Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pondering the Planet of the Apes

Astrobiology Magazine interviews Australian Cosmologist Charley Lineweaver. Lineweaver uses the movie Planet of the Apes to illustrate some of the misconceptions about evolution and its implications for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). It's a pretty fascinating take on how our expectations are shaped by science fiction and on the rareness of human intelligence. No other species has evolved the way we have and even though animals like dolphins have their own form of intelligence, no one expects them—or any other animal—to start building radio telescopes any time soon. And yet we are far closer to the animals we with which we share the Earth than we will ever be to any alien civilization that might exist. Which is what leads Lineweaver to the following conclusion:
"But I still believe that the best evidence we have suggests that we should not expect to see human beings anywhere in the universe except Earth. We should not expect to see Indian elephants or any other forms of life that are genetically, functionally and cerebrally similar to us. I strongly suspect that our closest relatives in the universe are here on Earth, and they’re not likely to be elsewhere."

I used to have the SETI screensaver running on my computer while I was in college. Over the years, I've grown older and more cynical but I still love stories like this one about the possibility of life in the universe.

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