(Roughly) Daily

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated…”*

 

Capt. Kirk facing a Horta, a silicon-based life-form (in “Devil in the Dark” from “Star Trek: The Original Series”

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Silicon-based (and other alternate) forms of life are a staple of speculative fiction.  But are they as far-fetched as they might seem?  In Smithsonian‘s Daily Planet blog, astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch suggests not

It would be extremely “earth-centric” to presume that the biochemistry on our planet is the only way life can operate. But just how different can it be? One extreme example are the “Horta,” the silicon-based life portrayed in Star Trek. Could we expect organisms like that on a terrestrial, meaning Earth-type, planet? Most likely not, because the biochemistry of life is intrinsically related to its environment. On Earth, silicon and oxygen are the main building blocks of Earth’s crust and mantle. Most rocks, particularly volcanic and igneous rocks, are built from silicate minerals, which are based on a silicon and oxygen framework. Any free silicon would be bound in these rocks, which are inert at moderate temperatures. Only at very high temperatures does the framework become more plastic and reactive, which led Gerald Feinberg and Robert Shapiro to suggest the possible existence of lavobes and magmobes that could live in molten silicate rocks

Adam and 3-CPO, from “Darths and Droids”

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One can read the full story at “Is Silicon-Based Life Possible?

And one can muse on a resonant issue: if we earth-bound humans tend to be pretty precious about our definition of life, we are even more sensitive– indeed, often down-right chauvinistic– in our understandings of consciousnesssentience and who/what can or can’t enjoy them.

* Confucius

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As we study up for the Turing Test, we might send animated birthday greetings to Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch; he was born on this date in 1867.  The father of experimental embryology and the first person to clone an animal, Driesch was also the creator of the philosophy of entelechy—  and thus the last the last great spokesman for vitalism.  Following in the footsteps of Epicurus, Galen, and Pasteur, Driesch argued that life cannot be explained as physical or chemical phenomena.

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Written by LW

October 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

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