Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Fermi Paradox

A recent post I read suggested the writer did not accept the reality of UFOs because no one had come up with a good explanation for the Fermi Paradox. This was the idea that if there was other intelligent life in the galaxy it would already be here.

I am inclined, flippantly, to say, "But they are here now. Look at all the unexplained UFO reports."

In fact, the history suggests that the Fermi Paradox grew out of a discussion about UFOs, as Fermi and others walked to lunch. According to that history, they were talking about the latest UFO reports. Fermi then said that if there were a multitude of civilizations in our galaxy, it was strange that no evidence of them had been found.

So, how do we answer the question?

We can always look at the assumptions made. First, that there are a multitude of civilizations out there. Maybe there are but a few scattered throughout the galaxy which would mean they are probably separated by tens of thousands of light years. Contact among them would be sparse until one or more conquered the problem of interstellar distances.

Maybe we have found no radio trace (or limited radio traces) because they have not reached that level of technology... or more likely, have reached it and moved beyond it. We search for alien radio signals based on some human assumptions given the nature of the radio sources in the sky, but other creatures on other planets might not use those same assumptions. We might be searching in vain because we think like humans and not aliens.

Carl Sagan has postulated that we could expect visitation by an extraterrestrial civilization about once every ten thousand years... though I don’t know how he came up with that number. But let’s say it’s accurate. That would mean that sometime in the last ten thousand years aliens arrived on Earth, and that would mean that they would have found our civilizations.

It really doesn’t matter when they arrived or the state of the civilizations they found. I would think that once you found something like that, you’d be inclined to keep watch on it, if for no other reason than it is another intelligent race. And if that is true, then the number of visits would increase as we advanced. Once we reached an industrial civilization, once we began developing machines to make our lives easier, rockets that could leave the planet, atomic power, and began radiating electromagnetic signals that would make us brighter than almost anything else in the Solar System in that spectrum, they would come by to take a look. They would visit with more frequently...

And isn’t that the situation we have today? Reports of UFOs growing from the beginnings of the industrial revolution until we have the thousands of good, solid cases.

Don’t we have some good physical trace cases including radar/visual sightings? Aren’t there some good photographs that can only be explained as either alien spaceships or hoaxes with no middle ground? Aren’t there some very puzzling sightings that involve multiple witnesses, instrumentality and other evidence?

So, the answer to the Fermi Paradox might not seem so flippant when we look at all the evidence. Maybe the answer is that we have been visited but we have failed to recognize the visitors. We’re so busy arguing about the reality of UFO sightings that we have ignored the bigger questions which is who are they and why are they here.


cda said...

Where did you hear that Enrico Fermi & his friends were "talking about the latest UFO reports" when he posed his famous paradox? I have never heard this before. I read that Fermi brought it up at Los Alamos in the mid-1940s, but there are variations on this.

KRandle said...


From Wikipedia (I should learn not to use it)... "In 1950, while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the physicist Enrico Fermi had a casual conversation while walking to lunch with colleagues Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller and Herbert York. The men lightly discussed a recent spate of UFO reports and an Alan Dunn cartoon[9] facetiously blaming the disappearance of municipal trashcans on marauding aliens. They then had a more serious discussion regarding the chances of humans observing faster-than-light travel by some material object within the next ten years, which Teller put at one in a million, but Fermi put closer to one in ten."

cda said...

I have turned up a paper presented at a British Interplanetary Society conference in Nov 1982 where the authors say the famous Fermi paradox dates back 35 years. This would bring it back to the dawn of the UFO era, so it is possible you are correct.

However, I have never heard that Fermi had at any time talked about, written on, or even had any interest in UFOs, so I am still skeptical whether the 'UFO connection' was ever part of his question on "where are they?"

Are UFOs mentioned anywhere in his papers? Perhaps someone can enlighten us (Anthony Bragalia maybe?).

I decline to get into any argument on the likelihood of whether 'they' are here or ever have been here. It is like trying to debate Drake's equation. No thanks!

Alfred Lehmberg said...

Hey Kevin -- here's a poetic treatment including Fermi that might amuse you or your readers:

>> AVG Blog --
>>> U F O M a g a z i n e --

KRandle said...


Didn't expect to engage in a debate but was merely suggesting an answer to the Internet poster who said that no one had come up with a good response to the Fermi Paradox. If some UFOs are alien, then that is an answer. I also suggested that some assumptions made in relation to the paradox might be inaccurate... I mean, how long does it take to populate a galaxy? What kind of world would aliens seek? How long does an industrial or technological civilization last? Might it be that no one is here yet simply because of the collapse of civilizations? Or maybe, as they advance, their priorities change.

But really, I had no intention of engaging in a debate. Merely offered a possible solution.

yeahlv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
number six said...

"We haven't seen aliens, therefore they don't exist!" - fermi's "paradox" always seemed glib & ignorant to me.

I mean, not that they've looked usually, but we have tons of evidence that aliens have visited Earth. It's just that it's 2nd or maybe 3rd rate evidence, but it's evidence still I say.

shanen said...

Hmm... I also wrote a blog entry about the Fermi Paradox. Actually, I wrote the first part a couple of years ago, and have been adding some new thoughts recently. My current 'solution' is that the aliens are designed, not evolved, and they are just gambling on whether or not we will survive long enough to design our own replacements.

That led me to go around visiting other blogs that mention the paradox. I definitely reject the UFO angle...

shanen said...

You should use moderation to prevent porn spam like that last comment. You are only encouraging the spammers if you don't.

Another possible resolution of the Fermi Paradox is that the spammers destroy any civilization sufficiently advanced to develop email and something like the Internet...

Unknown said...

Hello Kevin -

I have follwed your endeavors in this field and admire your work. As a fellow Iowan, I am hoping you can help. I am seeking to attend my first UFO related conference and I am seeking direction on which one I should attend. My two requirements:

1. It must take place after July, even if that means waiting until next year.

2. I would like to have the focus of the conference to be of a serious nature. I looked up a few, and I saw that some place as much emphasis on the "pet dress up" contest as they do on the discussions.

Any thoughts would be helpful!


Anonymous said...

Surely the most consistent feature of the UFO phenomenon is the plausible deniability of the evidence. This goes even for the Roswell 'crash debris', the description of which resembles weather balloon type material even though on the balance of evidence it probably wasn't. So we could assume that the aliens are here but don't want it proven that they are here on the level of the mainstream consensus. This is a paradox for the Fermi Paradox.