• Bruce Williams

Fermi's Elephant

Updated: May 18, 2021

There was a time when science was much simpler than today and by simpler I am not implying easier but rather fewer variables. This was only about 100 years ago when mankind was still trying to understand what the extent of the universe was, what chemically made life what life was, and what is the "stuff" that everything is made of? The people that were trying to solve these problems were people like Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, Curie, Fermi, Dyson, Carson, Crick, Glaser, Just, and many more.

They used to work on essentially single item problems that could be solved with mathematical equations but those days are gone. Today's solutions are multiple item problems and therefore cannot be solved through single problem mathematical equations they must be solved such that multiple mathematical equations from multiple fields work together to produce a result that is true to the real world. Most of this work is done through computers where the computer is programmed (mathematically written) to solve multiple equations "simultaneously" and find the best match.

Today's method may sound as though it is different than in the past but it is only different in that very very few humans can solve multiple equations describing different physical properties such that the result matches the reality of the combined interactions of the physical properties being analyzed. In place of solving these individual equations all formed into one result we program computers with these equations and let them solve for the results and see if our solution is proper and if not we can reprogram the computer until we find the proper result just as in the past if the equation they came up with wasn't correct they could rewrite the equation based on what they new reality to be and how the equation deviated from that.

To understand how this is supposed to work there is a great example set by Fermi and Dyson. Freeman Dyson was a young mathematician heading up a group of three other mathematicians attempting to mathematically determine what held a proton together. He thought they had a solution but he wanted to talk to Fermi who was at the time the most prominent scientists working in this field of subatomic particles. So he made arrangements to go talk to him and he showed Fermi the results of their work and showed him how well his equations matched what experimental data said about a proton.

Fermi looked at his equations and graphs but apparently did not believe the solution was proper because Dyson had no clear physical model nor a rigorous mathematical basis. Fermi asked Dyson how many parameters he needed to make the equation fit what was experimentally known, parameters being variables with no hard physical basis. Dyson apparently thought about it for a second and said that he used four parameters to make it match. Fermi then told him that he could not support Dyson's work because Dyson had no clear physical model nor a rigorous mathematical basis. Fermi also explained his philosophy that if you had four parameters in your mathematical solution then he could fit an elephant. And if you had five you could make the elephant wiggle its trunk.

This philosophy of having a clear physical model or a rigorous mathematical basis (few if any adjustable parameters) for your solution to a known physical property served the scientists very well since it was just a few years later that quarks were discovered. And since this was so successful in these early days applying it to the present should result in a proper solution much quicker.

Fundamentally then in order to produce proper results in our "models" we must first and foremost start with an accurate description of what the result should be. We cannot just write an equation or a computer model based on a best guess of what the real world might do. Based on this principle any authoritative figure should not be drawing conclusions or stating probable conclusions without putting it in the context of how all of the affected entities on our earth have responded to these changes in the past.

As for those who propagate information on the subject or wish to draw their own conclusions should familiarize themselves first with their own biases and secondly with the history of the generalities of Earth's response two ecological changes. Without having to become an expert in many fields I can recommend two things to help people understand the Earth's history.

  1. The wall chart "A Correlated History of Earth" from The Worldwide Museum of Natural History which can be ordered from the gift shop at

  2. My book Cold Kills, Warmth Gives Life that is available for purchase on Amazon and other fine retailers and bookstores globally.


#Global Warming, #Climate Change, #Environmental Issues, #CO2, #Carbon Footprint, #Reusable Energy Sources, #Weather

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