Clifford Pickover's Alien Page


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By Clifford A. Pickover

Alien Intelligence and Star Wars

For a moment, I want you to think of your favorite alien on TV or in the movies. Do you have the image in mind? I'd bet that your alien is pretty darn smart. However, despite what we see in Star Wars and Star Trek, I don't expect intelligence to be an inevitable result of evolution on other worlds. Since the beginning of life on Earth, as many as 50 billion species have arisen, and only one of them has acquired technology. If intelligence has such high survival value, why are so few creatures intelligent? Mammals are not the most successful or plentiful of animals. Ninety-five percent of all animal species are invertebrates. Most of the worm species on our planet have not even been discovered yet, and there are a billion insects wandering the Earth.

If humankind were destroyed in some great cataclysm, there is very little possibility that our level of intelligence would ever be achieved on Earth again. The historian of science C. Owen Lovejoy regards cognition as a pure accident:

"It is evident that the evolution of cognition is neither the result of an evolutionary trend nor an event of even the lowest calculable probability, but rather the result of a series of highly specific evolutionary events whose ultimate cause is traceable to selection of unrelated factors such as locomotion and diet."
If human intelligence is an evolutionary accident, and mathematical, linguistic, artistic and technological abilities a very improbable bonus, then there is little reason to expect that life on other worlds will ever develop intelligence as far as we have. Both intelligence and mechanical dexterity appear to be necessary to make radio transmitting devices for communication between the stars. How likely is it that we will find a race having both traits? Very few Earth organisms have much of either. As evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond has suggested in Natural History, those that have acquired a little of one (smart dolphins, dexterous spiders) have acquired none of the other, and the only species to acquire a little of both (chimpanzees) has been rather unsuccessful. The most successful creatures on Earth are the dumb and clumsy rats and beetles, which both found better routes to their current dominance. If we do receive a message from the stars, it will undermine much of the current thinking about evolutionary mechanisms.

I discuss these issues further in The Science of Aliens.

More alien images here, here, and here. Alien discussions here.

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