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Oxford Scientists Make a More Accurate Prediction of What Aliens Look Like
Astrobiologists took a novel view and used evolutionary processes as their guide.
Artists, science fiction writers, and others have offered varying speculations about what life might be like on other planets. In the earliest days this focus was on Martians and “men on the moon.” The grays are the iteration we’re most familiar with, you know the stereotypical gray-skinned alien with the elongated head and black, soulless eyes. Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and so many others have offered their own, unique visions.
In real life, a few experts believe we’ll discover alien life forms within the next couple of decades, including astronomy researcher Chris Impey and senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak. Others, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, say we may find something like bacteria, under the frozen seas of gas giant moons like Titan, Enceladus, or Europa. But it’s unlikely we’ll be shaking hands with E.T. Or tentacles. Or whatever they have.
The issue for Tyson is that space is astronomically large. Despite advanced technology, we just might be too far away from one another. Time might also be a factor. The advanced alien civilization we’re looking for may either have lived too long ago or aren’t around yet. In the latter scenario, we’re one of the first intelligent life forms to inhabit the universe.
Whether we’ll find sophisticated aliens soon or not, many scientists believe they’re out there. There are just too many Earth-like planets. The Milky Way alone is replete with hundreds of thousands of planets in the inhabitable zone, or more. So if they’re out there, or once were, what might they look like?
Oxford University researchers just wrapped up a study to answer this very question. Their findings were published in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Astrobiology is the study of life elsewhere in the cosmos.
Oxford researchers speculate upon what alien life might look like on another planet. Credit: The International Journal of Astrobiology.
Scientists write that it wasn’t easy making such predictions. Previous speculations employed biology, chemistry, or physics to draw conclusions, a so-called mechanical view. Here, they focused instead on evolutionary processes such as natural selection.
They wanted an approach that wasn’t tethered to our planet’s details. A small number of events caused life on Earth to grow ever more complex. If we can assume life on other planets evolved in a similar way, we can make inferences about them, this line of thinking goes.
Such events are known as “major transitions in individuality,” according to the study. One such event is “when groups of individuals come together to form a new higher level of the individual, such as when single-celled organisms evolved into multicellular organisms.” This took place around roughly 600 million years ago.
Another example is when sexual reproduction came onto the scene. There are only a few such events and they come about when an organism slams up against extreme conditions and must find a way around them. The astrobiologists also made inferences about how biological complexity may come about in space.
How close are aliens in science fiction to those which might truly live? Credit: Getty Images.
Sam Levin is a zoology researcher at Oxford. He began this speculation by pondering what life on other planets might be like. “In our paper,” he said, “we offer an alternative approach, which is to use evolutionary theory to make predictions that are independent of Earth's details. This is a useful approach, because theoretical predictions will apply to aliens that are silicon based, do not have DNA, and breathe nitrogen, for example.”
Levin said he and colleague theorized based on assumed biological makeup. “We still can't say whether aliens will walk on two legs or have big green eyes,” he said. “But we believe evolutionary theory offers a unique additional tool for trying to understand what aliens will be like, and we have shown some examples of the kinds of strong predictions we can make with it.”
Dr. Levin added, “We predict that they are made-up of a hierarchy of entities, which all cooperate to produce an alien. At each level of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and keep the organism functioning. We can even offer some examples of what these mechanisms will be.” We may not yet know whether we’re alone in the universe or not. But if we aren’t, here’s a good guess on what our neighbors might look like.
To learn more about scientific speculations surrounding extra-terrestrials, click here:
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.