How Enrico Fermi killed all the Aliens

An expression that can mean anything means nothing; when you want to please everybody, you please nobody.

fermi paradox aliens michele roohani extraterrestrial ET

Enrico Fermi, the great Italian physicist, killed all the aliens in 1950 by asking this simple/innocent question: “if extra-terrestrials exist, where are they?” This question has become the Fermi Paradox.

Even though I am a science fiction fan I do agree with the skeptics that, Houston, we have a problem:

a) the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) program to detect radio transmissions from other civilizations has been a failure.

b) the question of the Great Silence remains unsolved; if life is common, why don’t we detect their radio transmissions?

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing (July 20, 1969).

25th anniversary of first moon landing stamps michele roohani stamp collection

I remember the thrill of hearing about it on a hot summer day in Iran; the moon has not looked the same since!

Unlike my father, I am a lousy philatelist (postage stamp collector) but I was able to find the above page I bought in 1994—on the 25th anniversary of “the big step”—among my loose leaves.

andre demir stamps michele roohani

The Drake Equation—an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way with which we might come into contact— is still fascinating to me but I see its light getting dimmer with every “silent year”…

N = R* × fp × nE × fl × fi × fc × L

This once serious equation looks more and more like this cartoon from this very funny site:

the drake equation cartoon michele roohani

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon, Google is offering Internet users a virtual trip to the moon.

I empathize with Fermi’s passion for clarity. I am simply unable to let things be foggy. The Drake equation is literally meaningless because “an expression that can mean anything means nothing.”

Related and Suggested Posts and Resources:

Carl Sagan explaining the Drake Equation.

Google earth lands on the moon.

Other Life not likely to be intelligent.

The new Drake Equation by Susan Blackmore.

The SETI Institute.

5 thoughts on “How Enrico Fermi killed all the Aliens

  1. Please don’t give up so soon Michele! We’ve only been looking for intelligence for a such a comparatively short time.

    I hope that if/when we discover another intelligence it will help our species grow up and realize that we have so much in common rather than focusing on our rather small differences.

    Hopefully we won’t wipe out our entire civilization, through some stupid war or technological blunder, before we discover other intelligences. Auto-annihilation is a very real possibility. We have become so powerful as a species that it could be very easy for us to do (climate change, war, bio-tech, nano-tech, etc.).

    In fact auto-annihilation may explain why finding other intelligences isn’t easy!

  2. Darling SETI is NOT a failure, in fact it has been a great success so far despite all odds. Because the amount of data to be processed is so vast that it will take years to do so. So far only probably a very negligible of data has been analyzed.

    Meanwhile the assumption is that if they are intelligent, they had, will or should have access to electromagnetic transmission. Whether that assumption is any good is a different story.

  3. When you put all in perspective and consider that there is a 4.56 billion year span up to the modern human era, most technological discoveries have taken place within the last century in regards to communication off earth, earth being a small part of the cosmic evolution, and the magnitude of research needed both in time and resources to seek extraterrestrial life by SETI and others, then perhaps Houston this is a Twinkie dinkie nano second in the heart beat of “the possibilities and in seek of what ifs….” although not clear now, but one which has driven us earthlings beyond the quest to merrily discover the how we have become, the reason for our being and what is awaiting after our mortal life.
    I also believe that “an expression that can mean anything means something and not nothing!”

  4. I read your post about Fermi, as I am a cosmology buff. Good, but there isone subtle point that you must consider:

    The closest possible planets to us are at least 50 light years away and they are not even hospitable. So, the hospitable ones, if they exist, are much farther away. There is no reason for any advanced civilization in the Milky Way galaxy, if it exists, to learn or know about us, unless it receives some sort of signal from us. Radio was invented only several decades ago, which means that by the time their signals and waves spread into the outer space, picked up by any advanced civilization, and responded to (if they choose to respond), it will be a few hundred years from now.

    The other way would be for the civilization to be so advanced that it can make wormholes in the fabric of the space-time. Now, while that is in theory possible, we know that the wormholes are highly unstable and almost impossible to maintain. So, the hypothetical civilization must be orders of magnitude more advanced than us in order to be able to do that. We don’t have any evidence that they exist.

  5. Michele joon,
    Beautiful images as always. I cherish your blog. It brings such beauty to my day! Sometimes I find myself drowning in them, transporting into a different place and sometimes a different era. We share a cultural background that adds to the connectivity with your work and with your comments. I get you! So glad to be on your list… ;o)

    Very fondly,


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