Re: Hoyle

From: Donald Nield <>
Date: Fri Feb 13 2004 - 20:25:28 EST

My first attempt to send theis messagewent to George only!
Comment at end.

George Murphy wrote:

> Gordon Simons wrote:
> >
> > About Fred Hoyle, Glenn wrote:
> > > Yeah and he thought that disease came from space ...
> >
> > In this regard, Martin Rees of Cambridge University wrote of Fred Hoyle
> > (obituary published in Physics Today, November 2001):
> >
> > ".... A regrettable dispute led to Hoyle's premature retirement from
> > Cambridge in 1972. He thereafter based himself for many years in a remote
> > part of England's Lake District (hill-walking being one of his lifelong
> > enthusiasms) before moving to the more sedate environs of Bournemouth. His
> > consequent isolation from the broad academic community was probably
> > detrimental to his own science; it was certainly a sad deprivation for the
> > rest of us. His later scientific writings, which continued throughout the
> > 1980s and 1990s, dealt, often controversially, with topics as disparate as
> > Stonehenge, panspermia, Darwinism, paleontology, and viruses from space.
> > ...."
> >
> > Several years ago I read a strange book by Fred Hoyle (containing many
> > full-color pictures, but no index, and no references), entitled "The
> > Intelligent Universe" (publisher: Michael Joseph, 1983). Hoyle, during his
> > post-Cambridge years, had written this book to forcefully argue for
> > panspermia, the theory that microorganisms or biochemical compounds from
> > outer space are responsible for originating life on Earth -- and other
> > parts of the universe where suitable atmospheric conditions exist. While
> > most of the book focuses on establishing plausible reasons why life on
> > earth had to have come from elsewhere in the universe, the only real data
> > presented centers on some micrometeorites found in Minnesota, which,
> > according to Hoyle, showed, under microscopic examination, to contain
> > fossilized microbial life. Included in the book is a picture of the very
> > biologist -- together with his microscope -- who had discovered these
> > microscopic fossils from outer space.
> >
> > Intrigued, I decided to trace down -- if I could -- a professional article
> > written by this biologist, discussing his findings -- to see what he had
> > to say. But, alas, despite a hard search, I came up with absolutely
> > nothing.
> >
> > At this point, my quest developed a truly bizarre twist. Since the
> > biologist I was seeking had German-sounding first and second names, out of
> > frustration, I asked a German (born and trained) biologist (my cousin's
> > wife) whether she had ever heard of this fellow -- and I showed her the
> > picture from the book. Indeed she had, and she immediately began to
> > laugh. It seems that, as a young man, this star witness for Hoyle's case,
> > was at the University of Gissen, working in her father's lab. (Her father
> > was also a biologist -- of considerable reputation.) And then she told me
> > of an amusing incident -- of when this young man discovered something very
> > unusual in his microscope, which, excitedly, he reported to her father.
> > After some investigation, it turned out that this "important discovery"
> > was nothing more than a piece of lint.
> >
> > Well, I asked, could it have been the case that, after more experience, he
> > became more proficient with his microscope, and with his scientific
> > prowess? She thought not. According to her, he never accomplished
> > anything of merit in Germany. He later took a position in South Africa,
> > but, professionally, he came to nothing. So it seems that Hoyle's
> > compelling data for panspermia has evaporated into nothing. Surely if
> > microfossils within micrometeorites were a reality, there would be a
> > clearly visible paper trail documenting such an important find.
> I was greatly enamored of Hoyle's version of the steady state cosmology in high
> school & college (mainly via Hoyle's _Frontiers of Astronomy_ and Bondi's _Cosmology_),
> but then the quasars & MWB blew it up. I still think that in many ways it's a beautiful
> theory, the anti-religious part of its motivation notwithstanding.
> But Hoyle did kind of go off the deep end later, as Gordon & others have noted.
> Hoyle wrote several science fiction novels, beginning with _The Black Cloud_, some of
> which were decent - though they tended to be a bit didactic. One of the odder ones -
> unfortunately I can't recall the title & it didn't get much run - popularized his idea
> that quasars were ejected from the centers of galaxies. (Thus were local, thus didn't
> undercut the SS theory.) In the novel a quasar has been ejected from the center of
> _our_ galaxy & the accompanying radiation destroys all life on earth except around the
> poles (because of the axial tilt). So it ends up with a few Gaelic speaking Scots
> apparently inheriting the earth. I'm sure there are other examples of prominent
> scientists writing novels to propagandize for their theories but I can't think of one
> right now. (I guess one could say that the attempts at scientific writing by some YECs
> are really novels.)
> Shalom,
> George

Thanks to George for the interesting info.
I have a personal interest in this topic because I met Fred Hoyle (then sans knighthood, but

already FRS) socially on one occasion and took some lectures in general relativity from him
when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge in the late 1950s (he was a fellow of St. John's
College, my own college).

Was Hoyle a crank when it came to biology? I would not say so. For me, a crank is one who
sticks with a crazy idea even when it is demonstrated to him/her that it is crazy.
Independent of the claims of the German biologist referred to by Rees, Hoyle had some
evidence that made panspermia plausible at the time that he and Chandra Wickramasinghe
proposed it. Stellar molecular spectroscopy was in its infancy. The available spectra were
fuzzy and left open the possibility that there might be molecules of biological significance

in deep space. When sharper spectra became available the existence of these molecules was
ruled out.

As far as I know, Hoyle did not push his panspermia idea in his later years. In his
autobiography of 400+ pages , "Home is Where the Wind Blows" (1994), Hoyle devotes just two
paragraphs to his work with Wickramasinghe. The second paragraph reads:
"Although -- as yet, at any rate -- we have not received any plaudits for a decade's quite
hard work on this question, at least on one score we were successful. It was a consequence
of our views that much of the material on the outside of our planetary system would have to
be of an organic character, and also much of the solid material in interstellar space, a
prediction that is now acknowledged fairly generally to have been correct."

It is ironical that today Hoyle is generally remembered not for his outstanding theoretical
work on the production of the heavier elements in stars, or even for his (with Gold and
Bondi) steady-state continuous-creation cosmological theory, but rather for the coining of
the phrase (derogatory in his usage) "Big Bang" and his analogy (misapplied to biology) of
the improbability of a "tornado in a junkyard" producing a jet airliner.

I think that science (biological as well as physical) should be grateful for the lives of
characters like Sir Fred Hoyle.

Don Nield
Received on Fri Feb 13 20:11:33 2004

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