Key Takeaways:

  • Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog explored the Big Bang’s origin and the question of cosmic design.
  • The Big Bang is considered the beginning of time, but Hawking proposed a holographic model.
  • In the holographic model, there’s no “before” the Big Bang.
  • Hawking’s view on the Big Bang’s cause evolved. Initially, he focused on “why” the Big Bang happened.
  • The question of ultimate cause might disappear in the holographic model.

Close friend and coworker Thomas Hertog explores the groundbreaking physicist’s theories regarding the Big Bang’s beginnings on this, the sixth anniversary of Stephen Hawking’s passing.

I was appointed as Stephen Hawking’s PhD student in 1998 “to work on a quantum theory of the Big Bang.” Over the course of about 20 years, what began as a doctoral project evolved into a close collaboration that came to an end only six years ago, on March 14, 2018, when he passed away.

The mystery that drove our investigation during this time was how the Big Bang could have produced conditions that were so ideal for life. How should we interpret this enigmatic display of intent?

Such questions take physics far out of its com­fort zone. Yet this was exactly where Hawking liked to venture. After all, a large portion of his work was motivated by the possibility—or hope—of solving the mystery of cosmic design.

As a result of our common scientific interest, we eventually became close. Being around him, one could not fail to be influenced by his determination and by his epistemic optimism that we could tackle these mystifying cosmic ques­tions.

In a way, he gave us the impression that we were writing our own creation story.

The Belgian priest-astronomer Georges Lemaître supported the theory that time began with the Big Bang in the early 1930s. It is well known that Albert Einstein rejected it because it was similar to Christian dogma. Eventually, however, Lemaître was proven correct by Hawking and Roger Penrose.

Since then, the beginning of time has served as both the foundation and the weakness of Big Bang cosmology. For what precise reason could time appear?

Hawking offers a bold and unexpected solution in his concluding theory of the Big Bang. It envisages the Universe as a holographic projection.

© Thomas Hertog

A third dimension of space appears from the dots and scribbles on a screen in a well-known hologram. It is the dimension of time that can be holographically encoded in the cosmos-as-hologram concept, which has become the talk of theoretical physicists.

Stephen enjoyed seeing this concept as a disk-like image similar to the one above. The outer circle shows an eternal hologram made up of an infinite number of qubits that are connected.

From this, the disk projects the evolution of an expanding Universe. The disk’s center is where the universe originated, and it expands outward in a radial direction.

The universe appears to be created by a code that operates on entangled qubits, and this is how time appears to us.

Importantly, one travels deeper into the disk’s interior by capturing a fuzzier image of the hologram. It is like zooming out. But eventually, one runs out of pieces. In our theory, this is the beginning of time.

There can be nothing before the Big Bang, because the past that holographically emerges doesn’t extend further back.

These insights yield a new twist on the riddle of cosmic design. Early Hawking attempted to explain the universe’s beginnings as a quantum creation event.

Back then, Stephen tried to explain the universe’s origin primarily through causality—why, not how. However, the discovery of holography presents a very different understanding of cosmogenesis.

It claims that as we travel back in time to the Big Bang, physics itself vanishes. The Big Bang appears in holography more as the emergence of laws than as the beginning of time.

So what’s left of the long-standing query regarding the Big Bang’s ultimate cause? The late Hawking believed that it would seem to vanish. Not the laws as such but their capacity to change and trans­mute has the final word.


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