Live Long and Evolve

July 12, 2019 • 10:15 am

by Greg Mayer

Much of the time while Jerry was in Hawaii, I was traveling in New York and New England, including attending Evolution 2019 in Providence, RI, the annual joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the Society of Systematic Biology. The opening night is highlighted by the Stephen Jay Gould Prize Public Outreach Lecture. The Prize is given for “sustained and exemplary efforts [that] have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science and its importance in biology, education, and everyday life”. This year’s Prize winner was Jerry’s erstwhile Ph.D. student Mohamed Noor of Duke University.

Mohamed Noor in his Starfleet uniform. (Which show is the uniform from?)

The title of his lecture was “Evolution in the Final Frontier: Why Might We See So Many Humanoid Aliens in Star Trek?” He delivered it to a packed house, some in Starfleet uniform. (The opening night is open to and advertised to the general public.) Mohamed is the author of Live Long and Evolve (Princeton University Press, 2018), and his talk dealt with one of the topics in the book.


Some of Star Trek‘s writers have been renowned science fiction authors, and the franchise has long been known to pay attention to the scientific commentary about the series. My favorite example of this is the “Heisenberg compensator“. When it was pointed out that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (which states that either the position or the velocity of a particle could be known, but not both) meant that transporters would have a hard time doing what they are supposed to do, Star Trek writers invented the “compensators”, which, in some unknown fashion, overcame this difficulty.

Mohamed’s talk dealt with another such issue: why do alien species from all over the galaxy look so much alike? And so much like us? You know—roughly bilaterally symmetric, 4-limbed, bipedal, encephalized, the head with eyes, ears, nostrils, a mouth. The aliens might be a different color, or have head ridges, even antennae, but they look very human. The short, and probably pragmatically correct, answer is that the aliens had to be played by human actors, and anything else would be either undoable, prohibitively expensive for a TV series, or both. But Star Trek wanted a principled answer.

Image result for star trek humanoid aliens
A diversity of humanoid Star Trek aliens. From

The principled answer that I knew of came from The Next Generation series, in which a species-diverse group of current humanoids encounter a recording made by an “ancient humanoid“, which explains that they had “seeded” planets across the galaxy with DNA that would drive evolution on those planets in a humanoid direction. It was never explained how this would work.

Mohamed’s careful study of Star Trek encountered two other explanations, both in the original series: humans derive fairly recently from visiting alien astronauts; or, aliens (most of them anyway) are derived from life on Earth. Rather than give Mohamed’s choice from among these three which is most plausible given what we know about evolution and genetics, I’ll leave it as an exercise for readers to think about, or debate in the comments (or, you could read his book!).

I’m about halfway through the book now, and as a long time Star Trek fan, I am fascinated. I have not yet gotten to the chapter which discusses all those interplanetary hybrids (like Mr. Spock), and am looking forward to it. In the book, Mohamed usually introduces each topic with a Star Trek scene touching on an evolutionary or genetic topic, and uses that as a launching point to discuss the biological principles involved. Among the topics he covers are common ancestry, phylogenetic trees, natural selection, convergence, genetic drift, what DNA is, and how DNA ‘works’. And I’m not finished yet!

The book is aimed at the general public (i.e., it is not a textbook), and Mohamed gives the most generous reading possible to Star Trek‘s scientific forays—it is not a compilation of errors. Footnotes give references to further Star trek episodes, and references in the comprehensive endnotes cover the scientific literature very well, including in areas outside Mohamed’s own areas of research. Many of these references are to the latest literature; the suggested reading adds more accessible works, including Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker, and, of course, his mentor’s Why Evolution Is True. In fact, near the beginning of his lecture, he gave a shout-out for WEIT (the book).

Mohamed has long used science fiction to teach science, and been much involved in outreach activities, as regular WEIT readers will recall. In 2017, the Evolution meetings and Heroes and Villains Fan Fest/Walker Stalker Con were both being held simultaneously in Oregon Convention Center, and Mohamed attended both! You can see videos of him engaging scientific topics through science fiction here, here, and here, and a Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate. There are also a number of videos of his students making presentations at his Youtube channel.

