What do you think advanced life would look like on an alien planet?

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by francois, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. francois Schwat? Registered Senior Member

    By advanced life, I don't mean per se intelligent, civilized life. I just mean things like complex, multicellular organisms such as plants and animals.

    I am really curious about this, and I hope we some day get to see what alien life looks like. My own feeling is that it will look very much like life does on Earth. I don't say that because I lack an imagination. I say that because I believe organisms on this planet evolved the way they did for a reason. For example, all animals that I know of have the same tube design. That is, it eats, the food passes through a tube in which the nutrition is absorbed, and then it is excreted. That's the way animals get the energy they need in order to keep their genes going. All the other things like legs, tails, gills, and brains, and behaviors build on this tube scheme which is all about getting energy from the environment.

    Those legs, tails, gills, and whatnot, are high-tech enhancements which are non-arbitrarily selected. Take the eye, for example. Nature non-arbitrarily created several different types of eye, such as the pin-hole camera eye, which solves the optical infinity problem with limiting the incoming light to a small point, which projects to a kind of folded-in retina. Then there's a simple light detector "eyes" (I guess you could call them eyes) that some protists have, as well as some types of worms, which cannot form images, but simply inform the organism as to whether it is light or dark. Then there's composite eyes, which lots of insects use. Then there's the more familiar camera eye, which is what we use, which, unlike the pin-hole eye, can see much darker environments more clearly, because the lenses can catch and bend more light toward the aperture, which sends it to the retina, whereas the pin-hole just passively gets whatever rogue photons happen to get trapped into its hole.

    There are a number of other types of eyes, but they're all based on a few optical principles, like refraction and reflection. Human eyes are a little different from squid eyes (for invertebrates, the wires for the photoreceptors of the retina are behind from where the sensing cells collect light--the opposite is true for mammals), but it's really the same design. Light is focused with a big lens and projected to the retina.

    From what I've read, this type of eye, as well as others, has evolved lots of times, independently. The reason for this, I think, is because there are only a few principles of optics available for nature to use, and because there aren't many designs that can work. Think about it. Is it a coincidence that our cell phone cameras are the same design as those of squid?

    What about other things like sonar? Is it a coincidence that our own technology that we created is exactly the same as that which dolphins and bats use? No. This phenomenon, which we see in evolution time and time again, is called convergence. A litoptern, an extinct mammal which only ever lived in South America, has hind legs that look nearly identical to

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    those of horses, had an ancestral lineage which was completely independent of horses. I think the same principle applies: there are only a few designs that work, so you're going to see a lot of common themes among animals.

    So if we do make it to another planet, I think it may look a bit different, but a lot of it is going to look the same. The differences might be minute, such as if it has a high oxygen (or oxygen equivalent) and high CO2 (or CO2 equivalent), you'll see big insects and flora, like what we saw in the Carboniferous period. So you might see different proportions, but on the large, things will be the same. We'll see legs, tails, gills, brains, and behaviors that will appear almost exactly as we see them on Earth.

    That's one of the things that I look for when I watch Sci-fi flicks. Do the animals look realistic? I personally thought Avatar did a great job. They did indeed look alien, but at the same time, the animals absolutely had definable categories that you could precisely correlate with what we have. Starship troopers was a bit iffy. Giant bugs? Nahh, I don't think so. Insects like that design do not have complex circulatory systems like what mammals have, whose whole point is to create a large surface area to interface with the environmental air. Insects' oxygen-absorption works because they're small and don't need much oxygen. I'm not saying the Starship Troopers' bugs are bad, but to be workable, they'd need to be much smaller and less terrifying.
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  3. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    Well, genetics here kind of decided "four legs good" went along with the spinal cord at some point...and we eliminated the ability to have more. Also to regrow. Lizards can regrow their tails...sort of...


    You see, this is a bootstrap problem...because you really have to imagine the environs that created the critter-then you have the creature's specs.

    If I were going to design deliberately and not kludge like evolution does...my suggestion for an all-purpose lifeform would be a bundle of armored legs(regrowable)-with maybe a narrow gap in what would roughly be called the "front", protecting a central podlike armored body in which the brain, stomach and respiratory organs (if not a pore-breather, like a bug) would be kept...regrowable eyestalks and handacles hanging beneath the armored legs.. Flexible tentacles are probably more efficient than hands.

    At least seven of those armored legs-always a spare handy.
    Coat the whole in either (a) hollow featherlike hairs for warmth or (b) semi-flexible scales that can be lifted to allow for cooling of the undersurface skin, or lowered in case of attack.

