There’s nothing more frustrating than when your memory becomes blurred and you are not sure if you are recalling something the way that it actually happened or the way you would prefer to think it happened. Such is the case of my experience with the famous ” Gorilla “inattentional blindness experiment” . You might recall it from a few years ago when it was making the rounds on the Internet. Participants in the experiment were asked to watch a short video of a 6 people playing basketball , 3 in white shirts and 3 in black shirts, and count the number of passes the black shirted players made. In the middle of the video, someone in a gorilla costume casually walks across the court but half of the participants did not notice the gorilla. In other words, they were so busy focusing on and attending to their task –they seemingly, didn’t see something that was right in front of them. Take a few moments to watch the youtube video of the experiment and see how you do.
Of course, my preferred memory is that I watched the video without prior knowledge of what was going on and obviously–I saw the gorilla! How could you not? But I realize now that I probably watched the video after the fact –when I was expecting to see the gorilla! For the half of the participants who didn’t see the hairy guy in the costume—they were the victims of what is called “inattentional blindness” . It’s also known as perceptual blindness which Wikipedia aptly defines as “when an individual fails to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.”
But can we take this perceptual blindness and apply it on a cosmic level— most specifically to our search for signals from an ET civilization ? Dr. Gabriel De La Torre, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Human Factors Specialist from Spain, and his co-author, Manuel Garcia, thinks that you can and he just published his paper “The Cosmic Gorilla effect of the problem of undetected non terrestrial intelligent signals” to elaborate further on it. I first made contact with Gabriel after reading his paper “Towards a Conscious Consciousness” and contacting him for his permission to post it on my website and quoting him in the introduction to this Blog. He mentioned at the time ( and I was pleased to hear ) that he would be doing further work in this area. That was 2 years ago so I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from him a few weeks back introducing me to his new research paper and asking for my comments. I was honoured that he had reached out and we arranged a phone call to discuss the paper further. On April 17th, we managed to work around the pesky 6 hour time difference between Spain and Canada and have a delightful and enlightening conversation while I was ensconced in my home office and Gabriel was looking for a quiet spot on a street somewhere in Spain.
But before I talk about the phone call, a few comments about the paper. Published by “Acta Aeronautica”, a peer reviewed scientific journal sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics and dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space, it is understandably academic in nature. You might have to work a bit harder but is worth the read. One of the things that I especially liked about the paper is the introduction of the terms ETI ( extraterrestrial intelligence referring to civilizations from other stars ) and NTI ( non terrestrial intelligence from other dimensions) . Yes , these are big concepts and “new frontier” ideas for which some people may not be ready but I believe that many are. As you may know from previous posts on this blog, I strongly dislike terms like “alien” and “UFO” as they are loaded terms that are not taken seriously so I welcome this far more academic and thoughtful approach.
Now, on to my phone call with the paper’s author. Gabriel was very pleasant and accommodating ,listening patiently to my questions and requests for clarification. I asked him if , in terms of the search for intelligence elsewhere in the Universe, my interpretation of the main point and “take away” is correct: We are not necessarily looking ( or perhaps I should say “listening” ) in the wrong places but, because of the limits of our human perception, we may not be seeing what is right in front of us. In other words, the cosmic “gorilla” could be walking right in front of us but because we are so busy focusing on other things, we are blind to his presence. Once he confirmed my interpretation, I was interested to know who he hoped would be listening to and responding to this new possibility and approach.
Gabriel raised an interesting point that has been brought up frequently by scientists and journalists who are involved in the search for ETI: We have been looking for a long time and have found nothing so perhaps another method and strategy is required.
“Maybe other intelligences or civilizations can communicate in very different ways other than radio signals or typical human ways of communicating” he points out.
