Jan 21, 2011
The worst case?
a) If they are like us. Ever read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle? It is a counterfactual novel about the postwar world, with one tiny difference: The Germans have won. Like so much of Dick’s writing, it has a terrifying plausibility and is deeply unsettling. Well, we know we “ought” to have won, and once America was in the fray, victory was almost guaranteed. But things can go differently; a world dominated by Nazis isn’t unfortunately an impossibility. Now suppose that “out there” you have a cross between a storm-trooper and an Aztec priest?
b) Not like us. No chance I am afraid. We now know enough about evolution on this planet to show that an extraterrestrial civilization will be staffed, to use the words of Robert Bieri, by beings “that are just like us.”
c) No life at all. By far the most likely possibility. All alone in the Universe, a true fluke of Nature. Well, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything …
Simon Conway Morris is a paleontologist in the department of earth sciences at the University of Cambridge.