Indexed on: 27 Feb '15Published on: 27 Feb '15Published in: Astrobiology
The so-called Fermi paradox claims that if technological life existed anywhere else, we would see evidence of its visits to Earth--and since we do not, such life does not exist, or some special explanation is needed. Enrico Fermi, however, never published anything on this topic. On the one occasion he is known to have mentioned it, he asked "Where is everybody?"--apparently suggesting that we do not see extraterrestrials on Earth because interstellar travel may not be feasible, but not suggesting that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or suggesting its absence is paradoxical. The claim "they are not here; therefore they do not exist" was first published by Michael Hart, claiming that interstellar travel and colonization of the Galaxy would be inevitable if intelligent extraterrestrial life existed, and taking its absence here as proof that it does not exist anywhere. The Fermi paradox appears to originate in Hart's argument, not Fermi's question. Clarifying the origin of these ideas is important, because the Fermi paradox is seen by some as an authoritative objection to searching for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence--cited in the U.S. Congress as a reason for killing NASA's SETI program on one occasion. But evidence indicates that it misrepresents Fermi's views, misappropriates his authority, deprives the actual authors of credit, and is not a valid paradox.