The Zoo Hypothesis: Are Aliens Avoiding Earth?
by Josh Hrala  /  November 11 2016

“In 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked a very important question over lunch at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Based on the number of galaxies we know exist, how many stars are inside those galaxies, and how many planets potentially orbit those stars, probability states that there should be alien life. So, where is everybody? This question – known as the Fermi Paradox – raised a lot of eyebrows, because it’s a logical thought when considering just how vast our Universe is.

Enrico Fermi
“Professor Enrico Fermi lecturing on the optical characteristics of neutrons”

While there are many different hypotheses out there that attempt to concoct an answer, one of the best and most thought-provoking is the zoo hypothesis. The zoo hypothesis was thought up in 1973 by MIT radio astronomer John Ball. He posited that, yes, there might well be intelligent aliens out there, but maybe they are simply ignoring us, forcing us to live in a cosmic ‘zoo’ or wildlife sanctuary where they can monitor our activity without disturbing it.

In other words, the hypothesis assumes that alien life is out there, but it’s so advanced, it either does not want to influence our primitive society, or it knows not to get involved with other intelligent lifeforms. This makes sense when you consider that life might have evolved and progressed at a much quicker pace on other planets in our galaxy. The rate at which humanity has progressed over the last 100 years alone sheds a bit of light on how much further along a civilisation that has lasted 100 million years longer than us might be.

“An OC [other civilisation] that is, say, a century younger than we are might not be able to communicate over interstellar distances; a century ago we couldn’t,” Ball explains. “And an OC a millennium older than we are would probably be using a technology for interstellar communications, such as modulated gamma rays, that we humans haven’t yet learned how to do.”

If correct – and it’s important to note that this is all extremely hypothetical – there might be a civilisation out there that is so much more advanced than ours on Earth, we would be worth nothing to them. Ball explains this by comparing how we feel about non-intelligent creatures here on Earth. As he puts it:

“An argument based on relative time scales suggests that the appropriate PEL [primitive Earth life] is an animal such as those in our Ordovician geological epoch, namely mollusks and trilobites. Now I can imagine talking with mammals and birds; indeed I’ve done it, although the conversation was on a pretty low intellectual level. But oysters?”

This notion also harkens back to statements from physicist Stephen Hawking who thinks we shouldn’t broadcast ourselves out into the Universe just in case an advanced – and unfriendly – civilisation might be lurking in the shadows, looking for some primitive life ripe for conquering.

Ball also notes that there are other hypotheses surrounding the Fermi Paradox too, with some being far more popular than others. One of the most popular is that alien life does exist, but is very primitive, or maybe it’s already come and gone? The fact of the matter here is that no one really knows. The only way any of these hypotheses can be proven is with scientific evidence, and we’re working on it.

If the Pentagon Is Hiding Aliens from Us, the Zoo Hypothesis May Explain Why
by Paul Ratner  /  December 26, 2017

“Recent revelations that the Pentagon had an actual alien-hunting division have rocked conspiracy theorists everywhere, adding fuel to the long-held beliefs of many that the government is hiding the truth from us. Luis Elizondo, the military intel official who headed the now-defunct “Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program,” which ran from 2009 until 2012, was so convinced by what he saw that he continued his search for E.T. until this day. He now has a UFO-research startup and alerted CNN that there’s “compelling evidence” we are not alone.

While Elizondo’s evidence may be based on being privy to a number of unexplained encounters with flying objects, the aliens haven’t made their presence very clear. If the universe contains at least two trillion galaxies full of billions of stars like our sun, shouldn’t there be other complex life forms out there by now? It would only make sense. So “where is everybody?” as the Nobel laureate physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked about the absence of evidence and the high probability of alien existence.

There are certainly many speculations about whether the possibility of aliens and their potential motives. It could be that there’s been no contact because they are too far away, and we need for our technologies to catch up before we meet up. They could look like something else entirely so we can’t even perceive them yet. Or maybe we underestimate the uniqueness and preciousness of humanity and we really are alone. But an idea formulated in the 70s takes a different swing at this compelling issue.

The Zoo Hypothesis, proposed by the MIT radio astronomer John A. Ball in 1973, says that aliens may be avoiding contact with us on purpose, so as not to interfere with our evolution and the development of our societies. The human civilization could be essentially living in a “zoo” or a space wildlife sanctuary, where others populating the cosmos dare not go. By staying clear of us, they avoid interplanetary contamination. Perhaps the aliens are waiting for us to reach a certain technological or moral point before they will talk to us. Or they may be simply trying to protect us and themselves. You’ve seen “Independence Day” – there may be a similar movie made thousands of light years away about us.

This idea of the zoo hypothesis presumes that aliens would want to have some relatively benevolent system of belief – perhaps a universally-accepted law about how to treat lower-level cosmic inhabitants. One explanation could be that a higher intelligence would not want to limit the diversity of paths in the universe by somehow interfering with other beings.

The hypothesis makes the most sense in a crowded universe, if there are many civilizations which set up rules by which they govern their coexistence. Of course, if there are many extraterrestrial players, it is also doubtful that one of them wouldn’t have somehow contacted us, even if by accident. Maybe that’s what the Earth’s alien hunters are picking up on – random, unsanctioned interactions. Of course, if we put our tinfoil hats on, it also stands to reason that if there is some kind of Universe-wide law of non-interference with other species, someone at the Pentagon could be in on it.

For a more in-depth explanation of the zoo hypothesis, check out John A. Ball’s paper “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Where is Everybody?”




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