There is a problem in Hollywood. What? No; you gotta belive me!
This is a problem that irritated me long before the woke'ness hit our culture as an pleage. My love for science have allways been strongest within biology, and evolutionary history is still something that warms my soul like nothing else. And at some point i realized that if you run evolution again on another planet, then the life that evolves there, may look the same, to a surten degree, but you will be able to taxonicly (outer and inner anotomy -vice) tell cleare differance.
Take the example of the dolphin and the ichthyosaur:
Notice here that they have the same shape and the same basic snoute, an backfin and a talefin as well as simelar-shaped feet, or fins as we call them due to their function. But also notice the differance, wich is key here: the nose-hole of the dolphin have migrated up on the backside of the head rigth above the eye, as well as the original two holes mergeing into one, while the ichthyosaur have obtained two holes. The dolphin have dureing an maximized effecient evolutionary prosess lost its hindlegs for an more streamlined body. Notice also the differance in the tailefines, where the reptile, moveing its spine from side-to-side have evolved a fin going upwards while the mammal, moveing its spine up-and-down have evolved horizontal fins out to the side.
Simply put: you can clearly tell them apart by looking at their taxonomy. And this is between two species on the same planet - with common forefathers at the early amfibians.
Now, you will deffenetly be able to tell alien-species apart from Sapiens, based on the same taxonomy-method. But, if we look at moste of the so-called aliens of popular fiction dureing the past 100 years or so, you are forced to define them as primates, and specificly within the Homo-genre.
This goes back to our early facination with our "sister-planet" Mars, and our speculation about the potential life that may live there. Remember that this was created in a time where the Universe was asumed by logic and lack of knowlege to be created by an god, wich where asumed to also have created life, wich where - before Darwin; asumed to be static. A dolphin where created as an dolphin from the start of time, designed to swim in the ocian's and eat fish.
However, today we understand how dolphins are mammals that adapted to an aquatic life.
But to them, it was logical to imagine Mars haveing humans - the perfect being of the god who created them; in Hes own image (of himself), just with (clearly) a differant culture. It reflects the exploration-times where one could travel the unknown continents and discover humans with vastely differant cultures then our own. The logic followed from there that the same would be true for Mars. After all; why would this god who created it all so perfectly, leave so much of hes creation go to waste in terms of whole empty worlds?
The world - as the Universe, was seen as static, and our planet as the standard. Scientiffic understanding and observation of the Universe have teached us that this could not be further from the truth. In acurdance to the random nature of planet-formation, Earth and Mars is as one should espect based on the laws of nature, from wich they was crafted - rather then designed by gods.
And life on a planet acts as the planet's fingerprint; no planet has the same [life-forms]. Yes, they may look alike, but there are clear differances - that you can taxonimcly recognize.
Lets take the image that i use in the banner of this post:
Let me first point out the clear primate eyes and eye-lids and assosiated membraines, uniqe to the mammals, wich them self is part of Earth's uniqe life-fingerprint [or "life-print", as we may call it]. Also the specialized hairs protecting the eyes is uniqe to mammals. The two nose-holes where first evolved by fish in order to be able to have an neccessary stream of water to the gills, even if the throat is filled by a whole pray. The holes soon optimalized to their chemical detection -potential, wich we call "smell". And this function has been kept troughout all of their aftercomers, includeing primates, as shown in the blue-gray primate above. The upper lip links it again to an primate; an uniqe animal-group within the mammals of Earth. As with the nose, the lower-jaw was evolved by fish, and have been an successfull adaptation wich have been with our evolutionary line ever since.
Lets look at an alternative evolutionary line in terms of eyes:
As we can see here, there are several ways to orginize eyes; not only in one set of two. We have two because we evolved from fish, who evolved from an evolutionary line of worms who had two. Wich we can see from the extinct Opabinia who have 5 eyes, this is something that gone trough their whole evolutionary line; from scorpions to spiders and insects (like the damsefly), as well as the horseshoe-crab. You can also see the smaler Tripos, wich clearly is closely related to the horseshoe-crab, apearently lost the two biggest eyes, wich now have evolved to two bumps in the shell.
