It would be fair to say that Hollywood movies and science fiction literature have had a long term impact on our collective perception of aliens ; particularly, when it comes to the emphasis placed through in depth characterizations on the assumption that the hairless, big-headed with slightly unsettling almond-shape eyes beings are the usual suspects for what we know to be aliens. Then you also have cases of even more extreme alien depictions – the movie ‘Alien’ comes to mind with its menacing and highly aggressive, spit-dripping, monster-looking xenomorph which is nothing more than a literary trope, and a heavy one at that. Exaggerations aside, a new research study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology suggests that we could have more in common with our terrestrial neighbors than initially thought.
A team of experts from the University of Oxford have offered for the first time through an illustration representing different levels of a complex adaptive system (a process theoretically formed in order to adapt to a changing environment) what we might imagine when thinking about foreign life forms. They believe that the theory of natural selection, a process outlined by Charles Darwin and one that acts on variation among elements that persist, can be used to better understand and predict alien behavior. The theory supports the hypothesis that aliens may be subject to the same environmental factors that take place on Earth, and that they do evolve over time by undergoing the same processes and mechanisms that shaped human beings as species.
Using the process of alien natural selection as a theoretical model, the team argued that just like the evolution of humanity in our biosphere, a process marked by major evolutionary biology transitions and complexity shifts that include the genetic code, cells, symbiosis and multicellularity, aliens, even if they breathe nonmetallic chemical elements like nitrogen or are made from silicon, may also be influenced by the same formulation.
“By predicting that aliens [have] undergone major transitions….we can say that there is a level of predictability to evolution that would cause them to look like us”, said Sam Levin, the study’s lead scientist-adding that just like humans the paper predicts aliens “are made-up of a hierarchy of entities, which all cooperate to produce an alien”. Levin went goes as far as specifying that at “each level of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and keep the organism functioning.”
The Oxford research, besides offering some examples of what these mechanisms will be, also offers a degree of insight as to what these life forms might look like with Levin saying that while astrobiologists can not say whether “aliens will walk on two legs or have big green eyes”, they believe evolutionary theory as an essential part of this exploration provides “a unique additional tool for trying to understand what aliens will be like.”
Levin also said there are “potentially hundreds of thousands of habitable planets in our galaxy alone”, leading one to question the claims of the Earth being the Universe’s only life-sustaining planet.
The scientist concluded by saying: “We can’t say whether or not we’re alone on Earth, but we have taken a small step forward in answering, if we’re not alone, what our neighbors are like.”