Thursday, 1 February 2007

Here's to You, Fred and Chandra!




Gorgeous original art from Judi Harvest
I've been down with a gastro intestinal 'flu for about a week-a week which included a visit to the local Esoteric Fayre to see Anubis Publishing run by intrepid KZN Pagan Arias, an invitation to braai at a Warren's friend's new place, and two days spent mostly in bed at home.

What interests me about this 'flu is that it's so widespread, from Inanna, in New York, who spent the same days in bed that I did, to 276 passengers aboard the QE2 on the other coast of the US ,
to china, people have been dropping-and sometimes, obviously, dieing, like flies.

Even more interesting is the fact that my nearest and dearest appear to have got away scot free.

All of which caused me to remember Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe's theory of
panspermia.

Leaving aside for the moment the thealogical implications of this theory, its great genius to me is the way in which it seeks to explain the sometimes bizarre patterns of outbreaks of sickness.

I remember reading in a Scientific American sometime back in the '70s about one of the early tests done on a school with boarding facilities-how the infection would break out in more than one place simultaneously, and not show the expected pattern of person-to-person transmission .
Damned if I can find that experiment on line now, but I expect it's around somewhere.

This pattern would be expected if the infection was arriving from above ground, dropping in to a boarding hostel (for example) and a school assembly hall at the same time.

Fred and Chandra hypothesised that the vehicles of deliverance were comets and/or meteors.

Hence, perhaps, the dread with which most comets were viewed, and the expectancy of plagues following the visit of one of our long-tailed iceballs?

I don't know.
Here's one scoffing view on the hypothesis-there are many others.


"There is scant evidence of any science going on here," said Stanford University physicist Christopher Barrington-Leigh, who studies the upper atmosphere and lower ionosphere. "According to the authors, solar activity 'will undoubtedly assist in the descent of charged molecular aggregates,' but this is unphysical and unfounded."


However, it's not always entirely safe to sneer at Fred Hoyle (who died 6 years ago).


Unlike steady-state theory, Hoyle's ideas about nucleosynthesis, the formation of elements through nuclear reactions in stars, received striking empirical vindication. (When Joni Mitchell penned her classic song "Woodstock," she drew on the ideas pioneered by Hoyle: "We are stardust, billion-year-old carbon.") In particular, in the early 1950s he predicted that carbon has a certain resonance, or energy level, one not indicated by the nuclear physics of the time. Hoyle's reasoning was unconventional: Such a resonance was needed if the stars were to produce enough carbon for human and other carbon-based life to exist. A skeptical Caltech physicist named William Fowler ran experiments seeking the specified resonance and promptly found it.


From here

The old gentlemen may have the last laugh, after all.