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Author Topic:   New life, and new life forms
subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 1 of 59 (580359)
09-08-2010 8:21 PM


Time for you to put on your imagination caps. What would alien life forms be like?

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with science fiction knows that the vast majority of alien life forms in television and movies are bipeds with at least a vague resemblance to humans. Obviously the reason for this is pragmatic. It's just easier to make a humanoid alien if a human is going to portray that alien. But is there any particular reason to suppose that an alien life form would be humanoid?

Is bipedalism a particularly advantageous form such that we might expect it to be common throughout the universe? And what about tetrapods? Is it nothing more than mere happenstance that intelligence is most highly evolved in bipedal tetrapods or might a different body shape would just as well?

I've read a couple of science fiction novels with quite unusual depictions of alien life. In Dragon's Egg, Robert Forward describes how life might evolve on a neutron star. As you might imagine, it's completely foreign to any life on earth. In Code of the Lifemaker, James Hogan describes how an entire ecology might evolve from a single Self-replicating spacecraft damaged in transit.

The first thing that occurs to me as a necessary component to anything that I would call life would be reproduction. Beyond that, I'm not sure I can think of anything else that life would have to include. Perhaps someone else can come up with a reasonable description of life that would not include any reproduction in any sense.

Put your imagination to work, along with whatever relevant knowledge you might have in a particular field, if any, and paint a picture of alien life.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn\'t take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--\'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong\'.... -- archaeologist


Replies to this message:
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Blue Jay
Member (Idle past 987 days)
Posts: 2843
From: You couldn't pronounce it with your mouthparts
Joined: 02-04-2008


Message 2 of 59 (580362)
09-08-2010 8:53 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
09-08-2010 8:21 PM


Hi, Subbie.

I'm a science fiction writer, and I hope to publish someday, so I'll keep the details of my trade secrets to myself until then.

But, I did want to suggest that I consider it most likely that alien life will follow most of the same patterns that we see life follow here.

There are two predominant trends in sci fi that I've seen: the Star Trek way, in which aliens are just humans with make-up or a mask on; and the new school, in which they try to make everything they can completely different from the way it is on Earth.

For instance:

I say carbon and water is what we'll find most life is made of (though some alternatives may be likely).
Life will generally have cells, or something like them.
Life will generally evolve in Darwinian fashion.
Broad divisions equivalent to plants and animals will be common.
We'll probably see a lot of general analogy with Earth life in terms of anatomical features (e.g., I think cephalization may be particularly common in "advanced" organisms; bilateral symmetry will be common in terrestrial organisms).


-Bluejay (a.k.a. Mantis, Thylacosmilus)

Darwin loves you.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by subbie, posted 09-08-2010 8:21 PM subbie has responded

Replies to this message:
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subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 3 of 59 (580366)
09-08-2010 9:07 PM
Reply to: Message 2 by Blue Jay
09-08-2010 8:53 PM


In Star Trek, they even tried to explain the similarities between Terran life and alien life, with Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development.

I absolutely agree with you about one thing. Wherever there is anything analogous to life in whatever form, if that environment also has limited resources, Darwinian evolution will take place. Perhaps an interesting challenge from a science fiction point of view would be to devise a plausible environment where evolution doesn't take place.

I say carbon and water is what we'll find most life is made of (though some alternatives may be likely).

I'd be most curious to hear a chemistry type muse on the possibilities of life based on something other than carbon.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
 Message 2 by Blue Jay, posted 09-08-2010 8:53 PM Blue Jay has responded

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onifre
Member (Idle past 1240 days)
Posts: 4854
From: Dark Side of the Moon
Joined: 02-20-2008


Message 4 of 59 (580375)
09-08-2010 9:52 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
09-08-2010 8:21 PM


Is bipedalism a particularly advantageous form such that we might expect it to be common throughout the universe?

I think the first question is, Is our environment most common and is it too particularly advantageous such that we might expect it throughout the universe?

Because if it's mostly planets with trees and water, I think wood pecking my be the most advantageous trait.

