When it comes to UFOs, we’re still floating in a world of ‘what if’

The Alien Research Center, a retail souvenir shop located near the military testing base known as Area 51 in Rachel, Nev., on Aug. 20, 2013. NYT

Re “Long-awaited UFO report offers few answers” (Page A5, June 26): Decades ago, physicist Enrico Fermi pondered whether other intelligent life forms populate so-called Goldilocks planets around the Milky Way, and if so, why we have no evidence of them. He asked, “Where are they?” It’s called Fermi’s paradox.

The astrophysicist Frank Drake later thought about factors perhaps necessary to address Fermi’s question, especially how many technological civilizations exist among our galaxy’s stars. Drake’s equation, with its seven variables, is a thought-provoking first attempt to calculate an answer to Fermi’s question.

Meanwhile, many “what if” hypotheses are inspired by Fermi’s deceptively simple inquiry. For example, perhaps other civilizations have spotted us but regard humankind as too biologically and intellectually primitive to bother with. Or perhaps they regard humankind as a prototypically warring species, endlessly engaged in small-minded belligerence over territory, resources, and power. Or perhaps all intelligent species tend toward self-isolating wariness outweighing curiosity about “the other.”

At minimum, discovery of our sudden non-uniqueness — that this universe isn’t hubristically ours alone — would surely compel a knee-knocking reexamination of our fundamental philosophical principles.

To that point, author Arthur Clarke once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Keith Tidman

Bethesda, Md.

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