Friday, November 01, 2013

The Nature of The Universe

For Fred Hoyle the term "Big Bang" was one of derision. Hoyle proposed a theory that the universe didn't have a beginning, it just always had been.  He called it the "Steady State Theory. " In 1948 he, Hermann Bondi, and Thomas Gold espoused their idea that the universe is always expanding but maintaining an average constant density, because matter is being continuously created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that others become too distant to observe. As it turns out, this was completely wrong, but it was a dominant theme until about 1960. But how does this relate to radio?  Despite the intuitively gaping problems in the theory Hoyle manged to advance it through the use of radio.

In 1947 Hoyle was a lecturer at St John's College in Cambridge.  Despite the day job Hoyle's finances were stretched. So when the BBC offered Hoyle a payday as a radio lecturer, he took it. 1948 was a year of solar maximum, and BBC hired him to lecture on sunspots based on a paper he wrote. So on New Years eve he recorded his first radio program. It was broadcast January 8th, 1948 on the program Science Notebook.  The gig went so well that BBC producer Dr. Archie Clow asked him to expound on the talk for the BBC Third Programme. That revamp was broadcast live on February 12th, 1948. It went so well that he was still answering letters from the listeners of the BBC overseas service in July. (There was some delay translating letters from listeners writing in foreign languages)

Clow asked Hoyle again to lecture in March of 1949. This deal was agreed to by BBC Producer Peter Laslett. This time he was invited to lecture on the latest developments in 20th century cosmology."  Hoyle chose a topic had helped originate: the Steady State Theory.  The introduction to the program started with “In this talk Fred Hoyle gives his reasons for thinking that matter is being created all the time, so that the universe must have had an infinite past and will have an infinite future." The scientific establishment went apeshit.
The BBC received letters from esteemed and respected scientific and academics who demanded (politely) that the BBC air a lecture posing a competing view. The BBC froze in a convulsion of excessive politeness and fear. Nobody wanted to go out on a limb and make a decision. If they said yes then that would allow the guest lecturer to contradict Hoyle. If Hoyle was perceived to be wrong then that meant that BBC was also discredited by proxy.  But if they refused then it was possible that they would undermine Hoyle's argument causing the same problem. Hoyle made a weak argument that that a rebuttal would be too technical and boring. In the end Laslett in the end heeded the advice of Sir Harold Spencer Jones of the Royal Observatory. Sir Jones suggested that since the lecture had been prefaced as the views of Hoyle, that it required no rebuttal program. Thus Hoyle could be wrong on his own and the BBC have no stake in it. With guilt now politely reassigned to Hoyle the BBC proceeded to ignore the situation.However this did leave the BBC's science program more-or-less vested in the steady state theory being fact. More here.

Despite the vigorous exchange of letters, the public accepted Hoyle as a voice of authority on matters of science. In 1950, the BBC decided to air science lectures every Saturday evening, to which Hoyle contributed five lectures. The series was called “The Nature of the Universe.”  These were collected in the book The Nature of the Universe. Hoyle did little more in radio, but his academic career had benefited. In 1967, he became the founding director of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy. But in 1965 the tide started to turn against his ideas. That year discoveries based in radiation measurements by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs which supported the big bang theory.  Hoyle retreated into writing science fiction.

Hoyle was knighted in 1972 and resigned his professorship and began writing books.  He even wrote a science fiction book called "the Black Cloud" which he later worked into a BBC television series co-written with John Elliot. But behind him the dominance of the Big Bang seemed to grow. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson won the noble prize for their discoveries. Hoyle fumed.

But by 1993 he backpedaled slightly with a new clunky theory called quasi-steady state cosmology which was utter bunkum.  In 1997, while hiking in West Yorkshire, Hoyle fell down into a steep ravine and lay there injured for 12 hours. He was found by a search dogs but was hospitalized for two months with hypothermia, pneumonia and shoulder injuries related to the fall.  It was said that he didn't mentally recover. He died in 2001 following a series of strokes.