Once I heard a scientist saying the following:

Imagine an ants' nest and all the ants living there perfectly organized, each one with specific duties to perform for the well being of the whole community. Imagine that nest to be in a wild field but just at the border of a metropolis like New York, London, Paris, Rome, etc.

The ants are not even aware of what is going on just at a short distance from them: human beings doing any type of activity, city traffic, universities, techology, scholars, businesses, markets, banks, finance, space travels, medical research, Higg's boson being discovered... etc.

Now imagine that we are the ants and our world is the ants' nest, and possibly close to us there is eventually one or more civilizations, but so highly developed that we are not even able to be aware of their presence...

My questions are:

  1. Is it possible that in our solar system or galaxy there is such a civilization so higly developed that we are "ants" unable to even be aware of their presence, in this very moment?
  2. If n.1 is possible, how can such a great civilization be "invisible" to us that we listen to radio signals coming from outer space and looking in the deep space with telescopes?
  3. Is it possible that these civilizations will reach a degree of evolution such as their life form will be like energy-based, magnetic-based, non-material or purely spiritual? In this case, how would be their technology?
  4. Maybe the galaxy itself is an inteligent living being and we are sort of its "body bacteria"?

(PS: Excuse me for my not good english...)


I remembered the scientist name and found the original quote in this article, even though I heard him saying it slightly different on a science documentary.

Possibility 9) Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them. Michio Kaku sums it up like this: Let’s say we have an anthill in the middle of the forest. And right next to the anthill, they’re building a ten-lane super-highway. And the question is “Would the ants be able to understand what a ten-lane super-highway is? Would the ants be able to understand the technology and the intentions of the beings building the highway next to them?” https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html

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    $\begingroup$ Have you ever encountered an ant? Those little guys are very much aware of you. I do not know what they are thinking, but they certainly do react to my movement. It is even possible that an entire ant hill attacks you if you try to sit in one. If you are unaware of this, I think you should really try it so you see that what you might call a lower being can actually be pretty damn nasty and even cause real problems for you $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jul 28, 2017 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure this is worldbuilding? It sounds pretty uncertain. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Jul 28, 2017 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ You are asking a lot of questions. Please limit yourself to one question per post. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jul 28, 2017 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 you are missing the point. Ants will attack anything that will consider a treat for them, human being, animal, or alien, but that doesn't mean that thay are aware of human nature or technology. Some ants are even blind they respond to chemical signals. I know that small things can be deadly as viruses but I guess they are not aware to be in a human body and nuclear physics for example. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2017 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 I understand what you say but if you explain the atom or quantum mechanics to your grandma she will eventually understand or maybe become an expert in the field, but you can't do the same with ants or lizards, they will never be able to understand such things no matter how much you try, unless they evolve their intelligence. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2017 at 16:47

5 Answers 5


Before I begin to specifically address your questions, let me point out that the scientist's metaphor is only partially right. An ant is certainly intellecutally incapable of understand what we humans do, but they are also so small that they literally cannot comprehend the world around them. A house is so large that they cannot perceive it as a structure. How do you comprehend a planet when the only things you can see are the grains of sand in front of you?

We don't have that problem (at least I hope we don't!). The metaphor only works on an intellectual level. If there are advanced species in the universe, it's "reasonable" to assume that theire physical stature is commensurate with our own, that they are not so large or so small that we literally cannot comprehend the perception of their houses. We can see and comprehend a planet, after all, so it's difficult to imagine a house so large we can't understand what it is (or, at least, that it's a structure to contain something). Simply put, comprehension of physical size has nothing to do with technology. Ants are no more capable of understanding cavemen than they are humans today.

A better metaphor would be whether or not a World War II radio man could detect someone using a modern cell phone? He certainly comprehends the nature of his search for signals such that, given the right equipment, he could succeed. But he doesn't have the technological background to create that equipment for himself --- it must be given to him.


(1) Yes, it is theoretically possible that even in our own solar system someone may exist such that we don't have the technological capacity to detect them at the interplanetary or intragalactic distances involved. Although our ability to "see" our sister planets is getting good enough that the ability to hide an alien "house" is getting harder, it's still possible to hide.

