Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 721–751 | Cite as

An anthropic myth: Fred Hoyle’s carbon-12 resonance level

  • Helge Kragh


The case of Fred Hoyle’s prediction of a resonance state in carbon-12, unknown in 1953 when it was predicted, is often mentioned as an example of anthropic prediction. However, an investigation of the historical circumstances of the prediction and its subsequent experimental confirmation shows that Hoyle and his contemporaries did not associate the level in the carbon nucleus with life. Only in the 1980s, after the emergence of the anthropic principle, did it become common to see Hoyle’s prediction as anthropically significant. At about the same time mythical accounts of the prediction and its history began to abound. Not only has the anthropic myth no basis in historical fact, it is also doubtful if the excited levels in carbon-12 and other atomic nuclei can be used as an argument for the predictive power of the anthropic principle.


Physical Review Alpha Particle Resonance Level Nuclear Astrophysics Anthropic Principle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ajzenberg Fay, Thomas Lauritsen (1952) Energy levels of light nuclei. IV. Reviews of Modern Physics 24: 321–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ajzenberg Fay, Thomas Lauritsen. (1955) Energy levels of light nuclei. V. Reviews of Modern Physics 27: 77–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alpher Ralph, Robert Herman. (1950) Theory of the origin and relative abundance distribution of the elements. Reviews of Modern Physics 22: 153–212zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnett, David. 2005. Sir Fred Hoyle and the theory of the synthesis of the elements. In The scientific legacy of Fred Hoyle, ed. Douglas Gough, 9–24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Balashov Yuri. (1991) Resource letter AP-1: The anthropic principle. American Journal of Physics 59: 1069–1076CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrow John D. (1981) The lore of large numbers: Some historical background to the anthropic principle. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 22: 388–420Google Scholar
  7. Barrow John D. (2002) The constants of nature: From alpha to omega. Jonathan Cape, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Barrow John D., Tipler Frank J. (1986) The anthropic cosmological principle. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  9. Bartusiak Marcia. (1993) Through a universe darkly: A cosmic tale of Ancient Ethers, dark matter, and the fate of the universe. HarperCollins, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Bethe Hans. (1939) Energy production in stars. Physical Review 55: 434–456zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bethe Hans, Critchfield Charles L. (1938) The formation of deuterons by proton combination. Physical Review 54: 248–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bondi, Hermann. 1966. Some philosophical problems in cosmology. In British philosophy in the mid- century, ed. C.A. Mace, 393–400. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  13. Bondi Hermann, Salpeter Edwin E. (1952) Thermonuclear reactions and astrophysics. Nature 169: 304–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Britten Roy. (1952) The scattering of 31.5-MeV protons from several elements. Physical Review 88: 283–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burbidge Geoffrey R. (2003) Sir Fred Hoyle. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 49: 213–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Burbidge, Geoffrey R. 2008. Hoyle’s role in B2 FH. Science 319: 1484.Google Scholar
  17. Burbidge E. Margaret, Burbidge Geoffrey R., Fowler William A., Fred Hoyle. (1957) Synthesis of the elements in the stars. Reviews of Modern Physics 29: 547–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Carr Bernard J. (1982) On the origin, evolution and purpose of the physical universe. Irish Astronomical Journal 15: 237–253Google Scholar
  19. Carr Bernard J., Martin Rees. (1979) The anthropic principle and the structure of the physical world. Nature 278: 605–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Carter, Brandon. 1974. Large number coincidences and the anthropic principle in cosmology. In Confrontation of cosmological theories with observational data, ed. Malcolm S. Longair, 291–298. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  21. Carter Brandon. (1983) The anthropic principle and its implications for biological evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 310: 347–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Carter, Brandon. 2006. Anthropic principle in cosmology. In Current issues in cosmology, ed. Jean C. Pecker and Jayant V. Narlikar, 173–180. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cenadelli Davide. (2010) Solving the giant star problem: Theories of stellar evolution from the 1930s to the 1950s. Archive for History of Exact Sciences 64: 203–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Chown Marcus. (1999) The Magic Furnace. Jonathan Cape, LondonGoogle Scholar
  25. Chown, Marcus. 2003. Open minds reap rewards. The Guardian, 13 March.Google Scholar
  26. Clayton, Donald C. (1968). Principles of stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis. New York: McGraw-Hill Book CompanyGoogle Scholar
  27. Clayton Donald C. (2001) Fred Hoyle, 1915–2001. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society 33: 1570–1572Google Scholar
  28. Clayton, Donald C. 2007a. Hoyle, Fred. In Biographical encyclopedia of astronomers, ed. Thomas Hockey, 532–534. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Clayton Donald C. (2007) Hoyle’s equation. Science 318: 1876–1877CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Cook Charles W., Fowler William A., Lauritsen Charles C., Thomas Lauritsen. (1957) B12, C12, and the red giants. Physical Review 107: 508–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Davies Paul C.W. (1978) Cosmic heresy?. Nature 273: 336–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dicke Robert H. (1961) Dirac’s cosmology and Mach’s principle. Nature 192: 440–441zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Dunbar, D. Noel F., Ralph E. Pixley, William A. Wenzel, and Ward Whaling, 1953. The 7.68-MeV state in C12. Physical Review 92: 649–650.Google Scholar
  34. Fermi, Enrico. 1949. Teorie sulle origine degli elemente. In Collected Papers, vol. 2, 707–720. Rome: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Fowler William A. (1954) Experimental and theoretical results on nuclear reactions in stars. Mémoires de la Société Royale des Sciences de Liège 14: 88–112Google Scholar
  36. Fowler William A. (1984) The quest for the origin of the elements. Science 226: 922–935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fowler William A., Greenstein Jesse L. (1956) Element-building reactions in stars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 42: 173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Fynbo Hans O.U. et al (2005) Revised rates for the stellar triple-α process from measurements of 12C nuclear resonances. Nature 433: 136–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gingerich, Owen. 1994. The summer of 1953: A watershed for astrophysics. Physics Today 41(December): 34–40.Google Scholar
  40. Gingerich Owen. (2006) God’s universe. Belknap Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  41. Gold Thomas. (1954) Relation between modern cosmologies and nuclear astrophysical processes. Mémoires de la Société Royale des Sciences de Liège 14: 68–69Google Scholar
  42. Greenberg John L. (2005) A conversation with William A. Fowler—Part II. Physics in Perspective 7: 165–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Greenberg, John L., and Judith R. Goodstein. 1983. The origins of nuclear astrophysics at Caltech.
  44. Greenstein Jesse L. (1954) Nuclear reactions affecting the abundance of the elements: General survey. Mémoires de la Société Royale des Sciences de Liège 14: 307–336Google Scholar
  45. Gregory Jane. (2005) Fred Hoyle’s universe. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  46. Gribbin John, Martin Rees. (1989) Cosmic coincidences: Dark matter, mankind, and anthropic cosmology. Bantam Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  47. Hayakawa Satio, Chushiro Hayashi Mitsuo Imoto, Ken Kikuchi. (1956) Helium capturing reactions in stars. Progress of Theoretical Physics 16: 507–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hemmendinger Arthur. (1949) Erratum: Disintegration of Be8. Physical Review 75: 1267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Holbrow Charles H. (1987) The giant cancer tube and the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory. Physics Today 34(July): 42–49Google Scholar
  50. Holloway M.G., Moore B.L. (1940) The disintegration of N14 and N15 by deuterons. Physical Review 58: 847–860CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hornyak, W.F., Thomas Lauritsen, Philip Morrison, and William A. Fowler. 1950. Energy levels of light nuclei. III. Reviews of Modern Physics 22: 291–372.Google Scholar
  52. (1946) The synthesis of the elements from hydrogen. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 106: 343–383Google Scholar
  53. Hoyle Fred (1954) On nuclear reactions occurring in very hot stars. I: The synthesis of elements from carbon to nickel. Astrophysical Journal, Supplement Series 1: 121–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Hoyle, Fred. 1957. [No title]. In Religion and the scientists, ed. N.F. Mott et al., 55–66. London: SCM Press.Google Scholar
  55. Hoyle, Fred. 1958. Origins of the elements in the stars. In La Structure et l’Évolution de l’Univers, ed. R. Stoops, 281–296. Brussels: Institut Internationale de Physique Solvay.Google Scholar
  56. Hoyle Fred (1965) Galaxies, nuclei, and quasars. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  57. Hoyle Fred (1975) Astronomy and cosmology: A modern course. W. H. Freeman and Company, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  58. Hoyle Fred (1980) Steady-state cosmology re-visited. University College Cardiff Press, CardiffGoogle Scholar
  59. Hoyle, Fred. 1982a. Two decades of collaboration with Willy Fowler. In Essays in nuclear astrophysics, ed. C.A. Barnes, D.D. Clayton, and D.N. Schramm, 1–11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Hoyle Fred (1982) The universe: Past and present reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 20: 1–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Hoyle Fred (1986) Personal comments on the history of nuclear astrophysics. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 27: 445–453Google Scholar
  62. Hoyle Fred (1991) Some remarks on cosmology and biology. Memorie della Societa Astronomica Italiana 62: 513–518Google Scholar
  63. Hoyle, Fred. 1993. The anthropic and perfect cosmological principles: Similarities and differences. In The anthropic principle, ed. Francesco Bertola and Umberto Curi, 85–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Hoyle Fred (1994) Home is where the wind blows: Chapters from a cosmologist’s life. University Science Books, Mill ValleyGoogle Scholar
  65. Hoyle Fred, Burbidge Geoffrey R., Narlikar Jayant V. (1993) A quasi-steady state cosmological model with creation of matter. Astrophysical Journal 410: 437–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Hoyle Fred, Dunbar D. Noel F., Wenzel William A., Ward Whaling. (1953) A state in C12 predicted from astrophysical evidence. Physical Review 92: 1095Google Scholar
  67. Hoyle Fred, Martin Schwarzschild. (1955) On the evolution of type II stars. Astrophysical Journal, Supplement 2: 1–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Hoyle, Fred, and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe. 1997. Life on Mars? A case for a cosmic heritage. Bristol: Clinical Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  69. Hoyle Fred, Wickramasinghe N. Chandra. (1999) The universe and life: Deductions from the weak anthropic principle. Astrophysics and Space Science 268: 89–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Hufbauer Karl. (2006) Stellar structure and evolution. Journal for the History of Astronomy 37: 203–227Google Scholar
  71. Kirchner F., Laaf O., Neuert H. (1937) Über das Berylliumatom mit der Masse 8. Die Naturwissenschaften 25: 794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Klee Robert. (2002) The revenge of Pythagoras: How a mathematical sharp practice undermines the contemporary design argument in astrophysical cosmology. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 53: 331–354zbMATHCrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  73. Kragh Helge. (1996) Cosmology and controversy. The historical development of two theories of the universe. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  74. Kragh, Helge. 2010. The road to the anthropic principle. RePoss: Research Publications on Science Studies 7.
