Life on Other Planets from a Biological Perspective Introduction

About the biological perspective of life on other planets taking into account the vast forms that life takes on our own planet, various species and plants.

Life on Other Planets: Another View

When we speculate about whether other worlds will have "life as we know it," our natural tendency is to think only of life forms that suspiciously resemble man, dogs, cats, and, at the very most, perhaps something as fantastic as a giraffe.

The fact is, however, that little is known about life-as-we-know-it. About 350,000 kinds of plants and 1.2 million species of animals have been scientifically classified. An estimated half million more life forms inhabiting this planet still await discovery and description. Between 50 million and 4 billion different kinds of living things have lived on this planet. Only about 1% of the classified species of living plants and 2/10 of 1% of living animals have been subjected to chemical analysis. We are shamefully ignorant.

The result of this ignorance is a biological myopia that drastically shortens our view of the dimensions of life. In order to theorize rationally about extraterrestrial life, we should take a closer look at terrestrial life. Only when we begin to perceive the diversity of life on earth can we fully appreciate the possibilities of a vastness of life beyond earth.

From greenish dust to a thriving community of living organisms--but where had the "livingness" gone and whence had it come again? The answer, or at least something approaching an answer, may be found in what happens to a much larger form of life--the lungfish--when it passes into suspended animation. Because the lungfish is larger, its body can be thoroughly examined, and more complete studies of its life history can be made. Here is a clock that can be inspected when it runs down, stops ticking, and then seemingly winds itself up again. (Perhaps someday we'll be able to do the same with the tardigrade.)

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