Other than that, I'm not much of a sci-fi novel reader so I couldn't help much. Never watched any Star-Trek either, or any of the other sci-fi shows except for X-Files.

Is it nothing more than mere happenstance that intelligence is most highly evolved in bipedal tetrapods or might a different body shape would just as well?

I think anything that finds itself with the environmental pressure that mammals found themselves in, has potential to be highly evolved in intelligence. Now, as to our level of it? Idk

But I do think intelligence is mere happenstance. But I say that with no authority on the matter.

- Oni


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Coyote
Member (Idle past 395 days)
Posts: 6117
Joined: 01-12-2008


Message 5 of 59 (580377)
09-08-2010 9:58 PM


Aliens are likely to be really alien!
Imagining alien life forms is a nice mental exercise, but one that is of limited value.

We can't figure out all the life forms on earth yet, let alone those that most likely exist elsewhere.

For example, communicating with dolphins should be easy, as they're terrans too, right?

We've got a lot of homework to do. Fortunately science fiction is leading the way.

As for SF aliens, Niven and Pournelle have come up with some very imaginative ones. Examples: small elephants with digits at the end of the trunk and three-armed aliens with both a large and small arm on one side for heavy and delicate work.


Religious belief does not constitute scientific evidence, nor does it convey scientific knowledge.

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subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 6 of 59 (580378)
09-08-2010 10:03 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Coyote
09-08-2010 9:58 PM


Re: Aliens are likely to be really alien!
Imagining alien life forms is a nice mental exercise, but one that is of limited value.

Yup. And that's all that I intend this thread to be; pure entertainment with no particular practical result.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
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jar
Member
Posts: 31507
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 3.1


Message 7 of 59 (580379)
09-08-2010 10:03 PM


So far we only have one sample of life to go by, but using that as a guideline, it looks like the most common kind would be bugs and insects, then plants and a small percentage of vertebrates.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

Replies to this message:
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subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 8 of 59 (580381)
09-08-2010 10:26 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by jar
09-08-2010 10:03 PM


True.

Speculating, I can imagine that that might be a common pattern. Smaller organisms that produce numerous offspring that are relatively short lived would be more likely to develop into many different species and have bigger populations than larger organisms that produce fewer offspring.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by jar, posted 09-08-2010 10:03 PM jar has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by jar, posted 09-08-2010 10:33 PM subbie has responded

  
jar
Member
Posts: 31507
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 3.1


Message 9 of 59 (580382)
09-08-2010 10:33 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by subbie
09-08-2010 10:26 PM


Okay, then going to the next step, again looking at the one sample we have, critters that develop and use technology are almost none existent.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by subbie, posted 09-08-2010 10:26 PM subbie has responded

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Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1256 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 10 of 59 (580383)
09-08-2010 10:37 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
09-08-2010 8:21 PM


subbie writes:

Is it nothing more than mere happenstance that intelligence is most highly evolved in bipedal tetrapods or might a different body shape would just as well?

Given the diversity of body plans here on earth, I expect aliens to be even more diverse. My hunch is that symmetry is near-universal, and bilateral symmetry probably common due to the advantages of paired appendages for locomotion and gripping, and paired, distance-apprehending sense organs.

Perhaps some intelligent life could be produced only, each individual arising from the same process but never itself reproducing. We might then see neither reproduction nor evolution: some crystalline process where impurity distributions create complex circuits, with intelligence an emergent property of that complexity.

But I'll be disappointed if we don't find at least one BEM.


Have you ever been to an American wedding? Where's the vodka? Where's the marinated herring?!
-Gogol Bordello

Real things always push back.
-William James


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subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 11 of 59 (580384)
09-08-2010 10:37 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by jar
09-08-2010 10:33 PM


What are you talking about? They can be found on the entire surface of the planet, although are concentrated on land. They are vastly outnumbered by those that don't use technology, but that's not nearly the same as non-existent.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by jar, posted 09-08-2010 10:33 PM jar has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 12 by jar, posted 09-08-2010 10:43 PM subbie has responded

  
jar
Member
Posts: 31507
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 3.1


Message 12 of 59 (580386)
09-08-2010 10:43 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by subbie
09-08-2010 10:37 PM


Look at the life forms in our sample over the history of the earth. What percentage of the life forms have used technology during what percentage of the existence of life on the earth?


