, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 225-234

The myth of the martians and the golden age of Hungarian science

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Enrico Fermi was a man with outstanding talents, he had many interests outside his own particular field. He was credited with asking famous questions. There are long preambles to Fermi's questions like this: — ‘The universe is vast, containing myriads of stars, many of them not unlike our Sun. Many of these stars are likely to have planets circling around them. A fair fraction of these planets will have liquid water on their surface and a gaseous atmosphere. The energy pouring down from a star will cause the synthesis of organic compounds, turning the ocean into a thin, warm soup. These chemicals will join each other to produce a self-reproducing system. The simplest living things will multiply, and evolve by natural selection and become more complicated. And eventually active, thinking creatures will emerge. Civilization, science and technology will follow. Then, yearning for fresh worlds, they will travel to neighboring planets, and later to planets of nearby stars. Eventually they should spread out all over the Galaxy. These highly exceptional and talented people could hardly overlook such a beautiful place as our Earth’. And so Fermi came to his overwhelming question, — ‘If all this has been happening, they should have arrived here by now, so where are they?’ It was Leo Szilard, a man with an impish sense of humor who supplied the perfect reply to Fermi's rhetoric: ‘They are among us’, he said, ‘but they call themselves Hungarians’.

This paper is based upon my book, The Voice of the Martians, Roland Eötvös Physical Society, Budapest, 1994. The book (214pp) is available from the Eötvös Physical Society, P.O. Box 433, H-1371 Budapest, Hungary. Fax: 36-1-201-8682. Cost is US$20 (air mail included). Cheques to Eötvös Physical Society.