Where Are the Extraterrestrials?
During a Los Alamos lunchtime conversation that took place more than 50 years ago, four world-class scientists agreed, given the size and age of the Universe, that advanced extraterrestrial civilizations simply had to exist. The sheer numbers demanded it. But one of the four, the renowned physicist and back-of-the-envelope calculator Enrico Fermi, asked the telling question. If the extraterrestrial life proposition is true, he wondered, "Where is everybody?"
In this lively and thought-provoking book, Stephen Webb presents a detailed discussion of the 50 most cogent and intriguing answers to Fermi's famous question, divided into three distinct groups:
- Aliens are already here among us: Here are entries ranging from the great Leo Szilard's suggestion that they are already here, and we know them as Hungarians, to the theorists who claim that aliens built Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues.
- Aliens exist, but have not yet communicated: The theories in this camp range widely, from those who believe we simply don't have the technologies to receive their signals, to those who believe the enormities of space and time work against communication, to those who believe they're hiding from us.
- Aliens do not exist: Here are the doubters' arguments, from the Rare Earth theory to the author's own closely argued and cogently stated skepticism.
The proposed solutions run the gamut from the crackpot to the highly serious, but all deserve our consideration. The varieties of arguments -- from first-rate scientists, philosophers and historians, and science fiction authors -- turn out to be astonishing, entertaining, and vigorous intellectual exercises for any reader interested in science and the sheer pleasure of speculative thinking.AUTHORBIO: Stephen Webb is Lecturer in Physics at the Open University in England and the author of Measuring the Universe.
In response to Enrico Fermi's famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere, physicist Webb critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. He focuses on our Milky Way Galaxy, which to date has yielded no objects or signals that indicate the existence of alien beings with intelligence and technology. His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. Of special interest are the discussions on the DNA molecule, the origin of life on Earth, and the threats to organic evolution on this planet (including mass extinctions). Webb himself concludes that the "great silence" in nature probably results from humankind's being the only civilization now in this galaxy, if not in the entire universe. This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections.-H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY