According to the world’s space agencies, there are at least two trillion galaxies teeming with billions of stars very similar to the sun at the center of our solar system. Given the sheer enormity of the known universe, it seems impossible that human beings could be the only form of intelligent life to build civilizations. However, if that is the case, why hasn’t contact been made with any alien civilizations yet?
Does the Zoo Hypothesis solve the baffling Fermi Paradox?
This question is the basis of the famous Fermi paradox, proposed by the Nobel laureate for physics, Enrico Fermi. Over the years, the question has caused fiery debates in the world of science. Some people have suggested that any alien civilization that would be capable of communicating with us is probably too far away to reach us. Others have suggested that the aliens could be so fundamentally different to us in genetic make-up that we would have enormous difficulty in even perceiving them. Or perhaps, some have suggested somewhat pessimistically; human beings are the only intelligent life forms in the universe.
One of the most interesting responses to the Fermi paradox is known as the Zoo Hypothesis. The theory was proposed in 1973 by the radio astronomer John A Ball. Ball suggested that it is possible that aliens are deliberately avoiding contact with human beings, despite having the means to do so, because of some universal code.
Given that our solar system and civilization is fairly new in the grand scheme of the universe, it is likely that there are alien civilizations which are much older and considerably more advanced than ours. These alien beings may believe that human beings can raise themselves to a more advanced state, they realize that they will not be able to accomplish this quickly. Therefore, Ball suggests that the aliens are simply leaving human beings alone to develop their civilizations at their own pace.
Ball likened this state to a ‘zoo’ or a wildlife sanctuary where human beings were allowed to flourish in a protected space. However, a more pertinent comparison might be to uncontacted tribes who are allowed to live within the parameters of their own culture in protected spaces while being deliberately avoided by several laws laid down by nation states and international bodies such as the United Nations.
According to Ball, the Zoo Hypothesis is underpinned by the assumption that there is a form universal legal system which must span across all civilizations that are presumably out there. The existence of such an organization might seem like something of a stretch, but it could provide a compelling answer to the Fermi paradox. If it is true, however, it could be a very, very long time before the aliens decide that human beings are ready to be part of a universal community.