's OK (Score:5, Funny)

      by DanTheStone (1212500) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:49AM (#43482047)
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:29AM (#43481823)

    The Higgs boson was also wrong in its view that Stephen Hawkings doesn't exist.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      The Higgs boson was also wrong in its view that Stephen Hawkings doesn't exist.

      Interesting bet. The only way to win is not to wager.

  • FTA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:30AM (#43481839) Journal

    Hawking honed-in on the question “why something rather than nothing?” reasserting his point of view that a supernatural “god” is not needed to create the universe — quantum fluctuations helped shape our evolving universe at the Big Bang, adding the conditions were “just right” for life (and therefore us) to be asking these profound questions.

    This is what I don't understand about these intelligent people. They answer why there is something rather than nothing by talking about how quantum fluctuations work. The existence of quantum fluctuations results from energy existing in the first place. So we have a rather circular argument being made. Essentially it boils down to "there is something because there was something".

    There are only two possibilities: 1) there has always been something 2) there wasn't always something. Neither can be true, ergo we don't exist.

    • Re:FTA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:35AM (#43481893) Homepage

      There are only two possibilities: 1) there has always been something 2) there wasn't always something. Neither can be true, ergo we don't exist.

      Things can change form, eg. energy->matter.

      All you need to create all the matter in the universe is a single photon with a wavelength of 10^95Hz, then convert energy->matter.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is what I don't understand about these intelligent people. They answer why there is something rather than nothing by talking about how quantum fluctuations work. The existence of quantum fluctuations results from energy existing in the first place. So we have a rather circular argument being made.

      He's not arguing that 'something' exists because of quantum fluctuations, he's merely asserting that they replace the need for an intelligent design to explain our existence.

      Essentially it boils down to "there is something because there was something".

      There are only two possibilities: 1) there has always been something 2) there wasn't always something. Neither can be true, ergo we don't exist.

      Besides being a gross (and I mean huge) oversimplication of the facts I fail to see why 'Neither can be true'.

      All in all I don't know what you're trying to prove but whatever it is you aren't quite there yet.

      Oh, and 'these intelligent people' as you so disparagingly call them are extremely dedicated people that have worked years to reac

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by BitZtream (692029)

        He's not arguing that 'something' exists because of quantum fluctuations, he's merely asserting that they replace the need for an intelligent design to explain our existence.

        And that would make him rather stupid then wouldn't it? Why do the quantum fluctuations exist, what do they exist in, what created them? Now we're right back where we started aren't we? This is one of those examples of people worshiping a scientist like he himself is a god. You've got some sort of ignorant blind faith in him for no logical reason as even his logic ... well, isn't.

        He doesn't seem to be able to understand the question in the first place judging by his answers. He is too focused on whats

        • Why do the quantum fluctuations exist, what do they exist in, what created them?

          Implicit in your argument is the assumption that if something exists, then it must have been created. If that assumption is correct, then if the Universe exists, it must have been created. What created the Universe? Some people, perhaps including you, would answer that God created the Universe. Does God exist? If so, what created created God? Now you have the problem of an infinite regress.

          If, however, the assumption is incorrect, then the Universe can exist without having been created. If the Universe can

          • by gottabeme (590848)

            Implicit in your argument is the assumption that if something exists, then it must have been created. If that assumption is correct, then if the Universe exists, it must have been created. What created the Universe? Some people, perhaps including you, would answer that God created the Universe. Does God exist? If so, what created created God? Now you have the problem of an infinite regress.

            This is only a problem if you make it one. If God created the universe, then he exists outside of it, and it is unreasonable for us to expect to comprehend the nature of existence in a realm outside of and above our own.

            If, instead, you admit that some questions are not answerable in this realm, then such problems cease to be problems, and you can move on to relevant questions.

    • Re:FTA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:48AM (#43482033)

      Quantum fluctuations are energy neutral, they don't require there to be existing energy to create, at least not beyond the vacuum energy. Of course, then the argument becomes where did the vacuum come from? Where did the laws of physics come from? But what Hawking is saying is that given an empty universe, the laws of physics, and lots and lots and lots of time (though in an empty universe time is pretty meaningless) quantum fluctuations will eventually produce a full universe.

