(ORDO NEWS) — Sometimes Star Trek fans find themselves in the position of having to protect all of the show’s various rubber-headed aliens. Scientifically savvy people naturally think: “There must be a huge variety of life in space. It is arrogant and nonsense to think that alien intelligence will be bipedal humanoids.
How would we even know life if we found it?”. Fair remark. Even the good folks at PBS Spacetime filmed an episode about the possibility of life consisting of one-dimensional cosmic superstrings living in the cores of stars. As the saying goes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
But right now, it’s true – and it can be incredibly depressing depending on where you stand – life on Earth is made up of the most complex forms of matter and energy that we know exist in the universe. Multicellular organisms, protein sequences, DNA and RNA, neurochemical transmission of information – all the best that the Universe has to offer.
On the other hand, the entire observable universe, with its 1 billion trillion stars, is about 15 million times smaller in volume than the entire universe, 23 trillion light years in diameter, according to Forbes. Lots of room for improvement.
However, in this vast universe, aliens may eventually look like rubber heads from Star Trek.
Consider the following scenario: Two people from completely different countries – one from Ghana, one from New Zealand, one short, one tall, and so on. – at the age of about 30 years, they draw one red tree against the background of a green rock.
They meet each other, they see pictures of each other, they say, “My God, what are the chances?” and marvel at the implausibility of all this. And then they realize, “Oh. We both use the same online store, admire the same artists, and have painted about 500 trees before.”
This is the sociological version of what biologists call “convergent evolution” – when similar conditions in different places lead to the same result. That is why bald eagles can fly, and bats can glide a little. Bald eagles are found from Canada to Mexico (according to the National Wildlife Federation), and sugar gliders are found in Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
These two species have never met, and they evolved on completely opposite sides of the globe. We’ll have to go back 300 million years to find their common ancestor, the amniotes, to a time when Earth was a single continent, Pangea.
But both Canada and Indonesia have trees that create height differences between objects on the ground. There are other flying creatures in both countries that can be caught for food. So, in the end, similar conditions led to the appearance of similar signs – winged appendages. “Feathers vs skin patches” is an example of convergent evolution.
Continue this line of reasoning until the formation of life on different planets. Imagine that a special cocktail of Earth-like atmosphere (nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, etc.), temperature and distance from the star, gravity, etc. affects the development of life on a distant planet.
Let us assume that molecules invariably form increasingly complex chains that develop into microorganisms, then into single-celled organisms that compete for resources. Life needs to absorb nutrients, reproduce itself, and so on. In the end, multicellular organisms appear on our planet.
This is what some scientists think – for example, Simon Conway Morris. Morris told The Independent: “If you want to have a complex plant, it will look terribly like a flower.
If you want to be a fly, there are only a few ways to do it. If you want to swim like a shark, there are only a few ways to do it. If If you want to invent warm-blooded animals like birds and mammals, there are only a few ways to do it.”
Morris and others who agree with him, such as the staff at the University of Cambridge who wrote Darwin’s Aliens, say that if life becomes intelligent, it will definitely want to control its environment.
In order for a being to control its environment, it needs tools. Technological development will invariably go faster than biological evolution. And since such a life seeks to survive, it organizes itself on the basis of rules. We end up with Klingons and Vulcans.
Before we imagine a galactic space federation of aliens who communicate in English and drink saurian brandy instead of the usual terrestrial brandy, it is important to consider some of the limitations of convergent evolution as it applies to alien species.
As zoologist and author of The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arik Kershenbaum, said: “The problem is that we don’t know what kind of genes aliens have. So we can’t say it’s something as universal as some of the other limitations of biology on Earth.
Perhaps alien life forms are related to each other in a completely different way, and therefore their sociality can also be completely different. In other words, the key feature of biological life on Earth is the transmission of traits from generation to generation through genes.
Without this copy-paste mechanism, how could life in general (if it is mortal) survive? Also, we have no way of knowing if alien life would treat itself in terms of cooperation, with the same cognitions and emotions as we do.
In the end, it may be useful to think not about a galaxy or galaxies swarming with all sorts of aliens, but that our particular version of life – if it exists elsewhere – may not be too similar to ours. And we can still live in a universe with a disembodied intelligence, complex cosmic strings hanging in the cores of stars, or something else that has not yet been discovered or disproved.
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