Stephen Hawking’s last theory makes surprising claim about the multiverse

3 May 2018

Image: Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

As a physicist, Prof Stephen Hawking will live long in the memory of many, but his last theory on the multiverse could have implications for millennia to come.

Last March saw the sad passing of Prof Stephen Hawking, a scientist who throughout his life brought space to the forefront of the conversation on many an occasion, and also contributed to some of the biggest discoveries of the last century.

Now, his final theory suggests that our universe may be one of many universes, but that – unlike other suggestions – they all might be quite similar to our own.

According to The Guardian, the theory published in High Energy Physics was a collaborative effort with Thomas Hertog from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, who worked with Hawking up until the last few months of his life.

The multiverse theory has been around for decades and has even been popularised in TV and film. Previous scientific theory suggested that, following the Big Bang, there were repeated bursts of ‘cosmic inflation’ resulting in the creation of an endless number of universes.

Our place in the universe

In Hawking and Hertog’s paper, however, the pair challenge the idea that each of these universes might have radically different rules of physics, rather suggesting that they are much more similar to our own.

This in itself has major ramifications for our idea of life in the universe.

“This paper takes one step towards explaining that mysterious fine tuning,” Hertog said.

“It reduces the multiverse down to a more manageable set of universes which all look alike. Stephen would say that, theoretically, it’s almost like the universe had to be like this. It gives us hope that we can arrive at a fully predictive framework of cosmology.”

‘He never showed any sign of wanting to quit’

The theory has been decades in the making having first started in the 1980s with a collaboration between Hawking and the US physicist James Hartle. Now, it includes the most up-to-date findings on the complex and strange science of string theory.

Speaking of his collaboration with Hawking, Hertog admitted that he thought it would be their last work together: “I always had the impression that he never wanted to quit and, in a way, this was Hawking. He never showed any sign of wanting to quit,” he said.

“It was never said between us that this would be the last paper. I personally felt this might be the conclusion of our journey, but I never told him.”

Looking to the future, Hertog said that their theory could one day be proven by our newfound ability to detect gravitational waves, suggesting a tell-tale signature might be found in these signals.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic