If you’re of the opinion that the Large Hadron Collider – which just became the most powerful supercollider ever built by humans on Monday – will ultimately triumph in its quest to find the Higgs boson, you might be able to make a few bucks. If you’re wrong, well, you might lose a few, too. That’s right, along with betting on the elections, Academy Awards, and the snowfall in New York, the discovery of the Higgs boson is a tradeable commodity.
A physics and math lecturer in Munich, Dr. Alexander Unzicker, wants you to place a bet on whether or not the Higgs will be discovered at the LHC at the prediction market site Intrade. You can bet on whether it will be discovered by the end of December 2009, or by the end of each year until 2013, according to your own bravado. The contracts available are based on a $10 scale, so your winnings or losses may be in the single digits range.
According to his site, if you have inside information on the subject, it’s not illegal. So if you work at the LHC and are fairly confident in the positive identification of the Higgs, it might be worth your while.
Unzicker claims inspiration for the idea from Immanuel Kant, who wrote in his most famous work, The Critique of Pure Reason:
The usual test, whether that which any one maintains is merely his persuasion, or his subjective conviction at least, that is, his firm belief, is a bet. It frequently happens that a man delivers his opinions with so much boldness and assurance, that he appears to be under no apprehension as to the possibility of his being in error. The offer of a bet startles him, and makes him pause. Sometimes it turns out that his persuasion may be valued at a ducat, but not at ten. For he does not hesitate, perhaps, to venture a ducat, but if it is proposed to stake ten, he immediately becomes aware of the possibility of his being mistaken–a possibility which has hitherto escaped his observation. If we imagine to ourselves that we have to stake the happiness of our whole life on the truth of any proposition, our judgement drops its air of triumph, we take the alarm, and discover the actual strength of our belief. Thus pragmatical belief has degrees, varying in proportion to the interests at stake.
If you haven’t had the fortune (as have I) of four years studying philosophy, this passage from Kant can be neatly summed up with the old adage, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Stephen Hawking has been in on this game for a while, betting Gordon Kane $100 that the Higgs will not be found by the LHC.
Of course, this isn’t the only betting you can do on matters of scientific import. At Longbets.org, you can bet on a number of long-term predictions, including whether we will receive communication from intelligent beings outside the solar system in the next 50 years. The bets you make there are long-term (some are for over 200 years into the future), and the money held is used for philanthropic purposes.
From reading his site, it’s evident Unzicker is not of the opinion that the Higgs will be found. Are you? Would you be willing to bet on it? Leave your opinions in the comments.