Insight

Is Planet Earth Embedded in a Large Galactic Civilization By Beatriz Gato-Rivera, particle physicist and member of the Spanish Scientific Research Council (CSIC)

The cosmologist Ken D. Olum, from Tufts University, after doing some computations, concludes, "We should find ourselves in a large civilization (of galactic size), but in fact we do not." I want to explore the intriguing possibility of whether we could be immersed in a large civilization without being aware of it. Due to the fact that there are billions of stars much older than the Sun in all typical galaxies, we could be not typical among the intelligent observers of the universe. Typical civilizations of typical galaxies would be hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years more evolved than ours and, consequently, typical intelligent observers would be orders of magnitude more intelligent than us.

Do mountain gorillas know that their "civilization" is embedded in a larger "civilization" corresponding to a much more evolved and intelligent species than themselves Do they know that they are a protected species inhabiting a natural reserve in a country inside the African continent of the planet Earth The answer to these questions is certainly "no," they do not know anything about our social structure, our countries, borders, religions, politics, nor even about our villages and cities, except perhaps for individuals living in a zoo, or adopted as pets.

In the same way, the human civilization of planet Earth could be immersed in a much larger civilization unknowingly, by a much more evolved and intelligent species than ourselves. After all, the Sun is only a young star among thousands of millions of much older stars in our galaxy and the possible existence of such advanced civilizations is only a question of biological evolution doing its job, slowly but relentlessly through the millennia. If this happens to be the case, it is quite sensible to assume that these individuals regard our planet as a natural reserve, full of animal and vegetable species, the Solar System being nothing but a small province inside their vast territory.

In this situation, the answer to the usual remark, "If there are advanced extraterrestrials around, why dont they contact us openly and officially and teach us their science and technology" seems obvious. Would any country on this planet send an official delegation to the mountain gorilla territory to introduce themselves "openly and officially" to the gorilla authorities Would they shake hands, make agreements and exchange signatures with the dominant males About teaching us their science and technology, who would volunteer to teach physics, mathematics and engineering to a bunch of gorillas In addition, one has to take into account the limits of the brain capabilities, independently of the culture of education. For example, let us ask ourselves how many bananas would be necessary for the most intelligent gorillas to understand the equations of electromagnetism (even if they watch TV or listen to the radio).

In the same way, we may wonder how many sandwiches, potato chips or cigarettes would be necessary for the most intelligent among our scientists to understand the key scientific results of a much more advanced civilization. Our intellectual faculties and abilities are limited by our brain capabilities that are by no means infinite. Therefore, it is most natural and sensible to assume that there may exist important key scientific concepts and results whose understanding is completely beyond the brain capabilities of our species, but are within reach of the much more evolved and sophisticated brains of more advanced civilizations.

Ken D. Olum has written a paper about the idea that in the observable Universe, because of the existence of thousands of billions of stars older than the Sun, there must be huge civilizations much older than ours which could have spread widely through the Universe. In his computations, he considers a cosmological mechanism called "inflation" and he also uses the anthropic premise that, "we should find ourselves among the typical intelligent observers of the Universe." He predicts there's a high probability that we are part of a larger civilization. Olum writes, "Nevertheless, we do not belong to such a civilization. Thus something should be amiss, but then what other mistakes are we making"

The answer to this conundrum is that we could well be part of large civilizations spanning our galaxy (or a large region of it) without being aware of it. Therefore, one obviously natural solution is that we do belong to a large, very advanced civilization, but we are not "citizens" of it because of our primitive, low status. Olum makes the mistake of thinking that, first, we are typical intelligent observers and second, that to belong to a civilization implies to be a citizen of it.

Olum's claims that the cosmological inflation should increase the probability that we live in a large civilization are not very convincing. However, this would be the case if there exist thousands or millions of parallel universes separated from ours through extra-dimensions, as in some "brane world" scenarios considered in Particle Physics (every brane being a universe). In this case it would be natural to expect that some proportion of these universes would have the same laws of physics as ours (presumably half of these would be made up of matter and the other half of antimatter), and many of the corresponding advanced civilizations would master the techniques of travel or "jumping" through (at least some of) the extra dimensions. It could even be that the expansion to other parallel universes could be easier, with lower cost, than the expansion inside one's own galaxy. As a result, we could also expect colonizers coming from other universes, building multidimensional "empires."

In many other universes, however, the laws of physics would be different. This does not mean, however, that these Shadow Universes would be necessarily empty of intelligent beings. If some of them had advanced civilizations, some of their individuals could even "jump" to our universe, but we could neither see, nor talk to, the Shadow Visitors (and the other way around). They wouldn't be able to colonize us either.

Let us discuss in detail the possibility that our small terrestrial civilization is embedded in a large civilization unknowingly. In our galaxy there are thousands of millions of stars much older than the Sun. Therefore, it seems most natural to expect that in a reasonable number of solar systems, technological civilizations should have appeared, and a fraction of them should have survived long enough to spread to large regions of the galaxy. It is then very remarkable that the Solar System has never encountered, or been colonized by, any advanced civilization (or has it)

Olum assumes that, in the process of expansion and colonization, the more advanced civilizations will push the less advanced ones to their own level in order to integrate them, or else they will exploit, damage or annihilate them in order to conquer the planet, in the case of aggressive colonizers. However, to integrate a primitive civilization in an advanced one could be a very unrealistic possibility. Among other reasons, the differences between their brain capacities and those of the primitive individuals could be pathetic.

