|Sent on:||Tuesday, April 16, 2013 9:34 PM|
I’ve been following some of the comments posted following my talk on “weird life” last Friday. Jeff Forker asked two questions that I would like to address, because they may be of general interest:
“I would like to hear/read how ‘weirder life’ is differentiated from ‘weird life.’”
“And has anyone speculated on what weird, weirder and super-weird life forms might exist, elsewhere, everywhere?”
In terms of distinguishing “weird life” from “weirder life,” that is a rather arbitrary distinction. However, here is how I like to divide up life:
1) “Conventional life.” All known naturally-occurring Earth-life. Carbon-based in a water solvent with standard biomolecules (protein, DNA, RNA, lipids, etc.)
2) “Exotic life.” Carbon-based and water-based but utilizing different biomolecules than known life.
3) “Weird life.” Life that is fundamentally different from conventional life (primarily non-carbon-based and/or non-water-based), yet is sufficiently well-described so as to be meaningfully discussed based on the known laws of physics and chemistry. (This was the primary focus of my talk.)
4) “Weirder life.” Hypothetical life that is so far different from anything known that it is purely speculative with little that can meaningfully evaluated scientifically. There are a lot of ideas that fall into this category, but I only mentioned a few in passing because there is simply not a lot that can be said beyond simply describing the claims.
There are certainly a lot of “weirder life” that has been proposed. Most of that occurs in science fiction, where you can find just about anything one could imagine. For books that give serious scientific attention to these types of claims, there are not very many. And those that do, usually only talk about a few and usually only in passing. For example, Peter Ward, “Life As We Don’t Know It,” p. 77-81, discusses three “weirder life” scenarios (plasma-based life; the clay accretion model; and the Gaia hypothesis). So, it is hard to point to a single book in answer to your question. Nevertheless, there are a few things that I can recommend that will hopefully satisfy peoples curiosity about “weird” and “weirder life.”
1) Robert A. Freitas Jr., “Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization,” which is available electronically in its entirety at http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm. It is the most extensive discussion of everything having to do with extraterrestrials. A useful resources although it is so long that one would be wise to only focus on those sections of interest. With regard to “weird life,” he has a special section devoted to just that question, which you can find at http://www.xenology.info/Papers/Xenobiology.htm#p37. It even speculates on non-chemistry life (i.e. based on the strong force or gravity instead of electromagnetism) and discusses Fred Hoyle’s “Black Cloud” idea.
2) A good collection of very short articles on “weird life” is David Darling’s, “Encyclopedia of Science,” (http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/A/alternative_forms_of_life.html). Definitely some good reading.
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