84 thoughts on “Live Long and Evolve

  1. Though not a Star Trek or sci-fi fan, I loved Noor’s online Genetics course, which I took a couple of years ago (through edx or Coursera). He’s an excellent ‘splainer of science!

  2. I’m curious, does the book take on Voyager’s Galileo allegory episode? In that episode, they encounter a super-powerful saurian race whose dissident scientists believe the saurians descended from Earth’s dinosaurs, but the religious-minded orthodoxy persecuted them and nearly destroyed Voyager to erase any such heresy.

    I remember being annoyed at the episode because (in typical Voyager fashion) it was FAR too heavy handed and failed to address what I would have thought was an obvious counterpoint: Could Earth’s dinosaurs have been created by this alien race? Thus, making humans, in a roundabout way, descended from this alien race.

    1. My understanding is that Synapsids separated from the line that led to dinosaurs over 300 million years ago. So no dinosaur line led to humans by any conceivable lineage no matter how roundabout (unless you include reversing time in roundabout).

    2. The first time I watched that episode, i thought “If some dinosaurs on earth were advanced enough to fly to another part of the galaxy, wouldn’t there advanced civilization had left behind SOME evidence that they existed? And where did they get fossil fuels for their civilization? They must’ve had fossil fuels before they had inter stellar space vehicles, no ???

      1. Fossil fuels are not essential for space travel & technology. A more biology-orientated society could build a tech world using fermented/distilled fuels & could access metals via mining using microbes. There’s more than one way to climb the tech ladder.

        P.S. interstellar travel is not possible with fossil fuels anyway – the vessel can’t carry its own fuel [even nuclear fuel] unless it is new physics. At the moment the only likely tech is a light sail with lasers pushing the sail which itself pulls a micro-kilogram payload the size of a mobile phone…

        1. I’ve been wondering about those Earth-local based lasers pushing a sail over a few light years distance. The push light would not get to the vehicle until much later than it is sent, and how much power would be required to get it up to speed, and for how long, and how much payload would be of any value or interest, and…

          1. It isn’t efficient to push a lightsail over light years with a laser – the way to do it is one short very powerful push right at the start & then the craft coasts. I’ve seen a medium priced military laser spotting device in action & the tiny dot is the size of a man after a few miles. A laser that can shoot down a drone miles away is very expensive & that dot also grows – it’s a property of electromagnetic waves that they spread out somewhat even when focussed. The USN is throwing a LOT of your money at shipboard defence lasers, some people are getting very rich & I wonder if the promise is exaggerated. I wouldn’t be at all shocked if it’s a boondoggle…

            To use a laser for interstellar propulsion, it’s most efficient to push only at the start when beam spread isn’t a problem & aiming accurately is realistically possible. At the moment we are talking a craft of one gram accelerating at 1,000,000 g to 1/20 light speed [0.05 c] – it would get to the nearest star in 70 years. The laser push is only for 18 seconds & yet the craft reaches 1/20th light speed. We can do a lot with one gram – nature can produce 100 computers for a gram weight in the form of houseflies – we should be able to improve on that.

            The latest thinking is to use a particle beam & a magnetic sail [a loop of wire] one mile in diameter. The beam gun would need to be outside an atmosphere – on the Moon say. The particles [of say mercury or hydrogen or whatever] would be fired at twice the speed you wanted the vehicle to reach & the beam doesn’t spread.

            1. Fascinating. * left eyebrow leaps * .

              Wouldn’t acceleration to 0.05 c in 18 seconds create some G-force problems for fly-sized computers? That’s more than the force of a fly swatter.

              1. Artillery fungus spores 18,000 g & other fungus spores [can’t recall name] nearly 180,000 g’s over 2.5 meters distance. I suppose 1,000,000 g must be feasible & perhaps more feasible at small scale.

