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Skeptic Contacted By Aliens - Comments

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 1 by rod-the-farmer


Klaatu, from the planet Vega

???? The star, surely. And

"we are the only bipedal primate "

???? How far along the evolution chain does he go before he comes across the other primates ? They would seem to be different species, albeit closely related to humans. Yes, OK, the bipedal bit is a bit iffy, but I would think the point could be stretched that at least SOME other primates are occasionally if not frequently bipedal.

I agree that bipedal primates may not be the most common extra-solar life form we are going to encounter, but our own evolution has shown that this format is rather successful, and has out-competed and/or out-thought any other potential intelligences for the mastery of the land area of the planet. Dolphins are, like us, bilaterally symmetrical, so one could reasonably assume that the bilateral bit is natures way of applying Occams Razor. Three of any limbs producing motion is likely to be an evolutionary dead end. Four, six and eight all work, but I wonder if the case could be made that controlling all those legs takes brain power that could be better used for intelligence.

I think it should be fair to say our shape may well be a successful type on other planets, without indicating that is is the only shape we are likely to come across.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:12:00 UTC | #304382

Inside centre's Avatar Comment 2 by Inside centre

With the exception of the ones in our solar system, are planets not named after their stars, in numerical order going outwards? Or did i get that from star trek?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:19:00 UTC | #304399

dhudson0001's Avatar Comment 3 by dhudson0001

Since you then have to ask yourself about the effect the habitat/environment has on species evolution, wouldn't the possibilities be endless? Seems the question should be "would conciseness even occur in a different environment, say in a model that didn't eventually favor bi-pedal, primates with opposable thumbs?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:23:00 UTC | #304402

Goldy's Avatar Comment 4 by Goldy

I thought one of the reasons for our relatively large brains was bipedalism - brains went out of the warmer air zone and into the breeze, as it were, allowing it to cool which then allowed it to grow. Of course, this is symplistic - haven't seen large brained ratites recently.
But would a dinosaur necessarily have evolved to a very homnid shape' I know it's pure speculation - but the consensus is the evolution moved them towards birds....
What led to man evolving the way he did? Could dinos have evolved towards, well, us?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:25:00 UTC | #304407

Inside centre's Avatar Comment 5 by Inside centre

Comment #319480 by dhudson0001

And if consciousness does develope, would they develope a society condusive to civilisation? Which may lead us to ask, is there possibly something about the nature of our physiology - other than our brains - that helps create civilisation?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:29:00 UTC | #304413

Ygern's Avatar Comment 6 by Ygern

Rod, do you come from Earth or the Sun? ;-)

I'm hardly qualified to engage in the science of this question, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to say that its unlikely but not completely improbable.

It might be worth investigating which features (if any) in an organism are likely to result in promoting higher intelligence or higher brain to body ratio.

Star Trek: Voyager once used the idea of an evolved bipedal dinosaur for an episode called Distant Origins. The episode was memorable for exploring how dogma and belief could stifle scientific enquiry.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:36:00 UTC | #304419

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 7 by Jay Cee

I do not think it is improbable that intelligent life is physiologically akin to the human being. It may be, like Dan Dennet says, that there are only certain tricks in design space, or like RD says, in multidimensional space, which can be traversed by evolution. There may only be a few paths to creating an intelligent lifeform, limiting the appearance of the alien. For example, I can imagine that intelligent life MUST possess vocal chords in order to evolve oral communication in order to evolve a particular brain structure. If "laws" like these do exist then maybe it is not so illogical to picture aliens as human-like.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:46:00 UTC | #304439

Vanitas's Avatar Comment 8 by Vanitas

Very interesting question. I'm guessing we should first consider the likelihood of tetrapods evolving, since we owe our existence to them.

But then again, one need only look at the octopus to see that being a tetrapod, a vertebrate, or even living on land are not prerequisites for developing intelligence.

Who's to say the first alien species we encounter won't look like mollusks, traveling around in liquid-filled containers?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 15:00:00 UTC | #304463

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 9 by a non e-moose

The probabillity we can conclude with the very limited sample we have to work with is that one humanoid species (or genus?) evolves per 4 billion years, or more.

