All living things on earth have DNA, a marvelous molecule which has produced untold millions of species which inhabit every corner of the globe.  The question of where life came from - whether it develooped on earth or came from space - is really quite silly, because we are "space" as much as space is.  Everything "out there" is also "here", and vice versa.  Organic molecules are formed naturally on Earth, but we are also showered by meteorites which carry organics.  Add to this the discovery that the Orion Nebula is an "organic-molecule factory", producing "precursors to life-enabling molecules", and you have a space broth of pre-biotics seeding other worlds.  Assuming that the Orion Nebula is no the only  organic factory out there, one can only conclude that life is common and ubiquitous.  And if this mix of conditions, over billions of years, produced the most adaptable molecule for life on Earth, why would we think that it would be otherwise on other planets?

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Oooh! This reeks of ugly complexities and assumptions. Yes, I suppose we could be considered to be just a more complex model, in that we are bilaterally symmetrical and have an anterior and posterior, but keep in mind that Gould is talking about DNA life crowding out other DNA life. It just seems to me that since the earth has undergone incredible, dramatic changes in its history, there would be some wee bit of evidence that another life-form had briefly taken hold (though that evidence may have long ago disappeared under a tectonic plate). And of course it's possible DNA was the first workable system out of the box - but can we envision a more beautifully complex - a more elegant, a more perfect - molecule that is able to accomodate life in all parts of the globe?
We're stuck with assumptions and conjecture until an alternate life form is found. Would we be able to recognize an independently evolved DNA form if we found it? Could a "bacterial" form found in the ocean of Europa or in underground Martian pools be an independent or a relative separated from us by four billion or more years?
Now that's something to look forward to - actually, is it DNA or something else? And would we recognize it as life? Frankly, I prefer the days of my youth , when there were canals on Mars, and possibly crystal palaces; when space was really unknown, and science -fiction opened up fantastic alien planets and exotic creatures. Science can be deadly dull. Bacteria...pah!
The methane burps on this geologically inactive world are very intriguing.
Ron I'm acually with you on this. I still prefer the giddy days of Martian Canals , crystal palaces and an ancient wise civilization. Tell a non-science friend that bacteria have been found on Mars and watch the dull stare you get.
@ Ron: OK, for the sake of discussion I'm going to try to fuck your mind over as much as possible. 1. Evolution has set us on a course of I-don't-care-about-you-except-to-survive-and-reproduce. 2. Evolution has screwed us by giving us a brain. Now we're just a bunch of neurotic, paranoid assholes trying to outdo each other and searching for the meaning and purpose of life as if we had been chosen and annointed by god (oops, sorry) knows who, or what! We would have been better off if we had remained ape-like and hung out in the savannah with our buds and picked fruit and chased girls. And we wouldn't have screwed up the world.

We will never get our shit together because we need to compete to survive. Evolution has seen to that. If you magnanimously give up your life so I can get your job, then everything would be cool. No strife, no getting pissed off, no high blood pressure. (Do not some ant species behave as a single organism?) But I do not see us all turning into totally selfless zombies.

We will never reach a single star. We will probably never hear a signal from "out there". No aliens will will pay us a visit in their giant starships and cause a panic. All those habitable planets out there will make for interesting speculation - but we will never see them.

We will just continue to screw up the planet; all our food will come from land and aquatic farms; most non-food species will disappear; we will never find a single unifying theory for the universe, and we will continue to torture ourselves with ever more unprovable theories trying to do so.

And we will continue to ponder the beauty and majesty of the night sky and wonder why all those stars are looking down on us - what's it all about? But it's about nothing, because the Universe has no purpose - and we have none either.

So much for brains brains.
As you may know, our brain size is smaller than it has been in the past. It has varied in size during our evolution, apparently responding to societal and other environmental changes. One can guess that it's because technology has removed us from the selection process, but it seems obvious, nonetheless, that we will probably not evolve into big-brained puny individuals. If you don't need the brains, why spend all that energy to sustain them.

The evolution of man has not stopped - physically or physiologically. So, your idea that time will be a game changer certainly holds true. And I emphasize again that every planet is unique in every parameter.

As for travel to the stars, I just don't see it...unless we can achieve some sort of suspended animation. But we certainly have enough to distract us just puttering around the Solar System. Ahh, so much to do and so little time.
One can guess that it's because technology has removed us from the selection process,
While our brain weight to body weight is less than that of the Neanderthal and the Dolphin the evolutionary change of the human brain was qualitative rather than quantitative.
I don't think it's a case of evolutionary regression . It is, however, true that technology has changed the rules, so to speak. Many of the non-adaptiven gene sets now survive because of technology where in the past they would not have lived to reproduce and the non-adaptive gene set would die out.
One can guess that it's because technology has removed us from the selection process,

Not really. What technology did is CHANGE the selection criteria. Now we have stronger selection against cancer and heart disease as our obese lifestyles and later-in-life families push our reproduction in new directions. Selection for good eyesight is gone, but our selection for maintaining good hand-eye coordination is strong (good luck getting by without using a computer or small machine nowadays). There are countless ways selection has changed, and to be true medicine has blunted many old selective pressures, but new pressures are coming in to replace them.
There is no doubt man is still evolving, both physically and physiologically, but I disagree that something like hand-eye coordination is being selected for: it plays no role in your ability to survive. In modern society the struggle to survive is virtually non-existant; individuals born without arms can still pass their genes along to the next generation. Hominin (pre- man) brain size remained flat for four million years, perhaps because the environment was static and uniform. When sudden and drastic climatic changes ocurred, brain size increased.

It's true, as Jim Depaulo stated, that the human brain has evolved qantitatively as well as qualitatively - but there is currently no selective pressure to increase our intelligence - nor any to change our anatomy. As for diseases, the same applies - medicine keeps us alive long enough to reproduce. And having children later in life is generally found only in modern societies, but not in places like Asia, South America, Africa and India.
Personally, I see way too much truth in the movie Idiocracy. We're selecting for carelessness and stupidity, at the moment, with our social system. On average, intelligent professionals are having fewer children, later in life, and the hicks who are too stupid and careless to use birth control are reproducing like crazy and being supported by welfare.
That is another common theme of science fiction, the seminal work by Cyril Kornbluth, was the short story The Marching Morons is still one of the best.

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