  3. I always found it interesting that most of the humanoid characters were able to produce offspring so all those light years of separation didn’t cause separate species to evolve. I still want to see a Gorn mashup of some sort. A human that said SSSssssss a lot.

  4. … Star Trek writers invented the “compensators”, which, in some unknown fashion, overcame this difficulty.

    Thank Crom for retcon.

    1. Unfortunately i have forgotten where I read this, so cannot verify it but there is a lovely story about Star trek writer Denise Okuda being asked “How do your Heisenberg Compensators work?” To which she replied: “Very nicely thank you.”

  5. Not a follower of the science fiction much but he does have a very educational side to this. Do not mean to take away from the very good analysis on familiar look from so many different aliens around the universe but I recall long ago someone making an argument for the same among the aliens in all the old science fiction movies. Basically said it was because people make the movies and the human imagination only goes so far. The alien might have one eye or a large head but basically still looked like humans.

    1. I think it will be found that there is much more variety in the nature and shape of aliens encountered, going forward. Something to do with CGI getting steadily better and more affordable… 😉


  6. What an imaginative take on explaining evolution. I love Star Trek and its many iterations. I’ll have to pick up this book.

  7. I reject all three hypotheses, and suggest that in most cases this would be a case of convergent evolution. In order to have an intelligent, technologically advanced civilization, you would require an environment not too dissimilar to ours (eg. It would be difficult to harness fire, or develop chemistry in a water world. Space travel would be much more difficult in a high gravity environment. Multicellular life might require an oxygen atmosphere.). Similarly there are problems to be solved in order to have a technological civilization, such as a social species, communication, opposable digits, analytical thinking, foresight, etc.

    It may be that the bilaterally symmetrical, encephalized forms are required characteristics to evolve such a species.

    However I think that in Star Trek, some cases are examples of the same species developing different characteristics after living the different environment of an alien world. The Cardassians and Bajorans are an example, as not only did early space explorers travel from one world to the other, but both races can readily produce offspring without medical intervention. So it is likely that both races originated on one planet, colonized another, and diverged in appearance while retaining the ability to reproduce. Much like Terriers and Dobermans.

    1. This wouldn’t explain why humans and other species, such as Vulcans or Klingons could hybridize. Humans had trouble reproducing with Neanderthals who were closely related to us, so it’s unlikely that they could reproduce with species that evolved independently on another planet.

    2. I agree, if there are intelligent life forms somewhere else, at least some of them are likely to have evolved a superficially similar form. I think bilateral symmetry and encephalization are practically unavoidable.

    3. Counter-example: Cephalopods i.e. octopuses. Intelligent, adaptable, effectively amphibious, and I submit just as capable of evolving into a technologically sophisticated dominant species as we are.

      The only thing against it, that I can see, is that many basic mechanical/chemical/electrical contrivances don’t work well in a saturated environment. But this may just reflect my natural bias of being a ‘dry’ organism.


  8. It’s not really a uniform, but a jacket made to look like one. Both the uniform style and set are from The Next Generation.

    I own a genuinely made Picard’s captain’s jacket (AKA “The Picardigan”), introduced in the episode Darmok , which is one of my favorite episodes. I know there are a few people here who will appreciate that 🙂 And, if I don’t put on my Captain’s pips, it just looks like a very stylish jacket.

    1. LOL “Picardigan”. I always thought there should be a TNG episode where Captain Picard is trying to stop pulling at his sweater because they are always pulling down their uniform tops.

      1. That’s a great idea for an episode! If I had any confidence in the upcoming Picard series, I would hope for one involving that. I would just love it if the whole series was him on Earth, and us watching as he both carries out his daily routine at the office and at home/in the vineyard.

        1. I also wanted an episode where Picard calls Riker into his ready room to tell him that he needs to get himself under control because his flagrant sexual appetites keep getting the whole Enterprise in trouble. There were at least 3 episodes that I can think off of the top of my head where Riker’s promiscuousness causes trouble for everyone.

          1. Hahaha, very fair. Though I always find it weird when people are now complaining that Riker has relationships with people on the ship. Do people not realize that the ship isn’t just a place of work, but also everyone’s home? Like, they don’t get to go home to some other place where they live after every shift. The approximately 1,000 people on that ship are all there together until they either leave Starfleet or transfer to another ship (where they’d have the same problem). It’s where they work, but it’s also their city, their home, the only place where they can go to the bar or restaurant. They can only ever see and have long-term relationships with each other. If relationships between coworkers were forbidden, everyone but crew who arrived with a spouse/family in tow would be very, very lonely and sexually frustrated!

            Not to mention the fact that one would assume sexual politics have evolved by over 300 years from now 🙂 Plus, the sudden idea that people should never be able to have relationships with fellow employees is something I think is really damaging to human relationships. An enormous number of our ancestors met at work. We can’t just leave dating to websites. People share a space together for a long time, they learn about each other, and they often fall in love. It’s the human condition.

            1. Haha. River had relationships with a lot of people off the ship too (hence all the trouble). I’d say my funny Picard quote I say of how he’s having his heart to heart with Riker but it’s too vulgar for this site.

              1. Jerry’s probably not reading this thread anymore, so you might be able to get away with it 🙂

                Yeah, didn’t Riker get that woman killed on the planet that wasn’t supposed to have genders? I mean, she went pretty hard after him, but it was his duty not to get involved regardless. Though I can see why he did, as she was so persistent and intriguing and generally and bluntly interested in human sexuality, and she was basically telling him that for him to treat her as female (both in regular interaction and sexually) would be to give her a sort of freedom/release from the oppressive regime under which she had always lived, as she had always identified as female for as long as she could remember.

                If I remember correctly, she is put to death at the end, but the episode makes for a really complex and brilliant commentary on many issues through a single story, such as equality between the sexes, the suppression of sexual identity, the suppression of sex-identified or -correlated characteristics, and ideologically outlawing people engaging in safe and consensual sexual activity with others. I think it’s a very complex episode that doesn’t get nearly enough credit, and I’ve unfortunately even seen it labelled as “problematic” by many.

              2. No she didn’t get out to death, she got some medical treatment forced on her that stopped her wanting to be female. It was a good commentary on how we treat gay people in the 90s. But of course there was an intergalactic incident because Riker couldn’t keep his pants on. Then there was The Game. That was some chick he met on Risa on something that introduced that. I think there was also some diplomatic incident on some servant woman he met too.

              3. Wait, he did a good job with the servant woman! That was The Vengeance Factor. Riker was only able to stop an assassination that could have sparked a renewed civil war because he penetrated the enemy’s defenses!


                But his interest in her really did lead to him stopping the assassination attempt. But yeah, dude’s gotta learn to keep it in his pants on missions. That clip show at the end of season 2 (Shades of Gray) should have been the result of him putting his dick in a plant, rather than getting pricked with a thorn.

              4. Yeah and I bet there is a reason Riker is always sitting in chairs by flinging his leg over the back I don’t know what it is but it is penis related for sure. I follow a Twitter feed called “Riker Googling” and there are some gems there.

              5. Oh, and while I won’t defend the others, I defend anything done on Risa. Risa is basically sex-world. What happens on Risa is supposed to stay on Risa.

              6. Yeah but Riker but the game from there. Keep your risa escapades off the Enterprise Riker. Learn boundaries.

              7. Oh yeah, I remember that now! He basically brought a TNG-era Virtual Boy back from Risa. I don’t know, that was innocent enough and didn’t involve sex. It just turned out the Gameboy was a nefarious narcotic-like mind-control device.

                They could have just made it a Virtual Boy. Those things actually gave people headaches and drove them insane in the real world. On the other hand, it made people not want to play with them, so I guess not…

                Anyway, thankfully the ever-levelheaded Wesley Crusher was there to save the ship and finish off TNG’s requisite “don’t do drugs” episode. Oof, that was a bad episode.

