Friday, June 11, 2021

Poor Caitlin Johnstone - All The Physicists Were Human - And One Of Them DID Have A Secret

caitlinjohnstone  |  In the summer of 1950, four nuclear physicists were walking to lunch from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Their names were Emil Konopinski, Herbert York, Edward Teller, and Enrico Fermi.

One of them was not human.

On the walk the four discussed science, because science is what they always discussed. It's what they lived, it's what they thought about, it's what they ate, slept and breathed. On this particular occasion they discussed the recent spate of reports about flying saucers, and whether or not an alien civilization could hypothetically have discovered how to travel faster than the speed of light.

Once they arrived at the Fuller Lodge for their meal their intense conversation was interrupted by the mundane activities of finding seats and ordering their food. After a brief pause, Fermi's thick Italian accent broke the silence with a question that would later become famous.

"But where is everybody?" he asked loudly.

The way he phrased it caused the other three to burst out laughing; they immediately understood that he was asking, in his own inimitable way, why no signs of extraterrestrial life had been discovered.

They listened with rapt attention as Fermi's luminous mind rapidly dissected the sheer mathematical improbability of humanity being the only intelligent life in this galaxy, let alone the entire universe, given the sheer number of stars and the likelihood that at least a small percentage of them would have habitable planets capable of giving rise to life. This question, and the peculiar exclamation with which it was first expressed, would go on to be known as the Fermi paradox.

The scientists joyfully batted around ideas with the Italian "pope of physics", then finished their meal, returned to the laboratory, and they each went their separate ways.

Fermi worked late, as such rare geniuses often do. Out there in the world with small talk, politics, family and teenaged children, it was difficult to really feel at ease. But in the world of scientific adventure, discoveries and breakthroughs, he always felt in command.

The sunlight had long gone and the lab had gone still, and Fermi was scribbling away in his office, when there was a knock at the door. It gave Fermi a start; nobody ever interrupted him at this hour, that's what he liked about it.

"What is it?" he asked in irritation.

The door opened. It was York.

"Hi," York said.

"York," Fermi replied.

"Can I come in?"

"Yes, yes come in."

York closed the door.

"So," he said. "Do you want to know?"

"Want to know what?"

"Do you want an answer to the question you asked at lunch?"

Fermi just stared.


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