Open main menu
Fermi paradox is a former featured article. Please see the links under Article milestones below for its original nomination page (for older articles, check the nomination archive) and why it was removed.
This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on January 13, 2005.
Article milestones
June 12, 2004Featured article candidatePromoted
April 23, 2006Featured article reviewDemoted
April 28, 2006Peer reviewReviewed
June 27, 2006Featured article candidatePromoted
September 13, 2010Featured article reviewDemoted
Current status: Former featured article


several eyewitnesses of original conversation, and several different remembrancesEdit

The original conversation is partially lost, partially found with people's fallible and very human memories.

Eric Jones of Los Alamos Labs wrote a letter to Edward Teller on July 13, 1984:

' . . . Hans Mark has given me a secondhand account from a retelling he heard in the early fifties, . . . '

' . . . The way the story is being told these days is that the lunchtime conversation turned to the possibility of interstellar travel and/or signaling. Fermi became engrossed in a quick calculation and then announced “If you are right, then where is everybody?" . . . '

A month later on Aug. 13, 1984, Edward Teller wrote:

' . . . I have a vague recollection, which may not be accurate, that we talked about flying saucers . . . also remember that Fermi explicitly raised the question, and I think he directed it at me, "Edward, what do you think. How probably 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 was "10-6 " [one in a million]. Fermi said, "This is much too low. The probability is more like ten percent" (the well known figure for a Fermi miracle). . . '

' . . . and maybe approximately eight of us sat down together for lunch. . . '

' . . . Then, in the middle of this conversation, Fermi came out with the quite unexpected question "Where is everybody?" [Emphasis added] What I am sure of is that your quote, "If you are right, then where is everybody?", is wrong. Fermi did not tie his question to any conversation which was then going on. The result of his question was general laughter because of the strange fact that in spite of the Fermi's question coming from the clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at once that he was talking about extraterrestrial life. 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. . . '

Eric Jones wrote to Herbert York on Sept. 4, 1984 (including the letter from Edward Teller). A week later on Sept. 11, 1984, York wrote back.

Herbert York wrote:

' . . . Fermi said, virtually apropos of nothing: "Don't you ever wonder where everybody is?" [Emphasis added] Somehow (and perhaps it was connected to the prior conversation in the way you describe, even though I do not remember that) we all knew he meant extra-terrestrials. He then 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 [Fermi] concluded on the basis of such calculations that we ought to have been visited long ago and many times over. [Emphasis added] . . . '

Jones wrote to Emil Konopinski on Sept. 24, 1984 also sending him copies of Teller's and York's letters. Konopinski wrote back on Oct. 17, 1984.

Emil Konopinski wrote:

'I have only fragmentary recollections about the occasion that your letter refers to. I do have a fairly clear memory of how the discussion of extra-terrestials got started--while Enrico, Edward, Herb York, and I were walking to lunch at Fuller Lodge.

'When I joined the party I found being discussed evidence about flying saucers. That immediately brought to my mind a cartoon I have recently seen in the New Yorker, explaining why public trash can were disappearing from the streets of New York City. . . '

' . . . There ensued a discussion as to whether the saucers could somehow exceed the speed of light and it was after we were at the luncheon table that Fermi surprised us with the question : "But where is everybody?" [Emphasis added] It was his way of putting it that drew laughs from us. I think there were only the four of us just as Herb York remembers it.

'I have absolutely no recollection of the numerical estimates that Edward mentions, except that they changed rapidly as Edward and Fermi bounced arguments off each other.'

Now, we do include this reference (currently our 10th reference), but we don't really dive into the fact that different people remember the conversation somewhat differently.

Jones, E. M. (March 1, 1985). ""Where is everybody?" An account of Fermi's question"". Los Alamos National Laboratory. OSTI 5746675. Retrieved 2018-10-10.

I think we should be upfront about this aspect. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 18:38, 19 December 2018 (UTC)

It seems like a fair statement. The article's topic is scientific, but doesn't enforce the scientific method, so unproven corollaries are fair game. Maybe it would be better if the quote was moved out from the leading section and into the "History" section. This way it would lose a little importance, but keeping it's relevance. Liberty5651 (talk) 00:01, 21 December 2018 (UTC)

I think we should leave the quote, although perhaps add that there are several different versions. Teller and Konopinski seem to remember pretty much the same quote (I haven't yet dived into the York letter.) And even with all this, the succinct quote "Where is everybody?" (Teller's remembrance) is a great brief statement of the Fermi paradox.FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 00:21, 21 December 2018 (UTC)

The lead paragraph is all that many people will read, and should contain only the most important aspects. The Fermi Paradox connects with some of the greatest scientific and philosophical questions of our times. But out of all the things a person should find out when looking up "Fermi paradox" for the first time, the exact wording of Fermi's quote, and the number of observers that immediately connected this with ETs, is not among the most important information. We should keep it in the history section, but it does not belong in the lead. LouScheffer (talk) 12:49, 4 May 2019 (UTC)


Since we're including a footnote (in the above section "Criticism of logical basis section"), let's try to re-create this aspect of our main page to the extent possible. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 18:45, 19 December 2018 (UTC)

Synthesizing mirror life as one of hypothetical explanations of Fermi paradox?Edit