(2) For one thing, our alien neighbors may not be using electromagnetic communications. Or, if they are, they're using frequencies well beyond our ability to discern. We're just beginning to use terahertz frequencies, so what if our neighbors are using petahertz or even exahertz frequencies? And, as I mentioned, what if they're not using electromagnetics at all? Modulated gravity waves would be uber-cool, but we're just beginning to detect the waves, much less a modulated wave.

The real question is how they would hide themselves from visible light spectrums. But, the further distant they are, the easier it is to simply "hide in plain sight." Nevermind reflective cloaking tech that we're only beginning to investigate.

(3) I cannot answer this as it is purely speculation. To the best of my knowledge, we have no actual example of anyone that has "evolved" beyond a physical manifestation.

(4) I can't answer this one, either. We have no examples of a "micro" intelligence that is symbiotic with a "macro" intelligence.


Is it possible that in our solar system or galaxy there is such a civilization so higly developed that we are "ants" unable to even be aware of their presence, in this very moment?

Yes. We know about hundreds of planets around other stars here in our galaxy; and we do not have the technology to capture an image of even one of them. Not even around our nearest star. If we can't capture an image of a planet a few light years away, we certainly could not see any structures on it. The Milky was is about 100,000 light years across; a civilization on the other side could have individual structures as big as our entire planet and we would not know it.

how can such a great civilization be "invisible" to us that we listen to radio signals coming from outer space and looking in the deep space with telescopes?

They could be too far for us to see. You aid "at this very moment", and we cannot see that far with a telescope. As for radio waves, they could be too weak; but we should imagine that most technological civilizations would quickly advance, just as we have, to the point their communications are no longer by radio, but by more accurate and efficient (meaning using very little energy) point-to-point laser, or cables (like us), be they metallic or fiber optic or some other material.

Perhaps most importantly; any leakage from their communications systems would be unintelligible to us, because it would look like noise. Data compression reduces patterns in signals, and the better it is, the fewer patterns it leaves. This is always a good idea, the speed of light is a universal speed limit, so data compression means fewer bits need to be sent and that means faster communications. If our technology continues, we will still be using data compression a million years from now, it is an "evergreen" benefit no matter how advanced we become. For a very advanced civilization any messaging leakage or missed targets would look like random background noise, swamped out by the real random background noise of a trillion stars churning out massive radio waves in the process of their very chaotic fusion process.

Is it possible that these civilizations will reach a degree of evolution such as their life form will be like energy-based, magnetic-based, non-material or purely spiritual?

Almost certainly not. This is hand-wavy fiction; all life as we know it is a biological machine, all electrical energy that does any kind of work does it by affecting a physical object made of atoms. Stars get their energy by fusing atoms. Our physics explain virtually every physical phenomenon known to man, and although I am in the camp of people that consider our physics incomplete and probably wrongly formulated (due to the serious incompatibility between general relativity and quantum mechanics), it is more like being in the bullseye of the target without hitting the precise center point of the bullseye; it has been exhaustively tested against reality without failing, and cannot be far off the mark.

It doesn't allow "pure energy", unless you count mass itself as a compressed form of energy (which it is; remember $E=m\cdot c^2)$, but if you use that quibble, then we are already beings of pure energy. :-)

Energy must be applied to particles or atoms; you must have action and reaction to get ordered and constrained rearrangement of atoms; which is what is required for any kind of machine, computation, or life. You don't get "thinking" without changing something physical.

In this case, how would be their technology?

That is a matter of fantasy, like asking about the limits of magic. It is up to the author of a fictional story, game or movie to decide how "pure energy" beings would behave and what they would build.

Maybe the galaxy itself is an intelligent living being and we are sort of its "body bacteria"?

You could write fiction that way, but IRL, no it isn't. Its parts do not interact in any way that could be described as life or thinking; the interactions we see are all far too mechanistically explainable by constant forces (mostly gravity) to be actually processing information which is a necessity for any intelligent being. It isn't pattern matching, changing to remember experience, or taking actions that would suggest any kind of goal. The Galaxy is a whole lot of molecules and rocks following gravity gradients, "Falling" basically, and that's it.

