"The Steady State is Out of Date"

Writted by George Gamow
to the tune of "O Tannenbaum"
(Copied from Physics Today, July 2005, p 57.)

"Your years of toil"    said Ryle to Hoyle,    "Are wasted years, believe me.
  The steady state    is out of date;    Unless my eyes deceive me,
  My telescope    has dashed your hope;    Your tenets are refuted,
  Let me be terse:    Our universe    Grows daily more diluted!"

  Said Hoyle, "You quote    Lemaitre, I note,    and Gamow. Well forget them!
  That errant gang    And their Big Bang    -- Why aid them and abet them?
  You see, my friend,    It has no end    And there was no beginning,
  As Bondi, Gold,    and I will hold,    Until our hair is thinning!

"Not so!" cried Ryle,    With rising bile    And strainig at the tether;
  Far galaxies    Are, as one sees,    More tightly packed together!"
"You make me boil!"    Exploded Hoyle,    His statement rearranging;
"New matter's born    Each night and morn,    The picture is unchanging!"

"Come off it, Hoyle!    I aim to foil    You yet" (the fun commenses)
"And in a while",    continued Ryle,    "I'll bring you to your senses!"

[ TBD: brief account of "debate" ]
The "Big Bang" vs "Steady State" controversy is a fascinating example of conflict in the world of science, and has attracted the interests of historians and sociologists of science. What makes it particularly interesting (to them, and others) is the personal dimension of the conflict. The two theories were championed by two strong characters, Martin Ryle and Fred Hoyle, whose antagonism was often visible in a public arena. Further interest came because the conflict had the whiff of civil war:   Ryle & Hoyle were both directors of different Cambridge institutions, and perhaps more importantly, each were from a different social class -- Ryle had a typical middle class southern background and was rather taciturn, while Hoyle was from a lower class northern background and was characteristically blunt and outspoken. For the British, the whole debate was doubly engrossing because the tussle was between local players on home ground. The 1950s & 60s was also a time when the public were generally interested and well disposed to science (perhaps more so than today), seeing it as more or less pure and forward looking, and both Ryle and Hoyle, but particularly Hoyle, were brilliant communicators. Indeed, it was during a BBC (radio) series written and narrated by Hoyle that he first coined the term "Big Bang" -- intending it to be a slightly mocking term. One of Hoyle's motivations for pushing the Steady State was that, to him, the "Strong Cosmological Principle" was aesthetically & philosophically much more pleasing than its more diluted form, with its temporal change and finite beginning, which he referred to as "Just a Big Bang". note 1

On a personal note -- I was an impressionable 10 year old living in Cambridge when much of this debate was unfolding, and my awareness of it, along with frequent coverage of the newly discovered quasars and radio galaxies, did much to cement my fascination with astronomy. To support my interest my dad took me along to the various open days at Cambridge laboratores, including the "Lords Bridge Radio Observatory", where I met Ryle.... I wish I could report a profound exchange, but alas, what I recall is asking him to explain how a winding device managed to wrap up all the (computer) paper tape -- oh yes, and informing him that 3C 295 was receding from us at speed of 80,000 miles per second (it was my dad, not I, who read his name badge and realised to whom his son was talking). But much of that visit has stayed in my mind --- I got to take home a whole roll of (blank) chart-recorder paper, and a few inches of pen-plot on which a quasar "twinkled" (interplanetary scintillation), both of which went in my "astronomy box" as treasured, almost sacred, items. I also recall:  learning that the tracks on which the telescopes moved were so flat they were corrected for the earth's curvature (always a source of wonder); I listened to, and felt confused by, a description of aperture synthesis; and I managed to persuade someone to hook up the current telescope output to a loudspeaker so I could "listen" to the hiss of our galaxy -- which held me mesmerized to the point I didn't want to leave. Alas, I wish my memory today was half what it was when I was 10 -- but this does reveal how important it can be to take the time to engage young people in what we do. My visit, as a 10 year old, was the emotional equivalent of a believer's visit to Lourdes -- watering roots which would help sustain life-long motivation.

Indulging this personal theme just a little longer -- when, much later as a graduate student, I had an office in the "Hoyle Building" at the Institute in Cambridge, the uneasy relations with the "Cavendish" radio astronomers, across the road, was still noticable. If prodded, some of the more senior faculty would recall incidents from former times which were as funny as they were tragic in the mutual hostility and paranoia of the two groups. It was a wierd colloquium when the Cavendish group joined us to listen to a local historian of science's account of the "Ryle-Hoyle" conflict, which unfortunately I dont recall as being either incendiary nor insulting to either group. note 2   Unfortunately, my only personal exposure to Hoyle (apart from his very occasional visits to Cambridge during his retirement), was to hear him speak on one of his later theories:   the interstellar origin of life, and the extraterrestrial cause of desease epidemics -- both of which were, to my mind, unconvincing and in certain areas surprisingly naive. note 3   Such traits, apparently, were not typical of his presentations earlier in life, which have been described as masterful in clarity, insight, and importance.


Note 1:   This is a nice example of how careful we must be in using aesthetic criteria to judge Nature -- sometimes it works (GR, Lorentz Invariance, symmetry principles), sometimes it doesn't (Aristotle's cosmography, Steady State's strong cosmological principle), and sometimes it might (strings, supersymmetry, TOEs).

Note 2:   What I do recall, however, is that he actually sat down and read his paper, the first time I'd witnessed this "humanities" style of delivery. Now there is a true culture clash worthy of analysis.

Note 3:   For example, likening DNA formation to a tornado assembling a jumbo jet from all its parts, which has been cited numerous times by anti-evolutionists, and is a classic misunderstanding of the evolutionary process.