Perhaps the biggest question Stephen Hawking tried to answer in his extraordinary career was how the universe could have created conditions so perfectly hospitable to life.
Pondering this mystery led him to study its big bang origin, but his early work ran into a crisis when the math predicted many big bangs producing many universes, most far too bizarre to harbor life.
Holed up in theoretical physics departments across the globe, Hawking and I worked shoulder to shoulder for twenty years, to develop a novel quantum framework for early universe cosmology that could account for the emergence of life. At the heart of our cosmogony lies a theory of the beginning that predicts that time and indeed physics itself fade away back into the big bang.
In this colloquium I recount our quest to get a grips on the origin of time, and the bold new take on some of the universe’s fundamentals we were led to.
Short bio: Thomas Hertog is a theoretical cosmologist at the KU Leuven. He is the author of On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory.