If "Grays" Aren't Correct, Then What Would Aliens Look Like?

Some people think that it is probable that there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. I count myself among these people. And some people believe that the earth has been visited by aliens. And that they are grayish, with strange oblong heads, huge craniums and squinting eyes. And furthermore, they believe that the U.S. government has evidence of these visits, but is deliberately covering up these facts. I do not identify with this group of people.

But that brings up an interesting question. I am not alone in thinking there might be intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. Many reputable scientists feel the same way. (Just look at the SETI program.)

So what would these alien life forms look like? Obviously, they would probably vary from planet to planet. But would they share anything in common–like bipedal locomotion, for example? Can science tell us anything about this hypothetical area of biology? Are there somethings that they don’t know–and may never know, about what alien life forms might look like?

Just wondering…


Why do you think they would look any different than we do?

Well, the USA has several million aliens right now, many of them illegal. If even a small percentage looked different than the rest of us, chances are it would be all over the news.

Umm, ah, just a sec.

You were talking intelligent life, eh?

Sorry, wrong planet. :smack:
Beam me up, Scotty! Now!

It’s obviously impossible to say, but it woud seem that having lots of appendages is unlikely given the amount of brain (or whatever) that would be used up to control them. Not enough grey (or whatever) matter left over to be intelligent.

OK, no cite, and only a vague reccolection:

I remember, a while back, seeing someone (an SF author, I think), suggesting (quite convincingly) that the humanoid form is most likely for the intelligent, technological creatures we’re interested in (I’d, personally, extend it to Centauroids (and a couple more exotic forms) because the arguments mostly work for them, too.)

The upright posture, with a head as we think of it:

a) Raises the primary sense organs to the top.

b) Generally reduces the surface area of the head exposed to direct sunlight, helping to protect the brain (I’m not sure about this one, but…)

c) Frees up the forelimbs for tool-use.

I half-recall a few more arguments but these are the ones that stuck in my head, and a and c seem most convincing to me.

Disney produced a film in the 1950s or 1960s that speculated on what extraterrestrial life forms would look like. The suggestions were very fanciful. Butterfly-like creatures, balloon/jellyfish creatures… whatever they thought would be logical for a given environment. Carl Sagan made similar suggestions.

From our provincial viewpoint, we can say that bipedalism allowed us to use our hands, which allowed us to use tools, which gave an advantage to those ancestors who could figure out new tools and better ways of using them, which helped our brains to develop, and so on. But there is no reason really to assume that a being that evolved on another planet would evolve in the same way. They could look like anything, and probably/possibly look unlike anything we can imagine.

I like Sagan’s take on extraterrestrial intelligence: If we’re alone, it’s a big waste of space. I’ve forgotten who said it, but: “There are only two possibilities. Either there is other life in the universe or there isn’t. Either option is mind boggling.” Or something like that.

I also subscribe to Sagan’s view that it’s illogical to believe that we are being visited by extraterrestrials, because of the vast distances and the time involved in getting here due to the limitations of physics as we understand them.

If there are aliens, visiting this planet or otherwise, why would they need to look different from grays? That some questionable people believe that’s what they look like shouldn’t necessarily preclude some of them actually looking like that…

What about symmetry? Isn’t there some chemical property of amino acids or something that causes Earth life forms to have a tendency toward bilateral symmetry? And if the aliens were based on a similar structure, they might have this property too.

Symmetry? Isn’t that where they bury Irish people?

Actually, in general, the life forms on Earth with bilateral symmetry are those descended from a worm-like ancestor. Arthropods and chordates are the two types of critters you are most likely to encounter during a normal day, so you will tend to think that bilateral symmetry is somehow dominant or “right” for multicellular animals.

Radial symmetry works just fine for more sessile organisms, and some groups don’t seem to have any strong symmetries at all.

We have bilateral symmetry because we are modified fish, who worked well swimming if both sides matched. Those fish inherited that from worms that wiggled through mud, and found that they worked best if they had the “find food and eat it” organs at the front end.

Bilateral symmetry is a good design, but there is nothing predestined about it.

(Personally, I think any alien life forms we encounter will also make sense, but I cannot predict what the conditions of their environment would require, nor what possiblilities their ancestry would allow.)

" 'Cause there’s bugger-all down here on earrrrrrrth!"

Most of the ones that come down here were clothes from L.L. Bean and sweat a lot.

slugs? they would look like slugs, and die when you poured salt on them. or maybe they would look like spiders, except they had a giant penis. no, 16 giant penes.

Or maybe they would look like a giant pink light bulb. or perhaps a 3-inch high version of marge simpson’s hair. Since we have never found an alien here on earth, I don’t really know how we can speculate wha they look like.

Personally, I think four (or at least three) legs would be quite likely, as it would lend a certain amount of stability if an alien race were to develop in an environment with dramatically uneven terrain.

I think that our best guide to xenobiology is to look at the things which have developed independently on Earth. Something that came about once, we can dismiss as a fluke, but if something develops multiple times, there might be a reason.

On the basis of this, we can expect the following of technological species:

Aliens will probably have some sort of concentration of their nervous system in one place, for purposes of thinking. Call this a brain.

They will probably have most of their primary sense organs close to the brain. Call this the head.

The head may or may not be at the top of the body, depending on what sense the aliens use primarily. Scent-based organisms, for instance, will more likely keep their heads to the ground.

Their senses will probably include some means of detecting and imaging light, some means of detecting sound, and some means of detecting and distinguishing various chemicals.

They will spend at least some time on dry land, so as to be able to use fire. Technology as we know it is essentially impossible without fire.

They will have some means of locomotion. Given that they’re spending some time on land, this will probably take the form of one or more legs.

They will have some sort of manipulative organs, analagous to our hands and arms. Again, this is necessitated by the assumption of technology. These structures may or may not be related to their locomotive organs: See elephants, for example.

They will have some means of communicating amongst themselves, so as to be able to pass on technological developments. This may or may not be sonic, but may also depend on scents, sight, or other means.

They will, of course, have some means of obtaining necessary substances from their environment, and the structures for that purpose will probably be connected to their chemical senses (so as to protect against poisons). However, there is no reason to suppose that such structures would be related to their communication.

What does this tell us? Not much. Humans and greys, of course, do match this description, but then, so do a lot of other potential designs.

No cite, but J Michael Straczynski wrote a statement expressing exactly this on Usenet back during the first season, in response to a fan’s complaint that there were too many aliens with a humanoid form.

I don’t think Straczynski was the one I was thinking of.

ISTR this from somewhat before B5. Might be wrong, though…more than 5 years in the past, and my memory tends to blur. Might have been more or less contemporary with the original movie - I remember the house I was living in at the time.

Do you remember is Straczynski’s post expanded on any more points, or what newsgroup this was in? (rec.arts.sf.tv?)