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Stephen Hawking's Final Theory: The Universe Evolved Over Time

Hawking and the author. Credit: Thomas Hertog and Jonathan Wood
Hawking and the author. Credit: Thomas Hertog and Jonathan Wood

Stephen Hawking and his collaborator have unveiled their final theory of the cosmos, shedding light on the origins of time and life. The groundbreaking research, chronicled in their new book "On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking's Final Theory," challenges conventional notions about the creation of the universe and its capacity to support life.

The duo embarked on their scientific journey in 1998, driven by a shared curiosity about the Big Bang and its role in shaping the conditions necessary for life to exist. Over the course of two decades, their collaboration flourished, culminating in a profound understanding of cosmic design.

Traditionally, the apparent design of the universe has been attributed to the existence of a higher power. However, contemporary scientists emphasize the significance of the laws of physics in shaping the cosmos. These laws possess specific characteristics that are finely tuned to support the emergence of life. Even slight modifications to these properties would render the universe inhospitable.

The fundamental question that emerged from their research was the origin of these physical laws. Previously, scientists believed that these laws were eternal truths, intrinsically woven into the fabric of the universe. This perspective perceived the apparent design of the cosmos as a consequence of mathematical necessity.

However, in the early 21st century, an alternative explanation surfaced—the concept of a multiverse. This theory proposed the existence of a vast expanse of space, giving rise to numerous universes, each with its unique physics and Big Bang. According to this viewpoint, the existence of life-friendly universes would be statistically probable within the multiverse.

Yet, the multiverse theory encountered significant challenges, including paradoxes and a lack of verifiable predictions. Hawking and his collaborator sought a different approach, one that acknowledged the limitations of perceiving the cosmos from an external perspective.

Their groundbreaking theory required a shift towards an observer's standpoint, embracing the rules of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics governs the behavior of particles and atoms at the microscale and introduces concepts like superposition and observation-driven outcomes.

In a quantum universe, the past and future manifest from a haze of possibilities through a continuous process of observation. This observation need not be limited to human agency; even the environment or individual particles can act as observers. Countless quantum acts of observation shape the universe's existence, rendering all other possibilities irrelevant once an observation has occurred.

Through their research, the duo discovered that the early universe underwent a deeper level of evolution, accompanied by a transformation of the laws of physics. This meta-evolution possessed a Darwinian flavor, with variation and selection playing crucial roles. Random quantum jumps resulted in frequent excursions from the most probable states, while quantum observation amplified and preserved specific outcomes. This interplay between variation and selection gave rise to a branching tree of physical laws.

The implications of their findings reverberate through the field of cosmology. While conventional cosmological models assume that laws and initial conditions existed at the moment of the Big Bang, this new theory suggests that these laws themselves evolved over time. Similar to biological species evolving over billions of years, dimensions, forces, and particle species diversified during the hot Big Bang, eventually assuming their effective forms.

Moreover, the theory highlights the role of randomness, indicating that the specific set of physical laws that shaped our universe can only be understood retrospectively. While the early universe contained an infinite number of possible worlds, the observed universe reflects the history that led to human existence. Parameters with seemingly "lucky values" are not products of design but rather outcomes of this evolutionary process.

One of the most significant implications of their theory is the concept that time and physical laws gradually fade away as one traces back through the universe's history. Drawing from the holographic principle, which suggests that a hologram appears three-dimensional despite being encoded in two dimensions, the researchers propose that time and causality are emergent qualities that arise from the interactions between countless quantum particles. Just as temperature emerges from the collective movement of atoms, time emerges from the collective behavior of quantum particles, even though no single particle possesses time.

By zooming out and taking a fuzzier look at the hologram of the universe, one can venture back in time. However, eventually, all information encoded in the hologram is lost, marking the origin of time—the Big Bang.

The researchers' theory challenges the conventional view of studying the origin of the universe against the backdrop of immutable laws of nature. Instead, they propose that the laws of physics themselves are subject to evolution. The evolution of dimensions, forces, and particle species over time, akin to the emergence of biological species, shapes the specific set of physical laws that define our universe.

While their theory represents a paradigm shift in cosmology, it also opens up exciting possibilities for future cosmological observations. Precision measurements of gravitational waves, which are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, may provide evidence of the early branches of the universe, validating Hawking's final theory and solidifying his scientific legacy.

Stephen Hawking's collaboration with his colleague has yielded a profound understanding of the origins of time and life. Their research challenges traditional perspectives on the design of the universe and offers a new framework rooted in quantum mechanics and the evolution of physical laws. As their theory gains recognition and is further explored through cosmological observations, it has the potential to reshape our understanding of the cosmos and our place within it.

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