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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Aug > Aug 21

Fermi Believed In Aliens?

From: Kentaro Mori <kentaro.mori.nul>
Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2007 04:04:14 -0300
Archived: Tue, 21 Aug 2007 08:48:31 -0400
Subject: Fermi Believed In Aliens?

Fermi Believed In Aliens? What A Paradox!

According to "Dr. SETI", H. Paul Shuch, from the official SETI
League, "physicist Enrico Fermi, said to be a firm believer in
the existence of extra-terrestrials, was frustrated by the lack
of firm evidence of their existence". Wait a minute, Fermi
actually believed in the existence of aliens?

That may sound preposterous given that his famous Paradox is one
of the most referenced arguments advanced against the existence
of extraterrestrial civilizations, but amazingly, it probably is

Fermi unfortunately passed away in 1954, shortly after he
formulated his paradox. He didn't publish the concept in written
form, rather it was just an idea discussed by him with
colleagues at lunch. That was then often quoted and referenced
by others for decades afterwards. This probably explains why his
original idea came to be so misunderstood.

It was only in 1985 that someone seems to have decided to
actually document the origins of the paradox, and sadly, even
this work is widely ignored. That's the report from Los Alamos
National Laboratory, "Where is Everybody?': An Account of
Fermi's Question", by scientist Eric M. Jones.

Jones interviewed those present at that historic lunch at Los
Alamos in the summer of 1950. They were Emil Konopinski, Herbert
York and Edward Teller, and he provided accounts of the
conversation by all of them.

Interestingly, the paradox was related to the cartoon seen
above. Konopinski wrote:

"I do have a fairly clear memory of how the discussion of
extra-terrestrials got started while Enrico, Edward, Herb York,
and I were walking to lunch at Fuller Lodge. When l joined the
party, I found being discussed evidence about flying saucers.
That immediately brought to my mind a cartoon I had recently
seen in the New Yorker, explaining why public trash cans were
disappearing from the streets of New York City. The New York
papers were making a fuss about that. The cartoon showed what
was evidently a flying saucer sitting in the background and,
streaming toward it, 'little green men' (endowed with antennas)
carrying the trash cans. More amusing was Fermi's comment, that
it was a very reasonable theory since it accounted for two
separate phenomena: the reports of flying saucers as well as the
disappearance of the trash cans."

Edward Teller also recalled:

"I remember that Fermi explicitly raised the question, and I
think he directed it at me, 'Edward, what do you think? How
probable is it that within the next ten years we shall have
clear evidence of a material object moving faster than light?' I
remember that my answer vas ' 10-6.. Fermi said, 'This is much
too low. The probability is more like ten percent' (the well
known figure for a Fermi miracle.)"

The discussion then went on to other topics, as they arrived at
the luncheon table. It "had nothing to do with astronomy or with
extraterrestrial beings. I think it was some down-to-earth
topic. Then, in the middle of this conversation, Fermi came out
with the quite unexpected question 'Where is everybody?' =85 The
result of his question was general laughter because of the
strange fact that in spite of Fermi's question coming from the
clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at
once that he was talking about extraterrestrial life", Teller
wrote to Jones. "I do not believe that much came of this
conversation, except perhaps a statement that the distances to
the next location of living beings may be very great and that,
indeed, as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living
somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area
of the galactic center", Teller added.

But York believes that Fermi was somewhat more expansive and
"followed up with a series of calculations on the probability of
earthlike planets, the probability of life given an earth, the
probability of humans given life, the likely rise and duration
of high technology, and so on. He concluded on the basis of such
calculations that we ought to have been visited long ago and
many times over. As I recall, he went on to conclude that the
reason we hadn't been visited might be that interstellar flight
is impossible, or, if it is possible, always judged to be not
worth the effort, or technological civilization doesn't last
long enough for it to happen." York confessed to being hazy
about these last remarks.

Note how York confirms that Fermi assumed extraterrestrial
civilizations existed, only that their non-arrival must have
meant something stops them on their way. That's exactly the
position taken by SETI scientists to this day.

Eric Jones' report can be downloaded at the FAS website:



It must be noted that in the 1950s, it had only been some years
since more accurate estimations of the size and age of the
Universe had been done. And Fermi's paradox is essentially an
argument of "scale and probablity".

The Italian physicist famous for simple approaches to complex
problems was the first to realize that those discoveries about
our Universe had this deep implication. If there are indeed
billions and billions of stars billions of years old, then even
if the chances of intelligent life to emerge are extremely
small, it must have happened numerous times. Not only that, it
must also have had plenty of time to arrive not only here, but

Later considerations on this simple yet deep question only
reinforced its strength. At a fraction of the speed of light,
the whole Galaxy can be colonized in a few million years,
without breaking any known laws of physics. The recent discovery
of the omnipresence of planetary systems may be one of the most
important discoveries of the recent decades =97 not long ago, many
believed our solar system was a freak accident of nature, and it
also deepens the paradox.

You see, it only takes one single civilization to have taken the
task to colonize the Galaxy for a few million years, and then
everywhere you looked there would be signs of its presence. Only
one among hundreds of billions of planets, in billions of years
of history. No need for warp drives, interdimensional travel,
nothing of science fiction. This possibility is a scientific
fact, as far was we know. It's a scientific fact more
established now than it was in the 1950s when Fermi first
proposed the idea.

Fact is, however, that we don't see any clear evidence of
aliens. Not on Earth, not anywhere we can look for in millions
and billions of light-years around us.

Maybe UFOs are evidence of alien spaceships, but that hasn't
been conclusively proven for a single case in more than six
decades. You cannot ask "where are the illegal aliens?" without
being slightly insane because it's very easy to find illegal
immigrants. But you can ask "where are the (extraterrestrial)
aliens?". In fact, you may spend your whole life trying to find
conclusive proof of their presence.

So, Fermi's question is really a paradox, "an argument that
apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid
deduction from acceptable premises". That's a paradox, and it
remains one to this day.

It's not an argument that "proves" we are alone. That's just one
possible answer, and it's not satisfactory exactly because of
the paradox main line of reasoning.

The Fermi Paradox shouldn't be derided by the believers. Fermi
was one himself. Though one who would promptly admit, and then
be puzzled, by the lack of conclusive proof that we are not

He would still be asking, to this day, "Where is everybody?".


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