Saturday, August 29, 2009

What are the odds of Humaniods evolving again?

Humans take human-level intelligence for granted.  So much so, that our humanoid form seems to prevail any of our notions of intelligent life on other worlds.  Images of Greys, EBENs and other aliens have the same general plane symmetry body plan as us, with two arms, legs, a torso, a head, symmetric features, two eyes, mouth, nose holes, brain, etc.  But what are the chances of life evolving in this way again, either on another world or evolving again here on Earth after humans are gone?

The major problem with this is that life goes through a great number of changes as it evolves over time. At each point, a very specific set of criteria sets the stage for what is eventual deemed successful adaption and what comes to the end of the line. Given what little we know right now, it seems unlikely that changes at each step will follow the same path twice in different ecosystems and different worlds.

Sure, we do have convergent evolution, where multiple species evolve the same abilities in separate epochs and ecosystems.  But is human-level intelligence something that will happen naturally again?  Is having two legs, two arm, a face, etc, something that happens naturally as a matter functionality?  Could there be intelligence as advanced as ours, but in a completely different form?

We don't know anything concrete regarding evolution of life on the cosmic scale.   For years it was assumed that the form of our Solar System was common, and that is what makes life elsewhere likely.  We exist; there's nothing special about us; therefore life like us exists elsewhere.  This is a bit silly since we have no data to support that.   In fact, when we started finding planets in other star systems, the Solar System model proved to be quite unusual.

Maybe our understanding of evolution is still incomplete at the cosmic scale.  Maybe traits we see in Terran life are common on other worlds simply because these adaptions are the most successful in general, regardless of specific ecosystems that may exist.  Before people start declaring this or that is unlikely, let's collect data and find out.

Start sending probes to other star systems and poke about.  The probes will take a long time to get where they're going, but so what.   Unless we humans kill ourselves off (or nature does it for us), our posterity should be around to receive the results of our efforts, so that they can figure this out with actual evidence, instead of relying on unscientific guesses (see Drake's Equation).

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