Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal about Aliens – and Ourselves, by Arik Kershenbaum (author), Samuel West (narrator)

Penguin Audio, March 2021

Arik Kershenbaum is a zoologist, and College Lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge. In this book, he uses his deep knowledge of zoology on this planet to work out what alien life might be like, if and when we find it.

He starts from the assumption that both the same physical laws will apply everywhere, and that evolution is the only reasonable mechanism to govern the development of life. We can't say exactly what alien life forms will be like, but we can make reasonable projections of how life forms might move, communicate, and socialize in environments we can plausibly envision existing on other worlds.

Kershenbaum takes us through some of the ways evolution has created animals to populate what are from the human perspective truly bizarre and alien environments right here on Earth, including the deep ocean--and the ways very different types of organisms have evolved essentially the same solution to similar problems. An obvious example is birds and bats, both of which have arms, or forelegs if you prefer, evolved into wings. They're not even the only two groups of animals that have evolved that very similar solution, but they're the two most similar that we're all familiar with.

He goes on to examine ways in which aliens in a variety of types of environments might move, get energy, and communicate with each other--and perhaps, eventually, communicate with us. He also examines whether we would, if the opportunity arises, consider intelligent aliens as people, or even human. I'm not persuaded by his argument for the usefulness of extending the word "human" to include intelligent aliens; I think it's more reasonable to stick with "people," since I'm not sure these hypothetical intelligent aliens would necessarily be flattered by us deciding we're all the same species. But who knows, we haven't met them yet. It's all speculation, and Kershenbaum's argument is interesting.

He's got some really fascinating speculation about what kind of life we might find in the interior oceans of worlds like Saturn's moon, Enceladus, which are potentially capable of supporting life, or whether  there may be aliens who, like some of Earth's cephalopods, use the ability to control their displays of color to convey impressively complex communication. These are just specific examples; this is a fascinating and delightful book.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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