Thinking About Aliens Stretches the Imagination

The virtue of thinking about life elsewhere is that it forces us to stretch our imaginations. Can we think of alternative solutions to biological problems already solved in one particular way on Earth? For example, the wheel is a comparatively recent invention on the planet Earth. It seems to have been invented in the ancient Near East less than ten thousand years ago. In fact, the high civilizations of Meso- America, the Aztecs and the Mayas, never employed the wheel, except for children's toys. Biology – the evolutionary process – has never invented the wheel, in spite of the fact that its selective advantages are manifest. Why are there no wheeled spiders or goats or elephants rolling along the highways? The answer is clearly that, until recently, there were no highways. Wheels are of use only when there are surfaces to roll on. Since the planet Earth is a heterogeneous, bumpy place with few long, smooth areas, there was no advantage to evolving the wheel. We can very well imagine another planet with enormous long stretches of smooth lava fields in which wheeled organisms are abundant. The late Dutch artist M. C. Escher designed a salamander-like organism that would do very well in such an environment.


The possible life that could evolve in other environments is an imaginative treasure chest.

(TODO: The wheeled organisms described here appear in the Amber Spyglass by Pullman)

Folksonomies: todo evolution art alien life xenobiology aliens imagination

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Evolution (0.976721): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
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Earth (0.742605): dbpedia | freebase
Life (0.706619): dbpedia | freebase
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Philip Pullman (0.554539): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago

 Carl Sagan's cosmic connection
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Sagan , Carl (2000-10-23), Carl Sagan's cosmic connection, Cambridge Univ Pr, Retrieved on 2012-01-01
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  • Folksonomies: science