Even the great are mistaken: how Hawking lost two scientific disputes

Even the great are mistaken: how Hawking lost two scientific disputes

March 14 the year will be fulfilled, as the great physicist, writer, cosmologist and scientific popularizer Stephen Hawking left the world. He managed to make a significant contribution to science and interest a wide range of people with his books. But he was not always right, which is confirmed by two well-known lost disputes.

Black hole or ...

Even the great are mistaken: how Hawking lost two scientific disputes

We can say that Stephen Hawking devoted his life to studying not only the Universe, but also his favorite black holes. Therefore, some are surprised that he could not recognize one of them. In 1974 between Hawking and physicist / astronomer Kip Thorne there was a discussion about an unusual object Cygnus X-1.

The celestial body released unusual rays and, although it began to be perceived as a candidate for black holes, no one could confirm the nature. Thorn thought it was a black hole, but Hawking argued and denied this statement.

Then two friends decided to make a bet. If Hawking wins, Thorn must pay a 4-year subscription to the satirical magazine Private Eye. If on the other hand, Thorn will receive an annual payment for the men's magazine Penthouse (although his wife strongly protested against the choice of publication). Back in 1988 Hawking began to guess that he was wrong and in 1990 he agreed with his defeat by fulfilling the terms of the deal. It is important to understand that this was more of a joking argument and scientists remained friends. Stephen was not upset, because the discovery of this black hole played in favor of his theory. It is interesting that officially Thorn confirmed his victory only in 2011.

And again black holes

Even the great are mistaken: how Hawking lost two scientific disputes

The second time Hawking acted on Thorne’s side. They got into an argument with the theoretical physicist John Preskill. What was the topic? We know that matter carries certain information. Black holes feed on information, absorbing it into themselves.

One of Hawking's early theories said that absorbed information (in matter) cannot be found, because it seems to be in another place, like parallel Universe, where we have no way to penetrate. Thorn supported him. But Preskill believed that black holes release information in their rays. And although we do not have the opportunity to identify it (to carry out decoding), but it does not disappear anywhere.

The discussion took place in 1997. The victor was to receive all the British Encyclopedia series (the first edition was published in 1768). In 2004, Hawking decided to give up and admitted Preskill was right, giving him a huge baseball encyclopedia. He said that the horizons of black holes should fluctuate and create a leak. However, this information is useless, so he gave the baseball encyclopedia (hinting at the uselessness of knowledge).


In the last dispute, Stephen Hawking put it rather vaguely, so that none of the participants could really understand him. Yet Presquill accepted the “prize,” but Thorne did not admit himself defeated. But he and Hawking remained friends.

After the funeral Thorn wrote:

Steve was not only one of the greatest scientists of our age, but also a great friend and inspirer. He took everything from life and constantly joked. Imagine, he managed to drag me to Antarctica in the middle of the Antarctic winter! His vision of the universe inspired many generations of physicists. I miss him a lot ”.

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