With this insight, it is now much easier to accept the possibility that the Solar System could have been encountered or colonized many thousands, or even millions, of years ago by at least, one non-aggressive advanced civilization, who treated and still treat our planet as a protected natural reserve. Perhaps the Solar System has been visited by aggressive colonizers, as well as non- aggressive ones, resulting in battles or negotiations. Perhaps the aggressive losers will come back in the future to try again.

This view about ourselves, as a small primitive civilization immersed in a large, advanced civilization, leads to the realization that we could find ourselves not among the typical intelligent observers of our galaxy, but among a small proportion of primitive intelligent observers instead, completely ignorant of their low status.

It could be that all typical galaxies of the Universe are already colonized (or large regions of them) by advanced civilizations. Whether the primitive subcivilizations know or ignore their low status will depend on the ethical standards of the advanced civilization in which they are immersed. If the standards are low, the individuals of the primitive subcivilizations will be abused in many ways, in the same way that in our civilization, large groups of human beings abuse other human beings in weaker positions, as well as animals in general. In this case, the primitive individuals will be painfully aware of their low status. If the ethical standards of the advanced individuals are high instead, then they will respect the natural evolution (biological, social, cultural) of the primitive subcivilizations, treating them as some kind of protected species. In this case, the primitive individuals would be completely unaware of the existence of the large advanced civilization in which they are immersed.

If the Solar System is part of the territory of an advanced civilization, why don't we detect any signal of civilization in any of the planets or satellites in it This would be natural if they had built bases all along the Solar System, including underground and submarine bases on Earth, and some colonies on or below the surface of some solid planets and large satellites (which is what we plan to do in the future ourselves). The simplest answer would be that they do not find the Solar System attractive enough to live in themselves and would therefore have only a few small bases difficult to detect. However, an alternative explanation would be that, being aware of the existence of aggressive advanced civilizations, they would have developed very sophisticated camouflage systems, so that no signals of civilization can be detected by external observers or their space probes. Probably, in many cases, they even manipulate and distort the global data of their planets to fool external observers.

Thus we cannot be sure whether our civilization is the unique civilization inhabiting the Solar System. We should not assume that the data we receive, with no signals of the existence of intelligent life, proves that there is no one out there. The right claim would be that there is no signal of primitive civilizations, like ours, who would allow themselves to be detected by external observers, but nothing can be said about the possibility of advanced civilizations, capable of fooling telescopes, detectors and space probes, who would not allow themselves to be detected.

In the past, people thought the Earth was the center of the Universe, but now we know better. In spite of this, for many human beings the Earth is still the center of the Universe, the chosen planet inhabited by the most perfect and intelligent beings in the Universe: the Crown of the Creation (There are even some regular scientists and "intellectuals" who wonder whether the whole Universe was created just for us, terrestrial human beings, to exist!)

Are we unknowingly embedded in another, more advanced civilization, much as gorillas are embedded in ours Why wouldn't the advanced civilization openly show themselves to us The reason would be that we do not qualify as full members, neither as associates, although we perhaps qualify as pets or "little friends." Why can't we tell they're here The reason would be that, generically, all advanced civilizations are undetectable for security reasons, due to the existence of aggressive advanced civilizations. In any case, why would advanced civilizations allow alien civilizations to watch their cities, laboratories, military installations, etc. when they could fool them very easily instead

If we are one of the "ecologically protected species" of an advanced civilization, one reason for an individual of this civilization to establish contact with us, primitive individuals, could be scientific research, but also simply to have fun and relax: the kinds of feelings which cause us to interact and play with cats and dogs and many other animal species. In addition, if on our planet there are millions of cat lovers and dog lovers, and there are even snake, pig and gorilla lovers, it is natural to expect that there may exist some terrestrial human lovers among advanced aliens. This and similar situations would especially be true among advanced individuals who had to spend long periods of time working on primitive planets, living underground or on boring submarine bases, which would exist if our planet is embedded in another civilization.

The criminals of the advanced civilization could be interested in the primitive individuals as well. We can imagine dozens of different purposes for which primitive individuals could be kidnapped, tortured and even killed, including "high gastronomy" and sadist games. One only has to think of the treatment that some cruel human beings give to their victims, whether they are other human beings (often children) or animals. The ethical level of an individual, or a civilization, does not necessarily grow in parallel with their technological and scientific achievements, or with their level of material well-being.

SETI could really be SETPI: the search for extraterrestrial primitive intelligence, because only primitive civilizations would allow themselves to be detected by external observers. In addition, the primitive civilizations should have reached the appropriate technological level to be able to produce electromagnetic emissions that would allow them to be detected by distant civilizations. As a result, the period of detectability of an average civilization could last less than 500 years (until they learn to camouflage themselves), which makes it very unlikely that one primitive civilization could detect another one. For these reasons, this scenario predicts a rather low probability of success for the SETI project.

I have essentially no opinion about the many strange reports of alien abduction and contact, because I have never done any investigation of these matters. However, I believe that the claims of civilizations much more advanced than us must necessarily sound like ridiculous, hilarious, crazy science fiction ideas. But the same thing would have happened if we had described our TV sets, planes, microwave ovens, computers, etc. to people only 100 years ago. Many people, including many scientists, have a very deep rooted reluctance and aversion to accepting the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial species much more advanced and intelligent than us, who could even visit our planet. I call this prejudice the Crown of the Creation Syndrome (CCS). Curiously, while many religious people are not CCS sufferers, many atheists are. This could be because, while both religions and humanism often overestimate the greatness and uniqueness of the human species, the religions also teach humility.

Copyright 2003 Beatriz Gato-Rivera, All Rights Reserved

To read Dr. Gato-Rivera's original paper, click here.

NOTE: This Insight, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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