And this shell is by the way something that sourrounds the eyes of all the animals that we see in my illustrations above. Their eyes is not soft like ours is. Despite this, some animals here have evolved some sort of eye-protection-spikes or -hairs, much like the specialized hairs arround our eyes. But despite this fact, you clearly see the differance from our eyes and their eyes, right.
Well, you however dont see the differance between our eyes and this blue-gray "alien". But "convergent evolution" some mite then say (or "parallel evolution" as i call it).
Lets take a look at that, then:
But the eye of the smaller, common squid is much more identical to our eye, and represent what we call convergent evolution to detail:
In compareason; our eye:
Notice that convergent evolution between animals on Earth dont even produce identical structures. Another example of convergent evolution in terms of eyes is the crab; wich apearently started off from the Opabina with 5 eyes and ending up with two eyes. Because this is what one think of when we are looking for convergent evolution; number of limbs with the equal function, and not only that they look alike. So exampels of animals with an convergent evolution to us here on Earth is two-legged dinosaurs and kengeroos.
Seen in this ligth; the kengeroo is an much more likeley alien then the blue-gray alien. But then again: its not, because you can taxonomicly link the kengeroo as an mammal - from Earth!
Takeing inspiration from the kangaroo, i made this alien-creature off the bat:
This is what an true alien may look like; evolved to jump, with 3 eyes and an radical differant face-shape then most other things we recognize on Earth. Tough the shape of the face reminds us of an seahorse. As well as it haveing two arms, and being convergent to Sapiens in that cause.
The art of astro-biology
This is the field of science where you ask the question what may evolve on another planet. You re-set evolution and start it over. Now, the way we understand life, and proto-life like viruses, is that it need information in terms of molecyles. In proto-life it amounted to RNA at first; molecyles lineing up in one single string, with the ability to copy itself. Then, at the overlapping beginning from viruses to what we recognize as liveing organisms, we see the doubble-stringed DNA, wich allowed to store more information then our current super-computers.
So, is there alternatives? Well, i would say that the RNA is an must for any potential proto-life. And without DNA, life, or proto-life mite as well have been stuck at exactly that; proto-life. Dureing all of the about 3.8 billion years of life on Earth, the most advanced thing we see with RNA, is some bacteria-sized virus.
Now, give RNA-based organisms 4 billion years more, then maby their wounder their origins - as well. But DNA gave life the ability to speed up the evolutionary process by several percent.
So, then we have DNA-based organisms, great! What can they do? Well, eat chemistry, move and reproduce. Nomather how great that is, it wont give us rocket-science any-time soon. We are still talkeing single-celled organisms. So, one cell, eating chemicals, swiming arround in the ocean, and reproducing. Wich means splitting itself in two, and seperating.
Now the new biological revolution of life on Eath came when rather then seperateing dureing reproduction, the two cells stuck together. Now, i imagine that at first this where no adventage nor disadventage; two cells stuck together, no big deal. But as evolution started shapeing the consept of sticking several cells together, you soon get organisms that could do way more complex taskes then single-celled organisms could, specially when the cells evolve differant shapes and abilities from one-another.
So, next step in the evolution of the advanced animals is the sponge. And their success is due to one special type of cell, or the specefic organelle of the specefic cell, called the flagellum. So beautyfully advanced of an molecylar machine that funamental christians in USA use it as an profe of their god. The evolution of this organelle (organ-part of the cell) is for science however well-known. Simply put, it spins an bent "hair" round and round to give the cell and its organism the ability to move trough the water more effeciently. In the sponge, it allows it to move water effeciently, passing trough water wich it filters for organic food-particels.
So, on Earth, the rule is: no DNA-based multi-celluar life with an flagellum, no life more advanced then fongus and / or plants.