      • And where did those fluctuations come from? Either you stay at 0, or you move from 0 to 1. Perhaps the universe is one giant paradox and the loop closed in on itself creating infinity. But even if that were the case, something created the paradox to begin with. So, you still have to answer for the starting "Event".

        "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." - Revelation 1:8 (KJV)

        • by tyrione (134248)
          Instabilities between changes in state produces wave fluctuations, which produces expansion with each change in state that turns into trillons of trillons of fluctuations and eventually an immeasurable number of state changes eventually leading to expansion. It is ironic people of Faith don't question where God comes from as they accept infinite existence and presence as the answer. But ask for an infinite sequence of connections to prove where the Universe came from if not from God.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      It's not a circular argument, inasmuch as the fields that fluctuate to allow a big bang to happen are not the fields that exist after the bang. They've moved the issue back one stage further in time, and in doing so created an intellectual space in which one might begin to address the validity of various models.

    • There are only two possibilities: 1) there has always been something 2) there wasn't always something. Neither can be true, ergo we don't exist.

      According to the big bang theory, there has been "something" as long as there was "time" and "space". This means it would actually be accurate to say that there has always been something. Talking about things before the big bang makes about as much sense as asking what is east of the north pole.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      There are only two possibilities: 1) there has always been something 2) there wasn't always something. Neither can be true, ergo we don't exist.

      Time, as we know it, seems to have begun at the Big Bang. Hence, "always" does not really mean anything useful. Of course it is likely that the current understanding is very incomplete.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:32AM (#43481857)
    He backed his scientific hypothesis with money and his hypothesis was wrong. How does that make him a great scientist or a poor gambler?
    • Re:Gambler? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:36AM (#43481911)

      Who cares if he is a great scientist or poor gambler? At least he makes the topic amusing by betting on it. That raises interest in the general public about it.

      • by nametaken (610866)

        Indeed. And I'd think everyone would realize that a $100 bet for Stephen Hawking is not an "all in" proposition, meant to force a weak position.

        It's obviously just the sort of more-or-less inconsequential thing they do for giggles.

    • by gutnor (872759)
      He is a great scientist in his own right. You won't dismiss his entire career because he lost 2 bets ... also let's keep that in perspective, scientist are wrong all the time and argue all the time, the sentence is obviously only meant at poking fun at S Hawking and nothing else.
      • scientist are wrong all the time and argue all the time

        Exactly. You don't learn new things when you're right.

        • You don't learn new things when you're right.

          What? If you're right about a future particle, you learned something.

          • by Firethorn (177587)

            If you're right, you simply gain verification. Great. If you're wrong, well, it's back to the drawing board because it means there's something off with your model, and sort of like the ancient mystery of how a bumblebee flies, it probably opens opportunities to do something amazing.

            It's sort of like how you tell the difference between a bad scientist as a good one. Expose the former to 'real magic', something physics breaking, and they'll be pissed(and ignore it, degenerate it, etc...). A good scientist

  • by invid (163714) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:35AM (#43481899) Homepage
    Hawking tends to bet on the more controversial side of a scientific debate, and thus the less likely side. He does not play it safe. Of course, statistically he's going to lose. But when he wins ( Hawking Radiation [wikipedia.org]) he gets stuff named after him.
    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:17AM (#43482315)

      Hawking tends to bet on the more controversial side of a scientific debate, and thus the less likely side. He does not play it safe. Of course, statistically he's going to lose. But when he wins ( Hawking Radiation [wikipedia.org]) he gets stuff named after him.

      Out of curiosity, why is he going to lose statistically? He isn't picking one side of an argument or another just for the sake of picking. He does his research and forms his hypotheses others do theirs. One may be right or they all may be wrong, but it's not like flipping a coin. Where does statistics come into play?