              8. Yeah but still again Riker’s insatiable amorous adventures end up getting the Enterprise in trouble because he hooked up with someone and brought back something deadly from the hook up.

      1. My favourite Orville scene is where Ed accidentally runs through Yaphit when he’s rushing down the corridor & it’s just like running through jello.

        1. The first season started off a bit rough (it was still pretty good and much better than STD), but it got much better after just a few episodes. The second season really seemed to make clear that it was the studio that had forced MacFarlane to shoehorn jokes into places where they didn’t belong because they wanted a “sci-fi comedy” (they were probably too scared that a straight sci-fi show wouldn’t grab enough viewers), as it was much more about being just a sci-fi Trek-like show and all the “jokes” were really just organic comedic situations. I absolutely adore the last few episodes of the first season and the entire second season. Of course, bringing on Brannan Braga was a great idea. Meanwhile, STD is burning through showrunners like firewood and now has the infamous Alex Kurtzman at the helm (that guy’s career…talk about failing upwards!).

          My favorite jokey Orville moment is any time Mercer asks Alara to “open this jar of pickles for me.” Oh, and when Isaac tries to learn about practical jokes and amputates Gordon’s leg in his sleep.

          1. I like Discovery – the timeline with Spock was interesting and I liked seeing Pike. I think that actor was well matched.

            1. I do like the guy who plays Pike, but I didn’t even finish season 2 (I almost didn’t watch it). At this point, I’ve cancelled my All Access subscription. I knew they would bring in old characters like Spock because the show wasn’t going well after the first season. I don’t like the actor who plays him. And I found Burnham to be a really unlikable character from the very start, though she wasn’t as bad this season.

              Also, this video represents just two of many reasons I don’t like the show. “I like science” and “that’s the power of math, people” are actual lines in the show! And the “science” never seems nearly as plausible as it did in TNG, DS9, and Voyager, and it’s always so much easier for them to solve their problems with it. It would often take an entire TNG episode for them to figure out the scientific solution to something, and it would usually seem very “scientific” and reasonable within the universe. And I just don’t like many of the characters and plots, to say nothing of the fact that I feel it kind of betrays the underlying tone of previous Trek.

              Even though DS9 had four seasons of war, there was still so much heart behind the show and the characters, so many moments that made me feel good. I felt connected to the characters and the characters felt connected to each other. The war came with all the planning, the politics, the small-scale human drama, the moments where they found the souls of the characters. I just don’t feel that in STD. When I watch STD, I don’t feel any of the things I feel watching TNG, DS9, etc. I think it really comes down to what I consider poor writing and a lack of understanding regarding what Trek is (or, at least, what it is to me).

              Maybe it would have been a better update of something like Battlestar Galactica, which I never liked all that much.

              1. I actually like Burnham but I liked the actress from The Walking Dead. DS9 is my favourite Star Trek and partly it’s because they are at war. No more ideal world. And Sisko is my favourite captain.

              2. Yes, DS9 really is amazing, and I love how they planted the seeds of The Dominion threat from the end of season two up through season three with just small, seemingly irrelevant references to them or various incidents on rare occasions, and then they suddenly show up and war breaks out. It really is great seeing what happens when The Federation has to go to war.

                I think we’ve had this conversation before, but I don’t really have a “favorite” captain between Picard and Sisko (my two favorites), at least in terms of under which one I would want to serve or have for all situations. If I was going to war or in an unstable part of the galaxy, I’d definitely want Sisko. If I was on a diplomatic or scientific mission, I’d want Picard. Between the two of them, who I’d want to serve under depends on my position, both in their command and the surrounding environment in which I’m serving.

