So this question about the inevitability of evolution, the extent to which the outcomes
we see in the world today were destined to occur, has a number of implications.
I mean just most generally it tells us whether how fated evolution was to occur, how the
outcome today was destined in a way.
But it has other implications as well that people have long speculated about, and that
is: what would life be like on other planets if it is evolved?
Would it be like the world today here on Earth or would it be completely different?
And this question has taken on some increased urgency or at least interest in recent years
because we now realize that there are many planets out there that are like Earth.
We used to think that Earth was perhaps unique and so perhaps life as we know it is unique,
because we’re the only place that it could evolve.
But quite the contrary we’ve now discovered that there are lots of what are called “habitable
exoplanets”, Some people estimate millions, even billions just in our own Milky Way galaxy.
所以这样的话 是否存在很多类地行星 也就是像地球一样
So if that’s the case, if there are that many Earth-like planets – and by Earth-like
我是说在大小 温度 大气等上和地球相似 也许有流动的水源
I mean about the same size, temperature, atmosphere somewhat similar, running water – roughly
If there are really that many Earth-like planets many people think that it’s very likely
that life has evolved on them.
And so the question is what will that life look like?
Well there are those who argue that from the argument of convergent evolution they argue
that species facing the same conditions here on Earth evolved the same solutions by natural
They extrapolate to say if conditions on other planets are similar to here then we would
see very similar lifeforms, that you arrive on whatever planet you’ll see animal and
plant-like organisms that look very familiar.
Some people have gone so far as to say that, in fact, human type organisms, humanoids will
occur on other planets.
So there will be intelligent beings that if we saw them they would be recognizable which,
of course, is what Hollywood tells us.
If you watch almost any science fiction TV show or movie the intelligent lifeform is
有智生物是两足动物 几只胳膊 一张嘴
bipedal, a couple of arms, a mouth.
Maybe they only have three fingers and pointy ears and they’re green, but they’re pretty
And so some people say yes, that’s actually very likely that humans are a very successful
lifeform here on Earth that we are extremely well adapted to our environment which ancestrally
was occurring on the plains of Africa.
But we have adapted so exquisitely that we now dominate the world.
And so if this is such a good adaptation here on Earth it would similarly be a good adaptation
on another planet and evolution would be likely to take the similar course.
That is the argument that is being made in some quarters.
Not everyone is convinced by this argument that evolution is deterministic.
We recognize that convergent evolution does occur more than we used to realize but still
但是仍有人认为 我赞同这个观点 这是不可避免的
it is argued and I agree with this viewpoint, it’s not inevitable.
And the reason is that there are often multiple ways to adapt to the same environmental circumstance.
And so even though species are faced with the same conditions they may find different
ways to adapt to them.
And my favorite example of that has to do with a bird that everyone knows – the woodpecker.
And everyone’s heard the tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker on a tree or on your garage siding
People don’t actually know what the woodpecker is doing.
This is what the woodpecker is doing: It is using its beak to pound on dead wood, listening
for a hollow space, the echo indicating there’s a hollow space in the wood which is where
a grub, a larval beetle or some other insect is eating the dead wood.
And so it listens for the sound of a hollow space.
When it hears it, it then starts tapping very hard – tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat – using
its beak as a jackhammer to dig into the, to chisel or to dig into the deep wood to
get to the tunnel.
Once it’s there—the woodpecker has an extremely long tongue.
So long, in fact, that it wraps around its brain case.
But it sticks out this long tongue that has little prickles on it, and the tongue goes
深入木头 迅速挂住看起来像粉虱的害虫 再把害虫
in and it snags the grub which looks like a mealworm or a – snags the grub and pulls
it out and eats it.
And that is how they capture the food that they eat.
Well woodpeckers are found on almost every continent in the world.
They’re very successful, but they don’t fly very well across water.
They don’t like to fly across water.
And so isolated islands tend not to have woodpeckers.
And in their absence other species have evolved to fill the same niche.
And the most extreme example of a different way of doing the same thing is an animal on
the island of Madagascar called an aye-aye.
Now an aye-aye is a type of lemur.
Now people know lemurs from the TV show Zooboomafoo and maybe they’ve seen them, the ring-tailed
They hop around, very cute, and so on.
The aye-aye is not very cute.
It’s about the size maybe of a small housecat and it’s kind of demonic looking.
It has these big leathery ears and these bright yellow eyes and a face that only a mother
And the native people of Madagascar had all kinds of taboos and myths about them because
they look – and they only come out at night.
But their most extreme feature that I think really kind of freaks people out is that their
third finger is long and extremely thin.
It looks skeletal, and it can rotate in any direction.
It’s this kind of finger that can wiggle around.
Anyway, they live the same lifestyle as a woodpecker.
They’re looking for the same grubs in dead wood.
But they do it in a completely different way.
Instead of tapping with their peak they tap with their finger.
They go around the wood going tap-tap-tap and their big ears are rotated forward listening
for the sound of an echo.
And when they hear the echo of an empty tunnel they have these teeth that are – these teeth
are kind of sticking out like this, these chiseling incisors that are very strong.
And they bite their way through the wood and bite into the wood until they get the tunnel.
And then once they get there they then use their finger again.
They stick it in there and they snag the larvae and pull it out.
And so they’re doing exactly the same thing that the woodpecker is doing but they’ve
evolved a completely different set of adaptations.
And so that’s just one example of how species can adapt to do the same thing in very different
And we see many examples of that in the world.
Conversely we also see many examples of species that have no evolutionary parallel.
What we call an evolutionary singleton.
That is a species that is very well adapted to where it lives but no other species has
done the same thing.
And my favorite example of that is the duck-billed platypus, this extraordinary animal in Australia.
Now people like to make fun of the platypus but they don’t realize that the platypus
is exquisitely adapted to living in the streams in eastern Australia.
And so it has very lush fur that allows it to swim in water that’s basically almost
at freezing; It has a powerful tail; It’s got webbed feet for swimming; And then most
extraordinarily it has this duck bill.
Now it’s not actually – it kind of looks like a duck’s bill, but it’s not hard
like a duck’s bill.It’s actually leathery.
但更重要的是 它覆盖着成千上万的感官 这些感官
But more importantly it’s covered with thousands of little receptors and these receptors there’s
two types of them.
One of them can detect slight variation in ripples of water.
And so if something goes swimming by they can detect it in the water But in addition
they have electro receptors.
They can detect very slight electrical discharges.
And so when an animal moves its muscles there’s a little bit of electrical activity, and the
platypus can detect that.
And so when it’s swimming under water it closes its eyes, its ears and its mouth, but
based on the receptors on its bill it can find its way around and it can locate its
prey—Remarkable adaptation to eating crayfish and other food items like that.
Well so, the platypus lives in these streams that are in no way remarkable.
There are streams like that behind the house I grew up in in St. Louis and they occur around
Yet nowhere else has a duck-billed platypus evolved.
Why is it that it evolved in Australia and nowhere else?
Well there are many examples of species extremely well-adapted but no parallel.
比如说变色龙 大象 长颈鹿和很多种植物
Things like the chameleon, elephants, giraffes, many types of plants.
Many evolutionary singletons.
In fact, humans are an evolutionary singleton.
If we are so well adapted to our environment, why didn’t something like us evolve anywhere
else in the world?
Why didn’t they evolve on Madagascar or in South America where monkeys colonized 40
million years ago?
And so this is the counterpart to the argument of evolutionary determinism and convergence.
We could probably make a list just as long of species that have not converged.
And so in many cases species – in many cases evolution seemed not to be deterministic.
That problems posed by environment may elicit different evolutionary solutions.