Suppose you have a sample of 100 planets supporting life. Combined, they will have several hundred of billions of years of evolution, so it may not be all that improbable.

Something Shermer is not considering is also that a humanoid form may be particularly suited for intelligence, so if we have been contacted by aliens, I don't think its so very unlikely that they look simmilar to humans.

That said, I have yet to hear a UFO story i find convincing.

EDIT: by the way, is Shermer on this website, or is the question at the end directed towards the readers of his blog?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 15:09:00 UTC | #304472

Lana's Avatar Comment 10 by Lana

I went to college at night while working full time and raising a child so I tried to get by with as little work as possible. I once submitted the same paper to three classes titled "Bipedalism - one small step for humans, one giant step for humankind." I think I got three different grades.

That was okay. I was just trying to keep from flunking out and was happy to use the same paper for three very different classes. This was in the olden days before computers and I'm still a lousy typist.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 15:23:00 UTC | #304495

m2fergus's Avatar Comment 11 by m2fergus

Although it might be possible to converge on bipedalism by some alternative means there are clearly so many other functional body plans. The true biodiversity of Earth is still unrevealed - new microbial species are still being discovered in soil samples. And if alternative biochemistries actually exist the number of potential environments grows enormously, so even more 'designs' need to be considered.

Their psychology would be determined by their origins, most likely. An intelligent alien whose species was solitary might not feel loneliness or empathy. A species similar to the social insects might have no sense of self-worth, deploying itself as a piece of equipment regardless of its intelligence. A species that hibernates regularly might be compelled to make stockpiles of everything from food to doomsday weapons, depending on its intelligence.

If aliens really do come to Earth they'll be really confused. Depending on how they investigated humanity, they might come to the conclusion that Earth is inhabited by creatures called 'users', each user starting life off as a 'newb' and developing into different castes called 'bloggers' and 'hackers' and 'administrators'. They would have to examine us for a very long time to hope to understand us, even if they possess unimaginable technology.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 15:41:00 UTC | #304522

quantum_flux's Avatar Comment 12 by quantum_flux

I don't know why a species from a different planet can't have wheels or nuclear thrusters and be made of metal instead of having legs and skin. Why can't metal or nanotube cells arise in nature Mr D!? I think they probably can given the right conditions, the only necessary key for survival is in self replication.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:00:00 UTC | #304559

NeverarGreat's Avatar Comment 13 by NeverarGreat

If I may make a rash assumption...

Consider that highly advanced races have discovered that instantaneous transportation over infinite distances is possible (suggested at the quantum level). If that is the case, they would have little trouble in observing us without our knowledge (AKA the Prime Directive). Then, even if "Androidal" lifeforms were extremely rare, it would still be probable that they would be observing the Earth, simply because they find it interesting to observe a race that looks similar to them.

For them it may be like going back in time, to see similar things that had already occurred in their civilizations thousands of years ago, only this time with an uncertain future.

Just some speculation.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:04:00 UTC | #304564

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 14 by NewEnglandBob

I would think that large insects would be more likely than androids.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:23:00 UTC | #304597

kev_s's Avatar Comment 16 by kev_s

It is tempting to think that there could be some 'convergence' (cringe) towards similar body forms on similar planets.

But evolution works on what is available from the previous generations. It is not just the nature of the environment but the order in which things happen which is important.

I suspect that an alien would have had to evolve in an ecosystem like ours in order to end up like us. The unpredictability of competition, pesky viruses mangling our DNA, parasites, and extinction events like meteor strikes all increase the improbability of an alien ending up like us. (However we can be sure that alien religiots will be as ignorant as those on earth, whatever their body shape.)

This is beginning to sound like one of those religious arguments for ID "impossible so goddidit". But natural selection is able to pull of the trick of *seeming* like design so I wonder if there is some other principle(s) that we have not yet appreciated that can constrain the practical paths an eco-system can follow through 4D design space? If there were some constraints then the seemingly impossible might turn out to be reasonably possible.
So what kinds of things could reduce the number of possible paths that an ecosystem could take while evolving over time?
God? Time-travelling gardeners? I think not. If there is some principle that constrains 4d design space then whoever works it out will be famous.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:27:00 UTC | #304608

kaiserkriss's Avatar Comment 15 by kaiserkriss

When it comes to shape, one should remember the specifics of our gravity that have contributed to our shape and size, together with probably an almost infinite number of other variables.

