The physical appearance of intelligent aliens

From the ‘Metabarons’ comics.

There can be little doubt that one of the most important factors that will determine the manner in which our society reacts should contact ever be established with intelligent extraterrestrial (ET) life forms will be the physical appearance,or morphology, of the alien. All the prejudices, the fears, the mistrust and the bigotry that exists among the races that make up mankind will be focused into this reaction. Thus, speculating on the morphology of an intelligent alien is important for the future of space exploration. Serious efforts are now being made around the world in the field known as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the manner in which our society reacts to contact will depend to a great extent on the appearance of the alien. Anticipation of the possibilities now may reveal whether a shock for the world is likely. It is also useful to consider alien morphology in terms of gauging how likely the chances of intelligent aliens evolving really are.


The problem of trying to anticipate the physical appearance of the ET is at first sight ludicrously impossible. To start with, we don’t even know if intelligent ETs exist, let alone what their planet of origin is like or what their morphology may be.  Our task is therefore limited to using what knowledge we have of the evolution of intelligent life on Earth, considering possible extraterrestrial planetary environments and making a series of reasonable assumptions. A combination of biology, zoology, and anthropology is required as well as the newer science of exobiology. Most important, the overriding thought when considering the subject should be “how would this imagined alien become intelligent?”    


Conveniently, disagreement over the likely appearance of intelligent ETs divides itself into two opposing camps. On one side are those who take a rather anthropormorphic view of the ET and believe that it would basically be humanoid in shape with two ,arms, two legs, a head at the top of the body and the main sense organs located on the head. Opposing this view are those exobiologists who believe that the intelligent ET is bound to appear exotic because the creature would inevitably have taken a totally different evolutionary path from man and would have arisen in a very un-earthlike planetary environment.