      What is missed in all of this is why he doubted the Higgs boson -- because, as has now been shown, it is incompatible with our current understanding of how particles formed after the big bang. So, if what we now know or think we know about the Higgs boson is correct, we now have to go back to the drawing board on how matter formed in the very early universe. When Hawking made his $100 bet, that theory was well accepted, now it is wrong and another is needed to account for HB.

      • by invid (163714)
        Given two conflicting theories, is it more or less likely that the one that most scientist agree with will be correct? Now apply this to multiple instances of conflicting theories. I hope that statistically, the majority of scientists are correct most of the time.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I recall that at least one of his bets was an insurance policy against the possibility that his favourite theory was false. If it was disproven, at least he'd have the consolation of (IIRC) a year's supply of Playboy magazine.

    • by houghi (78078)

      I do the same. I bet I won't sleep with Megan Fox this year.

      • by dkf (304284)

        The bet only counts if you find someone to bet against you. Good luck with that in your case!

  • by Quick Reply (688867) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:36AM (#43481915) Journal

    He isn't offering the money as a token to indicate how strongly he believes in an idea. $100 isn't going to break the bank for him.

    What is he really doing is offering the chance to boast "I won a bet against Stephen Hawking" (You know... The guy who is regarded by most people to be the smartest person in the world) as the prize for some very extreme research.

    He is giving the encouragement to push the boundaries of what we know about science in the quest of knowledge, and this is exactly what science is about.

    So even when he "loses" the bet, he wins, because he has helped science go further by challenging everything that we know, instead of just following what the "smartest" people think,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Daithi_c (698132)
      I have to agree with this comment.

      It may be wrong, but didn't Albert Einstein challenge people who questioned his ideas to go ahead and prove him wrong, just to get people working on finding stuff out rather than simply challenging some theory that was proposed.

      Kudos to Prof. Hawking for stimulating research, and having some fun at the same time!

      Perhaps the writers of The Big Bang Theory could use the idea to have Prof. Hawking make a bet with Sheldon Cooper about a particular theory. I heard he really enj
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      100 is a lot cheaper than paying a researcher to write a paper. he should be making a lot more bets.

    • by bmacs27 (1314285)
      Stephen Hawking is not the smartest person in the world. He isn't even that great a scientist. More just a great communicator.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      That's a nice thought, and likely a side effect of his wagers, but is it really his intent?

      I attended a guest lecture by Kip Thorne several years ago, and he made it seem that one of the early bets between him and Hawking (on the existence of black holes) was just a friendly wager between colleagues, the way you might bet a coworker a beer on the outcome of the Super Bowl, not some open challenge to all comers. The bet with Preskill regarding information loss in black holes seems similar - the prize was a

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      in essence he's supporting the scientific ideal of "question everything, even me".
      you may (even likely) be wrong...but you may be right.

      and if you are, oh how interesting it is to pursue a brand new avenue of research that turns all of "accepted" science on its head.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:56AM (#43482115) Homepage Journal
    It'd suck having to put up with trash talk from Stephen Hawking after he won a bet with you.
  • If I owned a casino, I would consider him to be a good gambler. Not a great gambler, because his wagers are relatively modest. Seriously though, he appears to be perfectly willing to concede defeat so I can only see benefits: it motivates further research into the topic, and it adds a bit more interest (for lay people) to a potentially niche subject. You could almost think that he deliberately arranged to lose.
  • by BForrester (946915) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @10:12AM (#43482261)

    He's a better gambler than two other famous physicists and an AI from the 24th century
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg8_cKxJZJY [youtube.com]

  • Of course, this is a way of concentrating people's minds, and getting attention to the subject. He is a theoritician, not an experimentalist, so he gives in fairly easily.

    Hawking lost a famous wager to Preskill in 2004 in a debate over whether or not black holes destroy information (theory suggests they do not, opposing Hawking's argument).

    The theory that made him give in is "M-theory," which has absolutely no experimental evidence in favor of it. He decided he lost the wager; the debate itself is very much

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