    1. And thanks so much for your work! Trek has so much to teach us, even beyond science, just how to live as human beings. Tolerance, empathy, rational problem solving together…

      Also, just to address why aliens look so alike, there was another answer given in TNG: since they all come from class M planets, they all evolved roughly similar characteristics. Although, the characters of Trek do come across some aliens very much unlike us, such as the Sheliak and Species 8472.

  9. I think that the third explanation is the only one that would work:

    “aliens (most of them anyway) are derived from life on Earth”

    The first two would mess up our phylogenetic analyses and we would have trouble placing humans in phylogenetic trees. However, we can trace our ancestry to the distant past and there are even genes that we have that are highly conserved among all the domains of life. We share genes with bacteria for example, and there isn’t evidence that they were all acquired through horizontal transfer.

    It’s interesting to consider what would have happened if in the Star Trek universe, humans couldn’t be placed into a phylogeny of lifeforms on Earth. I suspect that this would have resulted in a highly religious society, where humans were considered to be created independently by God. You’d have a Star Trek universe, where the humans were mainly creationists!

    Therefore, the only possible answer out of the three would be the third one IMO. To quote one of Spock’s ancestors, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”:

    Seeing that we have no evidence of a past human civilization capable of space travel, a suitable “Star Trekky” answer would be that aliens seeded other planets with an ancient hominid from the Earth’s past.

  10. Since I’m still not nearly as well-versed in genetics and evolution as many other people here, what do some of you think of the explanation profeered in TNG: all the races are similar because they all evolved on Class M planets?

    1. It’s not especially convincing, which is why I think that the Star Trek writers would be better off just leaving these things unexplained. Given a similar environment, there are some traits that would probably arise independently (aka convergent evolution). Some classic examples include flight and the evolution of eyes from simple photoreceptors. However, the degree of convergence in the Star Trek universe is extremely implausible. Consider our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. In Star Trek, the aliens typically look far more similar to modern humans compared to our resemblance to chimps. There is also the problem of human/alien hybrids in Star Trek. That wouldn’t occur by chance alone.

      That being said, some traits wouldn’t be too implausible, such as bipedalism and having two eyes. However, the similarities would be very limited.

    2. I think it’s weak. Class M doesn’t mean that apes get to be the best adapted species every time because I’m sure there are other environmental factors at play like catastrophes we were lucky enough to escape or other animals we were lucky enough not to encounter. Or the landscape could be different and maybe it was an ocean world and all the octopuses took over….who knows.

      1. There are probably a whole set of constraints that determine how intelligence would evolve on some random planet. Maybe enough so that all planets so endowed would produce very similar phenotypes. I remember Richard Dawkins answering this question with some confidence saying at least some of DNA-like molecule and some form of evolutionary natural selection would be required. I would go further and say apelike ancestors would be required. There is a reason apes are some of the smartest animals and the ability to think in complex ways seems to require hands, binocular vision, bipedality, sociality, etc. That is, if there are others…out there.

        1. Our universe is very young & we apes arrived at the party very early – heat gradients, the ability to do work & thus new intelligences will arise far into a vastly wide & distant future [most of it inaccessible to us poor Saps] – only 10^10 years have passed & we will have new stars forming until around 10^14 years & our descendants will have until 10^40 years before all nucleons decay [that’s 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times the currently assumed age of the universe for beings to figure out how to carry one without matter as we know it Jim].


          “There is a reason apes are some of the smartest animals and the ability to think in complex ways seems to require hands, binocular vision, bipedality, sociality, etc.”

          you are thinking like an ape who hangs with apes & it reminds me of all the times we humans have put ourselves & our ways at the centre of things only to be rudely awakened by reality. If we are fortunate enough to explore our local group of galaxies**

          Dawkins is obviously correct that a non-ID organic intelligence must emerge only via some evolutionary process [putting aside Boltzmann brains nonsense], BUT he was open to the idea that elsewhere & elsewhen non-Darwinian evolution could dominate e.g. where Lamarckian processes develop out of a Darwinian base [as with our silicon brothers-to-be]. In our own miniscule sphere we have seen what life can do without an aware mind [as we apes understand it] – just look at the number of times insects have independently evolved mindless [seemingly] societies that can modify the environment & look at the short-lived cephalopods, one order of which plans actions without the advantage of a social life.

