archive: Re: SETI Why would anyone look forward to sharing this galaxy?

Re: SETI Why would anyone look forward to sharing this galaxy?

Bruce Cornet ( (no email) )
Fri, 9 Oct 1998 11:44:05 -0400

In the discussion on "Why would anyone look forward to sharing this
galaxy?" the following comment was made by Al and Jerry:

Al Aburto
"No, the bipedal dinos were the only hope for the DNA of this planet and
they were flattened by a stray mountain that Jupiter failed to grab in
time.
I know, impact events occur every 30 million years or so, and they tend to
speed up evolution, but it's such a shame! Those *dinos* would have been
spacefaring for 20 million years by now (all over our galaxy and already
thinking about seeding M31 with brainy *dinos*!! Hallelujah to the Supreme
Dromaeosaur!!)"

Jerry and Judy <jerbidoc@zianet.com>
"Our species is very young compared to this potential that was snuffed out
65 million years ago! Bipedal dinosaurs were well along their way toward
sentience. There were a few promising lines which had already started on
the path of enhanced socialization, enlargement of the visual part of the
brain, bipedalism, efficient manipulation and increased encephelization (as
a feedback development loop). If these guys had survived the impact, as
our ancestors did! :), representatives of this planet would be populating
other star systems for maybe over 30 million years by now! (Alright 10
million, how many million do you want? We're almost there and it only took
us 20 million or so.)"

As an evolutionary biologist who has studied both plant evolution
(paleobotany) and animal evolution (vertebrate paleontology) for most of
his professional career (25 years), I have followed closely those
paleontologists who are interested in dinosaurian evolution. I have watched
various scientists debate whether the dinosaurs walked upright or walked
like crocodiles, whether they were cold blooded or warm blooded, or
something in between, and whether or not birds evolved from dinosaurs.
Until recent discoveries in Spain and China, there was insufficient
evidence to support the nay sayers or the yeh sayers regarding the
avian/dinosaurian connection. The new discoveries are discussed in a
well-illustrated article in National Geographic (July, 1998), called
"Dinosaurs take wing, the origin of birds." The new discoveries do a lot
for the skeptics, who must now eat humble pie. They also teach us the
perils of speculation and skepticism based on too little data.

On the subject of whether or not the dinosaurs would have been 20 million
years ahead of us in space exploration, had they evolved into sentient
intelligent technological beings such as ourselves, it is noteworthy that
the dinosaurs are not extinct, they are not as advanced as us, and they are
feathered! That does not mean that our favorite giants such as
Tyrannosaurus survived in feathered disguise (although some paleontologists
think that close relatives may have), but rather that some members of the
Dinosauria did things differently. The fossil record is very fickle in
yielding up its secrets. After their big brothers became extinct, the
winged survivors successfully competed with mammals over the past 65
million years. What may have led us to learn how to fly using technology
was them, because they were ahead of us in that skill. What may have
prevented them from evolving into highly intelligent animals may be
limitations imposed on evolution due to specializations for flight. Flight
gave them a convenient escape from predators, but flight also limited brain
development through weight constraints and tool use by the specialization
of their front two appendages (however, there are some birds quite adept at
using their feet to hold objects, and some of them have learned how to use
sticks as tools). Land-dwelling mammals, on the other hand, had to
outsmart their adversaries to survive, which placed evolutionary pressure
on brain development.

Evolution is a funny thing. You can never predict its outcome, only its
possible options given a set of environmental conditions and challenges.
Had bipedal dinosaurs survived which had not evolved feathers and flight
capability, perhaps things would have been different. But in order for
similar creatures to evolve on other planets, conditions probably would
have to be very Earth-like.

Yours truly,
Bruce Cornet, Ph.D.
Geologist and Paleontologist
bcornet@monmouth.com