The Pulitzer-winning biologist draws from our own knowledge of evolution and Darwinian theory to posit the physical and mental characteristics of extraterrestrial life. Wilson’s new book is titled “The Meaning of Human Existence.”
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Transcript: E.T. is out there. There just has to be in the hundred million star system a galaxy that we belong, that we dwell in, other cases of life originating, because we now know there’s so many planets that almost certainly you’re going to have certain planets that are goldilocks, that is a right position nearest their sun, the right size and so on that can have the potential to create life. And of those it seems, and we don’t have any basis for this except intuition, that given enough millions of years, in our case we have had half a billion years since life came on the land, to produce a human grade eusocial species. So we can only guess that it’s likely that that has occurred in some of them.
So, here’s what I did. In the course of this book actually I did it with some care, the Meaning of Human Existence. I looked over the many examples of the origin of whole new lines of animals that have occurred on the land since the early Paleozoic. Now we’re talking going back more than 415 million years, that’s a long time. The land of Earth was populated by the first plants, then forests and with them a whole array of animal types. But we have these many multiple lines of animals that originated and we can I think reasonably conclude that eusociality, when it did it develop, including big animals that have the capacity to create a big brain, cerebrum, memory storage areas essentially is what it is and this bizarre round head shapes that we have, I mean seen from the point of view of a gorilla we have a bizarre funny looking head, that here is what they all have in common. Now I’m talking empirical information. First, you have to be on the land. You can’t develop advanced societies and anything like civilization, which in humans goes back a couple hundred thousand years.
Well, why not? Why no marine, freshwater creatures? Because they don’t have fire. You just have to have, in order to build tools beyond chipping some rock or stone away or maybe crude binding or fashioning materials together, you don’t have any way to create more advanced technology without concentrated power source that you can transport from one place to another. ET, and now drawing this again from the record of multiple origins of animal lines on earth, ET has got a head. And the head’s upfront and the head contains a central organizing center for all of the senses that are spread out through the body.
E.T. has got a small number of limbs, multiple, maybe six, who knows maybe eight like a spider, but not that many, relatively few. And ET has on these limbs fingers or tentacles, something with strength and flexibility that are free. That was the prerequisite that we had when we stepped out of the trees, our ancestors did five million years or so ago. The earliest known Australopithecus prehuman already was walking on hind legs. That was just an adaptation it had. And one of the consequences of freeing the front legs is that now you have organs that can be modified to manipulate, but there’s more. And that is you have to have soft pulpy fingertips. And when you think about it, think about the primates you know, old world and New World. That’s a primate trait, soft pulpy fingertips. Because you need those to manipulate finely, in our ancestors case and all the primates that are arboreal and so on, you need to be able to manipulate bits of food like plucking free a piece of fruit, plucking seeds out of a fruit, taking a flower and opening it and eating it and so on. So that’s another trait of ET. And I would admonish scriptwriters for Hollywood films that have space and alien monsters invading earth. Don’t give them claws. Claws are for carnivores and you’ve got to be an omnivore to be an ET. There just isn’t enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization. That was a bit of a stretch but I feel confident about that. Claws, no, that’s for carnivores. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]
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