Certain conditions on planet earth have contributed to our form and shape. These conditions do not necessarily exist elsewhere, and even if they are similar to ours, the results would be different, depending on what evolves as a semi efficient design.jcw

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:27:00 UTC | #304605

Eshto's Avatar Comment 17 by Eshto

Star Trek: Voyager once used the idea of an evolved bipedal dinosaur for an episode called Distant Origins. The episode was memorable for exploring how dogma and belief could stifle scientific enquiry.


I like to debate that episode with my (also a Trekkie) boyfriend. I don't like how they tell the computer to extrapolate how the hadrosaurs would have evolved had they survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, and presto, the holodeck spits out a dino-man.

But then I saw that non-dog that looks exactly like a real dog purely by convergent evolution, so who knows.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:27:00 UTC | #304609

DoctorMelkor's Avatar Comment 18 by DoctorMelkor

I agree with Michael Shermer (more or less). It seems extremely unlikely that an extraterrestrial would look VERY much like us. (I thought Primates was a group of animals on Earth, that includes the apes, monkeys, lemurs, et al, so I think it's impossible in principle for there to be extraterrestrial primates...that's nitpicking though.) But as Carl Sagan pointed out, even a cockatoo is more wildly different than us than the vast majority of aliens in the various abduction scenarios and sci-fi movies.

I think stereo vision seems extremely likely and vision of SOME kind almost inevitable. And of course, death and taxes go without saying.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:29:00 UTC | #304612

Goldy's Avatar Comment 20 by Goldy

Hard, eh? Imagining aliens without getting that "green man" imagery :-) We are bipedal, so the others must be. We are terrestrial, so they must be. We are individual, so they must be.
Could silicon be substituted for carbon? I seem to recall reading something about that. What would be the pros and cons of using silicon?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:29:00 UTC | #304615

kev_s's Avatar Comment 19 by kev_s

Whatever its shape, I'm sure an alien life-form would be welcome to comment on RDnet front pages and would made to feel at home.

It would just have to be able to take the odd insult like '7 eyes' or 'noodly noo noo'

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:29:00 UTC | #304614

kev_s's Avatar Comment 21 by kev_s

Re: Comment #319696 by Goldy

What would be the pros and cons of using silicon?

Are you trying to drag this thread off topic! :-)

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:33:00 UTC | #304619

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 22 by a non e-moose

@quantum_flux
Dawkins wrote about wheels in the ancestors tale. It seems that wheels are a structure that is genuinly irreducibly complex. Of course, on some other planet, there may be some mechanism that would allow for their evolution that we have been unable to think of, but I think it's safe to say bipedal is far more probable than wheeled creatures.

I suspect the same applies to any kind of nuclear energy sources, and I fail to see what the advantage would be of 'metal cells'.

I'm not sure about carbon nanotubes in particular, but nanotechnology is getting plenty of inspiration from structures that have evolved in nature; photonic crystals in butterfly wings and gecko feet are the most comonly cited examples, but I'm sure there are more.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:35:00 UTC | #304625

Goldy's Avatar Comment 23 by Goldy

I'm guessing we could use some examples here on Earth. Gives me a chance to post this link :-)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/4239519/Extinct-Tigers-DNA-unravelled.html
The Tasmanian Tiger, as you can see, looks like it's placental counterpart. Tail, pointy face, teeth, doggy/feline shaped body. Yet, apparently, the kangaroo is the marsupial equivalent of a deer and one wouldn't have to be stoned out of their tree to see any similarity.
Of course, they have a common origin...at some point, so the genetic information is, to a certain extent, shared, which might account for a lot of the similarities (pentadactyly [sp?], limb numbers, eyes, etc)...

