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Humans all belong to a Single Species, localized on a single small-ish planet... Yet we are incredibly diverse in both Culture and Individual Appearance/Adaptation to our environment. This also seems to be true in relation to a lot of other species on Earth, even without breaking things down into Subspecies or whatever else. This is probably because the Climate and the distribution of land and water vary drastically from area to area, creating different biomes with life that has adapted in different ways in each.

However, in a lot of Sci-Fi, aliens we meet show relatively little divergence from Others of their Species, either culturally or physically? While this can probably be explained by the limitations of whatever narrative medium/framing device you're looking at, or might have some in-universe explanation (there IS a difference but humans find it hard to tell because we aren't familiar with their biology, or a specific COUNTRY on their planet might have sent this bunch, etc.), that did get me thinking... We obviously know very little about what life is like elsewhere in the universe, but based on what we do know, is there any evidence that Earth's extreme diversity might be somehow Anomalous? Or would every planet capable of producing what we might call "People" need to be equally complex in order for them to develop, and as a result would they be just as Diverse as we are? Is there any real evidence that points one way or the other?

I personally tend to feel like it must be the latter, but I'm not really an expert on much of anything, so I thought it would be a good idea to see if anyone else had read any "official"/scholarly material posing or exploring the question, or even had any thoughts of their own with evidence to show where they're coming from? I'm writing a thing with multiple alien species reaching out to each other, and I feel like this line of thought/study could give me some insight into how to handle each population's own Internal Reactions to this. :)

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    $\begingroup$ Recall that you and I are NOT independent observers. We may see lots of differences among humans, but we are wired to do so. A truly independent observer might not. King Penguins look mighty similar to me, but their behavior clearly indicates that they see the different individuals very clearly. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 5 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ Since we have nothing to compare with, an alien observer could say that Earth life is extremely diverse, just as it could say that it is extremely generic. $\endgroup$ – Ravi Mattar Jan 5 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ Odd how thin the line is, isn't it...? Maybe the real question is "is everything as obsessed with making Taxonomies for Literally Everything as humans are" XD $\endgroup$ – BonnetBee Jan 7 at 23:48
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Appearance will homogenize over time

Humans are currently pretty diverse —but we're also (realistically) centuries from being a multi-planet civilization capable of terraforming and expanding across the world. Given how much we have already begun to intermix over the past century and how much more acceptable miscegenation has become, I think it's safe to say that if humanity ever becomes spacefaring, we will be a smoother gradient once we get there.

Homogeny is an illusion born of unfamiliarity

Even among humans, people of one race often have trouble telling apart some members of other races, especially if they lack familiarity with the individuals, or have not been exposed to many of them. Tropes of "all x people look the same" are present in many cultures. And this is between the members of a single species. Take a look at a few pictures of, say, tigers, or zebras, and tell me you could tell two of them apart at a glance.

Homogeny is dependent on sensory perception

I think all humpback whales look the same, to be honest, but they each have their own song as an identifier, one that I, as a human who uses eyes to decide who is who, would be rather put upon to figure out and remember which is which. Ants tell each other apart by smell, and lemme tell you, they all smell the same to me. I might think that ants and humpback whales are homogenous, but that's because I don't perceive the things that tell them apart to each other. There's no reason the same wouldn't be true for aliens.

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    $\begingroup$ Now that I think about it... This is really true? It also kind of reminds me of a thing I read once about how Sheep apparently have way better facial recognition abilities than us, and the going theory is that this is precisely because they tend to look outwardly very similar to one another? So I guess the more similar a species looks from the outside, the more different they'll look to each other over time... Kind of a paradox, I guess, but one that lines up really well with your additions! Thank you :) $\endgroup$ – BonnetBee Jan 7 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ An interesting addition to this is that up until a certain age, human infants recognise differences in primate faces as readily as they differentiate between human ones. After a certain point (I forget precisely when), they start treating them as if they all look the same (lack of novelty for a new monkey face). Not sure on the causes for this, but it's probably environmental (lack of experience and usefulness for differentiating monkey faces). $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jan 11 at 13:31
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Well, Vulcanoids are every bit as diverse as Humans:

Asian Vulcan

Asian Vulcan

More Asian Vulcans!

More Asian Vulcans!

African American Vulcan!

African American Vulcan

Caucasian Vulcan

Caucasian Vulcan

Black Vulcan

Black (Mestiza) Vulcan

Ukranian Jewish Vulcan

Ukranian Jewish Vulcan

African American Romulan

African American Romulan

Vulcan Evil Twin Romul and and Caucasian Romulan

Vulcan Evil Twin Romulan and Caucasian Romulan

In the literature, I'd say heterogeneity is the rule rather than the exception.

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    $\begingroup$ Super cool! I actually never noticed this before... Maybe it's because the Excellent Alien Fashion distracted me. XD $\endgroup$ – BonnetBee Jan 7 at 23:46
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You added the tag . Completely impossible, of course. All we can do is guesstimate.

A Matter of Viewpoints:

Take humans. Most you see have two legs, two arms, a head on top with two eyes, teeth in the mouth covered by lips, and so on. And the vast majority of those who make it into space during the next years will speak English, at least well enough to communicate with air traffic control.

There is a big difference, some of them have mammaries and some do not. But that is not what you mean, right? Other than that, little differences in skin, eye, and hair color don't really matter.

Someone who is part of the species will take similarities for granted and notice differences. We're biologically programmed to tell other people apart.

That still leaves political differences. There are plenty of precedents in science fiction where there are political or cultural factions within alien species. Even more where the break is on species lines, of course.

  • C. J. Cherryh, Alliance/Union universe
    The story arc in the alien Compact is about factions of some alien race finding common ground, for interstellar stability and against their short-sighted homeworld leaders.
  • Larry Niven, Known Space universe
    The adventure in Ringworld is triggered by factional differences within an alien government.
  • Iain Banks, Culture universe
    Much of the adventure in Excession is caused by power plays between AIs.
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You use the terms "incredibly diverse" and "extreme diversity" when talking about human physical and cultural traits, but I'm not sure those are accurate descriptions on the scale of the universe and really only apply at the most superficial levels. It's easy to forget that humans are organisms of cells that are in fact extremely homogeneous. There are only about 10 or so different types of cells in the human body and two healthy humans of the same mass and sex have them in roughly the same proportions. Then of course all of the cells have DNA and any two individual humans have roughly 99.4% of the genome in common. All of this commonality is essentially why human pharmacology works.

I would also argue that we share at least 99% of our cultural traits. Humans generally like, dislike, fear, admire, are disgusted by, and are attracted to the same things, individually and as part of societies. The differences are by and large superficial and the result of localized histories. To quote Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local".

So would an alien race be as diverse as us? I would say the odds are high that the answer is 'yes' simply because fundamentally we are not very diverse at all. To quote Isaac Newton: "Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes".

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a really good point! Thank you for your contributions! :D $\endgroup$ – BonnetBee Jan 7 at 23:39

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