Here’s a fun exercise I’m doing. I invite you to do it, too! The intention here is push oneself to think in non-anthropocentric terms about what life might be like under other conditions.
- Devise an evolutionary specification (that is, the way we do in fiction, where we need an alien to be a certain way, not the way it happens in nature, where successful reproduction is the only standard). Something like: “The aliens I’m interested in can manipulate objects, sense objects, and move.”
- Consider a single structure — not a whole creature — that evolved other solutions than we did to the more basic questions than we did, here on earth. Like, we evolved jaws from the gill structures on fish. Imagine if gill structures hadn’t evolved, or perhaps some other structure was more effective than primitive jaws, and so jaws never had a chance to take off.
- What do those structures look like? How do they affect the lives of the creatures that grow them? If they have a culture, how do they affect their culture?
- Leave it there! Design another structure for a different environment!
These creatures use their feathery tendrils to smell an attractive, colonial microbe-infused rock, then detach the stalk. As they slurp their way through the surface of the rock, they grow a new stalk, which grows a new pod, which smells a new rock, and they continue. On this planet, there’s no clear distinction between plant and animal as there (usually) is on Earth; rather, motile structures evolved early on, and most life forms have at least a limited form of movement.