Apparently we’re going to end up creating a sub-editorship exclusively dedicated to ETs in this column, which doesn’t make me happy at all, but that’s life. I think it’s very difficult for you to have gone through this week without at least coming across the photo of a supposed mummified alien, which Mexican ufologist José Jaime Maussan was presenting to his country’s congressmen.
Maussan says that the creature’s remains would have been found in Peru; that she would have died about a thousand years ago; and that much of its DNA would have an “unknown” origin.
None of this makes any sense, other supposed “discoveries” by Maussan have been debunked several times before and there is no reason to think that the fate of the new mummy will be any different. Let’s try, however, to transform this wonderful Mexican-Andean lemon into lemonade. It turns out that there is a relatively easy way to tell that a supposedly deceased ET is not ET at all just by looking at its bones.
To make things more interesting, let’s leave aside the big goat in the room: the fact that the alien featured in Mexico has exactly the smiley face you’ve come to expect from every fictional ET since the namesake that popularized the acronym — the one from Spielberg, from 1982. (That should be enough to turn on all the lights on your intracranial nonsense detector: why on earth would Hollywood be capable of to get the morphology of a real alien right? But let’s move on.)
Those who reject the logic of the paragraph above usually play the “convergent evolution” card. OK, this reasoning goes, it may seem strange that a being that evolved in a totally different planetary system is basically a short, big-headed human being in body structure.
But you see, right here on Earth we have several examples of creatures that emerged from completely separate evolutionary lineages and arrived at very similar anatomical solutions. Just put dolphins and ichthyosaurs (aquatic reptiles from the Dinosaur era that, it’s worth noting, side by side). they weren’t dinosaurs), or bats and pterosaurs (flying reptiles with membranous wings from the same period that also they were not dinosaurs). Couldn’t something like this favor the multiple evolution of “humanoids” throughout the Cosmos?
The short answer is “we don’t know, but it seems unlikely.” Even if we give this great benefit of the doubt to the idea, however, there is something that convergent evolution makes very clear. The supposed “identical” solutions given by unrelated organisms to the challenges of evolution are actually only superficially the same. The devil is in the details.
Ichthyosaurs, for example, reveal their reptilian origin by the fact that their caudal fins were oriented vertically. They swam, therefore, beating them sideways, like fish. Dolphins (and whales) have horizontal caudal fins and move them from top to bottom, like mine and your legs when we walk — in both cases, we are talking about what are, essentially, mammalian paws.
Bats have membranous wings that rest on very elongated versions of almost all of the toes on the animals’ front paws. The winged limbs of pterosaurs depended solely on the lengthening of the fourth toe on their front paws.
And of course there are many other details there. Is there any sign, in the Andean-Mexican ET, that a parallel path typical of convergent evolution was in fact followed to naturally build that mech little skeleton? Of course not.
I repeat the maxim from my other recent text on the topic: yes, let’s keep an open mind. As long as there is no risk of the brain falling out.
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