Life–A New Definition, Part 2

Back on March 13, 2011, I wrote a short blog about the inevitability of the formation of “life” on a planet, any planet, given the right circumstances.  You can define life however you want in this context, that’s not the point of my blog today.  What I want to explore today is the aftermath of the emergence of living organisms.  Is there anything inevitable about the direction of the evolution of those organisms?  Must it take a certain course?

I’m specifically looking at one particular feature of higher life on the planet we call “Earth,” a concept I’ve wondered about for a long time.  As humans, we occupy the top of the intelligence ladder.  Our brain has evolved farther than most, if not all, other animals.  Dolphins, I understand, have a brain as complicated as ours, but no dolphin has ever devised a computer.  Or, as far as I know, even used one.  Some higher apes use tools, but no ape or monkey has ever built a steam shovel.  Or operated a typewriter.  No, we’ve gone overboard in our tool development.

Humans also, though, seem to show some things that are mostly lacking in animals.  I’m speaking here of compassion and altruism.  What I’m wondering is, is the tendency toward a desire to help the less fortunate–to heal the sick, help the poor, diagnose and treat disease, and so on and so forth–specifically foreordained in the evolution of the most highly evolved living organisms on a planet?  To put it differently, where did this idea come from?

Some animals do help others of their species.  I’ve seen elephants try to help a dying or injured member of their group, and I’ve even seen them expressing great emotion (in the particular way elephants express it) when another member is in trouble.  Dogs, also, can show great loyalty to their owners, visiting their grave site over and over for years.  But no dog performs surgery on another, and no elephant buries its dead cousin.  That is left to us humans.

But why?  Why do we feel compassion toward another of our species?  Is that a normal part of the evolution of the highest member species on a particular planet, and can we look forward to seeing it on other planets, if and when we become so sophisticated we can journey to other worlds and greet the inhabitants?

Certainly, the course of evolution will be different on other planets–vastly different from what we’ve got here–and we have to consider the fact that what passes for life on another planet may not even be recognizable by space farers of the future.  Yet it’s not too early to start asking ourselves, what will the most intelligent forms of life look like when we get there?  It’s time to open our minds to the fact that life will take many forms, and perhaps it will be in our best interest to show a little compassion to a lower form of life on Planet X.  Tread carefully astronauts of the future, you might step on the extraterrestrial equivalent of a pussy cat.

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