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Fred Hoyle

[hoil]
Sir Fred Hoyle FRS (24 June, 1915 – 20 August, 2001) was an English astronomer primarily remembered today for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters, in particular his rejection of the Big Bang hypothesis.

Hoyle was born in Gilstead, West Yorkshire, England, near Bradford, where his father, George Hoyle, worked in the wool trade. His mother, Mabel Pickard, had studied music at the Royal College of Music in London. Hoyle was educated at Bingley Grammar School and read mathematics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In addition to his work as an astronomer, Hoyle was a writer of science fiction, including a number of books co-authored with his son Geoffrey Hoyle. Hoyle spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and served as its director for a number of years. He died in Bournemouth, England, after a series of strokes.

Contribution to cosmology

An early paper of Hoyle's made an interesting use of the anthropic principle. In trying to work out the routes of stellar nucleosynthesis, he observed that one particular nuclear reaction, the triple-alpha process, which generated carbon, would require the carbon nucleus to have a very specific energy for it to work. The large amount of carbon in the universe, which makes it possible for carbon-based lifeforms (e.g. humans) to exist, demonstrated that this nuclear reaction must work. Based on this notion, he made a prediction of the energy levels in the carbon nucleus that was later borne out by experiment.

However, those energy levels, while needed in order to produce carbon in large quantities, were statistically very unlikely. Hoyle later wrote:

Would you not say to yourself, "Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule." Of course you would . . . A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Hoyle, an atheist until that time, said that this suggestion of a guiding hand left him "greatly shaken." Consequently, he began to believe in a god and panspermia. Those who advocate the intelligent design hypothesis sometimes cite Hoyle's work in this area to support the claim that the universe was fine tuned in order to allow intelligent life to be possible.

His co-worker William Alfred Fowler eventually won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983 (with Subramanyan Chandrasekhar), but for some reason Hoyle’s original contribution was overlooked, and many were surprised that such a notable astronomer missed out. Fowler himself in an autobiographical sketch affirmed Hoyle’s pioneering efforts:

The concept of nucleosynthesis in stars was first established by Hoyle in 1946. This provided a way to explain the existence of elements heavier than helium in the universe, basically by showing that critical elements such as carbon could be generated in stars and then incorporated in other stars and planets when that star "dies". The new stars formed now start off with these heavier elements and even heavier elements are formed from them. Hoyle theorized that other rarer elements could be explained by supernovas, the giant explosions which occasionally occur throughout the universe, whose temperatures and pressures would be required to create such elements.

Rejection of the Big Bang

While having no argument with the Lemaître theory, (later confirmed by Edwin Hubble's observations) that the universe was expanding, Hoyle disagreed on its interpretation. He found the idea that the universe had a beginning to be philosophically troubling, as many argued that a beginning implies a cause, and thus a creator (see kalam cosmological argument). Instead, Hoyle, along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi (with whom he had worked on radar in World War II), argued for the universe as being in a "steady state". The theory tried to explain how the universe could be eternal and essentially unchanging while still having the galaxies we observe moving away from each other. The theory hinged on the creation of matter between galaxies over time, so that even though galaxies get further apart, new ones that develop between them fill the space they leave. The resulting universe is in a "steady state" in the same manner that a flowing river is - the individual water molecules are moving away but the overall river remains the same.

The theory was the only serious alternative to the Big Bang which agreed with key observations of the day, namely Hubble's red shift observations, and Hoyle was a strong critic of the Big Bang. Ironically, he is responsible for coining the term "Big Bang" on a BBC radio program, The Nature of Things broadcast at 1830 GMT on 28 March 1949. It is popularly reported that Hoyle intended this to be pejorative, but the script from which he read aloud clearly shows that he intended the expression to help his listeners. In addition, Hoyle explicitly denied that he was being insulting and said it was just a striking image meant to emphasize the difference between the two theories for radio listeners.

