back to article Can Darwin help us find little green men?

Life as we know it on Earth is mostly ugly, sometimes monstrous, and to a statistically small but nevertheless disquieting magnitude, it's composed of wandering packs of ravaging blood-thirsty wolves. Curiously, this beastly menagerie comes from what is essentially the same biological recipe that also spawned Academy Award- …


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  1. Mike Richards

    May I just say...

    ...that's an magnificently awesome first paragraph - the sort of stuff Carl Sagan would have come up with if he had been in the habit of mainlining scratch-and-sniff panels.

  2. Steve John

    Life on Earth is mostly ugly?

    Come on, that's not fair.

    I'm no hippie, or mental anti-g8 activist that thinks Humans or capitalism are the scum of the Earth, but the diversity of species and the difference in how they look and how they all go about their business is facinating and beautiful.

  3. Charles Manning

    Writing suggestion

    Hey Austin

    Interesting.... but please reorder your daily activities.

    First write.

    Then drugs.

    Apart from enhancing coherency, this ordering will also make you less paranoid while you write. You might even be able see some beauty in nature rather than worrying about the octopus crawling out of your chest and stealing your bong.

    Personally I think it is quite amazing and beautiful how such a chaotic process can work out so well.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Darwin can't but Gary can

    Check with McKinnon on those little green men. He has the inside line...

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    But they all forget

    higher forms of carbon-based life require fake dinosaur bones in strategic strata! Just so they evolve curiosity

  6. David Pollard

    How Profound

    "... the limits of Darwinian evolution will define the range of planets that can support life."

    If a planet doesn't support life then there won't be anything living there.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Astrobiology itself is a field of optimism, observes Baross."

    Does this qualify as the understatement of the month, year, decade?

  8. Peter Mc Aulay

    Why would evolution be different on other planets?

    I'd think life on any sufficiently endowed planet would be just as ugly and as beautiful as life here. As for evolution itself, life expands to fill all niches... Getting started in the first place may be tricky, but we really have no idea how tricky. So it'll be extremely interesting to see if our interplanetary probes turn up any evidence of exo-life in our own solar system.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Peter Mc Aulay

    Inherently life on other planets would probably be similar to as it is here, however important questions are things like:

    Why are humans the dominant species on Earth? By this I mean why did "real" intelligence evolve in ape like creatures and not for example felines or canines or similar. Would this be the case on another planet?

    Would other planets have intelligent life? Remember that what we class as intelligence only evolved between 200,000 and 6,000,000 years ago depending on which yardstick you use. Complex organisms (as complex as us in a cellular way) have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Why did it take so long for intellect to evolve, and is intellect an evolutionary necessity?

    And many more questions that I think would be very interesting to address and complete speculation until we meet something out there.

    Abiogenesis does occur, this is a proven fact. It is also reasonable to assume it has happened elsewhere. If it is the result of a chemical "accident" then all you need are the same conditions. If it is through the noodly appendage of some un-named designer then it seems absurd that they would only design life here whilst at the same time having designed billions upon billions of other stars where they could design life, but chose not to. Interesting to see what it produces elsewhere though.

    So come on boffins, less piddling about with black hole machines and research into crapping penguins and more searching for ET.

  10. alyn


    According to the "god squad" humanity is only 6000 years old. And we're all guilty of in-breeding as Adam and Eve are our ancestors

  11. P. Lee


    And according to Darwin, we're all guilty of in-breeding as a glob of slime is our ancestor.

    The "god squad" don't know how life was made. The "geek squad" don't know how life was made.

    With the current assertion that a few degrees of warming will pretty much wipe out life on earth, it appears that life is rather unlikely.

    In fact, has anyone calculated the probability of getting from the big bang to humans by chance? It might be worth doing that before spending money on seeing if it happened twice.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Yet more lies from evolutionaries

    Just take a look at the picture - that's an obvious Photoshop job. How could Darwin's beard be outside his helmet.

    Science 0 - Individual knowledge 1 (as usual).

  13. Charles Manning

    re:m P. Lee

    "getting from the big bang to humans by chance"

    That implies that humans are the pinnacle of creation.

    In a few hundred billion years slimebobs (just a brain in aspic) may be be arguing as to whether they were divinely created or evolved from amoeba. ... and what happened to those hairless apes that seem to have left a reasonable fossil record?

    We are not "it", we're just chemical reactions like the rest....

    But if you want to think about "the odds", then watch this:

    While genetic algorithms are not real evolution and watches are not as complex as biological entities, the model still demonstrates that unbelievably complex forms can just evolve. It also provides some ideas as to why a species can fail really fast.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    "We are not "it", we're just chemical reactions like the rest...."

    That's a very bad case of low self-esteem. Seek advice.

    You also owe me a new keyboard for your first comment.

  15. Winkypop Silver badge

    Darwin Rocks!

    The invisible sky-fairy brigade need to do a spot of reading......scientific reading, and less of the Kumbaya -ing.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    I'm reminded of the section of Olaf Stapledons almighty tome 'Last and First Men' wherein gaseous beings from Mars invade the earth.

    Profoundly different from us on every level they simply cannot comprehend that humans are living things - living as they understand it.

    Just makes you wonder... if you're going to be going round the solar system looking for carbon based life.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    "Abiogenesis does occur, this is a proven fact."

    Proved by whom? The fact that life exists on earth certainly suggests it has happened, but there is no proof of it. We don't actually know with certainty that it occurred that way.

    "It is also reasonable to assume it has happened elsewhere"

    It's extremely arrogant to assume that it has happened elsewhere. How did you extrapolate that from this one (possible) example? It is just as arrogant to assume it must happen elsewhere as to assume that we're alone, seeing as you don't know how it actually happened and thus have no idea how likely it is. If there are 100^100^100 planets capable of supporting life and the odds of it happening are 100^100^101 to 1, then we got very lucky.

    Do you know something that nobody else does about where we come from?

    Perhaps you can give me the actual likelihood of the occurrence of life and the exact mechanism, seeing as you seem so sure of yourself.

    I'm all agog with anticipation at your revelations.

  18. phoenix


    "I'd like to point out there are many different ways for non-Earth-like life to not use light or chemical energy but use some other form like radiation energy, wave energy, or ultraviolet energy," said Baross.

    Clearly Baross is unfamilier with the photosysnthesis reaction in plants which actually uses the UV part of the light spectrum.

    @By alyn "According to the "god squad" humanity is only 6000 years old. And we're all guilty of in-breeding as Adam and Eve are our ancestors"

    and according to genetic research across the species human there is very little genetic diversity amongst us - sounds like in-breeding to me. I not making a point just balancing the scales.

    Of course being contraversial we used to think the world was flat. So maybe in a couple of hundred years we will look back at current evolutionary thinking and go "how silly of learned people to think it came about in that manner".

  19. jon 77

    *intelligent* Life on Earth is mostly ugly...

    No, I mean enough brain to think about that concept... :)

    I'm sure if a spider or lizard evolved enough to understand and have a look, they would consider humans ugly! standard scifi stuff... :)

  20. jon 77

    its not just life...

    "... the limits of Darwinian evolution will define the range of planets that can support life."

    Darwinian evolution is not just about life, but about surviving! - Evolution will not happen unless generations die, due to harsh conditions, leaving those that survive those conditions to produce offspring that can further survive...

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