Is the hypothesis correct that if life exists elsewhere in the universe, it would have forms and structures unlike anything we could imagine? From the subatomic level in cellular energy acquisition to the assembly and even behavior of organisms at the scale of populations, life on Earth exhibits characteristics that suggest it is a universal norm for life at all levels of hierarchy. These patterns emerge from physical and biochemical limitations. Their potentially universal nature is supported by recent data on the astrophysical abundance and availability of carbon compounds and water. Within these constraints, biochemical and biological variation is certainly possible, but it is limited. If life exists elsewhere, life on Earth, rather than being a contingent product of one specific experiment in biological evolution, is likely to reflect common patterns for the assembly of living matter.