- 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
- Customer Reviews: 79 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life 2002nd Edition
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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
From the reviews:
"Webb offers coherent, understandable, and sometimes humorous coverage of a diverse range of topics. He provides readers with non-trivial insights into research fields they may not have encountered previously . . . I think everyone who has ever considered the possibility that other intelligent civilizations exist elsewhere within our galaxy will enjoy Where Is Everybody? They will find much to agree with, and much to argue about, in this very accessible volume." - Science
"Where Is Everybody? is a delightful mental romp. With a light-hearted, enthusiastic tone, Webb offers lively coverage of UFOs, crop circles, and the books of Erich von Däniken, the infamous proponent of the idea that aliens visited the Earth in the distant past. Science-fiction fans will enjoy the frequent references to Star Trek, and science buffs will appreciate mention of the ideas of Carl Sagan, Fred Hoyle, Frank Drake, and Freeman Dyson. This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever pondered the question, "Are we alone?"
"There have been many attempts to resolve the Fermi paradox, and Stephen Webb.. presents his favorites in compelling detail… [he] writes informatively - even authoritatively… His writing is encyclopedic in scope, lucid, often poetic – and in the end is both enormously inspiring and a little sad if he is right, as I’m afraid he might be, in concluding that we are the only advanced civilization in the Galaxy. Readers are free to differ with Webb’s conclusion, but they will be surprised to learn how convincing it is.
"I have read a number of good astronomy books this past year, but this is the one I regard as indispensable. If I were Robinson Crusoe – shipwrecked and lonely on an island in space -- I would want this book with me."
MERCURY Magazine (published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific)
"Stephen Webb provides a fascinating a guide to the rousing scientific debate over the existence of extraterrestrial life in Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life … . The reader of the book will get a very broad education in many basic fields of science, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology and even psychology. Webb is clear, entertaining and fair to every one of the 50 opinions, and even gives his own solutions in a concluding chapter." (Jeffrey Marsh, Washington Times, January, 2003)
"Physicist Stephen Webb examines 49 hypotheses and theories that attempt to solve the Fermi Paradox and offers his own explanation in this fascinating survey of the opinions of astronomers, physicists and philosophers. … Where is Everybody? is engrossing and thought-provoking, a science book that every fan of science fiction should read." (Mark Graham, Rocky Mountains News, December, 2002)
"Amidst the plethora of books that treat the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, this one by Webb … is outstanding. … Each solution is presented in a very logical, interesting, thorough manner with accompanying explanations and notes that the intelligent layperson can understand. Webb digs into the issues … by considering a very broad set of in-depth solutions that he addresses through an interesting and challenging mode of presentation that stretches the mind. … An excellent book for anyone who has ever asked ‘Are we alone?’." (W. E. Howard III, Choice, March, 2003)
"‘Where is everybody?’ … 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’." (Scientific American, June, 2003)
"In response to Enrico Fermi’s famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advance civilizations elsewhere, physicist Webb critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. … His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. … This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections." (H. James Birx, Library Journal, December, 2002)
"Here’s a fascinating science book filled with ideas for SF writers. Physicist Webb examines the question about where are all the alien civilizations if life isn’t confined to lonely little Earth. … There’s an interesting, accessible discussion of Fermi’s paradox and even the more technical ‘explanations’ are provided in understandable layman’s terms. Very interesting and thought provoking." (Science Fiction Journal, May, 2003)
"The question posed by the title of this fascinating book is Fermi’s Paradox. … nicely organized and laid out for the general reader. Fortunately, Webb’s often witty comments make this an eminently readable book without sacrificing scientific rigor. You may agree or disagree with any of his particular solutions, but on the whole he presents each argument fairly. This is a terrific book for anybody with any interest in the extraterrestrial life question, and perhaps especially for those new to the field. Highly recommended." (Netsurfer Digest, June, 2003)
"In Where is Everybody? Stephen Webb … examines proposed solutions to this conundrum, known as the Fermi Paradox. … The proposed solutions … are well explained, and Webb skillfully argues their pros and cons with science. … Where is Everybody? is a delightful mental romp. With a light-hearted, enthusiastic tone, Webb offers lively coverage of UFOs, crop circles, and the books of Erich von Däniken … . This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever pondered the question, ‘Are we alone?’" (Jennifer Birriel, Astronomy, April, 2003)
"‘Where is everybody?’ … . it became known as Fermi’s Paradox. Now Stephen Webb … has suggested fifty reasonably sensible answers to the puzzle. … Where is everybody? is a classic book and one that you will be happy to refer to for decades to come. It is beautifully written, concise, thorough, interesting, and mentally stretching. This huge subject has been summarized with skill. And there are pages of notes and references encouraging you to read more and delve further." (David W. Hughes, The Observatory, Vol. 123 (1175), 2003)
"There have been many attempts to resolve the Fermi paradox, and Stephen Webb, the author of this remarkable book, presents his 50 favorites in compelling detail … . His writing is encyclopedic in scope, lucid, often poetic … enormously inspiring … . I have read a number of good astronomy books this past year; but this one is the one I regard as indispensable. If I were Robinson Crusoe – shipwrecked and lonely on an island in space – I would want this book with me." (William Sheehan, Mercury, January – February, 2003)
"Fifty ideas are presented … that reveal a clearly reasoned examination of what is known as ‘The Fermi Paradox’. … For anyone who enjoys a good detective story, or using their thinking faculties and stretching the imagination to the limits … ‘Where is everybody’ will be enormously informative and entertaining. … Read this book, and whatever your views are about life elsewhere in the Universe, your appreciation for how special life is here on Earth will be enhanced! A worthy addition to any personal library." (Philip Bridle, BBC Radio, March, 2003)
"In his highly entertaining and thought-provoking book, Where is Everybody, Stephen Webb sets out a host of possible solutions to the so called Fermi paradox, famously posed by the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi." (Markus Chown, New Scientist, April, 2003)
"Webb offers coherent, understandable, and sometimes humorous coverage of a diverse range of topics. He provides readers with non-trivial insights into research fields they may not have encountered previously … . The author cites an impressive collection of primary resource materials … . I think everyone who has ever considered the possibility that other intelligent civilizations exist elsewhere within our galaxy will enjoy Where Is Everybody?" (Jill Tarter, Science, Vol. 299, January, 2003)
About the Author
Stephen Webb is a physicist working at the Open University in England and the author of MEASURING THE UNIVERSE.
