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“You look at a library—it’s a building. You look inside the building—there are books. You look inside the books—there are sentences. Inside the sentences, there are words. Inside the words, there’s the alphabet—that’s what we’re after. The alphabet that can describe all English language in 26 letters. So we want the same for the physical world, but we’re not there. And we’ve discovered recently we’re not there by a long way.”
Another compelling bit of the Fermi story is the famous testimony that founding director Robert Wilson gave before Congress in April 1969, when he was trying to get money for the lab’s first accelerator.
The Cold War is afoot; Wilson’s being questioned by senator John Pastore:
DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.
SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?
DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.
SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?
DR. WILSON. It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has nothing to do with the military. I am sorry.
SENATOR PASTORE. Don't be sorry for it.
DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.
SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?
DR. WILSON. Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.