          It is my bet that most life, nearly everywhere, will be slimy unicellular, but once it takes off into something more complex, apes & ape-like beings aren’t going to feature at all. Bilateral symmetry is a good bet out of water I suspect, but perhaps that’s me being an ape.

          ** The local group is almost our limit for feet-on-the-ground exploring/colonising – around 97% of galaxies we can see by telescope today can’t be reached by us even at the speed of light & our reach will shrink to just the local group in 10^11 years.

              1. I don’t think I’ve ever made a literal “squee” sound until now.

                Nobody heard me and I still feel kind of embarrassed.

                My niece got stung by a man o’ war about a mont ago. Holy shit! Those animals are pretty fucking scary. I mean not just because they can sting you, but because they’re kind of a whole bunch of animals put together to create one animal.

                Also, I took my sleep meds maybe 45 minutes ago. I think I shoould get in bed.

          1. But, at the end of the day, to be an alien race that has a relatinship contact with Starfleet, you have to evolve to develop the capacity for thinking and creating to the point that you can develop warp technology. So, the question is, are there other types of brains that can develop on Class M planets that can do this, and also develop with bodies capable of building complex machinery? Trek says yes on occasion, as with, for exampleee, he Sheliak, etc. But not often. How odten can it happen? What are the chances? Who knows? Whoever knows should tell us.

            OK, I’m really going to bed now.

            1. There is an inbuilt ape assumption that technology & tool use is independent of biology, but I think that’s an error in our perception & our experience. In the long run ‘we’ WILL BE OUR TOOLS – we will meld with our tools & be them.

              In other environments we will find the equivalent of ape tool users, but they will use biochemistry to fashion their tools rather than ores & furnaces. You will have noticed that our most advanced tools are beginning to be built like biological materials.

            2. I can’t fall into the conceit of Starr Trek as future history – I don’t want to be part of a world where we wear spandex cycling costumes, where the humour is of this weird, flat, wholesome, inoffensive, American variety. Where entire conversations consist of streams of absurd platitudes. Where they introduce a SevenofNine [?] character so the manboys can get off on her dominatrix remoteness, curvaceous arse, perky tits & fecking spaceship high heels!

              Star Trek is dreck – decades behind where good SciFi lives today which is not yet on the screen & might be too big to ever get on the screen.

              1. “…good SciFi lives today which is not yet on the screen & might be too big to ever get on the screen.”

                I’m a little afraid to ask, but, can you provide a couple of titles?

              2. Iain M. Banks [Scottish]
                Use of weapons
                The Player of games
                Two books out of Banks’ series of ten books in The Culture series

                Cixin Liu [Chinese]
                The Three-Body Problem first of a trilogy I think [reading this now]

                Peter Watts [Canadian]
                Blindsight Lots of people I respect on SciFi think this is something special – I thought it twaddle

                Greg Egan [Australian]

                Robert Charles Wilson [Canadian-American]

                M John Harrison [English]
                Light first of a trilogy

                Neal Stephenson [American]
                Seveneves Hard on the brain. Humourless. I don’t like him nor his stuff.

                Almost all the above are nearly impossible for the screen except by gutting them of ideas & presenting the action bits only. The Culture series would lose the pacing – the slow build up of mindbogglingness.

                There’s some very, very good women SciFi writers too, but their styles tend to be more relationship based & thus filmable [Ursula K. Le Guin & Ann Leckie, both American, come to mind].

              3. The Three Body Problem comes up a lot with discussions about good sci-fi books. I have it on my list to read but I’m almost afraid as it looks like a big commitment. I start my non-fiction books but for some reason just want fiction now. For years my brain only wanted non-fiction now it only wants fiction. I’d add your recommendation to me years ago – Hyperion. It would be difficult to adapt to the screen yet there is often chatter about it being done or being in the works.