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by subbie, posted 09-08-2010 10:37 PM subbie has responded

Replies to this message:
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subbie
Member (Idle past 33 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 13 of 59 (580387)
09-08-2010 10:44 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Omnivorous
09-08-2010 10:37 PM


Perhaps some intelligent life could be produced only, each individual arising from the same process but never itself reproducing. We might then see neither reproduction nor evolution: some crystalline process where impurity distributions create complex circuits, with intelligence an emergent property of that complexity.

Can you fill that in a bit more? How might something like that work? I'm having a hard time grasping the concept.


Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. -- Thomas Jefferson

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat

It has always struck me as odd that fundies devote so much time and effort into trying to find a naturalistic explanation for their mythical flood, while looking for magical explanations for things that actually happened. -- Dr. Adequate

...creationists have a great way to detect fraud and it doesn't take 8 or 40 years or even a scientific degree to spot the fraud--'if it disagrees with the bible then it is wrong'.... -- archaeologist


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by Omnivorous, posted 09-08-2010 10:37 PM Omnivorous has responded

Replies to this message:
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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 14 of 59 (580388)
09-08-2010 10:45 PM


I think whatever other intelligent life we find in the universe is going to be roughly bipedal because we're going to make it that way; you know how in a lot of sci-fi settings there's a long-vanished "progenitor" race that leaves behind a bunch of artifacts and may have genetically "guided" other species to sentience?

I think that's going to be us. I think we're the first intelligent race in the galaxy. Maybe in the universe. I think solar history indicates that our sun is probably the second star in this neck of the woods; you couldn't have life until after the first star because you need a dying star to produce elements heavier than helium. So I think we probably evolved about the earliest it was possible for intelligence to evolve.

Just my speculation of course. I think Bluejay is right that other life in the universe is likely to be carbon-based, since (as my organic chemistry textbook reminds me) silicon-based life that tried to respirate would exhale silicon dioxide, which is a solid under Earthlike temperatures and pressures! I think alien life will probably have left-handed amino acids since I think abiogenetic conditions probably favor them (but, I wouldn't rule out maybe one in a hundred planets where some kind of d-amino-based life gets an early foothold.) I think they would have something analogous to DNA, but it wouldn't necessarily have to be DNA - the phosphate-ribose backbone and the specific nucleobases seem kind of arbitrary. It's not hard to imagine something like an erythrose-arsenic backbone with funny bases, like hypoxanthine and inosine. Probably reasons why that's a lot less likely, but a lot of this stuff comes down to whatever arbitrary chemistry outcompeted everything else to become the LUCA. It's like, why did Betamax never catch on?

Codon substitutions would be completely different. The funniest part of Avatar for me was the notion of inserting human genes into na'vi - they'd produce completely different proteins, even assuming the same 20 amino acids (which there's no reason to.)


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Blue Jay
Member (Idle past 987 days)
Posts: 2843
From: You couldn't pronounce it with your mouthparts
Joined: 02-04-2008


Message 15 of 59 (580389)
09-08-2010 10:45 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by subbie
09-08-2010 9:07 PM


Lamarckian evolution
Hi, Subbie.

subbie writes:

Perhaps an interesting challenge from a science fiction point of view would be to devise a plausible environment where evolution doesn't take place.

I tried to design a Lamarckian organism once. It was a large gel-based organism with one large genetic reservoir that grew by a replication-like process as the organism grew larger. It reproduced by budding off random small segments of its body, each containing a random single set of genetic molecules, so any somatic mutations that happened during the individual's lifetime might be passed on.


-Bluejay (a.k.a. Mantis, Thylacosmilus)

Darwin loves you.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by subbie, posted 09-08-2010 9:07 PM subbie has acknowledged this reply

  
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