What Is the Hartle-Hawking State?
The late, great Stephen Hawking and physicist James Hartle first proposed the concept back in 1983, positing that prior to the Big Bang, there was space but no time. Before the beginning of time, well, there wasn’t any.
“When the universe was a really small, really dense thing, space and time are separate entities, such that time doesn’t exist,” Sophia Nasr, a cosmologist currently working on a Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine, tells Inverse.
Nasr, who consulted on Season 4, notes one major caveat to applying this wave function — a variable that’s at the heart of a lot of quantum physics — to our own universe: “The Hartle-Hawking state predicts that we live in a closed universe. It contradicts what our observations tell us.”
Our universe — the one you and I are living in right now — appears to be an open universe, which isn’t a good fit for the Hartle and Hawking’s proposal. An open universe is infinite, and gravity between objects is unable to stop or reverse the expansion of the universe. In the model of a closed universe, though, the universe has a finite size, and space is roughly spherical. An object moving in a straight line in a closed universe would eventually return to its starting point, much like someone traveling around the Earth.
Watch 12 Monkeys Science Advisor Sophia Nasr Explain the Hartle-Hawking State to Inverse
Sophia Nasr: Scientist, Advocate, and Dwarf Hamster Enthusiast
Nasr was already familiar with 12 Monkeys before she joined the team, as it was her tweets praising the series that first got the attention of Matalas, the showrunner. Once Matlas realized Nasr could lend her scientific expertise to season 4, he reached out. Nasr was eager to pitch in — and not just because she was a fan.
The opportunity to consult on 12 Monkeys is in sync with some things important to Nasr: making science accessible to everyone, especially people who are often less welcomed into STEM, namely girls. 12 Monkeys, a show that counts a female scientist among its main characters, was another way for Nasr’s work to reach people outside of academia.
“I wish they knew that we’re not all men with white scraggly hair,” Nasr says of the general public’s perception of STEM fields. “I don’t think that that has been brought home yet. It’s getting there.”
She does acknowledge that young men are still more encouraged to partake in STEM than young women. “It’s still a problem — it’s the way people teach,” she says, pointing out that girls are still pushed toward extracurricular activities that involve dance, for example, more than science. “But that’s not to say that [women] aren’t interested, mind you. There’s a lot of us who are in this already and interested it. The problem here is keeping us here, creating a safe and welcoming environment for women.”