Are We Alone? Quite Possibly .
- Why? Because our sun, despite its frequent designation in textbooks as
an "ordinary" star, really isn't that average. Most stars in the Middle Way
are smaller and can't supply the energy requirements for a life-
Our little rock, the third from the sun, sits comfortably in the "Goldilocks"
zone, just right for life, not so close that it's torrid like Mercury and
Venus, not so far it's freezing. "It appears," says William Burger in
his "Perfect Planet. Clever Species: How Unique Are We?," "that we
have got ourselves just the right kind of star."
In his book, Burger, the curator emeritus of the Botany Department at
Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, shows why, contrary to the X-
Filers and saucer-chasers of the world, we might just be the
only "intelligent life" in the galaxy.
Humanity's ascent, he explains, was uncommonly lucky. Would
mammals have evolved, for instance, if dinosaurs hadn't vanished after
space rocks whacked into the planet? Or would we be here if flowering
plants hadn't flourished? "Until there was rich three-dimensional land
flora to support a feisty fauna, the likelihood of evolving smart monkeys
and even smarter humans was zero," writes Burger. "Creatures like
ourselves are likely to evolve only when challenged by rich and complex
environments. That's been true here on planet Earth, and it's likely to be
true elsewhere in the universe as well."
Elsewhere, Burger discusses the remarkably rapid expansion of the
human brain, the astonishing instrument that has enabled us to talk,
build cities and wonder who else lives among the stars. After canvassing
several contending theories, he sides with those who think we're smart
because we fight a lot. "Deadly conflict," he writes, "is the only likely
source of continuous selection pressure for nonstop brain expansion
throughout the huge geographic range humans have occupied over the
last two million years my argument here is that humans got really smart
because we invented troubles for each other that nature did not provide
for other species. By constant intergroup or interclan warfare, we
created a unique evolutionary arms race and escalating feedback loop
within our own species."
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