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Monday, July 04, 2005

Hoyle and Gold

I always wondered what caused Cornell professor Thomas Gold to stubbornly believe in his abiogenic/abiotic petroleum theory, in which he postulated that oil could continuously regenerate from within the earth. Then I ran across this quote from his longtime colleague Sir Fred Hoyle from "Of Men and Galaxies," 1964 :
"It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only."

This would have little relevance unless put in the context of their likely mutual rivalry:
As a young man during the second world war, Hoyle had worked in the Admiralty Signals Establishment and during that period he became friendly with Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold. The ideas that led to the continuous creation theory were born at that time and in 1948 their historic papers on the theory were published. Although the names of Bondi, Hoyle and Gold are associated with that revolutionary theory, Hoyle's paper was published separately, two months later than the joint one of Bondi and Gold. The latter had stressed the philosophical aspect of a perfect cosmological principle in which the universe would have a high degree of uniformity not only in space but also in time, thereby evading the scientific problem associated with a beginning in a finite past time. Hoyle dealt with the continuous creation of the primordial hydrogen that would be essential to maintain the steady state, and placed the concept within the framework of general relativity.
Even though we will never know the true story here, as both Hoyle and Gold died within the last few years, I can imagine that Gold wanted to disprove Hoyle's assertion that the Earth's resources would eventually deplete. In a scientist/scientist matchup, Hoyle had the notoriety and the royal title; I bet Gold wanted a piece of the action. A valid abiotic theory would have trumped Hoyle on his past assertion as well as made him a star -- at least of the non Art Bell variety.


Professor Blogger SW said...

I always associated Gold with the steady state theory of the universe. In my mind he and Hoyle are wrapped up together in that. Contrarians are an endearing lot if you don't base public policy on them. Whenever anyone would go on about Tommy Gold's adiabatic oil theory I would point out that Tommy Gold was famously wrong about the entire fucking universe! I mean, after you have gotten literally everything wrong, what have you got to lose?

9:35 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

That is way too funny, "wrong about the whole universe". He dug quite a deep hole for himself there -- no wonder he wanted to keep digging. He could have reached China if the ticker didn't give up.

9:54 PM  
Professor Blogger SW said...

forgive the substitution of "adiabatic" for "abiotic" in the post above. I am swimming in thermodynamics right now!

10:26 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

"Cool it" with your mistakes!

10:33 AM  

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