Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 34, No. 18. October 6 1971
The Thoughts of Fred Hoyle
The Thoughts of Fred Hoyle
I actually think that this society is colapsing - we have lived for a number of years with the cracks of the edifice beginning to widen.
They will very obviously widen in the next ten years. I used to feel that this would happen somewhere after the turn of this century, but observing the U.S. in particular, people are getting very conscious of it now.
I don't think the catastrophe is going to come in a place like India. They could probably go on for 2-3000 years without anything disasterous happening; if our particular civilisation has a built in disaster point it will not be found in the most backward societies.
The trend could be averted. If one said, "from now on there will be a reduction of the level of population by 25% over 30 years" this would not be a dreadful thing, it would hardly show. If it could be kept up for 150 years, then I think that our kind of civilisation could run another 1000 years without any trouble.
What the Americans have discovered is that what is the good life for a few becomes a bit bad when everybody does it. Furthermore it is impossible to have a good life if there are too many people. Our society is not going to solve the problem this time, it is rushing towards it at an accelerated speed.
At the end of the last war the U.S. still had the potentialities for a very triumphant future, but I think that they have thrown this position away. Today I don't know any chaps who are responsible scientists who don't think this. This is not just a scientist's view, the case is pretty well recognised by many political leaders.
Somehow the structure of politics just isn't right for this particular problem. They organise armies, to some extent economies, but this problem is on such a national sclae that the necessary structural organisation in politics just doesn't exist.
Behind all this acceleration, I would say there is a point of instability of a particular organisation. The critical point has been reached, now there must be a total change. This change is going to come in the way people will have to organise themselves.
There are several ways in which you could imagine the future going. It could just proceed to a state of chaos, however to survive we must have a discontinuity, but it must be more than a discontinuity of political leadership. It is not necessary to change Nixon or Heath, but what they think, and what they think is important will have to change.
The dangers of a Civil War in the U.S. might have been a little more real at the time of the Chicago Convention. I thought at that time things could go either way. There was a rising of dissatisfaction among young people about the way the country was going There is not so much an atmosphere of revolution among young people, but more of resignation. They have tried everything but it has not worked. There is the obvious dissatisfaction of minority groups in the big cities, but not to make a national uprising.
I think to get anything seriously revolutionary, you would have to get the kind of thing you can see in Belfast, combined with people with a wider social outlook. The people in Belfast are very narrow and bigoted. If you got the above combination revolution would be a serious proposition, but I don't see any signs of this happening in the U.S.. I've been looking very carefully to see if negro officers and men who fought in Vietnam would begin to do this sort of thing, but all I find are people like thy Black Panthers, who are not going to do anything at all. There is a lot of hot air, but nothing really happens.
Mankind's increasing use of energy paralells the increasing instability of modern life.
In every past civilisation the energy content of the civilisation has been in the form of food. This means that the actual intake into the body has been a greater source of energy than any other source. Somewhere about the end of the last century we passed into a state where coal, and now more literally oil supplies more than the food. Farmers became a weakening political force. Now the energy that is expended in fuels of an inanimate kind is about ten times greater than that expended in food. So we are in a totally different position to any other civilisation. It is the energy which is at the command of society which is bring disaster along. It is almost a literal explosion. Society is sort of blowing itself to pieces by what it is consuming.
If you want to see the worst effects go to the U.S. The Americans are not inherently worse than others, just further along the road. I expect that the U.S. could save the situation until the end of the present century. If they don't try, it could go a lot quicker than that. This is where you in N.Z. are sitting on a pretty good wicket. If disaster happens quick enough elsewhere you may be prevented from following the same road. But if it is drawn out, you will follow the same trend.
on Astrophysics and Space Travel
I am interested in finding some basic connection between the universe and basic physics, but I don't think that space research will help much in this regard. U.S. finds reveal some interesting details about the moon, but I don't think that they are as revolutionary as some people might. But at least it has confirmed various suppositions that were reasonably commonsense and has removed some of the more fantastic speculations.
The whole business of rockets is just technology, not true science. One could get from a textbook what the reactions will be if you start buring up such and such a fuel, simple calculations like that can be done in first year phsics, but having decided that, the problem is then how to make the rocket. That is technology, and it's not easy.
I don't think that there is any point or possibility in going outside the solar system. I think that they have even packed up going to Mars, it was said a year ago that if the U.S. wished to get to Mars by 1986 they would have had to have already started the programme, but it was regarded as too expensive. Also there are problems about the behavior of the body after these long trips in space. I don't know whether people could stand this weightless condition for several months.
on directions Science will take.
At the present time the accumulation of facts is occuring in such a rapid flow that the simplest thing to do is just keep observing them with out trying to do much inductive research.
The position is confused and could easily push the scientific world towards a general revolution. Under these circumstances it is as well to be prepared for what might happen, but there is no point in coming out with a revolutionary theory in the dark, as it were.
The number of people who are being skeptical about whether all problems can be solved by science is now quite large. None of my scientific colleagues has the same optimism as they had 10 years ago. I think that this is an inevitable occurrence at a given level of sophistication.
on Scientists, Social Responsibilities
People accuse the scientist of being insensitive to violence etc, but I would say that all the evidence shows that exactly the opposite is true. In the case of the H-bomb it was the politians who asked for it, it wasn't the scientists. However it was said that the Germans would make it first, so there was a certain element of pressure from the scientists. Even so when scientists were instructed to make it two out of five of the leading scientists opposed it. Nearly all of the young people opposed it. I condemn those who agreed, not for any lack of spiritual awareness, but for the fact that they did not see what was involved. The scientists should have known enough about the world of politics to know that the politians would use it.
People are now developing bombs with plastic pellets, so that the fragments can't be detected by a metal detector. When you get down to things like that you don't need much more than a ganster mentality. If one could bring something like a doctors' Hippocratic Oath to bear on it would help, but there is not the same emotional quality attached to science as there is to medicine. Another thing that worries me is that once a sophisticated idea has been found and published it becomes comparatively easy for people to understand it and it ultimately becomes even easier for a large body of people to use it. Once a discovery is out it is just like Eves apple - it is eaten.
There is no conflict with religion in my work. I don't start from the premise that the world exists for our benefit. If you start from that premise, then it's very difficult to come to terms with the world. I don't see the existence of a big chap with a beard, but you can see the universe has order, although I don't go along with the view that this implies some father of the family who is ordering it. The feature of there being a structure is perfectly clear. It is a very subtle structure, to me that is all there is. But I would be religious in the sense that I don't believe the solution to the problems is to be found in a chaotic approach. When we have a scientific problem, if it is a sophisticated problem, the answer will have a very high intellectual quality about it. In that sense it is religious.
Compiled by G. Kinder & Marilyn Edmonds