It was common knowledge among Cambridge University students that whoever scored best on the final part of the Tripos exam in mathematics would be summoned to meet Stephen Hawking. I just got my results and came out on top. Sure enough, I was invited to a discussion with him.
I made my way to his office deep in the labyrinth of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. The office was housed in a creaking Victorian building on the banks of the River Cam. Stephen’s office was just off the main common room, and even though it was noisy, he liked to leave the door slightly open. I knocked, paused, and slowly pushed it open.
I had no idea what was waiting behind that door. Of course, we even knew that Stephen was famous for his work on black holes and that he got into trouble for some of his ideas about what happens when a black hole explodes. But it turns out he had another question in mind: Why is the universe just right for life to arise?
It will be a long quest for both of us to ponder this question. For the next twenty years, until his death, Stephen and I worked side by side on novel ideas. This idea suggested a fundamentally new understanding of why the universe is the way it is. In our conception, the laws of physics themselves evolved in a way…