The Nursery Hypothesis


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“If the universe is teeming with life, why have they not contacted us?” It is one of the great skeptical-analytical questions that get posed in apparent opposition to the ancient alien theory, which argues that we have been contacted and interacted with non-human intelligences. And, indeed, I would argue that we have been contacted and that there is substantial evidence to argue this case. But, of course, those who primarily rely on skepticism and analysis seldom bother with evidence. 

Nevertheless, they do address an important question, namely: if the universe is teeming with life, and we have been contacted, why is this contact not visible in our everyday life? Why doesn’t our friendly Alien Al land his spaceship regularly on the beach or mountain nearby, to enjoy the beauty of our Earthly landscape and maybe the warmth of a social contact with one of Mankind? 

There are some who will argue that this is actually happening, and that this is precisely what we see every day and classify as UFOs. That the reason why we don’t know more about this daily interaction is because our government has kept all of this under wraps, part of a conspiracy that – they argue – stretches back at least several decades, but maybe even longer, maybe to the dawn of civilization. And that our governments may not necessarily have to be blamed for this, but that our alien overlords may have insisted upon the leaders of the world to keep us in ignorance. 

There is, however, another hypothesis, which tries to explain the apparent lack of daily and visible contact with ET: the so-called Zoo Hypothesis, proposed by John Ball in 1973. This hypothesis states that we are not contacted so as to allow ourselves to develop and evolve naturally without outside interference. Secondly, it argues that an extraterrestrial intelligence may have identified points when contact is appropriate, where the milestone can be technological, political or ethical. 

Indeed, a science fiction equivalent of the Zoo Hypothesis was instrumental in the creation of Star Trek’s Prime Directive, in which the point of aliens making contact with Earth was linked with Mankind’s capability to go to the stars (faster-than-light propulsion) – which by default would be the end of a planet’s isolation and therefore the best time to inform a species of the Big Universe Out There.

The Zoo Hypothesis is based on the totally theoretical assumption that aliens prefer a species to develop independently, or isolated. And it of course assumes that all spacefaring alien beings somehow have worked together and subscribed to this directive. As appealing as the Zoo Hypothesis is to some, it does rely on every extraterrestrial civilization to obey the rules. One would almost have to argue that there is a Pangalatic Council out there that would intervene, for example by sending a civilization/species back to a state where interstellar is no longer possible if it had broken the rules and made contact with a species prematurely. 

Some proponents of the Zoo Hypothesis have argued that despite there being no apparent need for contact, there are nevertheless signs of alien contact in our past. They argue that these signs are the result of accidents (i.e. contact was established, but this was by accident, as the alien race made an error, revealing themselves to us) or are inspections, in which we saw if not met the alien, but the contact was purely limited so that they could assess whether or not we had reached the required development milestone – and apparently failed. 

As fashionable as the Zoo Hypothesis is for science fiction authors, the hypothesis does not stand up to scrutiny when we test it with what our ancestors have left us. Across earthly civilizations, whether it is the Inca, the Maya or the Ancient Egyptians, there is a uniform message, which is that at some point in our past, there were extensive exchanges with non-human intelligences. That the path of human development – civilization – was an adventure that Mankind walked not by itself, but was guided by these non-human intelligences, which we now refer to as “gods”. The gods were seen as culture bringers and civilizers, who, together with Mankind, guided our development. Their names are remembered as Osiris, Viracocha or Quetzalcoatl. Quite often, as in the case of Viracocha, they appeared out of nowhere, civilized a cluster of people, and disappeared. 

The best example, however, is the story of Oannes, which was seen by Carl Sagan as one of the best evidence that we had been contacted by a non-human intelligence. He commented: “I support the contention that a major cultural change did take place with the advent of the Oannes”, and elsewhere noted: “These beings were interested in instructing mankind. Each knew the mission and accomplishments of his predecessors. When a great inundation threatens the survival of this knowledge, steps are taken to insure its preservation.”

What was remarkable about Oannes was that he not only taught people how to create temples, compile laws and explained geometry, but that he came out of the Persian Gulf, rising at daytime and returning to his watery abode at night. He had the body of a fish, but underneath the figure of a man – he was, by all accounts, non-human. 

The first century BC scholar Alexander Polyhistor summarized Berossus’ Babyloniaca and left us the following account of Berossus’s Oannes: “At Babylon there was (in these times) a great resort of people of various nations, who inhabited Chaldæa, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field. In the first year there appeared, from that part of the Erythraean sea which borders upon Babylonia, an animal destitute1 of reason, by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account of Apollodorus) was that of a fish; that under the fish’s head he had another head, with feet also below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tail. His voice too, and language, was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

“This being was accustomed to pass the day among men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and shewed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in every thing which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun had set, this being, Oannes, retired again into the sea, and passed the night in the deep; for he was amphibious.”

This is in stark contrast with the Zoo Hypothesis. Indeed, I would argue that this is the Nursery Hypothesis, in which a developing civilization or species, if it so choses by its own volition, asks for and will receive the help of non-human intelligences along the path of its development. That the universe is teeming with species that are willing to help and that all we need to do is ask. And that if we don’t ask or no longer ask, they will leave us to our own devices, as that is apparently what we want… until we ask again.  

The Egyptian religion, codified by the Greeks as the Corpus Hermeticum, speaks of this master-pupil role. Specifically, it has a precursor to the Grail legends of medieval times, in which it is said that on Earth, a Cup was placed, from which Man could drink, so that those who were called and heard its call, could attain Gnosis – Wisdom. This Gnosis was, specifically, an initiation procedure in which a person was – literally – taken out of his head, to experience that what we perceived with our eyes was but a limitation of reality; that there were realms which were far more complex, far larger, and involved far more intelligences than just the human species. 

In my opinion, Mankind has had a symbiotic relationship with several non-human intelligences, for thousands of years. Our historical record speaks of this repeatedly and wherever we look, we find that the greatest buildings that remain are temples; temples in which our ancestors entered to seek contact and experience the divine as a Gnosis – a direct experience – rather than a dogmatic, analytical explanation, which is what religion has become since. 

In our past, contact with non-human intelligences was not a singular event the way we perceive Contact to be today, mostly through the eyes of science fiction; it was an everyday event, experienced by thousands, every day, everywhere across planet Earth. 

Ball said that the Zoo Hypothesis was pessimistic and psychologically unpleasant. It would be more pleasant to believe that extraterrestrials want to talk with us if they knew we were here. However, he concluded, the history of science is full of examples of psychologically unpleasant hypotheses that have turned out to be true. The problem with Ball’s approach was that he developed in total isolation from the available evidence that showed We Were Not Alone. Or, ironically, the Zoo Hypothesis was developed in confined isolation… and doesn’t reflect the available evidence. 

Image by European Southern Observatory, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.