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Thread: Non carbon life forms?

  1. #1

    Non carbon life forms?

    Why is carbon needed for life?

    Also how about on microscopic or megascopic scales? Can life exist of say muons? Can life exists of cells made up of galaxie clusters?

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    We don't know that life needs carbon. The life we are familiar with on Earth does. Carbon also has several properties that make it a very versatile building block for a wide variety of complex chemicals and structures. So it is a good starting point.

    Until someone discovers or invents a non-carbon based life, the rest is speculation.
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    Tommac, your cig. "Banned by BAUT" is now a badge of honour? Cool...

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    We don't know that life needs carbon. The life we are familiar with on Earth does. Carbon also has several properties that make it a very versatile building block for a wide variety of complex chemicals and structures. So it is a good starting point.
    Not only that, but it's so common that it's hard to see any form of chemical life not becoming at least highly dependent on it. And non-chemical phenomena seem unlikely to support the complex yet organized interactions needed for life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    Not only that, but it's so common that it's hard to see any form of chemical life not becoming at least highly dependent on it. And non-chemical phenomena seem unlikely to support the complex yet organized interactions needed for life.
    No argument from me, but I can't dismiss such ideas either, at least out of the wild speculation department.

    I think part of the whole question is not just chemistry or form, but energy. If you look at the kind of chemical reactions that support life on Earth, there is a somewhat narrow range of energy and temperature at which these reactions happen. Most of chemical reactions for life have energy requirements that match the output of our sun that reaches Earth's surface (roughly IR to UV). Obviously, this is not coincidence.

    And though I don't think we have every agreed around this forum on a general definition of life, using energy to fight entropy (and stay organized) seems to be one of its characteristics.

    So, if one is going to imagine plasma life forms for example (a Star Trek favorite), they would have to exist in conditions that are appropriate for the physics or chemistry of that life form. And too much energy is as bad as too little - if the Earth was constantly bombarded with x-rays and gamma-rays, life like ours would not survive.
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  6. #6
    We have life on earth that isn't carbon based. For some reason most people don't reguard it as life, but unless your definition of life involves being carbon based or having DNA or RNA, then it's alive. I am of course referring to electronic life. Not necessarily viruses or common programs, as they may not meet all the usual criteria, but various forms of virtual life that metabolize, reproduce, mutate, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    We have life on earth that isn't carbon based. For some reason most people don't reguard it as life, but unless your definition of life involves being carbon based or having DNA or RNA, then it's alive. I am of course referring to electronic life. Not necessarily viruses or common programs, as they may not meet all the usual criteria, but various forms of virtual life that metabolize, reproduce, mutate, etc.
    Example?

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    Unpublished Heinlein story: Jerry Was a LISP.

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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_life

    If the most convenient way to create self-replicating machines is using materials other than carbon, and if it is acceptable to consider self replicating machines as life, then non-carbon life forms in the form of self-replicating devices might be the most common form of life in the Universe.

    That's two big ifs in one sentence, by the way.

  10. #10
    Example?
    Avida
    breve
    Darwinbots
    Evolve 4.0
    Framsticks
    Tierra
    Micropond

    Note that by metabolise I mean they metabolise in their virtual world. They don't go catabolising and anabolising your motherboard.

    Also note that some of these are quite simplistic. I don't know which ones are groovey.

  11. #11
    Why is carbon needed for life?
    It's not (In my humble opinion, other people will definitely disagree). However, I don't see why life similar to naturally occurring life on earth wouldn't use carbon if it was available as it is such a useful element and it's hard to imagine why it wouldn't be availible in anything approaching an earthlike environment. Silicon is second rate compared to carbon and if carbon was available silicon life would probably start using it in preferance to silicon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    Not only that, but it's so common that it's hard to see any form of chemical life not becoming at least highly dependent on it. And non-chemical phenomena seem unlikely to support the complex yet organized interactions needed for life.

