If intelligence is a kind, and humans are just instances of that kind, we can expect that intelligence on other planets, if it exists, will be like ours, that people are alike all over. This is the initial speculation of Warren Markeson, an astronaut, as he reassures his partner, Samuel A. Conrad, a biologist, that there is nothing to fear as they embark on a journey to Mars. Serling sizes them up as follows: “A species of flimsy little two-legged animal with extremely small heads, whose name is man.”
There are many ways of thinking about sameness and difference. A key idea is that we may all be the same in spite of our differences. Here on earth we speak different languages, have different preferences for food, and earn our livings in a wide variety of ways. Yet we all nurture our young, form rules that constrain our conduct with others, celebrate achievements, and mourn significant losses. That’s on the positive side. On the negative side, we deride the weak, are fearful of those who are different, and seek to fulfill our self-interest when we can get away with it.
What can we expect of those we meet on distant planets? Will they be like us? If they are biological entities, then they will be products of evolution, and though the evolutionary pressures may be different, the overall outlines of the forces at work will be the same. Still, we simply do not know whether our higher cognitive processes are traits that were selected for through evolution, or just byproducts of other evolutionary forces.
In this Twilight Zone episode, not only do we find intelligence on other planets, but they appear to be remarkably just like us, and we are even attracted to these aliens just as we are attracted to members of our own species. We speak their language, though it appears they speak ours. And we infer similarity of motives, intentions, and interests.
Serling’s question is whether finding people just like us would be a good thing.