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Spatio-temporal constraints on the zoo hypothesis, and the breakdown of total hegemony

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2011

Duncan H. Forgan*
Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA), Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ, UK


The Zoo Hypothesis posits that we have not detected extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) because they deliberately prevent us from detecting them. While a valid solution to Fermi's Paradox, it is not particularly amenable to rigorous scientific analysis, as it implicitly assumes a great deal about the sociological structure of a plurality of civilizations. Any attempt to assess its worth must begin with its most basic assumption – that ETIs share a uniformity of motive in shielding Earth from extraterrestrial contact. This motive is often presumed to be generated by the influence of the first civilization to arrive in the Galaxy. I show that recent work on inter-arrival time analysis, while necessary, is insufficient to assess the validity of the Zoo Hypothesis (and its related variants). The finite speed of light prevents an early civilization from exerting immediate cultural influence over a later civilization if they are sufficiently distant. I show that if civilization arrival times and spatial locations are completely uncorrelated, this strictly prevents the establishment of total hegemony throughout the Galaxy. I finish by presenting similar results derived from more realistic Monte Carlo Realization (MCR) simulations (where arrival time and spatial locations are partially correlated). These also show that total hegemony is typically broken, even when the total population of civilizations remains low. The Zoo Hypothesis is therefore only justifiable on weak anthropic grounds, as it demands total hegemony established by a long-lived early civilization, which is a low probability event. In the terminology of previous studies of solutions to Fermi's Paradox, this confirms the Zoo Hypothesis as a ‘soft’ solution. However, an important question to be resolved by future work is the extent to which many separate hegemonies are established, and to what extent this affects the Zoo Hypothesis.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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