Mischievous biologist and author who helped science-fiction writers to ‘design’ plausibly evolved aliens

Aliens, as we generally imagine them, with their two legs, two arms and large bulbous heads, are not so different from people. Yet Jack Cohen thought that, if they do exist, they probably bear almost no resemblance to humans.

A biologist by training, he pointed out that many of the attributes that we imagine aliens to possess have only evolved once in the history of our planet — the position of the nose below and between the eyes, for instance — and are therefore unlikely to have evolved on other planets.

Other features, wings for instance, have evolved several times, giving us reason to think they might be common across the stars. He spelt out this theory with his friend Ian Stewart, a mathematician at…

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