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If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life Hardcover – October 4, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0387955018 ISBN-10: 0387955011 Edition: 2002nd

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 2002 edition (October 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387955011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387955018
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

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
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Scientific American

On the way to lunch at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory one day in 1950, Enrico Fermi and three other physicists--Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller and Herbert York--chatted about flying saucers. At lunch, when the talk had turned to other matters, Fermi suddenly said, "Where is everybody?" His companions realized that the talk of flying saucers had turned his mind to the possibility that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that he was asking why, if there is, we have seen no sign of it. The question encapsulates what is now known as the Fermi paradox. Webb, lecturer in physics at the Open University in England, presents 49 solutions that have been proposed for the paradox, grouping them according to whether they hold that intelligent extraterrestrials are here, exist but have not communicated, or do not exist. He makes a splendid and enlightening story of it, concluding with his own solution, the 50th: "We are alone."

Editors of Scientific American


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Customer Reviews

This book was a pleasure to read.
Jay W. Richards
Some basic math and science skills are required, but the book should be accessible to a wide reading audience.
Bruce Crocker
At the end of the book, the author gives his own "solution" to the problem.
Jill Malter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is the most up-to-date and thorough discussion of the Fermi Paradox that I have read. Stephen Webb examines all the popular solutions as well as some esoteric ones, giving us considerable background on each along with the benefit of his knowledge on a wide range of relevant subjects including microbiology, plate tectonics, evolution, intelligence, language, philosophy, as well as astronomy and cosmology. And then he gives his solution: we are alone.

That was Fermi's solution of course, and it is a popular one; however I don't think that Webb comes anywhere near to making a convincing case; and at any rate he is somewhat equivocal about whether his answer applies to the entire universe or to just the galaxy. It is clear that his answer applies only to life as we know it, having a carbon based biochemistry and a cellular structure. My feeling is that intelligent life forms may evolve from some other chemical basis or even from some use of energy and matter we know nothing about.

On pages 237 to 239 Webb presents his argument that we are the only extraterrestrial civilization (ETC) in the galaxy by a process of elimination, i.e., life must be on a planet within both a galactic habitable zone (GHZ) and a solar continuously habitable zone (CHZ) around the right kind of star; must avoid cosmic disasters like supernovae; must have the right kind of moon, Jupiter, and plate tectonics; must evolve beyond single cells; must develop tool use and language, etc. He ends up sifting out everything except us, and the only reason he doesn't sift us out is that he has set us aside since we actually exist!

This is close to sophistry, perhaps, but it has been argued before.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Four guys walk into the caf at Los Alamos for lunch and start discussing extraterrestrial intelligence. They decide that life, intelligence, and conquering the galaxy shouldn't be that hard. Then one of them asks, "where is everybody?" Far from being the beginning of a bad nerd joke, this lunchtime discussion actually took place in the summer of 1950 and Enrico Fermi really did ask the now famous Fermi Question. The discussion and question led to the Fermi Paradox: if the universe is as old as it is, and if the Earth isn't the oldest planet with intelligent life, and conquering the galaxy is as easy as it seems, then where the heck are they?
Physicist Stephen Webb does an admirable job of discussing some possible answers to the Fermi Paradox in If The Universe Is Teeming With Aliens...Where Is Everybody?: Fifty Solutions To The Fermi Paradox And The Problem Of Extraterrestrial Life. It's a tough job, even for a fan of the Fermi Paradox like Webb, since it means being well versed in a wide range of subjects AND it means thinking like an alien intelligence. Webb describes and critiques 49 of his favorite solutions, starting with They Are Here And They Call Themselves Hungarians, and then throws in a fiftieth solution of his own design. The solutions are subdivided into three sections: 1) They Are Here, 2) They Exist But Have Not Yet Communicated, and 3)They Do Not Exist. The book is set up so that after reading Chapters 1 and 2, a person can read the solutions as they wish. Some basic math and science skills are required, but the book should be accessible to a wide reading audience. Albeit not a perfect book, I enjoyed reading Where Is Everybody?, especially since it made me think A LOT!
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Sunny on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life," Stephen Webb has written a clever exposition of 50 hypothetical solutions to Fermi's famous paradox. Webb organizes these solutions into three categories: (1) they (the aliens) are here, (2) they exist but have not yet communicated, and (3) they do not exist. The appropriateness of these categories and the specific selection of solutions are arguable, but I will not address this in this review. The fiftieth solution, Webb's personal view, is a refinement of the view that intelligent, communicating extraterrestrial civilizations (ETCs), do not exist. He believes we are alone. Some of his arguments are persuasive, but only superficially so. They are reminiscent of the ancient argument that the earth is at the center of the universe because it looks that way, or because this view conformed to one or another philosophical dogma. But now, in Webb's view, it is intelligent life on earth that is "alone" and consequently the earth is its lonely center.

Webb makes several assumptions that underlie the solutions he presents and his own conclusions. He does not directly explain them nor even explicitly refer to them. Four assumptions merit particular attention: (1) ETC populations increase without bound, (2) ETCs maintain biological and cultural cohesiveness and continuity over millions of years and tens of thousands of light years, (3) The Kardashev model is the measure of how advanced an ETC is, and (4) At least some ETCs use communication technologies we would recognize. These assumptions are questionable. (Some are discussed later in this review.
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