The Runes Of Evolution, is a new book in which the leading evolutionary biologist, Professor Simon Conway Morris, makes the case for a ubiquitous “map of life” that governs the way in which all living things develop.
It builds on the established principle of convergent evolution, a widely-supported theory — although one still disputed by some biologists — that different species will independently evolve similar features.
Conway Morris argues that convergence is not just common, but everywhere, and that it has governed every aspect of life’s development on Earth. Proteins, eyes, limbs, intelligence, tool-making — even our capacity to experience orgasms — are, he argues, inevitable once life emerges.
The book claims that evolution is therefore far from random, but a predictable process that operates according to a fairly rigid set of rules.
If that is the case, then it follows that life similar to that on Earth would also develop in the right conditions on other, equivalent planets. Given the growing number of Earth-like planets of which astronomers are now aware, it is increasingly extraordinary that aliens that look and behave something like us have not been found, he suggests.
I would argue that in any habitable zone that doesn’t boil or freeze, intelligent life is going to emerge, because intelligence is convergent. One can say with reasonable confidence that the likelihood of something analogous to a human evolving is really pretty high. And given the number of potential planets that we now have good reason to think exist, even if the dice only come up the right way every one in 100 throws, that still leads to a very large number of intelligences scattered around, that are likely to be similar to us.”