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Are We Alone? Quite Possibly .

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  • Brian Muehlbach <bri_mue@yahoo.com>
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
      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-
      sustaining planet.

      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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