    I agree with the first but not the secound.

    I've never heard a solid argument why, in principle, virtual life could not be as 'alive' as chemistry based life. And there are many non chemical phenomena that achieve a high degree of organisation and complexity: the weather, the magnetic field near the surface of the sun, the structure of the milky way galaxy.

    While none of these are 'alive' they can all display some of the things we consider to be hall marks of life, and so I wouldn't rule out that someday we find an entirely non chemical system that fits all the criteria for life. Like this simulated plasma life.
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    It's not (In my humble opinion, other people will definitely disagree). However, I don't see why life similar to naturally occurring life on earth wouldn't use carbon if it was available as it is such a useful element and it's hard to imagine why it wouldn't be availible in anything approaching an earthlike environment. Silicon is second rate compared to carbon and if carbon was available silicon life would probably start using it in preferance to silicon.
    well carbon would be too small on a macroscopic level and too big on a microscopic level.

    I am talking about life forms that could use galaxies as their atoms or conversely are as small compared to our atoms as we are to our universe.

    And all ranges inbetween.


    Could there be an infinite amount of life existing on each of our grains of sand?

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    Quote Originally Posted by tommac View Post
    ...I am talking about life forms that could use galaxies as their atoms or conversely are as small compared to our atoms as we are to our universe.

    And all ranges inbetween...
    I wonder what the definition of life would be in those instances. I see life as one that reacts with it's environment. Those particular environments have some problems when it comes to interaction.
    On the macro level, the interactions would need to be on such an incredibely long scale, that the lifetime of the universe would be a limiting factor.
    On the micro level, I wouldn't even know where to start. What are the divisions and interactions. And; if we are striving to simplify our understanding, it seems like we will never get there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tommac View Post
    Why is carbon needed for life?
    The laws of physics are the same all over the Universe

    a) true
    b) untrue

    If you vote for a), the answer to your question is "The laws of physics ...
    If you vote for b), physic´s laws change with ....?

    This doesn´t mean that the number of phenotypes can´t be infinite, as (almost) on Earth

  16. #16
    c) the laws of physics do not explain everything, there are a limited set of laws that explain things based on our limited view of the universe

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    I wonder what the definition of life would be in those instances. I see life as one that reacts with it's environment. Those particular environments have some problems when it comes to interaction.
    On the macro level, the interactions would need to be on such an incredibely long scale, that the lifetime of the universe would be a limiting factor.
    On the micro level, I wouldn't even know where to start. What are the divisions and interactions. And; if we are striving to simplify our understanding, it seems like we will never get there.
    The lifetime of the universe doesn't have to be a limiting factor, maybe universes are like cells that are born and die everytime in a much more complex being, the same way that our cells maybe be whole universes. Perception of time is relative, what takes for us about 70 years between life and death, takes billions of years for a star.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tommac View Post
    Why is carbon needed for life?

    Also how about on microscopic or megascopic scales? Can life exist of say muons? Can life exists of cells made up of galaxie clusters?
    If it could, how would we tell?
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    I agree with the first but not the secound.
    We don't disagree, you just bring up a point I failed to cover...computer programs can, in principle, even simulate "natural" chemical organisms. The simulation is no less of a lifeform due to existing on a virtual substrate. Much simpler organisms could exist, taking advantage of the high level order and reliability possible with a virtual substrate. Again, though, the challenge is getting a self reproducing system with the capacity for change...a highly ordered system like raw machine code is not conducive to development through random mutation, it's too "brittle" to directly support anything I'd call life. I've not seen anything that would qualify except under the most generous of definitions...but the potential is certainly there.


