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July 12 , 2008

Life's Solution


The assassin's bullet misses, the Archduke's carriage moves forward, and a catastrophic war is avoided. So too with the history of life. Re-run the tape of life, as Stephen J. Gould claimed, and the outcome must be entirely different: an alien world, without humans and maybe not even intelligence. The history of life is littered with accidents: any twist or turn may lead to a completely different world. Now this view is being challenged. Simon Conway Morris explores the evidence demonstrating life's almost eerie ability to navigate to a single solution, repeatedly. Eyes, brains, tools, even culture: all are very much on the cards. So if these are all evolutionary inevitabilities, where are our counterparts across the galaxy? The tape of life can only run on a suitable planet, and it seems that such Earth-like planets may be much rarer than hoped. Inevitable humans, yes, but in a lonely Universe.

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