- Palaeontologist Professor Simon Conway Morris argues alien life would inevitably become intelligent in a new book under the ‘rules’ of evolution
- He said the theory of convergent evolution means species develop similar traits and physical attributes independently but come to look the same
- Life on other planets would likely resemble the creatures on Earth
- It could even mean human-like aliens are living on Earth-like planets
They are often depicted as little green men or even monsters with ferocious teeth and claws, but there may well be aliens that look a lot like humans, a leading evolutionary biologist has claimed. Professor Simon Conway Morris, a palaeontologist at the University of Cambridge, argues that life on other planets may well follow a theory known as convergent evolution. This suggests species will independently evolve similar traits and features to solve particular problems presented to them by the environment. He points to the eye, which is thought to have evolved independently more than 50 times in the history of the Earth, as an example.
Professor Conway Morris claims that as a result of this, life on other Earth-like planets would follow similar evolutionary paths to those on our own planet. If correct, it means the depiction of aliens as human-like in popular science fiction series like Star Wars and Star Trek may not be far from the truth.
Professor Conway Morris, who makes the argument in a new book called The Runes of Evolution, said astronomers were discovering a growing number of Earth-like planets and so it was surprising there had not been any signs of intelligent alien life yet. He said: ‘I would argue that in any habitable zone that doesn’t boil or freeze, intelligent life is going to emerge, because intelligence is convergent. ‘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.’ Professor Conway Morris is best known for his study of the Cambrian explosion that saw a sudden burst of evolution of complex animal life around 542 million years ago. He argues that convergent evolution has governed every aspect of the development of life on Earth.
Aliens are Often depicted as monsters in science fiction, like in the film Alien as shown above, but much of the complex life that develops on other planets could look very similar to the creatures we find here on Earth
He added that proteins, eyes, limbs, intelligence and tool-making are inevitable once life emerges. Even our capacity to experience orgasms is a predictable outcome once life begins evolving. ‘Often, research into convergence is accompanied by exclamations of surprise, describing it as uncanny, remarkable and astonishing. ‘In fact it is everywhere, and that is a remarkable indication that evolution is far from a random process. ‘If the outcomes of evolution are at least broadly predictable, then what applies on Earth will apply across the Milky Way, and beyond.’ He has previously raised the prospect that alien life, if out there, would resemble the creatures we see around us on Earth, with limbs, heads, and bodies. His new book goes further adding that any Earth-like planet should also evolve predators like sharks, pitcher plants, mangroves, and mushrooms, among many other things. Limbs, brains and intelligence would, similarly, be ‘almost guaranteed’. The traits of human-like intelligence have evolved in other species – the octopus and some birds, for example, both exhibit social playfulness – and this, the book suggests, indicates that intelligence is an inevitable consequence of evolution that would characterise extra-terrestrials as well.