io9: Weirdest Solutions to the Fermi Paradox
2> The Zoo Hypothesis: John Ball 1973
Though it sounds like something from a Twilight Zone episode, it’s quite possible that we’re stuck inside some kind of celestial cage. ETI’s may have stumbled upon our tiny blue marble a long time ago, but, for whatever reason, they’re observing us from afar. It might be that we’re entertainment for them (like watching monkeys in the zoo), or that they’re studying us for scientific purposes. Regardless, they’ve invoked a hand’s off policy and they’re leaving us alone.
This idea was first proposed by John Ball in 1973, who argued that extraterrestrial intelligent life may be almost ubiquitous, but that the “apparent failure of such life to interact with us may be understood in terms of the hypothesis that they have set us aside as part of a wilderness area or zoo.” We could be part of a vast nature preserve that has been set off limits, free to grow unperturbed by intelligent life. It’s an idea that somewhat related to Star Trek’s Prime Directive in which civilizations are left alone until they attain a certain technology capacity. It’s also an idea that UFOlogists are partial to — the suggestion that aliens are essentially here, but observing us from a distance. Image: ssi.org.