Fred Hoyle wanted answers.
His ambition was to find solutions to the scientific questions about the origins of the universe and life.
Britain's top astrophysicist hardly thought this would be easy.
"Fred believed that, as a general rule, solutions to major unsolved problems had to be sought by exploring radical hypotheses, while at the same time not deviating from well-attested scientific tools and methods," said Hoyle collaborator Chandra Wickramasinghe.
If these answers could have been found "in the realms of orthodox theory upon which everyone agreed, they would either have been discovered already or they would be trivial," he said.
Hoyle (1915-2001) thought people who were schooled in several scientific disciplines could best find such answers. He took a strict approach to such mixed methods.
"As a young research student, I realized if you try to make everything consistent, the penalty is that you might be wrong in everything," Hoyle said. "If you are wrong in one, you are wrong in a lot. So I try to keep every one of my problems in a watertight compartment."
Hoyle became entranced with stars while growing up in the Yorkshire countryside in the 1920s, with no TV or radio. His father, a wool merchant, was a self-educated man who read Charles Darwin. Hoyle would argue with him, taking the side opposing evolution.
"He was a true Yorkshire man," or rugged individualist, said Geoffrey Burbidge, another of Hoyle's collaborators from the University of California, San Diego. "He was not interested in climbing on or leading the bandwagon."
Hoyle educated himself, too — to the point where he outpaced his fellow students at school.
Assigned to the same day job were two European scientists, Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi. They agreed on the notion that the universe was constantly expanding and that matter was constantly being formed to fill it. This was the germ of steady-state cosmology.
After the war, Hoyle taught at Cambridge. When the BBC asked him to record a series of radio talks on astronomy, he did his best to use common language to convey heady ideas. The series was popular and inspired younger scientists.
In 1958, Hoyle was named Plumian professor of astronomy at Cambridge. That post has been held by some of Britain's leading scientists.
Source: Investor's Business Daily