Let’s talk about alien biochemistry some more

I’ve received many comments, questions, and arguments about my little video from Friday, so I thought I’d try and address some of them in a hangout on Monday evening. Ask new questions, too, if you’d like. I’ve also got a few things I’d like to elaborate on, a little bit.


  1. pacal says

    I would like to mention another possibility explaining why we haven’t detected intelligent life out there. I suggest that it is possible that the great majority of intelligent life I the Universe is non – technological. There is not, in my opinion, any iron clade rule that intelligent life must develop technology. I suspect that the vast majority of intelligent species in the Universe, may be creatures like Whales etc., with little to no interest in technology, or bluntly the need for it.

    The common trope that intelligent life has only developed once on Earth is wrong. Humans may be the most intelligent animal on this planet but we are not the only intelligent animal. In my book self awareness is the basic mark of sentience / intelligence in our sense and it is my understanding that Bobos, Chimpanzees, At least some species of Dolphins and a certain species of Magpie have self awareness, at least to the degree that they can recognize themselves in mirrors. Except for Humans these sentient species basically lack technology so I am not sold on the notion that intelligent species out there will have technology.

  2. rietpluim says

    @pacal – I’ve always wondered how recognizing oneself in the mirror is equivalent to self awareness. These seem like two totally separate things to me.

  3. pacal says

    I don’t get it. If you aren’t aware of yourself has a separate being just how would you recognize yourself in a mirror? Further Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Dolphins for example have been see doing the following. Chimpanzees, and Bonobos have been seen putting on makeup, looking in a mirror, and then removing the make up and trying a different style of makeup. Dolphins have been observed putting things on their bodies, looking in mirrors, and then trying to some other item. Well I would think those types of activities would indicate some level of self awareness. Besides recognizing yourself in a mirror isn’t the equivalent of self awareness it is evidence of self awareness.

  4. John Morales says

    Listened with some delay, but I don’t care to make a YouTube account, so didn’t participate.

    In passing, I think the best example of alien incomprehensibility is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindsight_(Watts_novel).

    Best point made was, I think, that information is the only resource valuable enough to justify interstellar travel, and the only “tradable” one.

  5. John Morales says


    Pacal, I entirely agree with you, but your phrasing…

    “Well I would think those types of activities would indicate some level of self awareness.”

    “Well I think those types of activities indicate some level of self awareness.”


  6. lochaber says

    Whenever I read about the mirror test, I can’t help but think of that Beavis and Butthead episode where one of them is talking about that weird guy in the window in the bathroom. :)

  7. says

    pacal@1 some species may have the mental capabilities to develop a technological civilisation, but don’t have the planetary resources to do so. A resource poor planet would prevent developing some technologies past a certain point, and prevent the development of others at all. Not having easily mined metals and other minerals, and petrochemicals, are going to make it pretty hard to build spacecraft, the electronics that control them, and the materials that power them..