79 customer reviews
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This book is a wonderfully informative introduction to the wide range of thinking about the subject of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Stephen Webb uses the so-called Fermi Paradox as a launchpad for the discussion.
The Fermi Paradox is this: The numbers, along with the sound principle that there is nothing obviously special about Earth and its immediate environs, suggest that it's highly unlikely that we are the only forms of life in the Galaxy, and certainly not in the Universe! However, there remains the one incontrovertible fact in the whole discussion: there is simply no evidence for anyone else.
The question is: "Why?"
Webb considers 50 proposed answers to this question. In my estimation, he gives most of them as fair a shake as they deserve (if not fairer), and this is one of the most impressive aspects of the book. In a subject like this, where there is very little concrete evidence to restrain the sort of wild speculation and pontification of which people are so fond, it is very easy to get dogmatic one way or the other and to dismiss others' ideas without fair trial.
Webb, by contrast, proves extremely judicious, balanced, and careful in his analysis of the various proposed solutions to the Fermi Paradox. Obviously his word is not final, but he doesn't pretend that it is. He takes care to remind the reader of the speculative nature of any proposed solution to the problem, including his own.
As a beginner to thinking about extraterrestrial life, I found this book extremely useful as a guide to the options (so to speak) that are on the table right now. He classifies the solutions of the Fermi Paradox as being of three types:
1) Aliens are, or have been, here, but for one reason or another we haven't noticed it yet.
2) Aliens are out there, but for one reason or another they either cannot or will not communicate with us.
3) There are no (intelligent) aliens.
Under each of these headings fall a number of proposed answers to Fermi's question "If there are aliens, then where are they?" Some of them are delightfully thought-provoking, such as the idea that our Solar System is a sort of Galactic Zoo; others are a bit bizarre, such as the notion that we live in a simulation or "planetarium" built by aliens deliberately to deceive us into believing we're alone; and some are frightening, such as the idea that extraterrestrials haven't shown up yet simply because they were long ago annihilated by strange creatures of their own devising, called "berserkers", or the idea that too many alien civilizations have been killed off by a supernova, a gamma-ray burster, or some such catastrophe.
Webb's own (tentative) conclusion is that the solution of the Fermi paradox is that there are no intelligent aliens. He makes a clever analogy with the Sieve of Eratosthenes (used to find prime numbers by process of elimination) to whittle down the number of civilizations that might be trying to interact with us to essentially zero. Again, however, Webb is not dogmatic about this view; he acknowledges that the jury is still very much out on the question. However, he makes a fairly strong argument that the obstacles in the way of the flowering of intelligent life are too formidable to presume, as many do, that they have been overcome very often at all, even in a Universe as vast as this.
That said, I would not bet so much as a dollar of my own money that we are alone. I do not believe Webb has done full justice either to the number of stars in the Universe, to the Mediocrity Principle, or to the difficulties of interstellar communication. That last one really sticks in my craw. Too often, I hear arguments like this: "Sure, space travel is difficult. But it's not impossible, especially for alien civilizations that are surely far in advance of our own!" It took us 35 billion dollars, ten years, and millions of hours of labor from the brightest minds on the planet - just to get to the Moon! (Once we had accumulated the necessary knowledge over the centuries!) That is literally child's play compared with the sort of travel that alien visitation would require. As far as space probes go, we humans - in all our glory - have managed to send a paltry 4 objects out of the solar system, and as far as I know we have been unable to maintain communication with them.
As I say, it's easy (too easy!) to counter this by simply imagining "advanced" alien civilizations who have somehow worked out all the nitty gritty details that we still struggle with. All I want to say (and I am no expert at this point) is that, if there is such a thing as an unsolvable problem, efficient and worthwhile interstellar travel might be it. (Of course, if this is the case, then there may as well be no aliens at all....)
What about communication, via electromagnetic waves or lasers or what-not? Here again, I think Webb's conclusion does no justice to the sheer difficulty of interacting in this way on the scales involved. The distances are so large, the targets are so small, and the possible frequencies are so many that I think it's no cause for surprise or concern that we've found nothing yet. In fact, I think the biggest worry is that, regardless of whether or not aliens are "out there", the task is pretty much equally hopeless in each case!
Also, I'd like to point out that, even with all the resources at our disposal, we have located fewer than 500 confirmed exoplanets to this date (although recently enormous progress has been made by the Kepler mission). I think this shows that, even if you are an advanced civilization, you can't just pick up a telescope, point it at the sky, and find planets - let alone find whatever life may be on those planets!
Too often "alien" is taken as synonymous with "superhuman", and there is just no real reason to think the two are interchangeable.
In any case, buy Stephen Webb's book. Read it. Then read it again! You won't regret it!
4 / 5
I do have two complaints, however: (1) the book is somewhat repetitive, and I frequently got the sense that the same solution was offered multiple times for the sole purpose of reaching a total of 50 solutions; (2) portions of the book are poorly structured and needlessly use scientific concepts which are not adequately explained in the book. This is most notable in the sections of the book that discuss the biochemistry of life on earth.
Bottom line, I really enjoyed "Where Is Everybody?" and I warmly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.