Higgs' big loser: Why Stephen Hawking is such a bad gambler

So, as far as we know, Hawking is 0-for-3, with one bet still up in the air. That led the BBC’s Ghosh to joke today in a Twitter update that “research effort could be saved if we knew what other bets Prof. Hawking has placed and assume he’ll lose.” The only bet that I’m sure Hawking has won is the poker hand he played on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” And that was written into the script.

Is Hawking really that bad at anticipating future developments in physics? Not really. The guy just bets with his heart, not with his head.

In the case of Cygnus X-1, for instance, he was actually glad to lose the wager. “This was a form of insurance policy for me,” he explained in “A Brief History of Time,” his bestselling book. “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.”

The bet about the fate of information in black holes was a true cosmic conundrum, and Hawking decided to go along with the more conservative of the two alternatives, even if it meant buying an encyclopedia for Preskill. If Hawking stuck to his guns, he would have to maintain that the information in black holes disappeared into other universes.