Hoyle, unlike Gold and Bondi, offered an explanation for the appearance of new matter by postulating the existence of what he dubbed the "creation field", or just the "C-field", which had negative pressure in order to be consistent with the conservation of energy and drive the expansion of the universe. These features of the C-field anticipated the later development of cosmic inflation. They jointly argued that continuous creation was no more inexplicable than the appearance of the entire universe from nothing, although it had to be done on a regular basis. In the end, mounting observational evidence convinced most cosmologists that the steady state model was incorrect and that the Big Bang was the theory that agreed best with observations, although Hoyle clung to his theory, mostly through criticizing the interpretation of astronomers' observations. In 1993, in an attempt to explain some of the evidence against the steady state theory, he presented a modified version called "quasi-steady state cosmology" (QSS), but the theory is not widely accepted.

The evidence that resulted in the Big Bang's victory over the steady state model, at least in the minds of most cosmologists, included the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in the 1960s, the distribution of "young galaxies" and quasars throughout the Universe in the 1980s, a more consistent age estimate of the universe and most recently the observations of the COBE satellite in the 1990s and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe launched in 2001, which showed that unevenness in the microwave background in the early universe which corresponds to currently observed distributions of galaxies.

Media appearances and scientific honours

Hoyle appeared in a series of radio talks on astronomy for the BBC in the 1950s; these were collected in the book The Nature of the Universe, and he went on to write a number of other popular science books. In 1957 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he was knighted in 1972. He was jointly awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which is comparable to a Nobel Prize and could be seen as amends for his being overlooked for the Nobel earlier.

Science Fiction

Hoyle also wrote science fiction. Perhaps the most interesting was his first novel, The Black Cloud, in which it turns out that most intelligent life in the universe takes the form of interstellar gas clouds, who are surprised that intelligent life can form on planets. He wrote a television series A for Andromeda, which appeared as a novel. His play Rockets in Ursa Major had a professional production at the Mermaid Theatre in 1962.

Rejection of chemical evolution

In his later years, Hoyle became a staunch critic of theories of chemical evolution used to explain the naturalistic origin of life. With Chandra Wickramasinghe, Hoyle promoted the theory that life evolved in space, spreading through the universe via panspermia, and that evolution on earth is driven by a steady influx of viruses arriving via comets. In 1982, Hoyle presented Evolution from Space for the Royal Institution's Omni Lecture. After considering the very remote probability of evolution he concluded:
If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. No other possibility I have been able to think of...
Published in his 1982/1984 books Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe), Hoyle calculated that the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 1040,000. Since the number of atoms in the known universe is infinitesimally tiny by comparison (1080), he argued that even a whole universe full of primordial soup would grant little chance to evolutionary processes. He claimed:

The notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.

Hoyle compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Hoyle also compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik's Cube simultaneously.

Ian Musgrave argues that Hoyle's line of reasoning in this case incorporates a number of clear logical mistakes and omissions, such as assuming that the spontaneous creation of life must occur simultaneously, that the life thus created would be as complex as modern life (as opposed to one of its more primitive ancestors), and that the unlikeliness of a single instance of spontaneously-appearing life is not overcome by the large number of simultaneous trials occurring throughout the (very large) universe over its entire existence. As a result, this line of reasoning (which comes up frequently in discussions of Intelligent design vs. Evolution) is often referred to as Hoyle's Fallacy.

Sir Fred Hoyle reached the conclusion that the universe is governed by a greater intelligence. In 1978, Hoyle described Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as wrong and claimed that the belief that the first living cell was created in the "sea of life" was just as erroneous.

In his book "Evolution from Space" (1982), he distanced himself completely from Darwinism. He stated that "natural selection" could not explain evolution.

In his book "The Intelligent Universe" (1983): "Life as we know it is, among other things, dependent on at least 2000 different enzymes. How could the blind forces of the primal sea manage to put together the correct chemical elements to build enzymes?" According to his calculations, the likelihood of this happening is only one in 10 to the 40 000 power (1 followed by 40 000 zeros). That is about the same chance as throwing 50 000 sixes in a row with a die. Or as Hoyle describes it: "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein... I am at a loss to understand biologists' widespread compulsion to deny what seems to me to be obvious." ("Hoyle on Evolution", Nature, Vol. 294, 12 November 1981, p. 105)

Hoyle remarked that

scientific challenges to evolution have “never had a fair hearing” because “the developing system of popular education [from Darwin’s day to the present] provided an ideal opportunity...for awkward arguments not to be discussed and for discrepant facts to be suppressed.”

