Do aliens look like us?

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Do aliens look like us?

Postby Ehkzu » Sun Aug 03, 2008 8:17 pm

I think most scifi readers/viewers assume that intelligent, technological aliens have to look way different from us, and possibly think/act way different as well. As a corollary, I also get the impression that most scifi readers/viewers assume any writer whose aliens do look like us must suffer from a lack of imagination.

But how about this propostion:

Technological aliens probably look amazingly similar to us.

We are, after all, the only technological creature we know--and thus the only kind we know for sure can work. This is the scientific "principle of mediocrity," as it's called (ironically).

And evolutionary convergence is powerful.

And all the alternatives I've seen are like proposing silicon-based life forms: they only make sense in environments dramatically different from Earth's (such as the only liquid available for metabolic processes being methane, which has a far lower freezing temp than water).

Proposing that aliens look like us is to scifi fans as saying there's no Santa Claus is to kids. But I lived through the demise of the swamps of Venus and a Mars with breathable air, and we can survive this as well.

Be strong.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby admin » Mon Aug 04, 2008 6:45 am

Speculation in the absence of information is futile. But I won't let that stop me. Considering how varied the animal and plant life is on this one little planet, my hunch is that the first aliens we meet will be stranger than we can even imagine.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby Ehkzu » Sat Aug 09, 2008 2:48 pm

Re: "Speculation in absence of evidence is futile"

We have a planetful of evidence. This is, after all, a planet, in the universe, which, so far (until or unless we render it uninhabitable), supports life.

Every scientific hypothesis goes beyond what we know, by definition. The difference is that exobiological hypotheses will probably never be proven or disproven.

However, that's probably going to prove equally true for much of the speculation going on today in physics/cosmology. Even the large hadron collider at CERN can't remotely approach the Planck scale. So, in effect, our best microscopes can't see small enough, and the energy it would take to get to that scale is beyond anything we can imagine possessing. We can extract useful information about subatomic reality from astronomical observation, but again that can only take us so far. Likewise mathematical inquiries have gotten us down the pike, but warring mathematical models will remain at a standoff absent experimental evidence.

Yet physicists continue to give it their best shot.

---------------------------------------------------

Re: "Our diversity proves anything's possible"--words to that effect

Our only example of life--this biosphere--shows stunning diversity, and as a veteran scuba diver, I've seen more of it than most.
But this kind of argument fails to address the innumerable examples of evolutionary convergence found in every biotope. A rejoinder of this sort that doesn't address evolutionary convergence is reductionist.

Not to mention the Assumption of Mediocrity, which, while hardly a law of nature, has proved to be a useful starting point for many speculations and hypothesizations.

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And here we have a science fiction/fantasy forum.

Well, in fantasy you can cook up whatever you please. Dragons, magic, yada yada. You just to need to stay true to your universe.

OTOH science fiction isn't fantasy--it's supposed to extrapolate from what we know. That's speculation, and that's why it's also called speculative fiction.

So if someone writes a science fiction story with no basis in science for what they're saying, that's fine as long as they admit that what they've written is fantasy, not science fiction. Likewise if the only basis is other science fiction stories or movies--or movies in general--again, that's fantasy...of a rather inbred sort.

Thus the Star Wars cantina scene is based on putatively science fiction movies George Lukas saw as a child, and has in turn given rise to biologically absurd assumptions on the part of the public at large.

Much if not most of the biology found in science fiction lacks an evolutionary model. It doesn't so much extrapolate from what we know as directly contradict it. OK. Just call it fantasy.

------------------------------

Bottom line: our own world gives us plenty of clues about how life can and can't evolve. I'm simply proposing that we think about what we've discovered about biology instead of just throwing one black box after another at the problem.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Fri Mar 06, 2009 1:01 pm

To think that an alien race on a planet light years from us under lord knows what environmental constraints is going to look like us is not only unimaginative but also homocentric. Just as people of old believed that the earth was the centre of the universe it puts too much importance on the human race. But in the grand scheme of things we're just not that important. In fact we are as insignificant as a drop of rain in the sea. And the chances of our body plan showing up again in another galaxy is incredibly small! Star Trek has a lot to answer for ;)
You know one wily philosopher of old dared to suggest that there were other races than ours out there amongst the stars. He was executed for such thoughts!
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby admin » Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:34 am

HAL Jr wrote:You know one wily philosopher of old dared to suggest that there were other races than ours out there amongst the stars. He was executed for such thoughts!


And who would that be?
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:10 pm

Some fellow by the name of Bruno,14th or 15th century Italian,maybe earlier.(I read it in an old book on the history of astronomy called And there Was Light,very good book actually!)
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby admin » Sun Mar 08, 2009 7:47 am

Actually, Bruno got himself burned at the stake for a variety of heretical religious ideas, though I doubt that his idea that the Earth went around the Sun and that there were aliens on other planets helped. The experience of sailors, who found human beings almost everywhere they went, led almost everyone to assume that other planets were inhabited, right up until the Mariner flybys of Mars and Venus.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:46 am

Ah i stand corrected. It was an awfully long time when i read that book plus its an old book so its facts may not be right.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby admin » Mon Mar 09, 2009 8:27 am

Anyone who thinks aliens will look like us needs to take a look around at ways life on Earth has adapted to various environments. Alien life will be not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:18 am

Yea i agree and posted such on another thread. The chances of two identical life forms appearing on different worlds is so small as to be near impossible!
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby slaven41 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:20 pm

The question isn't whether intelligent aliens will look like us. They won't. The question is, how different will they look? Given that we only have a sample of one planet's life, it's impossible to say what features will be common to many planets' life and what features make Earth's life special. Bilateral symmetry might be common. Or other life forms might amuse themselves by standing by the edge of a mirror waving their stalks and saying "Look at me! I'm an Earthling! I'm symmetric!"

So what features are likely to be common? A few guesses.

Motion.
Limbs for manipulating things.
Senses: Electromagnetic and mechanical waves seem likely. (Sight and sound.) Touch also seems likely.

What else?

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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:53 am

Do you think that coming out of the sea onto the land is a requirement for the development of intelligence? Maybe a planet could have a really strong gravity meaning life on land would be really difficult to establish unless you were wafer thin,but in the sea there's less of a constraint. Or a planet with really low G,intelligent trees!
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby admin » Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:50 am

Hal Clement made some of the best guesses about just how different alien intelligence could be.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby HAL Jr » Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:24 pm

Hmmm yet to read any Clement. So many authors out there,I never know where to start.
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Re: Do aliens look like us?

Postby slaven41 » Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:48 pm

HAL Jr wrote:Do you think that coming out of the sea onto the land is a requirement for the development of intelligence? Maybe a planet could have a really strong gravity meaning life on land would be really difficult to establish unless you were wafer thin,but in the sea there's less of a constraint. Or a planet with really low G,intelligent trees!


I wouldn't consider that a requirement. I guess one way to frame the question (from an evolutionary viewpoint) would be, "What attributes would a creature need before 'intelligence' would be useful?" I could see intelligence being useful in the ocean as well as on land.

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