There is a possibility of synthesizing mirror life - with cells built of mirror versions of standard molecules (enantiomers), and our civilization is slowly approaching this point - in 2016 there was synthesized mirror version of a large and crucial protein (polymerase) in a Chinese lab:

However, it is also opening a Pandora box - completely new life which has a possibility of dominating our ecosystem due to nearly not having compatible natural enemies. Here is a Wired article estimating that mirror cyanobacteria (single cell organism which is able to photosynthesize), could exterminate our type of life on Earth in a few centuries:

As this is a natural possibility in technological development of civilization, which might be unstoppable for dominating ecosystem and exterminating its previous life, maybe it is worth adding to hypothetical explanations of Fermi paradox? Jarek Duda (talk) 09:17, 9 March 2019 (UTC)

This is very similar to the "grey goop" potential catastrophe from nanotechnology. Now, even if we say, we have safeguards, it's highly safe . . . but if we're talking about the destruction of the planet, a risk, say, of one out of two billion is not necessarily a gimme and a freebie. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 15:02, 21 March 2019 (UTC)
Science fiction is different from a plausible scientific hypothesis. Rowan Forest (talk) 17:37, 21 March 2019 (UTC)
Living cell is already kind of nanorobot, optimized through billions of years of evolution - it is far from certain that it is physically possible to design something much more efficient, even so, it will need centuries, millennia ... in contrast, synthesizing mirror life is relatively straightforward - in 2016 there was synthesized mirror polymeraze, here is Nature 2018 "How biologists are creating life-like cells from scratch" ... it seems we are approaching this point, and so should other civilizations in our stage of development. There are a few ways to get through this beginning of synthetic biology in development of advanced civilization: 1) It might not be that deadly (?) 2) It is possible to contain mirror microbes in a lab indefinitely, or 3) civilization realizes the danger and somehow indefinitely prohibits this type of research ... both 2 and 3 seem really tough for a long term (?)Jarek Duda (talk) 22:09, 21 March 2019 (UTC)
Other species may be more risk-averse. We humans -- for better or for worse or for both! -- we race ahead. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 17:06, 22 March 2019 (UTC)
Releasing such mirror microbe into environment, especially photsynthesizing into ocean, even a superior civilization will have no chance to control it - it will just spread, evolve, speciate - slowly finding and adapting new ecological niches, disturbing ecosystem practically not having compatible enemies - e.g. in a few centuries taking nearly all CO2 from our plants in WIRED "kill us all" article. Additionally, mirror (enantiomers) biomolecules are often toxic - while microbes might adapt, higher organisms like mammals have rather no chance - would likely die out from hunger and toxicity while rising population of mirror microbes. Jarek Duda (talk) 19:15, 22 March 2019 (UTC)
In his book Catastrophe (2004), Richard Posner made the point that a lot of potential catastrophes involved a runaway self-replicating process. For example, he talked about high-energy particle accelerators and the possibility that it could create the bad type of strangelet. I think that's where I got the idea that a one out of two billion is not necessarily a slam dunk. Now, the people who came up with that estimate essentially said, well, heck, we just came up with that by fudging the numbers upward looking at how likely a worse case scenario is. And I think that's as far as the conversation went. But I think it could have usefully gone a couple more exchanges about risk and safety.
By the way, I think Wired is a plenty good enough source to include on our main article page. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 22:07, 22 March 2019 (UTC)

Does 'BibCode' have enough upside to be worth the nuisance factor?Edit

Brin, Glen David (1983). "The 'Great Silence': The Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. 24: 287, 298. Bibcode:1983QJRAS..24..283B.

It's a whole vending machine's worth of information. The second link in the list gives a slow download. The third item, Full Refereed Scanned Article (GIF), gives a faster download. And the fifth item is Citations to the Article (71).
I don't want to lose this information, which is kind of why I'm putting it here. But no, I don't think it's either particularly respectful or particularly helpful for our readers. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 19:40, 11 April 2019 (UTC)

Now, the other hand . . .

"The Great Silence: the Controversy . . " (15-page paper), Quart. Journ. Royal Astronomical Soc., David Brin, 1983, page 287, sixth paragraph, "Equilibrium is another concept which weaves through the new SETI debate . . . ", as well as page 298, third paragraph, "Newman & Sagan (4) have suggested that population pressure is not . . . ".

I think the reader wants to know what is it, who wrote it, and when. And I think the simpler style gives this.
And I'm half done. With page 287, I've told readers where on the page and how that paragraph begins. And I want to do the same with page 298. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 22:31, 11 April 2019 (UTC)
I have done the same with page 298. Now, both make it easier for our reader to actually find the information. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 23:59, 15 April 2019 (UTC)

SETI - Radiology as the Way Forward - Signatures of Brains (just like New York City from the Satellites)Edit

Some people turn it the other way: they suggest using Radiology to look for brain signatures out there in Outer Space. Furthermore, given that this proposal has been communicated 20 years ago, about 1000 such signatures have been found outside our Solar system. Debate? Add to the article? (talk) 07:43, 6 August 2019 (UTC)

I'm not sure I'm following you exactly, but on Wikipedia it's best to cite your reliable sources so that your assertions could be verified (especially to ensure that they do not constitute original research or synthesis). El_C 07:49, 6 August 2019 (UTC)
Return to "Fermi paradox" page.