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From Extraterrestrials to Animal Minds: Six Myths of Evolution
by Simon Conway Morris
Templeton Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-1-59947-528-8 | eISBN: 978-1-59947-529-5


In this learned romp of science writing, Cambridge professor Simon Conway Morris cheerfully challenges six assumptions—what he calls ‘myths’—that too often pass as unquestioned truths amongst the evolutionary orthodox. 

His convivial tour begins with the idea that evolution is boundless in the kinds of biological systems it can produce. Not true, he says. The process is highly circumscribed and delimited. Nor is it random. This popular notion holds that evolution proceeds blindly, with no endgame. But Conway Morris suggests otherwise, pointing to evidence that the processes of evolution are “seeded with inevitabilities.” 

If that is so, then what about mass extinctions? Don’t they steer the development of life in radically new directions? Rather the reverse, claims Conway Morris. Such cataclysms accelerate evolutionary developments that were going to happen anyway. And what about that other evolutionary canard: the “missing link”? There is plenty to choose from in the fossil record, but persistently overlooked is that in any group, there is not one but a phalanx of “missing links.” Once again, we under-score the near-inevitability of evolutionary outcomes. 

Turning from fossils to minds, Conway Morris critically examines the popular tenet that the intelligence of humans and animals are the same thing, a difference of degree, not kind. A closer scrutiny of our minds shows that, in reality, an unbridgeable gulf separates us from even the chimpanzees, so begging questions of consciousness and Mind.

Finally, Conway Morris tackles the question of extraterrestrials. Undoubtedly, the size and scale of the universe suggest that alien life must exist somewhere beyond Earth and our tiny siloed solar system? After all, evolutionary convergence more than hints that human-like forms are universal. But Dr. Conway Morris has serious doubts. The famous Fermi Paradox (“Where are they?”) appears to hold: Alone in the cosmos—and unique, but not quite in the way one might expect. 

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