                A couple of ones I liked recently that probably could go on the screen: the Murderbot series (All Systems Red and so on) which is a fun romp through a different world and the Bobiverse….don’t know how well the Bobiverse would translate as it could be great or a disaster but it’s probably doable.

              4. Are the Bobiverse universe books any good? I had not heard of the Murderbot series, I’m looking to see if the library has it in audible or print.

                That Hyperion still gives me the willies – I see it’s up for being a mini-series on a streaming service. It will be a disaster of course.

                I also go through phases of fiction, non-fiction switching.

              5. I loved the Bobiverse series. It’s main character, who’s POV makes up most of the story, has a good sense of humour and the science is interesting as well (Van neuman probes, relativity as you communicate through space over vast distances). I’ve recommended it to my IT friends st work and they’ve loved it as well.

                Murderbot is lighter reading and you can get through the stories quickly. I liked the disdain of the main character who class itself “Murderbot” after hacking its own governor.

                I just downloaded Diaspora after reading a sample on Amazon and reading some Goodread reviews. It seemed intimidating in the reviews but I really ate up the sample so I’m looking forward to reading it.

              6. Amazon 1.0 out of 5 stars: “Like undergoing a brutal assault by an Ikea catalogue crossed with a maths geek”


              7. Ha ha. I ready most of the first chapter and I really liked it. And I don’t do well with math. I found it really interesting and the author would have had to really think through a lot of what he was trying to demonstrate and then translate that into how it would look and then describe it. It’s pretty impressive I think. I hope the rest of the book is like this.

              8. Ignore my copious typos. I’m typing with my index fingers on my giant iPad.

      2. Yes, and octopuses are effectively amphibious. I can see an excellent start for an intelligent, tool-making civilisation right there.

        Or, I can easily imagine a six-limbed body plan – four legs and two arms – significant advantages over bipedalism in terms of sure-footedness.


    3. I’m no expert either, but for what it’s worth, it doesn’t seem particularly plausible or implausible.

      On the not particularly plausible side, the huge diversity throughout the history of life on Earth and how contingent we know many of the aspects of the process of evolution to be.

      On not particularly implausible side, right now we only have a sample size of 1, planet Earth.

      But, I think not particularly plausible comes out on top. If we were to imagine that we could reset the clock on Earth to just after LUCA evolved I can’t think of any convincing argument that the history of life on Earth would again result in Homo sapiens or even something as similar to us as Star Trek aliens. It just seems that there are too many possible solutions, an infinite number, and too many contingencies along the way. And if that is reasonable for Earth then it is also of course reasonable for other M class planets.

      But the real problem, already mentioned by someone else, is that in the Star Trek universe there have been many cases of successful hybridization among the various humanoid species. Ain’t no way convergent evolution can explain that.

    4. Good responses, everyone, and I’m inclined to agree. Maybe the best explanation is to combine the Class M planet idea with the idea that the aliens with which we’re most likely to make contact are the ones most similar to ourselves. As I noted before, there are actually quite a few species that are not at all like humans.

      1. Forget M-class stars & anyway our Sol is G-class. All the action is at the tiny [0.1 M☉], extremely common [75% of all stars] & long-lived red dwarf stars – they typically burn for say 2,000 to 4,000 times the entire life of our own sun – Sol. Imagine that!

        The red dwarf stars are playing the long game & any organisms that can evolve to handle planetary life in such solar systems will be sitting pretty [pretty for a bug eyed monster that eats its young of course].

  11. I saw Star Wars, but too old maybe to be a Scifi fan. These stories always make me wonder, what was happening on earth during these great adventures? So long as folks realize these stories are fiction, it’s OK. For some folks, I wonder! GROG

    1. “So long as folks realize these stories are fiction, it’s OK.”

      A point that is cleverly and hilariously sent up in the move “Galaxy Quest”.

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