Of Fermi and Paradox

Before looking at the various proposed solutions to the Fermi paradox, this chapter presents some of the background. I first give a short biography of Enrico Fermi himself, focusing on just a few of his scientific accomplishments (those that I will refer to in later sections of the book). Fermi led an interesting life outside of science, though, and I recommend the interested reader to the biographies of Fermi listed in Chapter 7. I then discuss the notion of paradox, and briefly look at a few examples from various fields. Paradox has played an important role in intellectual history, helping thinkers to widen their conceptual framework and sometimes forcing them to accept quite counterintuitive notions. It is interesting to compare the Fermi paradox with these more established paradoxes. Finally, I discuss how Fermi's name came to be attached to a paradox that is older than many people believe.

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