(ORDO NEWS) — If you haven’t heard of the Fermi paradox, here it is in a nutshell: Given the high likelihood of alien life, why hasn’t anyone gotten in touch yet?
If there are so many other civilizations, perhaps far more advanced than we are, surely at least one of them has been sending messages, probes, or desperately looking for signs of life like us.
Responses to the paradox range from optimistic to downright frightening. Maybe we just haven’t searched long enough and emitted our own tracking signatures for the aliens to find us.
It is possible that aliens will never be able to make contact with other species, destroying themselves long before they get to advanced technology.
One of the more optimistic explanations is the zoo hypothesis . First laid out by MIT scientist John Allen Ball, it suggests that aliens exist and are aware of us, but are quietly watching the way you watch animals in a zoo.
“Among the currently popular ideas about extraterrestrial intelligence, the idea that ‘they’ are trying to talk to us has many supporters,” Ball wrote in his article.
“It seems to me that this idea is hardly true, and the zoo hypothesis is actually the antithesis of this idea.”
“I believe the only way we can understand the seeming lack of interaction between ‘them’ and us is by hypothesizing that they deliberately avoid interaction and that they have carved out the area we live in like a zoo.”
The theory is based on the assumption that several civilizations in our galaxy are at the same stage of development as we are. This may be a reasonable assumption, given the short span of time during which human civilization has developed.
Instead, for the theory to work, there would be primitive life, plus advanced civilizations that survived long enough to be at levels of development “perhaps comparable to what will be on earth in a few million years.”
“The analogy with civilizations on Earth indicates that most of those civilizations that lag behind in technological development will eventually be consumed and destroyed, tamed or possibly assimilated,” he explains.
“So, generally speaking, we only need to consider the most technologically advanced civilizations, because they will, in a sense, control the universe.”
Ball says that even at our own level of technological progress, we carve out areas for natural development (from nature reserves to non-contact peoples that we deliberately leave alone).
“The ideal zoo (or wilderness or nature reserve) would be one in which the fauna within does not interact with or know about its keepers.”
Perhaps hypothetical advanced civilizations are waiting until we are ready to make contact, or until they cross some technological or political threshold.
Annoyingly, the only real way to know if a theory is correct (still possible) is through a process of elimination.
“The zoo hypothesis predicts that we will never find them because they don’t want to be found and they have the technological capability to ensure that,” writes Ball.
“Thus, this hypothesis is falsifiable, but, in principle, cannot be confirmed by future observations.”
He describes it as pessimistic and psychologically unpleasant, preferring to believe that the aliens will actually make contact.
Hidden in Ball’s paper on the Zoo Hypothesis is a small twist he describes as “painful and grotesque”: the laboratory hypothesis. In this version, the aliens don’t talk to us as we are part of an experiment they are doing on us.
“Perhaps we are in an artificial laboratory situation,” he writes.
“However, this hypothesis goes beyond science, because it leads nowhere, it immediately calls into question the premises on which it is based, and does not make any predictions.”
On the contrary, we could at least try to reach out to our zookeepers, as physicist João Pedrode Magalhães suggested in 2016.
“I propose to send a message via television and radio channels to any extraterrestrial civilization(s) that can listen to them and invite them to respond,” the author wrote.
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