Now, is there other alternatives? Shure, teoretically, but we know that all animals have plagellum-cells, wich means that any animal you see, is the result of the flagellum.
Does this mean that in order to get alien animal-life, you need an flagellum? It mite mean that, yes.
But it is what it is. It happend once, who's to say it cant repeat as it did here? At this level, evolution works basicly based on adaptations to chemestry and the principle of "get your ass moveing faster then other organisms - based on your chemestry". My speculation is that micro-organisms here on Earth and anywhere else will evolve much in the same way.
Now, once you have advanced multi-celluar life (fongus, animals and plants), they may differ alot more.
What the first animals did was to filter the sea-water from organic particels, passively. Like the sponge. An further evolement of that is these towers with holes in them (seasqirt), pumping water trough, still filtering the water.
Belive it or not, but this is an much more advanced organism then a sponge. To get an image of why; here is the larva of an seasqirt:
While this is the larva of an sponge:
At the top the sponge-larva is closed, while at the bottom where all the flagellum's meet there is an opening. So all the larva here have to do is to open up the top, settle down on the bottom of the ocean and keep the engines of flagellum's (also on the inside of the animal) going. Wich is exactly what the larva does as it grows to its adult stage.
Somehow, by the process of evolution, that organism evolved into this one:
Saccorhytus is an animal with simularities to both insect-larva as well as our own evolutionary line, wich sets it as an acestor of both. The way i read the teeths (not as sharp in reality as i drawn them here), is that the animal used them to act as an bumper as it dugh into the sand. It is the only explaination i can come up with when it comes to the row of teeth on the front, wich it could not have used to catch and hold pray. It seems only to funtion as an kind of bumper-protection. So i take it that it filtered organic food-particels from the sand, much like seacocumbers do today.
Now, already at this point, we see the uniqe life-print of our planet. The arrangement of eyes, antenna, teeth's, funels (openings on the back), is truely uniqe. Its the ressult of random "mistakes" as the DNA is copied dureing reproduction. Why 4 antenna's? Why not two? Its random, thats why. Why 30 eyes? When it comes to "why antenna's", its an obius answer; to detect. Antenna's will evolve, just like eyes, as it has several times in evolution here on Earth. But the amount of antenna's on this animal, is truely uniqe.
... that you run evolution again, and get DNA, multi-celluar life, the flagellum, and then the sponge. Now the ods of you then getting Saccorhytus is (litherally) astronomical low. You then have to have the exact same mutations, and at the same time animals liveing - and surviveing in the same enviorment, avoiding extinction from predators and natural events such as ice-ages, warmings, commet-impacts, vulcanic errurtions and so on.
Imagine this: in order to get the blue-gray alien as an achual alien, you have to have Saccorhytus here, wich needs to evolve into the fishes, and not only that; the fishes have to turn into the amfibians, wich have to evolve into the reptiles, wich have to evolve into the mammal-like reptiles, wich have to evolve into the mammals, wich have to evolve into the primates. But we're not done yet, because its still not given that you get the Sapiens-looking blue-grey animal: the primates need to evolve chimps, that need to go on to human-apes, wich need to go on to evolve technology; simple stone-tools. At one point, an major volcanic erruption (or another global catastrofical event) have to reduce the alredy verry intelligent tool-makers to just the smartest of the smartest (wich 75 000 years ago gave us humans our enormous creativit uniqe in the animal-kingdom), and so on, and so on.
Every volcanic erruption, comment-strike, ice-age and warming must be mimmiced to detail. Not to mention the role contintal shapes and drifts play in species interferance and therfore evolution and extinction. If the dinosaur-killing comment never hit Earth, primates would not evolve. We would neither evolve if trees dident evolve. And who's to say that trees is a given? They are as random an ressult as anything else in evolution.
So "no trees no intelligent beings, you say?" No, im saying "no trees, no humans". But the planet is filled with exampels of intelligence, not just quite at our level - yet.
