Mankind has been gazing into space for some time now, but scientists still haven’t found any evidence that intelligent life exists in our neck of the cosmic woods. The universe is, of course, huge, so we normally just assume that our inability to detect alien civilizations is due to the fact that they’re just too far away. A new report by researchers at the University of Cadiz in Spain suggests that maybe that’s not actually the case, pointing to a very different possibility: we’re simply blind to their existence.
Human scientist have an unfortunate tendency to look for alien civilizations that are, well, human-like. This preconceived notion that life as we know exists elsewhere could be hampering our ability to detect alien life hiding in plain sight, the study explains.
The work, which was published in the journal Acta Astronautica, discusses the possibility of alien life existing in a way that humans quite literally cannot fathom. It’s both scary and fascinating to imagine, but it does make a good bit of sense when you suspend your disbelief for a moment.
“What we are trying to do with this differentiation is to contemplate other possibilities,” Gabriel de la Torre, a neuropsychologist who co-led the study, explains. “For example, beings of dimensions that our minds cannot grasp; or intelligences based on dark matter or energy, which make up almost 95 percent of the universe and which we are only beginning to glimpse. There is even the possibility that other universes exist, as the texts of Stephen Hawking and other scientists indicate.”
To prove that humans are often misguided by their own expectations, the researchers conducted an experiment where they asked 137 people to determine whether structures and features in a number of aerial photographs were either manmade or natural. In one of the photographs, the researchers hid a tiny image of a gorilla to see whether or not the subjects would spot it. The participants did as they were told, but many of them completely missed the gorilla simply because they weren’t specifically looking for it.
The team calls this unintentional bias is called inattentional blindness, and they suggest that a similar phenomenon may be happening with astronomers and the scientific community on a larger scale. Put simply, if we don’t know what we should be looking for, we likely won’t find anything at all, which is exactly what has happened up to this point in the search for alien life.