Page 11 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - October / November 2018
P. 11

What Darwin Tells Us About Aliens                                                                                     11

            What Darwin’s Theories

           Tell Us About The Shape
               Alien Life Will Take

                         Stuart Clark

             All aliens must evolve, says a new
           study from scientists at the University
                of Oxford – and that gives us
                    something to look for.

          “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” How
          many times did we hear Mr Spock say this back
          in the day when classic Star  Trek ruled the
          airwaves?*  What always interested me back
          then was how did he know that it was life if it
          was so barely recognisable by Earthly (or
          Vulcan) standards?
                 Turns out a group of scientists from the
          zoology department at the University of Oxford  upon a small number of what have been termed    This Congressional Candidate Is
          may have the answer. Don’t look for faces, eyes,  major evolutionary transitions in individuality.  More Than Just Her Alien
          limbs or any of the large-scale things that are so  In each transition, a group of individuals that
          familiar to life on Earth. Don’t look at the    could previously replicate independently                  Abduction, Okay
          chemistry either. Instead, look for the hallmarks  cooperate to form a new, more complex life
          of natural selection.                           form or higher level organism.”                Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera is one of nine GOP
                 Natural selection lies at the very heart of     That includes us. We are collectives of  candidates campaigning to represent Florida’s
          Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is the  cells all working together. Our individual cells  27th Congressional District in Congress. She
          process by which favourable adaptations are     are themselves collectives containing smaller  currently runs a business that trains women from
          retained and accumulate in populations. As time  sub-units like the nucleus and energy-giving  other countries to run for office. Before that, she
          goes by, lifeforms adapt to be more and more    mitochondria. It’s like Russian dolls all the way  was a City Council member for the Miami
          suited to their individual environments.        down to the molecular level.  These changes    suburb Doral, a social worker, and the
                 This leads to the appearance that they   were driven by natural selection because they  ombudsman at the Miami-Dade county
          have been designed to fit into their            allowed once competing entities to work        manager’s office. And even before all that, when
          surroundings. However, there is no magic        together for a common good.                    she was still a child, she says she was taken
          involved, the favourable adaptations allow these       The authors suggest ‘the Octomite’ not  aboard an alien spaceship by tall, blond
          entities to live longer and have more offspring,  as a lifeforms we might expect to find but as an  extraterrestrials.
          so naturally the fittest rise to dominate the   illustrative example of what to look for.             Although she’s considered a long shot to
          population.                                     Namely, a hierarchy of once separate entities  take over Congresswoman Ileana Ros-
                 Natural selection extends down to the    that now function together for the common goal  Lehtinen’s seat, last weekend Rodriguez
          level of individual cells where environmental   of survival.                                   Aguilera received a significant endorsement
          hardship can force cells to work together for          This is the most interesting part of the  from the editorial board of the Miami Herald,
          their common survival, thus building complex    paper: the call to jettison our attempts at    which acknowledged she was an “unusual
          cells, multicellular life, animals and then social  defining life and just recognise it by something  choice,” but said her extraterrestrial experiences
          structures.                                     that it uniquely does, which is evolve.        are a “nonissue.” Rodriguez  Aguilera agrees,
                 This complexity and cooperation is what         It reminds me of Isaac Newton’s         and in an interview with the AP this week, said
          we should look for says Samuel Levin and co-    response to queries about the meaning of his   she does not want to be defined by her
          authors to recognise aliens – not little green men  mathematical law of gravity in 1687.  When  abduction.
          or very big teeth (well, not necessarily anyway).  asked how the gravity gets from one celestial      “It has nothing to do with what I have
          By doing this we could also sidestep the thorny  object to another, he said it didn’t matter how it  done. It happened when I was 7 years old,” she
          problem of defining what life actually is.      happened, all that mattered was that it did and  said. “I am so proud of the Herald and what they
                 There have been many attempts to         his equation gave the right answer.            did.”
          define life over the years, and all of them run        In other words, we should concentrate          The candidate has never wavered from
          into trouble at some point. Take, for example,  on what life does not what it is, and draw our  her story, which she shared in an interview with
          the idea that life’s defining characteristic is that  insights from what things do, not how they  the Spanish language station  América  TeVé
          it must be able to reproduce.  Well, a flame    might do it. As Mr Spock might be driven to say  back in 2009.
          reproduces but can hardly be said to be alive.  ‘Science Jim, but not as we know it.” That’s not      According to the candidate, she entered a
          Then there are the mules: creatures that are    meant to denigrate the work at all. Indeed, as I  spaceship manned by a trio of blond alien giants
          usually sterile but are clearly alive.          read the paper, another of Spock’s great       (two female, one male), and “there were some
                 Chemical definitions such as ‘life must  catchphrases kept jumping to my mind:          round seats that were there, and some quartz
          be based on carbon and contain DNA’ are no      “Fascinating.”                                 rocks that controlled the ship — not like
          better because they are completely unfounded.          The answer is none at all in the literal  airplanes.” She said that they told her that Africa
          We simply do not know whether other             sense. It’s a line from the song Star Trekkin but  is the center of the world’s energy, and that
          chemicals can build replicating molecules like  Spock does say similar things on a number of   Florida’s Coral Castle is actually an Egyptian
          DNA. Silicon shares some of carbon’s            occasions.                                     pyramid. She also claimed to have
          characteristics, so may be ok under the right                                                  communicated with the extraterrestrials several
          conditions (whatever those are!).                                                              times since her initial abduction.
                 The authors sidestep all of this and zero                                                      As the Herald put it, however, she also
                                                          NOTE:  Stuart Clark is the author of  The
          in on the rise of complexity and cooperation as                                                has “boots-on-the-ground ideas and experience”
                                                          Search for Earth’s  Twin (Quercus) and can’t
          the thing to look for. They write:                                                             that would serve her well in Congress. And who
                                                          quite believe he actually linked to that song.[]
                 “In particular, the evolution of complex                                                knows, with the new Space Force, having an in
          life on the Earth appears to have depended                                                     with some aliens might not be a bad thing. []
   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16