Where are the aliens? Enrico Fermi called the fact that there are so many stars and yet no aliens visiting us a paradox. Perhaps the second half of the paradox is wrong … aliens exist and are living amongst us but we’re so distracted by watching what we know that we complete ignore them. That’s the premise behind the Cosmic Gorilla Effect, and a new study suggests that a simple video experiment with athletes and an ape may prove that we’re not alone … just oblivious.
“The cosmic gorilla effect or the problem of undetected non terrestrial intelligent signals” is the title of a new study published in the journal Acta Astronautica. The “gorilla effect” refers to a famous experiment conducted by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons – cognitive psychologists and authors of The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. A video (seen here) shows six people – three in black shirts and three in white – passing basketballs to only those wearing the same colored shirts. The participant is instructed to count how many times the people in white shirts pass the ball. At the end, they’re asked for their total, given the correct answer, and then asked another very embarrassing question:
“But did you see the gorilla?”
Yes, a gorilla walked between the players and most people are so focused on counting that they miss it completely. The experiment is often used to describe situations like the unreliability of witnesses at crime scenes who are often focused on something else. In their new study, neuropsychologists Gabriel de la Torre and Manuel García from the University of Cádiz in Spain use a “cosmic” version of the gorilla effect to explain why we may not see the extraterrestrials walking through the scenery of our lives.
"If we transfer this to the problem of searching for other non-terrestrial intelligences, the question arises about whether our current strategy may result in us not perceiving the gorilla. Our traditional conception of space is limited by our brain, and we may have the signs above and be unable to see them. Maybe we're not looking in the right direction.”
Garcia and de la Torre conducted their own experiment – asking volunteers to differentiate between aerial views of buildings and nature scenes while hiding a tiny gorilla in one of them. Intuitive people noticed the gorilla more often than those who saw themselves as logical or methodical. One way they explained this is by the concept of ‘reverse pareidolia. Pareidolia is the tendency to see something real or significant in a random array of shapes – the ‘face of Jesus on a tortilla’ or pyramids, buildings or animals in blurry photographs from the surface of Mars. In reverse pareidolia, we’re looking so hard for extraterrestrial beings we’re familiar with (greys, reptilians, robots, etc.) that we completely miss things that resemble nothing we’ve ever encountered. Instead of seeing things where there are none, we’re not seeing things where there are some.
The “cosmic gorilla effect” is entirely plausible, especially when you throw in the ideas of multiple dimensions and the existence of dark matter. However, is it true? Or are we in the “zoo hypothesis” with ETs who would be visible to us but intentionally hide themselves while they observe us?
Here’s another experiment for you. Somewhere hidden in this article is a great name for band. Did you see it?