Bipedal Aliens: What Evolution Can Tell Us About Extraterrestrials and Vice Versa

Picture-1197 Michael Shermer over at Scientific Blogging:

If we ever do make contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, what will it look like? Hollywood has had no shortage of examples for films and television shows that feature aliens, but they are almost always bipedal primates who speak English with a funny accent. This depiction is more the result of wardrobe budget constraints and the flexibility of actors than it is the imagination of writers…

My explanation — that the chances of an ET turning out to be a bipedal primate are close to zero — is not one shared by all scientists. None other than the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote to Josh Timonen, the videographer who filmed and produced this piece:

I would agree with him in betting against aliens being bipedal primates and I think the point is worth making, but I think he greatly overestimates the odds against. Simon Conway Morris, whose authority is not to be dismissed, thinks it positively likely that aliens would be, in effect, bipedal primates. Ed Wilson gave at least some time to the speculation that, if it had not been for the end-Cretaceous catastrophe, dinosaurs might have produced something like the attached.

Dawkins then presented this page from Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mindby Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, based on the paleontologist Dale Russell's evolutionary projection of how a bipedal dinosaur might have evolved into something like us had the dinosaurs not gone extinct.