Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fred Hoyle On Time And Really Odd Explanations

Monday’s post included Halton Arp making a reference to the ‘Hoyle-Narlikar variable mass theory.’ People active in just about any part of the world of science who see themselves as disgruntled and disenfranchised almost always get around to referencing Fred Hoyle at one point or another. Holye’s name by itself has become a totem. But very few people these days ever get to see any of Fred Hoyle’s actual writing. I’m going to end this week with a couple of extended quotes from Fred Hoyle’s most comprehensive ‘statement of belief,’ his 1983 book, “The Intelligent Universe.”

I believe it’s impossible in anything like a short space to describe Fred Hoyle for young people who didn’t live through the last half of the twentieth century. Hoyle as a young man was a mathematical prodigy turned physicist. He was almost routinely spoken of as a future Nobel Prize winner. One of his collaborators in fact did win the Nobel Prize. But Hoyle became entangled—so to speak—in philosophical issues which were overpowering. Now he has been ‘disappeared.’ His books don't get purchased for libraries or used in schools. His contributions to textbooks get removed from new editions. He gets quoted by fringe types, but throughout his life he was always the opposite of a fringe type. Even his philosophy was built on buttoned-down reasoning of a mathematical nature. He himself never embraced any of the conclusions of the agenda-driven fringe types who routinely quote him.

Today I’m going to put up a quote from Hoyle describing one of his own odd conclusions about the nature of time. Tomorrow I’m going to put up a passage where Hoyle reflects on why so much friction developed around him and his beliefs.

Can information sequences present in our brains be acted upon unconsciously? The answer to this question may well be affirmative, these being the situations that we refer to as “instinct.” The lower one goes in the biological evolutionary scale the more “instinct” appears to play a role, the more important the unconscious use of information sequences appears to be. Birds hatched in captivity, incubated from eggs without nests, nevertheless are able to build the nests appropriate for their species on attaining maturity, a remarkable example of what may be described as clairvoyance. ...

The problem now is to understand where the coded information sequences might come from, and for this I must again appeal to a profound aspect of physics, namely the concept of time-sense. The “laws” which describe how radiation of all kinds—ordinary light, ultraviolet light, radio-waves and so on travel through space were discovered by the nineteenth century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Although discovered so long ago, “Maxwell’s equations” as they are called still play a crucial role in modern physics, in quantum mechanics. Their study therefore forms an important part of every modern course in physics. Because the equations in their full complexity are really very hard to handle, the tendency is for students to restrict themselves to a limited number of special situations, decided by no more fundamental criterion than that these special situations are the ones which appear most often in university examinations.

Because every one of the special situations concerns radiation traveling in the usual time-sense from past to future, it passes almost unnoticed that there is another set of situations with radiation traveling in the opposite time-sense from future to past. So far as Maxwell’s laws are concerned, this second set is just as good as the first. But custom dictates that the second set be tossed into the wastepaper basket, the rejection being done with so little comment that for the most part one comes to accept the rejection of the future-to-past time-sense without being aware of it. Yet all experiences shows that nature is very parsimonious, in the sense that where possibilities exist they seem always to be used. Is it conceivable, one can ask, that the possibility of a reversed time-sense, future to past, is an exception, pretty well the only exception, to this general rule of natural parsimony? I have for long considered that the answer to this question must surely be no, and I have long puzzled about what the consequences of such an answer would be.

Quantum mechanics is based on the propagation of radiation only from past to future, and as we have seen leads only to statistical averages, not to predictions of the nature of individual quantum events. Quantum mechanics is no exception to general experience in physics, which shows that the propagation of radiation in the past-to-future time-sense leads inevitably to degeneration, to senescence, to the loss of information. It is like leaving a torch switched on. The beam, initially bright, gradually fades away, and eventually it vanishes. But in biology this situation is reversed, because as living organisms develop they increase in complexity, gaining information rather than losing it. It is as if a torch could spontaneously collect light, focus it into a bulb, convert it into electricity and store it.

How can living organisms manage this? I think we must abandon our preconceptions to appreciate what is happening. If the familiar past-to-future time-sense were to lie at the root of biology, living matter would like other physical systems be carried down to disintegration and collapse. Because this does not happen, one must conclude, it seems to me, that biological systems are able in some way to utilize the opposite time-sense in which radiation propagates from future to past. Bizarre as this may appear, they must somehow be working backwards in time.

If events could operate not only from past to future, but also from future to past, the seemingly intractable problem of quantum uncertainty could be solved. Instead of living matter becoming more and more disorganized, it could react to quantum signals from the future—the information necessary for the development of life. Instead of the Universe being committed to increasing disorder and decay, the opposite could then be true.

On a cosmic scale the effect of introducing information from the future would be similarly far-reaching. Instead of the Universe beginning in the wound-up state of the big bang, degenerating ever since, an initially primitive state of affairs could wind itself up gradually as time proceeds, becoming more, not less sophisticated, from past to future. This would allow the accumulation of information—information without which the evolution of life, and of the Universe itself, makes no logical sense.

Fred Hoyle
The Intelligent Universe

Fred Hoyle’s Wiki Page

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