July 16, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Aliens Are Not Bodybuilders

Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute is willing to bet “dollars to Devil Dogs that any extraterrestrials we detect won’t be muscular guys with deep voices and corrugated foreheads, or even big-eyed, hairless grays.”  It all has to do with the way evolution works.
    In the weekly SETI column for Space.com, Shostak opined on what aliens will look like.  He quickly dismissed the Hollywood alien look as too anthropomorphic.  But then, he appealed to convergent evolution to suggest that optimal shape for a smart alien is the humanoid look: “it’s possible that a hominid shape is the best body plan for sentient beings on any world, and no doubt Tinseltown would be pleased to learn that its rubber-suit aliens are good approximations to the real thing.”  He did not explain how scientists can have a real thing without observations.
    The point of his essay, though, was not whether aliens would look like bodybuilders on the beach, but what evolution would produce by the time we made contact with them.  We are on the verge ourselves of creating machine intelligence.  “So here’s the point: Since any aliens we detect are ahead of us, they’ve already done this; they’ve made the transition from biological to engineered intelligence, and left behind the quaint paradigm of spongy brains sloshing in salt water.”  Engineered intelligence: did they use intelligent design?

Seth Shostak lives in a fantasy world of aliens and intelligent signals he has never seen.  He is a prophet of a kind of waiting-for-Godot type of religion, where his savior is bound to show up any minute.  To make this religion look scientific, he employs scientists and engineers to build scientific-looking divination tools that make the disciples think they are getting closer to the promised salvation.  Maybe he should just replace his spongy brain with a Mac and move evolution forward.
    Shostak started by quoting Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image,” to make a point that Hollywood is making aliens in man’s image.  At least this shows he is aware of the Owner’s Manual.  Maybe he should study it.  He might learn how to use the antivirus tools, extract his spongy mass from the botnet, reboot successfully, and get rid of his blue screen of death.

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