To the extent the galaxy is "intelligent", it is because of life forms within it that ARE intelligent. Those (like humans) could cooperate to become more intelligent; just like in a human brain, 100 billion neurons cooperate to make something more intelligent than any one of them. In that case, we are not analogous to bacteria, we would be more analogous to the neurons in a Galactic brain. But still not organized enough to make our Galaxy behave like an intelligent being in its own right, and due to the distances involved, that outcome is probably impossible.


The laws of physics are pretty well known, and hold across the observable universe, so the only reason we don't see evidence of alien super civilizations is they either:

a) Don't exist

b) Are so far away we cannot observe them or evidence of their activities (i.e. waste heat)

c) The aliens are somewhere we don't know how to see, or;

d) They are unobservable.

A and b are problematic for various reasons, but for the purposes of this answer can be put aside.

Answer c suggests they are in environments where we simply don't understand what we are looking at, or would recognize signs of intelligent life. Based on our current understanding of the laws of physics, it is possible that super advanced alien civilizations are running in virtual reality on the event horizon of black holes.

Since theory suggests that information cannot be lost even when matter is absorbed by a black hole, it can be inferred that the event horizons of black holes are essentially massive hard drives containing all the information of everything fed into them. Further extensions of this theory suggest that black holes can be used as hyper fast computers. An advanced civilization would have recognized this fairly early during their evolution and growth as a technological civilization, and drawn up plans to take advantage of this. The use of a black hole as a high speed computer allows the civilization to move far faster in objective time (outside of relativistic effects go being inside a massive gravity field). They could have created artificial black holes to test the theory, but the most stable and longest lasting black holes in the universe are cosmological ones. If it is at all possible, they would have transferred their civilization to the supermassive black holes at the centre of the galaxy, where they can exist for long ages of time (10^100 years).

Since everything about the civilization is contained on the event horizon, and the universe is gradually increasing the mass of the black hole through matter and radiation, we won't "see" anything radiating away from the black hole (and indeed no one will until the background radiation is "colder" than the black hole, at which time it will begin to slowly evaporate....)

Answer d is far more speculative, since it means that "dark matter" is roughly analogous to baryonic matter, and there are dark matter equivalents to molecules, energy flows and so on. Life in the dark matter universe has no way of interacting with the baryonic universe, so entire civilizations could rise and fall without any ever realizing it in "our" universe. In the dark matter universe, they may speculate on the existence of civilizations in the baryonic universe (and probably conclude that it is impossible.....)

  1. In essence yes it is possible that some civilization is out there that we just don't see. If they don't build any mega structures there is no way for us to pick them up in our telescopes. Something the size of the ISS would be invisible to us.

  2. You can look at what China did with quantum entanglement to instantly communicate with a satellite. If an advanced species was talking using this technique we would never be able to detect them since they would be way beyond radios. One of their communications rigs would have to fall to earth and we would have to figure out which is the right quantum particle to listen to if we had to put it back together.

  3. I don't know if evolution would even be involved at a certain point. We are already beginning to understand our DNA. We figured out how to use the polio virus to carry DNA into cells. So in a hundred years, we may already be choosing our own evolution. An alien species may have already gone this route. The question then becomes what do they choose to become and if it even matters. If they can choose their shape then they may change their shape the way we change clothing. This line of logic can go pretty deep if you keep following it.

    If they decided to keep advancing machines until they became the new dominant life form then they may not even use sound, touch, taste or smell. They may skip all of that and just link themselves to each other and happily live a life of constant connectedness with everyone in their lives.

  4. Elon Musk talked about the universe being a simulation. We would never be able to see it since we would have been built within its rules. Not sure if that is the same thing but if there is some life that exists on a galactic scale it would move too slow for us to recognize what it was.


There is very little science that can answer any of these questions because we can not really define life that we don't know. The definition of life and civilization is based on what we have on Earth and as such they don't address other possibility of life and intelligence. There is entire debates on if viruses are alive or not and if artificial intelligence can be considered conscious.

There are a lot of things in the universe we can't see. The universe also so large that we don't know how large it is. So the answer to all of the questions is possibly yes simply because of how large the universe is. Even your question of if the galaxy is an intelligent being could be true because we don't have any way to prove it to be false.


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