One could logically assume that the people that would be most interested in this concept would be the very dedicated folks at SETI ( Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ) who have been laboring for decades scanning the skies for signals that would indicate the presence of an intelligent civilization. Gabriel says that after the publication of his first paper examining this topic , “Towards a Cosmic Consciousness” ( quoted in the introduction to this website and you can find the link under “Good Stuff to Read” on the home page ) in 2012, there was some interest from SETI astronomers but he hasn’t heard much from them since then. Perhaps that will change with the publication of the “Cosmic Gorilla” paper as there has been a good deal of interest from journalists and scientists.
When I discussed the concept of NTI with Gabriel, he told me that be believes that a non terrestrial civilization ” might have some sort of technology that allows them to take short cuts such as other dimensions.” These are big concepts indeed and he agrees that these ideas are far more complex than the concept of extra terrestrials communicating or travelling from other star systems using technology that is more advanced than ours. It seems to me that this idea, given the advancement of our understanding of the universe and the seemingly ubiquitous presence of other planetary systems, not to mention all the sci fi books and movies that deal with the concept of ET, is a much easier “sell” than the concept of beings from other dimensions. Gabriel agrees but he feels that people are gradually becoming more accustomed to the concept of other dimensions or even universes and points to the increase in the number of movies that are based on this concept. Still, he recognizes that these are ideas that might seem “weird” to some people and is concerned that the speculation might be misconstrued or mixed in with other perceptions, such as religion. He stands by the conclusion of his previous paper that humanity is not ready for contact with other life and that we need time to prepare for that . And in order to be ready we need to develop that cosmic consciousness that he speaks of in order to understand that there is much more around us than we can perceive with our limited human consciousness. He points out that a good example of that would be viruses.
” We didn’t see them and yet they were there. But in time, we developed the technology to realize that they were there and understand that they have an influence on our lives.”
But how do we prepare humanity for these kinds of discoveries and ” awakenings”?
Gabriel puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the scientific community. Science, he believes, should be for the people, and sometimes it seems that there is a very large gap between science and society. Which brings the discussion right back to the topic of this blog where we are wondering what will happen when science, and the discovery of life elsewhere in particular, collides with religious or philosophical dogma that does not accept the concept, ( any concept, in some cases ) of life beyond human life. Whether it be life from other stars or other dimensions and universes.
I will not pretend to understand all of the science behind even positing this kind of concept, but I have always held a very broad view of what constitutes life and what could possibly lie beyond our planet. The Cosmic Gorilla Effect reminds me of a debate I had with a fellow member of the astronomy club when I first joined, some 20 years ago. There couldn’t possibly be life Venus, he said , because no life could survive in the extremely hot temperatures of the planet. And I responded with an observation that have used many times since then.. “Not life as we know it..” But who knows what other kind of “life” is out there ( or in the case of NTI—perhaps right around us but unseen ) and how that life has evolved ? It is human nature ( pun intended ) to look at things from our own perspective and apply our own human requirements to what “life” needs to survive and that has been a good starting point. But perhaps it’s time to open our minds a bit further–OK—a lot further–-to consider these new possibilities and be sure that we are not missing what is right in front of us!
So –let’s see what the scientific community does with this and we must remember –the science community has many disciplines. Gabriel feels that we need more people from psychology and neuroscience to help to expand current SETI strategies and I wholeheartedly agree:) As for the people of faith who are perhaps just starting to learn about these concepts—I can certainly understand how this could bring one to a whole new kind of existential crisis . If it wasn’t enough to be pondering the existence of extra terrestrial civilization -now we are presented with theories on computer simulations, other dimensions and multiverses:) Wow—sometimes it’s just too much to think about and we want to go back to simple tasks like planning our grocery list…lol 🙂
What do you think? And it’s OK if you think that it’s all just too weird to consider in any kind of serious way. Whatever you thoughts–we would love to hear from you.
Acknowledgement and heartfelt thanks to Gabriel for sharing his work with me so I can share it with you:) I am certain that there will be more to come!
( Link below to Gabriel’s Paper )