Those who stand out to me in this reguard is elephants and dolphins, as well as the liveing dinosaurs (birds) [speceficly ravens]. Amoung those with potential is octypuses, the pistol-chrimp and the peacock-spider. Intresting enough, the peacock-spider also is the closest spider to evolve flight, by the looks of it. And what sets it on this list is its relative intelligence. Hive-incects like ants, termites, vasps and bees have allways facinated me. Specially ants, for their simularities to humans; they grow fongus that they feed to farm-animals (leaf-lice), wich they milk to feed their larva. They regulate heat in massive structures wich they - themself build, much larger then them self, by far. They use leafs as rafts, or make rafts of stacks of ants, where the ones on the bottom drown. They "build bridges" - again with ants. They go to war and keep slaves. The slaves rebel and kill the collony's larva. An ant may get lazy and refuse to work, and get punished with loseing a limb - or head.
All this, seemingly without an intelligence. Pure instinct, shaped to its maximiced effeciency by evolution. But no other species can check off as many check-marks compared to us, as the ants. And this is why the naked african mole-rat fancinates me. They are the only animals besides the hive-insects that live in collonies like that, with an queen and workers, and they are mammals! Wich means that their potential does not end at the limitation of pure instinct alone.
So, we have alot of potential for technological species on Earth - besides us. Ignoreing birds, all of them have evolved away from trees. Elephants and dolphins are in what i call a "pre-sapiens stage", meaning they may be less then 1 million years from evolveing some kind of technology [be it; on their own].
It seems that what you need in order to get to this level of intelligence is to be on the top of the food-chain and have some way of manipulating your envoiment. The elephant got their trunk for this role. What may have given the dolphins their intelligence is that they firstly are mammals, already with an big and social-minded brain, and that they operate in 3D, wich may be what have given ravens their intelligence as well. The dolphins however, lack the ability to manipulate their sorroundings, other then the fact that they operate in low-gravity water, wich makes manipulation eseyer. But all they got to go by, however, is their mouth. Then again, with an advanced leanguage - wich they have, they have the theoretical potential to cooperate, wich they mite. But their challanges does not come to more then chaceing away sharks.
Wich leades me to another impirtant point; you need enouh challanges in your enviorment. Like cracking noughts (as our primate ancestors).
When i think about it, the challanges of keeping peace with your neibour-tribe must have been an big challange - that our ancestor's brain mite just have grown on solveing.
Look... Convergent evolution would never give you this blue-gray alien. Taxonomy wont allow it, its too simelar. But evolution could however give you this creature. And in fact, it all started with an representation of "the future man". Herbert G. Wells (1866-1946) wrote the book "The man of the year Million" in 1893, where he drew humans with huge heads, no nose - or only nose-holes, walkeing on their hands in sted of their feet. Sounds formilear?
In 1947, there was an crash in Roswell, USA. An secret military ballon-project had crashed, and news spread fast. In a stroke of genius, they managed to produce an cover-up; it was an alien-crash! They even used what must have been cutting-edge technology at the time to make an video showing an medical operation of an alien-corpse. The logic being apearent: the more who belives the alien-story, the less focus there is on the secret military technology.
And with that, "the alien-culture" was born. The "secret" military-base "Area 52", where many "unexplained ligths" [secret military-aircrafts] where seen, became an kind of epi-centre for "the alien-movement"; an mix of military-staff pushing the consept as an destraction, and hippie-minded waco'es.
The aliens implanted in our heads
The big-eyed aliens where not ment to be realistic. First off, they where not even ment to be aliens, but future humans. Then, in next round, one year aftet the death of Wells, the anatomy inspired by Wells's work where used as an military distraction, wich without an doubt worked. These two factors lead to the birth of the alien anotomy - still being used about 100 years later.
Another factor i heard as the reason for Hollywood's love for their primate-anotomy, is that people need to recognize themself in an creature in order to relate to the carecture.
Personaly i need realism when i watch my scifi.
[Illustrations (with white background) made by me, Kristian Eik]