In 2002 Thomas Hartog received an email calling him to the office of his mentor, Stephen Hawking. The young researcher walked into Hawking’s room at Cambridge. “His eyes were sparkling with excitement,” Hertog recalls.

Typing into a computer-controlled voice system that allows cosmologists to communicate, Hawking announced: “I’ve changed my mind. my book A brief history of the timesIt is written from the wrong perspective.

Thus one of the best-selling scientific books in the history of publishing, amassing over 10m worldwide sales, was consigned to the waste bin by its own author. Hawking and Hartog then began working on new ways to incorporate their new thinking about the universe.

Next month, five years after Hawking’s death, the book— On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory – will be published in the UK. Hertog will outline its origins and themes Cambridge Festival Lecture on 31 March.

“The problem for Hawking was his struggle to understand how the universe could create conditions that are completely hospitable to life,” says Hertog, a cosmologist currently based at KU Leuven University in Belgium.

Examples of these life-supporting conditions include chemistry and the delicate balance that exists between particle forces that allow complex molecules to exist. Additionally, there are only three dimensions of space that allow a stable solar system to evolve and provide homes for living beings. Without these properties, the universe would probably not have produced life as we know it, some cosmologists have argued.

Hartog and Hawking set to work uncovering explanations for this state of stellar uncertainty after the latter decided that their previous efforts were insufficient. “Stephen told me that he now thought he was wrong, and so he and I worked side by side for the next 20 years to develop a new theory of the universe, one that could better account for the emergence of life,” Hertog said. .

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It was a remarkable collaboration but not easy. When he was 21, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressive form of motor neurone disease that left him gradually paralyzed.

By the time he began working with Hertog, he had been appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s most prestigious academic positions (Isaac Newton was the previous holder), and had produced a series of remarkable theories about general relativity, black holes and the origin of the universe, as well as his bestsellers. A brief history of the times. However, his condition had worsened. He was in a wheelchair and could only communicate using a small computer from which he selected words sent by a speech synthesizer.

“Halfway through our collaboration, he lost the power to press the clicker in his hand that he used to communicate,” says Hertog. So Hawking switched to a sensor in his glasses that could be activated by flexing cheek muscles, but eventually that too proved difficult.

He slowed from a few words per minute to several minutes per word, Hertog said. Finally the communication stopped. “I would put myself in front of him and fire off questions and look him in the eye to see if he agreed or disagreed. In the end, I discovered something not on many levels but between many levels.

It was from these “conversations” that Hawking’s Final Theory was born and, in combination with Hartog’s own analysis, they form its foundation. On the origin of timeA book that takes its title from Charles Darwin On the Origin of Species. “In the end, we both came to think about physics the way we think about biology. We put physics and biology on the same footing.”

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Hartog with Hawking. ‘I used to sit in front of him and ask questions.’

According to Herzog, On the origin of time It asks questions about our place in the universe and what makes our universe suitable for life. “These questions were always in the background in our scientific publications. What I have done for this book is to focus on these questions and tell our story from that perspective.

“Stephen and I discovered how physics itself can disappear in the Big Bang. Not the laws but their ability to change is the last word in our theory. This sheds new light on what cosmology ultimately is.”

According to Hartog, the new perspective achieved by Hawking overturns the hierarchy between law and reality in physics and is “deeply Darwinian” in spirit. “This leads to a new philosophy of physics that rejects the idea that the universe is a machine governed by unconditional laws with prior existence, and replaces it with a view of the universe as a kind of self-organizing entity in which emergent patterns of all kinds emerge, the most common of which we call physics. Let’s say the rules.”

On the origin of time Published on 6 April by Penguin Random House


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