    It would be nifty if those scales could color-shift...in fact, they might make that part of their languages-inflection added by color change...

    One presumes my "arthur-pods" would have endoskeletons, yet look rather spidery.

    If they fought each other in wars, spears would be their chosen weapons-get past the legs, poke through natural armor to vital points on the center pod...because of course, it'd be much harder to disable enough legs to take a fighter down.

    One presumes they'd be likely to think in terms of their natural number of maniple- tentacles create a number system based on that, or maybe their optimum number of eyestalks.

    Omnivores do best in a crisis...but maybe a combo omnivore/carrion eater? That would mean a rather comically bulgy stomach, maybe a little pendulous...it would have to carry around a supply of gut bugs to deal with pathogens. If it was a really intense carrion eater, it's poo would have a really high acid content, and it might shit on it's own feet to clean them (vultures do this).

    Mouth towards one end, poo towards the other...

    I Imagine textiles would come easily to something with tentacles...gives "hand" weaving a whole new meaning...
    And I don't know that they'd be interested in draft animals-I assume they could really run themselves...so the rise of their civilization might involve war chariots pulled by warriors, but not horse equivalents. Or maybe they wouldn't be AS aggressive as we are.:shrug:

    Assume they'd make awesome sailors as well.

    How they ascended into space would depend on their resource base.

    They could well be smarter than us-their brain could continue to grow, unlike ours, because our design stops it.

    I actually thought Avatar made the aliens look WAY too human.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
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  5. leopold Valued Senior Member

    since life is governed by nature and earth has experienced every type of nature there is it's logical to assume alien life will look much like it does here.
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  7. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    Advanced life looks like this:

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    Ignore the human in the picture.
  8. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    That I actually doubt...there'll be one overdominating structure that succeeds...and the more complex lifeforms will all look like that.

    Here that structure is a skull on one end, spine tapering down to a tail (many times vestigial), and four limbs that adapt to,various uses... sometimes disappearing (leaving behind two limbs, or none at all in the case of snakes.) If you look at those limbs, the overall skeletal structure is analogous-wingspar to fingerbone, ankle to hock.
    So, the dominant template.

    That dominant template on a different world will be due to chance and conditions.

    But what that structure is-my little arthur-pod guys, with a nervous system more like a starfish?
    I doubt the dominant form will have less than four legs, but more can be highly useful.(remember, our arms are "legs" adapted to other uses)
    What if it's a sentient blob-no skeleton at all? locomotes by rolling fast? I should have said-provided it has legs, it will likely tend to have at least four.
    A body with no skeleton, only water bladders would work well on a higher-pressure, watery world...

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    You know, like Kif-no real skeleton.

    MacGillivray- I'm guessing you to be a fan of the Ender's Game series?
    actually, maybe the dominant life here looks like this:

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    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
  9. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    Agreed on that point. We have those designs for a reason. I imagine alien life would form along similar lines to Earth's, influenced by whatever selection pressure was acting on it.
  10. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I would think that it would generally look like whatever the environment would be like. If a watery planet then a water alien would be there if a ice planet then icy aliens would be there. Perhaps some have evolved beyond what they live on and , like humans, developed into a sentient life force and are destroying their planets ecosystems as well. :shrug:
  11. francois Schwat? Registered Senior Member


    I think we lost our ability to regrow stuff as we evolved to get more complex and specific. Genes' phenotypic effects begin to bump up against each other and something has to give. That thing happened to be regrowability. I was listening to this in a podcast like last week, in which it was discovered that you can cut up and rip off chunks of the heart in mice, but the trick is that it can only be during a critical period, within two weeks of birth. Then, the ability to regrow and regenerate, is lost. It was explained to be the result of the switching on and off of genes. Something had to give as the organism gets more complex.

    On the other hand, simpler organisms like fish, you can do the same thing to them in adulthood. The heart just regrows. It doesn't care.

    More efficient at what? Rape?

    Of course, the adaptations have to have some agreement with each other. I think it's doubtful that any hodgepodge of adaptations strewn together would work like those things we saw in that game "Spore."