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:38:00 UTC | #304631

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 24 by a non e-moose

@Goldy
I very much doubt we'll be finding any silicon based life forms. It is true that silicon can form chains simmilar to good old organic carbon molecules, but the chains are not nearly as stable.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:48:00 UTC | #304652

Goldy's Avatar Comment 25 by Goldy

Comment #319733 by a non e-moose
I was guessing the stability might be an issue. Shows how long ago I read that ;-)

So...are we stuck with carbon? And water? Does that mean life is restricted to, well, Earths?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 16:51:00 UTC | #304656

speciman1729's Avatar Comment 26 by speciman1729

Carbon and water is your best bet, although there's an off chance carbon and ammonia might work.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 17:48:00 UTC | #304723

quantum_flux's Avatar Comment 27 by quantum_flux

I meant to say that all in a rhetorical matter of fact way. I wholeheartedly believe a robot could evolve intelligence and replicate. The advantages of metal cells is that they can create (no storage necessary if the environment is acidic enough) energy much in the way a battery does (by redox reaction), they're ductile yet have a high tensile strength. Nuclear thrusters could evolve on a planet that has a lot of radioactive material and lead or other heavy metals....mainly, there is no reason in particular to assume that the only self replicating and conscious material is made of carbon or indeed even chemical in nature. Given different atmospheres or environments, different life forms should evolve. For instance, what use are legs on an asteroid with low gravitation, wouldn't magnetic wheels work better for motility?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 18:21:00 UTC | #304767

a non e-moose's Avatar Comment 28 by a non e-moose

Of course, in principle there is no reason why life and conciousness can only be made from organic molecules and water. However, there are good reasons why water and carbon are particularly suitable for life, they're not just arbitrarily chosen. I'm not ruling out life based on entirely different chemistry than water and carbon, but I think they're unlikely.

I'm skeptical about nuclear thrusters evolving naturally, but I did read a story a while back about fungus in chernobyl that appeared to be 'feeding' on radiation, so maybe you're on to something.

Batteries do not create energy. They store chemical energy, just like your body does. I'm not sure, but I believe your body actually stores energy more efficiently than batteries. As for ductile and tensile, you're thinking about bulk properties which are either different or insignificant down on the nano scale on which cells function. Metal bones or exoskelons might have some advantages but it would also be very heavy. I believe both nanotechnology and regular terrestrial life can do better.

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 18:54:00 UTC | #304814

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 29 by Cartomancer

Hmm, I wonder if our horizons are not narrowed to certain possibilities. I am thinking, in particular, that a species capable of developing complex technologies, particularly prosthetic technologies, might, given a very long period of stable technological use, actually evolve things it would be completely unable to evolve without its technology.

For instance, should our putative species habitually replace one of its arms with some sort of mechanical augmentation, would it eventually develop smaller, atrophied arms because in its new state it no longer needs to devote resources to arm strength and could better spend them elsewhere? Would those individuals with less costly arms thrive, since their artificial augmetic parts would bring them up to the necessary standards of fitness in that regard? Perhaps, given vast numbers of generations, the species would only develop stumps instead of arms, with otherwise useless nerve endings that would be used to control their implants? This might lead to further specialisation of the implant technology, which would catalyze further biological evolution.

Of course, such a species would probably understand evolution and genetics very well indeed, and may very well just do away with gradual natural selection altogether in favour of genetic engineering. Perhaps we will encounter species that have effectively halted the evolutionary process that created them, or even artificial species that were engineered from scratch by such species, and might have escaped into the wild and begun evolving away from their masters (but not having evolved themselves to where they started). These feral creatures might themselves be bionically enhanced, perhaps even with self-replicating augmetics that mimic evolution in parallel to the evolution of their biological symbiotes.

Yes. I have just finished reading the science fiction novel my beloved bought me for christmas. How did you guess...?

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 19:17:00 UTC | #304833

Rodger T's Avatar Comment 30 by Rodger T

This little gem from over at Pharyngula.



It's pretty hard for someone to draw conclusions on mankind when Darwin had never seen nor heard of UFOs. That's kind of like teaching math but not understanding trigonometry.


http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/01/i_can_still_be_surprised.php#comments

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 20:27:00 UTC | #304884