Monks, Bombs and Aliens

How many monks does it take to bless a Thai restaurant?

A slack handful, to judge from the quorum which turned up to bless the new Thai restaurant which opens today in Cambridge on Quayside. I once had an inflatable dinghy blessed by the Pope, and it didn’t sink the one time I took it across Lago Gandolfo by night, so I think that means the food should be good.

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I suppose it is not possible to estimate the number of monks it takes to bless a Thai restaurant in the same way that it is possible to estimate the number of piano tuners there are in Chicago. It requires either empirical study, or a handbook of Buddhist blessing procedures.

The answer to the piano tuner question is arrived at via a Fermi estimation (I learnt that this method was named after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi from one of my students, Naoaki). It seems Fermi had a reputation for making accurate estimates based on little or no data. It is said he estimated the blast yield of the first atomic bomb tests by measuring how far pieces of paper dropped from his hand drifted on the blast wave.

The Fermi estimation leads to the Fermi paradox: why, if there are numberless trillions of exoplanets in the observable universe, have we not run into countless alien species already?

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