    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    I've never heard a solid argument why, in principle, virtual life could not be as 'alive' as chemistry based life. And there are many non chemical phenomena that achieve a high degree of organisation and complexity: the weather, the magnetic field near the surface of the sun, the structure of the milky way galaxy.
    None of those others have anywhere near the diversity of interactions and organization of organic chemistry, though. However...another possibility I've read about is of a sort of nuclear chemistry occurring under the crust of a neutron star, where heavier, more complex structures of protons and neutrons can be formed and broken apart with easily achieved energies, the energy barriers to such events being much lower than under normal conditions. Intelligent life in such an environment might wonder about the impossibility of complex interactions occurring on such rarefied environments as the surface of the neutron star, where pressures are so low that small nuclei are isolated from each other by clouds of bound electrons...

    As for galaxy clusters...no. They don't reproduce or consume food, and their parts aren't going to ever do much other than fly through the cluster a few times until they escape. As spread out as they are, they just won't last long enough to do anything remotely resembling life.

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    Good question.

    As a carbon based water life form I have my homeworld opinons, which is under specific physic conditions. I am a homeboy and don't want to go anywhere else.

    But theres reasons my backwater, parochial outlook is valid in the big universe.

    As a simple example, a asteroid belt [with metallic ore] thats heated from a Sun on one side way will boil of electrons on the cold side.

    Like a old style vacuum tube.

    A electron lifeform.

    And on the surface of a Sun, theres no reason not to think otherwise.

    Nuclear/radiation lifeform.

    Or on the solar system moons surveyed, ammonia could provide a substitute for water..

    Molecular lifeform.

    But not happening and a heavenly war is the reason and limited here.

    So no aliens for a while I think.

    But they wouldn't be aliens as the mind is always the same flower of existence, not war.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    None of those others have anywhere near the diversity of interactions and organization of organic chemistry, though.
    Thats true, I only wanted to point out that organic chemistry is not the only system that can support self sustaining, complex and organised behavoir. The earliest forms of life might not have been much more complex than some self organised physical systems, and so the possibilty of a, very simple, non-organic chemistry life form cannot be entirely ruled out.
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    Quote Originally Posted by fszzzz View Post
    c) the laws of physics do not explain everything
    You have some nice examples (non-religious, non-philosophical)?

    there are a limited set of laws that explain things based on our limited view of the universe
    But those we know of should be the same all over the universe, or shouldn´t they?

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by dhd40 View Post
    You have some nice examples (non-religious, non-philosophical)?
    The example is simple, looking at the evolution of physics is enough.

    But those we know of should be the same all over the universe, or shouldn´t they?
    We just can't know for sure. The history of physics shows the opposite: we make a law to explain the things we see, then our view of the natural phenomenon gets better and we see that things aren't exactly like we thought (the limitations of our view of the universe decrease), then we have to make adjustments to the law, or create a whole new theory. Of course that's not always the case, there are many times that observations confirm the theory, and it's so cool when that happens, but no theory is infallible. And there's nothing wrong with that, it's evolution.

    I'm not against physics, that would be just stupid. But going to the other opposite and saying that the laws of physics explain everything is not very wise too. We are a very long way from explaining the universe, so we can't rule out any possibility.

  24. 2008-Nov-05, 06:24 PM

    Reason
    Wrong post

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    Quote Originally Posted by fszzzz View Post
    The example is simple, looking at the evolution of physics is enough.
    Hmmm, maybe you and I think of different things. I´m NOT thinking of equations, formulae, etc. And I´m not saying that our view is the ultimate truth, not at all.
    In my native language I would describe it as the difference between "Gesetzmässigkeiten" and "Gleichungen". Perhaps there is someone here who can translate this into good (appropriate) English.


    But going to the other opposite and saying that the laws of physics explain everything (my bold) is not very wise too.
    Oh no, hopefully I didn´t say this, at least, I can´t remember I said it. I didn´t say "explain", did I?

    Should "laws of physics" be replaced by "principles of physics" in my wording?

  26. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by tommac
    Why is carbon needed for life?
    Quote Originally Posted by dhd40
    The laws of physics are the same all over the Universe

    a) true
    b) untrue
    You cannot affirm that carbon is really needed for life unless you assume that the laws of physics explain all natural phenomenon.