    Actually, I think the Navi were the unplausible animals in that movie. They're humanoid cats. Why would they have catlike features? They were once cats who evolved into humanoids? A cat has a pretty specific-purpose design. My complaint is that they're not general, like apes, who have potential for lots of things. I think cats are locked down to where they are.
  12. livingin360 Registered Senior Member

    I think a highly evolved lifeforms might perceive time much more better than us and interact much more faster. So i imagine them doing things extremely fast which make them appear like a blur before us. Kind of like superman running around. Also their language would be a transference of data like a stream of consciousness to each other. Perhaps it would go as far as to create a hive intelligence where every creature creates a larger higher intelligence which works to solve problems that threaten the survival of the race and ensuring its long term survival.
  13. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    I consider that unlikely.
    Any species that wants to survive must interact with the world/ universe as it is.
    Chemical reactions and physical phenomena move at a particular pace, hence there is no requirement to "perceive time" any better than we do.
  14. livingin360 Registered Senior Member

    well I remember watching a discovery show channel about a guy that could slow down time in his mind incredibly and they put it to the test and he was able to. Also IQ is the speed at which you create neuron connections. So for example the worlds fastest reader can read a book by flipping through it with his hand. They interact with time on a much higher level while it takes me a couple days to read a book because I'm not gifted with a above average IQ. See where I'm getting at? We are probably very inefficient when it comes to interacting with time.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
  15. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Hmm, Discovery Channel... Not the most reliable of sources.

    Source please.

    I don't know if anyone's ever claimed a link between speed-reading and high IQ.

    Is reading a book fast a necessary trait for survival in a species?
  16. orcot Valued Senior Member

    brownish green... The source of all life on this planet and others will probably get their energy of their local sun this means that their "plant life" will probably absorb at least the higher energy waves thereofre blue is the least likely color and black would be the optimal color for lifeforms that get their energy of the sun. I'm guessing evolution will somehow tweek the more advancend lifeforms to get at least some level of camouflage.

    On a world that doesn't has or doesn't use it's starlight it will probably be albino white
  17. livingin360 Registered Senior Member

    I cannot answer your questions but what is the results of everyone taking this test? http://getyourwebsitehere.com/jswb/rttest01.html
    My reaction time is .237 after doing a search Mental chronometry is shown to vary with races and depending on your IQ which shows that people have varying degrees of reaction times. idk maybe your right but if you are then can you give me sources on your data that there is a limit to reaction time? I would imagine that a extremely fast artificial intelligence with a advanced robotic body could be insanely fast when interacting in a environment.
  18. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    How is reaction time related to IQ?
    One is a physical capability (nerve speeds and control) the other is a mental faculty.
    I didn't say there is a limit to reaction time (although there is - if nothing else nerve transmission times and mechanical properties of skin/ bone/ etc).
    I asked how would "much faster" interaction benefit a species that lives in the universe as it is?
  19. francois Schwat? Registered Senior Member

    The two appear to be related. The likely explanation is myelination. Myelination both increases the speed with which neurons pass information, and decreases noise and interference. So the result is better communication, fewer errors, and higher speeds. Fewer errors mean there's going to be less need for error correction and management, so more of the brain can be used for the task at hand, hence higher intelligence. Higher speeds means quicker thinking as well as quicker reaction speeds. Myelination does both of these things. That's probably why reaction speed is related to IQ.
  20. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

  21. livingin360 Registered Senior Member


    Evolution has been shown that new mutations allow for faster reaction times. I see what your saying. Perhaps if we were to encounter a race like that who were able to interact with reality in blazing speeds would most likely be not naturally evolved but self designed. Think of the benefits of computing the same thing would apply with enhancing your ability to interact with reality at greater speeds. So no doubt if there is many alien lifeforms out there they will have at least thought of increasing speeds just like we have and what is the probability of that?
  22. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    No, that was point (or rather, question).
    Since the universe is as it is, how would operating a faster speeds enhance survivability?
    Sure. you'd get more individuals escaping accidents, but you'd also get more getting themselves into stupid positions.
    Chemical reactions and physical phenomena require a certain speed for survival - going beyond that speed, I suggest, isn't worth the "biological effort".
    Anything living on a high-g planet may have faster reaction times (because the gravity will drag them down faster - requiring faster reflexes), conversely life on a low-g planet may well be slower.
    We're "optimised" for our environment.
    And the IQ-Reaction time correlation (spurious or not) may well not hold for other species under those conditions.
  23. livingin360 Registered Senior Member

    I'm not really seeing your logic in this answer. It seems like no matter what if you had a AI that is 100x faster in processing than Hal 9000 and connected to robotics that make robot technology imagined 2000 years from now seem like ancient technology it would be able to cope with a problem much more better than a human in the same situation. If they had the ability to connect their brains as a hive intelligence they would then be able to cope with large problems such as how to cope with the alien race that seeks to destroy them and steal all of their technology or that supernova that's right around the corner. What would take a year for us to accomplish would only take a couple days for them.

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