Has the evolution of extraterrestrial life already happened?

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Extraterrestrial lifeforms similar to humans should have already evolved on other planets like Earth. This makes it seem all the more odd that we have yet to discover any other civilizations like ours elsewhere in the universe, claims the author of a new book.

Professor Simon Conway Morris, a Fellow at St John’s College, University of Cambridge and the author of a new study on the topic of convergent evolution entitled The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware, argues that there is a universal “map of life” which dictates the manner in which all living creatures develop, regardless of their location in the cosmos.

Conway Morris’s book takes an established principle, the theory of convergent evolution (which states that species in different lineages will independently evolve similar features), and expands it. He suggests this type of convergence is common and has helped guide every aspect of life’s development on earth, ranging from the formation of proteins, the development of arms, legs and eyes, our intelligence and ability to use tools, and even how we experience orgasms.

All of these things, he argues, are inevitable once life emerges. As such, evolution is not random, but is instead a predictable process that follows a somewhat strict series of rules. If this is true, then it would indicate that life similar to that found on Earth would have obeyed those same rules and would have developed on other, similar planets, given the proper conditions.

We shouldn’t be alone…but we are

With astronomers discovering an increasing abundance of Earth-like planets located throughout the known universe, Professor Conway Morris said it’s rather extraordinary that we have yet to find any aliens that resemble and behave like us living on another planet – not to mention any life forms similar to the other living things, plants and animals alike, that live here.

He argues not only that if there are any aliens out there in the cosmos, they would be a lot like people in that they would have heads, torsos, and limbs. He also says that any life-bearing Earth-like planet would evolve other creatures similar to those we’re familiar with, and that there would almost undoubtedly be extraterrestrials with brains and human-like intelligence.

“The number of Earth-like planets seems to be far greater than was thought possible even a few years ago,” Professor Conway Morris said in a statement. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they have life, because we don’t necessarily understand how life originates. The consensus offered by convergence, however, is that life is going to evolve wherever it can.”

“I would argue that in any habitable zone that doesn’t boil or freeze, intelligent life is going to emerge, because intelligence is convergent,” he added. “One can say with reasonable confidence that the likelihood of something analogous to a human evolving is really pretty high. And given the number of potential planets that we now have good reason to think exist, even if the dice only come up the right way every one in 100 throws, that still leads to a very large number of intelligences scattered around, that are likely to be similar to us.”

“The almost-certainty of ET being out there means that something does not add up, and badly,” the professor concluded. “We should not be alone, but we are.”


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