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    I have heard somewhere that a form of life could be silicon based as an alternative to carbon. I'm no chemist but am led to believe that carbon is the base element for life simply because its the best for the job, effective at mixing and interacting with other elements and also good for forming complex structures to develop like DNA etc?

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    Well the human brain has two halves and what good is it if hit in the head with a stick with a rock tied on the a head on one side and a resulting concussion [cerebral fluid pressure] on the brain with the resulting loss of function for brain activity.

    So as more quantum consciousness viewpoint necessary for the two hemispheres of the brain of being even of importance, not a evolutionay as a limping gimp would simply slow down a tribe on the move following a buffalo herd on foot for example..

    So a bibrain must be necessary to experience consciouness.

    Hyper dimensions,

    if thats convincing, life in the universe is easy and natural to expect.

    So a medical reason for such.

    A math reason is that in calculus the zero means going toward defined infinitely small points called a line.

    But a new equation is 1 point equals infinite points equal in the more than limited directions of 4d dimensions.

    So not using a zero.

    But for the math people who like proof the new Swiss particle accelerator will give them numbers to crunch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by showboat View Post
    Well the human brain has two halves and what good is it if hit in the head with a stick with a rock tied on the a head on one side and a resulting concussion [cerebral fluid pressure] on the brain with the resulting loss of function for brain activity.

    So as more quantum consciousness viewpoint necessary for the two hemispheres of the brain of being even of importance, not a evolutionay as a limping gimp would simply slow down a tribe on the move following a buffalo herd on foot for example..

    So a bibrain must be necessary to experience consciouness.
    Then explain how people who have had a Hemispherectomy apparently remain as conscious as those who still have both halves of their brain?
    Hyper dimensions,

    if thats convincing, life in the universe is easy and natural to expect.

    So a medical reason for such.

    A math reason is that in calculus the zero means going toward defined infinitely small points called a line.

    But a new equation is 1 point equals infinite points equal in the more than limited directions of 4d dimensions.

    So not using a zero.

    But for the math people who like proof the new Swiss particle accelerator will give them numbers to crunch.
    Please explain what exactly you mean clearly rather than just as a word salad.

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    I think you just made my point for me.

    'Then explain how people who have had a Hemispherectomy apparently remain as conscious as those who still have both halves of their brain?'

    Well the point is Quantum consciousness[google it] and depends on two or more brains.

    In a Hemispherectomy the cross nerve fibers are cut usually for a medical horror use of surgery to reduce convulsive siezures fits so as to reduce not breathing and tongue self bitting.

    So a surgical way to produce a lack of brain direct connection between the upper bihemispheres communication would necessaryly devolve on the dependance on what is left to communicate between Hemispherethe on the lower part of the brain.

    Because if that [lower part of the brain.]was surgerized the unfortunate patient could have a more worse problem.
    like stopping breathing.

    But as I learned the more learned one is the more hard it is to explain to the unlearned.

    So the word salad is not applicable,so good luck on your education, I had a rough and rocky path on the matter.

    But at least I got a B.S in biology.

    Not so easy now days with the expensive college tuition but relevant now but still a ill paid profession.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    I have heard somewhere that a form of life could be silicon based as an alternative to carbon. I'm no chemist but am led to believe that carbon is the base element for life simply because its the best for the job, effective at mixing and interacting with other elements and also good for forming complex structures to develop like DNA etc?
    I am a chemist, but you are correct. While it is possible that life might be based on other things, carbon is remarkably versatile chemically for three reasons: first, its ability to to bond to so many other elements (O, N, P, S, H, halides, most metals), second, its ability to form bonds with many of these of various strengths (single, double, even triple bonds), and third, its ability to bond with itself to form long chain molecules (polymers, proteins, DNA). Silicon isn't that versatile.
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