  75. Lang, Kenneth R., Owen, Gingerich (eds) (1979) A source book in astronomy and astrophysics, 1900–1975. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  76. Leslie, John (eds) (1990) Physical cosmology and philosophy. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  77. Leslie John. (1994) Anthropic prediction. Philosophia 23: 117–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Linde, Andrei. 2007. The inflationary universe. In Universe or multiverse? ed. Bernard Carr, 127–150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Livio Mario, Dave Hollowell Achim Weiss, Truran James W. (1989) The anthropic significance of the existence of an excited state of 12C. Nature 340: 281–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Malm R., Buechner W.W. (1951) Alpha-particle groups from the N14(d, α)C12 and N15(d, α)C13 reactions. Physical Review 81: 519–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Mitton Simon. (2005) Fred Hoyle: A life in science. Aurum Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  82. Mosterin, Jesús. 2004. Anthropic explanations in cosmology. Proceedings of the 12th international congress of logic, methodology and philosophy of science, ed. Petr Hájek, Luis Valdés-Villanueva, and Dag Westerståhl, 441–471. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  83. Nakagawa Kimiko, Takashi Ohmura Hisao Takebe, Shinya Obi. (1956) Nuclear reactions in the later stage of the stellar evolution. Progress of Theoretical Physics 16: 389–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Narlikar Jayant V. (1999) Wonders of the cosmos. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  85. Oberhummer, Heinz, Attila Csótó, and Helmut Schlattl. 2000. Fine-tuning carbon-based life in the universe by the triple-alpha process in red giants. In The future of the universe and the future of our civilization, ed. V. Burdyuzha and G. Khozin, 197–206. Singapore: World Scientific.Google Scholar
  86. Oberhummer, Heinz, Rudolf Pichler, and Attila Csótó. 1998. The triple-alpha process and its anthropic significance. In Nuclei in the cosmos, V, ed. Nikos Prantzos and Sotiris Harrissopulos, 119–123. Paris: Editions Frontières.Google Scholar
  87. Öpik Ernst. (1951) Stellar models with variable composition. II: Sequences of models with energy generation proportional to the fifteenth power of temperature. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy A 54: 49–77zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  88. Reeves, Hubert. 1993. The growth of complexity in an expanding universe. In The anthropic principle, ed. Francesco Bertola and Umberto Curi, 67–84. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Rozental Iosif L. (1980) Physical laws and the numerical values of fundamental constants. Soviet Physics Uspekhi 23: 296–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Salpeter Edwin E. (1952) Nuclear reactions in stars without hydrogen. Astrophysical Journal 115: 326–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Salpeter Edwin E. (1955) The 7.68-MeV level in C12 and stellar energy production. Physical Review 98: 1183–1184Google Scholar
  92. Salpeter Edwin E. (1955) Energy production in stars. Vistas in Astronomy 1: 283–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Salpeter Edwin E. (1957) Nuclear reactions in stars. Buildup from helium. Physical Review 107: 516–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Salpeter Edwin E. (2002) A generalist looks back. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 40: 1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Salpeter Edwin E. (2008) Nuclear astrophysics before 1957. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia 25: 1–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Sandage, Allan R., and Martin Schwarzschild. 1952. Inhomogeneous stellar models. II. Models with exhausted cores in gravitational contraction. Astrophysical Journal 116: 463–476.Google Scholar
  97. Scerri Eric R. (2007) The periodic table: Its story and significance. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  98. Schlattl Helmut et al (2004) Sensitivity of the C and O production on the 3α rate. Astrophysics and Space Science 291: 27–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Schwarzschild Martin. (1958) Structure and evolution of the stars. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  100. Singh Simon. (2004) Big bang. Fourth Estate, LondonGoogle Scholar
  101. Smolin, Lee. 2007. Scientific alternatives to the anthropic principle. In Universe or multiverse? ed. Bernard Carr, 323–366. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  102. Spear Ray. (2002) The most important experiment ever performed by an Australian physicist. The Physicist 39: 35–41Google Scholar
  103. Staub Hans, Stephens William E. (1939) Anomalous scattering of neutrons by helium. Physical Review 55: 131–139zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Susskind Leonard. (2006) The cosmic landscape: String theory and the illusion of intelligent design. Little, Brown and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  105. Tassoul Jean-Louis, Monique Tassoul. (2004) A concise history of solar and stellar physics. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  106. Tollestrup Alvin V., Fowler William A., Lauritzen Charles C. (1949) Energy release in beryllium and lithium reactions with protons. Physical Review 76: 428–430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Walker, Mark, and Milan Ćirković. 2003. Anthropic reasoning and the contemporary design argument in astrophysics: A reply to Robert Klee.
  108. Weinberg Steven. (2001) Facing up: Science and its cultural adversaries. Harvard University Press, CambridgezbMATHGoogle Scholar
  109. Weinberg, Steven. 2007. Living in the multiverse. In Universe or multiverse? ed. Bernard Carr, 29–42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  110. Wheeler John A. (1940) The alpha-particle model and the properties of the nucleus Be8. Physical Review 59: 27–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Wickramasinghe N. Chandra. (2005) A journey with Fred Hoyle: The search for cosmic life. World Scientific, SingaporeCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science StudiesUniversity of AarhusAarhusDenmark

Personalised recommendations