Weird Science: Non-Carbon-Based Life

The problem with trying to find extraterrestrial life is we don’t have an exact definition of “life.” How do you know if you’ve found it if you don’t know what to look for?

Life as we know it is carbon-based, consisting of carbonaceous compounds like carbohydrates, proteins, DNA and its ilk, fatty substances.

But a bag of chemicals alone does not define life even if it is carbon-based. Some form of replication, some type of motility, some kind of awareness of and separation from the rest of the world’s elements is needed, isn’t it?

What if you stumble on something Out There that does replicate, has motility, is aware, and is comprised of individuals, but you don’t recognize it because it’s so different? Non-carbon based life forms for instance. Would we recognize them if they don’t respire the way we do, or move the way we do, or have genetic material in the form that we recognize?

Down through the years scientists have proposed a number of non-carbon elements that could give rise to life. Silicon is often mentioned. An ammonia, or a methanol-based system, as opposed to water-based system like ours, might work.

Regardless, the most important, hardest question to answer–What is life?–must be answered before we can truly recognize it in whatever form it takes.

Lee Cronin, at the University of Glasgow, says for something to be considered living, it must not just replicate, it must evolve or have a method of evolution, or arise from evolution. He says if elements, molecules, compounds, matter itself in any form, evolves (self-organizes to compete Darwinianly against other forms) it can be said to be alive.

So then the question becomes can inorganic substances somehow self-organize in such a way?

V. N. Tsytovich at the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow may have found just such a thing in a model of a “complex mix of inorganic molecules in a plasma.” A plasma is a state of matter that’s a bit north of the gaseous state. It contains a loose comglomeration of molecules and/or atoms some of which are ionized, i.e. with a charge. A plasma can be electrically conductive.

Using computer modeling, Tsytovich demonstrated that “particles in a plasma can undergo self-organization as electronic charges become separated and the plasma becomes polarized, resulting in microscopic strands of solid particles that twist into corkscrew shapes, or helical structures. These helical strands are themselves electronically charged and are attracted to each other.”

Did you pick up the key word, helical? Sort of jumps out at you, doesn’t it. Could we be discussing inorganic DNA, hm? That would be fine. DNA works well in replication, not to mention evolution. Not sure a helix has to be the only model, but we’d definitely recognize it if we stumbled upon it. I’m sure there are myriad other ways and means for inorganic substances to replicate, but this model of Tsytovich can result in “the fittest structures.” Something that would, no doubt, make Dr. Cronin happy.

“These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter,” says Tsytovich, “they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve”.

Even more exciting is that the “conditions for these plasmas to form such helical structures are common in outer space.”

So maybe we don’t need to find water to find signs of life. Maybe the chances for intelligent life Out There are better than we thought.

Thanks for reading.

Sue Lange’s latest ebook, Tritcheon Hash, is full of lapses of logic and weird science. “It’s a wild, good read.” Get your copy right here at good ol’ BVC.

This essay was first posted on December 19, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.

Be sure to check out BVC’s new bookstore and the grand opening celebration all this week (June 1 through June 7) with deals and freebies.

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Weird Science: Non-Carbon-Based Life — 4 Comments

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  3. There are other life forms within this realm that we do not understand and consequently, we do not recognize them. They do not exist. Entities that are not carbon based life forms. Mortal, reproducing, conscious and evolving for billions of years. They have been around much longer than we have, longer than all carbon based life forms. All life forms require energies/nutrients to exist, and energies expended, require recharging, which we call eating. Humans and other carbon base life forms recharge through the consumption of digestible carbon based food. Non Carbon based life forms consume non carbon food sources; energies that they can assimilate/digest. These energies that they consume are emitted by carbon based life forms. All sentient life emits these energies. Pleasure, joy, love, pain, sadness, hate, and all other emotions, are the nutrients of these entities. War is a full on feast. Love and war is their balanced diet. They preceded our engineers, and came to Earth with them. Unknown even to our gods, were these gardeners of the sentient crop. They look upon us as we look upon vegetables, fruits, and animal protein. Extremely evolved, understanding human psychology like all farmers understand their crops.
    Dec 2nd, 2010. “Hours before their special news conference today, the cat is out of the bag: NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living on Earth in the ancient 800,000 year-old poisonous, arsenic waters of Mono Lake in California. This changes everything in the astrobiology of the Milky Way and beyond: The universe suddenly becomes alive with potential life forms in the trillions of possible planets in galaxies known and unknown.”
    “Lee Cronin, at the University of Glasgow, says for something to be considered living, it must not just replicate, it must evolve or have a method of evolution, or arise from evolution. He says if elements, molecules, compounds, matter itself in any form, evolves (self-organizes to compete Darwinianly against other forms) it can be said to be alive.”
    Now ask yourself again, “why do we do these things?”, “how could this happen?” and “why are the innocent targeted?” and then these senseless, seemingly insane acts of humanities atrocities against humanity begin to make sense like never before. “They made me do it”, “I am doing Gods work”, the voices and spirits that direct who we call sociopaths are real.
    There are three types of these evolved non carbon life forms; the darks, the grays, and the white light beings. What separates them is their diet. The Darks, whom we call the demons of hell, consume those energies produces by war, murder and oppression. The Greys consume what we would call a balanced diet and the Whites consume only our most cherished and pure emotions. Love and Joy. In human terms, they would be the Vegans.
    Like ourselves, their diets can be adjusted, and that is up to us. We must not let ourselves be manipulated into producing dark energies.
    There are those who are here to assist. Not only our engineers, who they themselves were not aware of the life forms they brought with them when they began the terraforming of Earth, whom we call the Star People, but also the Whites and many Grays have taken up the cause.

    They live in this realm
    They are from the other side
    In nature they hide

    War is their garden
    Consuming dark energy
    Heart ache their honey

    Our greatest horror
    Invisible aliens
    They harvest our fear
    They harvest our suffering
    Harvesting every tear