Saturday, 7 January 2012

Planet Paprika

Extra-terrestrial travel would be much more appealing, if one could be certain that there was a cafe serving Dobos Torte at the other end:

"In wartime Los Alamos, there was a conversation piece known as the Fermi Paradox, posed by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Given the high overall probability that intelligent life existed elsewhere in the universe, why hadn’t the extraterrestrials made contact? ‘They are among us,’ Leó Szilárd replied, ‘but they call themselves Hungarians.’ The story was told by the Hungarians themselves and it went like this: the Men from Mars were a restless sort and, in search of new worlds to colonise, they long ago came to Earth, landing on the banks of the Danube. They had effectively concealed their true identity, but there were several signs that could give away their Martian origins. One was their wanderlust: they loved to travel and they readily upped sticks; second was their language, which had no known earthly relation; and third was their supernatural intelligence – they knew things, and could think in a way, that no other people did. One could add a corollary: though they often had a profound understanding of the whole spectrum of mere earthly culture, they seemed to understand it, as it were, from the outside."

The major flaw that I can see in this theory is the notion that Hungarians have a sense of wanderlust. They seem to me - and this is borne out by the fact that it was Poles in large numbers, rather than Hungarians, who took the opportunity to move to Britain and work, when EU regulations made it possible - fairly resistant to leaving their homeland, unless they have to. Not that I blame them.

(From a review of a book about Michael Polanyi in the London Review of Books)


  1. Such scientists as Szilard, Wigner, and von Neumann had excellent incentives for wanderlust in those years. Such times as 1848, the late 1940s, and 1956 tended to inspire it also.