Other controversies

Further occasions on which Hoyle aroused controversy included his questioning the authenticity of fossil Archaeopteryx and his condemnation of the failure to include Jocelyn Bell in the Nobel Prize award recognizing the development of radio interferometry and its role in the discovery of pulsars.

The most important of Hoyle's contributions was probably his work on nucleosynthesis: the idea that the chemical elements were synthesized from primordial hydrogen and helium in stars. Many thought it unfair that a Nobel prize was awarded to his collaborator William A Fowler, but Hoyle himself was excluded from the prize.

Hoyle had a famously heated argument with Martin Ryle of the Cavendish Radio Astronomy Group about Hoyle's Steady state theory which somewhat restricted collaboration between the Cavendish group and the Institute of Astronomy during the 1960s.

Honours

Awards

Named after him

Fiction works

Non-fiction works

  • Frontiers of Astronomy, Heinemann Education Books Limited, London, 1955. - The Internet Archive. HarperCollins, ISBN 0060027606 ISBN 978-0060027605
  • Astronomy, A history of man's investigation of the universe, Crescent Books, Inc., London 1962 LC 62-14108
  • Nicolaus Copernicus, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, p. 78, 1973
  • Astronomy and Cosmology: A Modern Course, 1975, ISBN 0-7167-0351-3
  • Energy or Extinction? The case for nuclear energy, 1977, Heinemann Educational Books Limited, ISBN 0-435-54430-6. In this provocative book Hoyle establishes the dependence of Western civilization on energy consumption and predicts that nuclear fission as a source of energy is essential for its survival.
  • Lifecloud - The Origin of Life in the Universe, Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe N.C., J.M. Dent and Sons, 1978. ISBN 0-460-04335-8
  • Commonsense in Nuclear Energy, Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle, 1980, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., ISBN 0-435-54432-2
  • Ice, the Ultimate Human Catastrophe,1981, ISBN 0826400647 Snippet view from Google Books
  • The Intelligent Universe, 1983
  • Evolution from space (the Omni lecture) and other papers on the origin of life 1982, ISBN 0894900838
  • Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism, 1984, ISBN 0-671-49263-2
  • Burbidge, E.M., Burbidge, G.R., Fowler, W.A. and Hoyle, F., Synthesis of the Elements in Stars, Revs. Mod. Physics 29:547–650, 1957, the famous B²FH paper after their initials, for which Hoyle is most famous among professional cosmologists.
  • The big bang in astronomy, New Scientist 92(1280):527, November 19, 1981.
  • With Narlikar, J.V. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., The extragalactic universe: an alternative view, Nature 346:807–812, August 30, 1990.
  • Home Is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist's Life (autobiography) Oxford University Press 1994, ISBN 0-19-850060-2
  • Mathematics of Evolution, (1987) University College Cardiff Press, (1999) Acorn Enterprises LLC., ISBN 0-9669934-0-3

Further reading

  • Alan P. Lightman and Roberta Brawer, Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists, Harvard University Press, 1990. A collection of interviews, mostly with the generation (or two) of cosmologists after Hoyle, but also including an interview with Hoyle himself. Several interviewees testify to Hoyle's influence in popularizing astronomy and cosmology.
  • Dennis Overbye, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe, HarperCollins, 1991. Second edition (with new afterword), Back Bay, 1999. Gives a biographical account of modern cosmology in a novel-like fashion. Complementary to Origins.
  • Simon Mitton, Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science, Joseph Henry Press, 2005. ISBN 0-309-09313-9 or, Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science, Aurum Press, 2005. ISBN 1-85410-961-8
  • Douglas Gough, editor, The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle, Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-82448-6
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, A Journey with Fred Hoyle: The Search for Cosmic Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2005. ISBN 981-238-912-1
  • Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-850791-7

References

*Ferguson, Kitty (1991). Stephen Hawking: Quest For A Theory of Everything. Franklin Watts. ISBN 0-553-29895-X.

External links

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