Stephen Hawking to Collaborator: "Brief History of Time" was All WrongBreaking News
tags: history of science, Stephen Hawking, Astrophysics
In 2002 Thomas Hertog received an email summoning him to the office of his mentor Stephen Hawking. The young researcher rushed to Hawking’s room at Cambridge. “His eyes were radiant with excitement,” Hertog recalls.
Typing on the computer-controlled voice system that allowed the cosmologist to communicate, Hawking announced: “I have changed my mind. My book, A Brief History of Time, is written from the wrong perspective.”
Thus one of the biggest-selling scientific books in publishing history, with worldwide sales credited at more than 10m, was consigned to the waste bin by its own author. Hawking and Hertog then began working on a new way to encapsulate their latest thinking about the universe.
Next month, five years after Hawking’s death, that book – On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s final theory – will be published in the UK. Hertog will outline its origins and themes at a Cambridge festival lecture on 31 March.
“The problem for Hawking was his struggle to understand how the universe could have created conditions so perfectly hospitable to life,” says Hertog, a cosmologist currently based at KU Leuven University in Belgium.
Examples of these life-supporting conditions include the delicate balance that exists between particle forces that allow chemistry and complex molecules to exist. In addition, the fact there are only three dimensions of space permits stable solar systems to evolve and provide homes for living creatures. Without these properties, the universe would probably not have produced life as we know it, it is argued by some cosmologists.
Hertog and Hawking were set on hammering out explanations for this state of stellar uncertainty after the latter had decided his previous attempts were inadequate. “Stephen told me he now thought he had been wrong and so he and I worked, shoulder to shoulder, for the next 20 years to develop a new theory of the cosmos, one that could better account for the emergence of life,” Hertog said.
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