Friday, July 06, 2012

Higgs bets: I won $500, Gordy Kane won $100 from Stephen Hawking

Update: I just received my $500. Thanks to the trustworthy losing party! ;-)

Now I must tidy up my living room. I foolishly made a bet that they would produce *a* Higgs boson but I forgot that they could produce many of them...
If you didn't watch the July 4th, 2012 Higgs talks, here they are recorded to be replayed.
Just hours after the yesterday's discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN, my counterparty contacted me by e-mail, conceded defeat in our 2007 bet, and requested the relevant contacts or banking numbers to pay $500.

So I sent the data and I haven't heard from him again after that so far but I hope it will get fixed because the story about the bet is already a topic in the Czech media. ;-) (The interview will be visible to the public on Monday, to avoid low traffic in the two post-Independent-Day Czech national holidays.)

In that interview, I sketch the situation with the Higgs, research in HEP physics, its meaning, expected Nobel prize winners, emerging anomalies etc. I also say that a part of the $500 will be used to sustain the $100 funds needed for the case that I lose the SUSY bet against Adam Falkowski of Resonaances. A more interesting outcome would be if the LHC does find SUSY; in that case, Adam Falkowski will owe me $10,000: a more explosive bet, you know. ;-)

But there was an even more interesting bet. I knew that Stephen Hawking made a bet against the Higgs boson (what was he thinking?) but I didn't know – or I forgot – who was the other party.

AFP and hundreds of other media outlets demystified this mystery: it was no one else than TRF guest blogger Gordon Kane.

Congratulations, Prof Kane! (See dozens of articles with his name on TRF.)

Sadly for Gordon Kane, his counterparty couldn't afford more than those $100 – he only receives occasional money from professorships, tens of millions of sold copies of books, and similar modest sources. Moreover, Stephen Hawking had to buy lots of things, such as an encyclopedia for John Preskill, for his previous lost bets, such as one in which argued that the information really gets lost in the black holes. Needless to say, the scalp of a very famous physicist is probably vastly more valuable than the actual bounty in this case – even though Gordon Kane isn't the exclusive owner of this scalp anymore. ;-)

Has Martinus Veltman lost a bet? Given his anti-Higgs rhetoric in the past, he would deserve to pay millions. According to his latest talk in Lindau, he reconciled himself with the existence of the Higgs but he says it's a bad news because it's "closing the door". Go to 30:00 of the video or so.


  1. Dear Lubos,

    maybe your unknown counter party was too hasty;-).
    The production rate for gamma pairs has been from the beginning twice the predicted one in both ATLAS and CMS so that the interpretation as statistical fluke does not seem plausible anymore. If this continues to be the case, the interpretation as standard model Higgs does not make sense. The interpretation as Higgs like SUSY particle is even more suspicious since we all are well aware of the sad fate of the standard SUSY.
    "Higgs" is not a synonym for a "new particle" as I have been forced repeatedly to emphasize.

  2. John F. HultquistJul 5, 2012, 7:50:00 AM

    $500 !! Party time.

  3. Dear Matti, I personally guess it's more likely that the diphoton excess will go away - it's just 2 sigma now or so - but even if it won't, it wouldn't impact our bet.

    I didn't make a bet that one would prove that the Standard Model is the exactly theory. Indeed, everyone knows that as a supersymmetry champion, I don't really find it too likely. Instead, the key claim by my other party was that "no Higgs particle would be found by 2015" and the status of this claim has been decided. It is "A Higgs particle has already been discovered."

  4. Félicitations Lubos ! Both for the bet and the article in the Czech newspaper (you're a star, kinda ;-)

  5. Merci, Shannon. A ministar. ;-)

  6. "Nature acts, Men argue"

    I like the comment by Dr Alex Fillipenko/Berkeley (supernova astronomer collaborator with Seth Perlmutter), sitting on Mauna Kea

    "It's like the Universe has a consciousness [ humans as end product of Big Bang & Evolution ]"

  7. Dear Lumo,
    this was a very nice interview you gave, I like it a lot :-)
    This is very cool that Gordy Kane won a bet agains Stephen Hawking, LOL :-D

  8. Congratulations- good news, but no real surprise apart for J. Ramsden and Prof.Strassler!
    Convincing evidence from the di-photon channel but as far as I understand rather quiet along the other expected decay pathways - is that correct?
    all the best

  9. Dear Zbyněk, right, no surprise for most people who were "in".

    And not really. The diphoton channel seems amplified but all the other channels seem to be pretty much exactly matching the expectations. They weren't expected to yield strong significant signals at this point and they didn't.

    Ditau channel may seem suppressed but this even less significant than the diphoton excess.

    You know, if you compare 5 or more channels, it's more likely than not due to basic laws of statistics that at least one of the channels will deviate by more than 1 sigma from expectations and not much more than that is seen, except for the 2-sigma-or-so excess in the diphoton.

    The deviations from the SM generally shrunk since Dec 2011, especially for ATLAS.

  10. Congratulations, Lubos! So great to read this news and have the world excited about nature, instead of the silly rants about so many far less significant and interesting topics that the world obsesses over. Thanks for all your fantastic coverage on Higgs and related subjects.

  11. Cool to see you here, Ann, and thanks for your happy words. ;-)

  12. What would be problematic if the Higgs boson was a spin-2 particle ?

    After all, this could maybe "unify" gravity (seen as an interaction between particles by the intermediary of gravitons) and the origin of masses (interaction of particles with some bosonic field, here a spin-2 one, which has a not-null VEV expectation)

  13. Dear Trimok, if something has a spin 2 and if it mediates gravity, then it is a graviton, not a Higgs boson. It also follows that its (graviton's) interactions with individual elementary particles are so weak that they're undetectable. Just calculate the probability that a Z-boson (produced in decay products of the Higgs at CERN) emits strong enough gravitational waves so they are absorbed and influence another Z-boson. The chance is of course zero for all practical purposes. We can't ever detect ordinary graviton at colliders. (We could detect gravitons moving in extra dimensions if those were large or warped enough.)

    Gravitons are quanta of the gravitational fields or waves and those are about the spacetime geometry.

    So your question is like asking Would it be problematic if a banana had 2 wings and if it were a mosquito? It could also explain insect and unify zoology and botany. Well, mosquitos and bananas are completely different things, much like Higgses and gravitons.

  14. How does the Higgs field give black hole mass?

  15. Lubos, you should invest the $500 exclusively for SnorgTees via your website! Congrats from Texas. Rob M

  16. It doesn't. It only gives masses to some elementary particles - charged leptons, quarks, W-bosons, Z-bosons, and itself. Messages about its being the Godly master of the whole Universe are exaggerated.

    At this level, it's really a particle just like any other that interacts with some other particles but not all of them and that becomes equally irrelevant for objects such as black holes which are purely gravitational objects, curvature in spacetime geometry.

    Even protons and neutrons get most of their mass from effects that have nothing to do with the Higgs. Also, superpartners if they existed would have most of their mass from non-Higgs sources, from SUSY breaking, not electroweak symmetry breaking. Only the latter is due to the Higgs field. See

  17. Do we know if the measured value of the Higgs boson leads to a stable or an unstable (or metastable) vacuum, or does the value fall within the "uncertain" range?
    (I was thinking of the interesting paper by Sidney Coleman and Frank De Luccia-- (which, of course, does not mention the Higgs :))

  18. Dear Gordon, there are various uncertainties - LHC measured, ATLAS/CMS difference, theoretical errors in the calculations, errors in the other measured quantities that the theoretical calculation depends upon etc. - and the ranges differ from paper to another paper.

    Most of the oldest papers would put 125 GeV to the straight unstable interval. Some of them would have it as intermediate. The newest paper, as far as I know, puts 125 or at least 126 GeV is in the "metastable" region. The value of the Higgs field is confined in a shallow local minimum but there's a deeper minimum very far. However, one can't get there without tunneling and the tunneling rate is such that the lifetime of the Universe is longer than the observed age of the Universe.

    But if that's true, the Universe could disappear at any moment because the Higgs suddenly jumps to the true minimum. Well, it would jump in one point of space first and this "disease" - Higgs' love for the new, totally different value of the fied - would spread to the rest of space by the speed of light (almost).

  19. Should we not immediately do something about this ... :-P ;-) :-D ?

  20. We must first name the problem; it's the global starving of the Higgs boson. To save the world, we have to make it heavier. The Higgs boson has been starving because the colliders were producing and distracting W-bosons and Z-bosons so that the Higgs boson couldn't eat them. I am afraid we must probably stop colliders that distract the gauge bosons. ;-)

  21. Lubos,
    Would you be able to comment on this paper?
    It seems the Coulomb's law does not stand.
    What experiment can prove Coulomb's law?

  22. Nice picture ;-) That's exactly how I see the Higgs field.

  23. Apologies, Jano, it doesn't look like a serious paper if it assaults the Coulomb's law itself and makes unsubstantiated links to gravity and I am busy.

    The experiments proving Coulomb's law were first performed in 1785 by ... surprise ... Charles Augustin de Coulomb and it involves torsion balances. It's been tested heavily after him, too. It works.

  24. Dear Shannon, it's Higgs' field in Edinburgh after he built a house via a mortgage on it and after he returned from Scandinavia to speed up the repayments. ;-)

  25. Boss, how about letting me in on a cut of the SUSY bet? Put me in for 20 bucks worth.

  26. Thanks Lubos.

    Does the Higgs field penitrate the event horizon?
    Would objects falling into the fossil/static gravity field still have mass once they cross the EH or would they become massless during the time they spend falling to the singularity?
    Once the Higgs field gives a particle mass can it be taken away?

  27. Dear Jitter, the Higgs field is omnipresent so in our Universe, it is a property of space much like the space's geometry itself, so it can't be taken away. It can't be taken away "after" it gives someone mass - it always does. It can't be made disappeared beneath the event horizon, either: nothing macroscopically detectable occurs at the event horizon at all. The black hole interior is a region of space just like any other so the same physical processes occur there, including the existence of the Higgs field and the Higgs mechanism that also affects masses of particles.