Silicon Based Life

October 29, 2010 at 2:28 am (Inventive Prototypes)

The complexity of our silicon technology, combined with silicon’s chemical similarity to carbon, have led people to consider if life were possible on a silicon backbone. It’s not the job of Theoretical Objects to declare something impossible, but big problems lie ahead. So let’s begin:

1) aerobic respiration

 inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, the staple of carbon life beyond anaerobic bacteria, is impossible because silicon dioxide, is a solid (glass). Simply put, silicon life forms wouldn’t breathe.

2) selective permeability

one of the key features of life is a cell’s ability to maintain an environment different from outside conditions. This means they need selectively permeable membranes. Carbon based life uses a bilipid layer (two layers of fats) to accomplish this. Silicon to silicon bonds are not stable enough to form these long strings of fats. Some new chemical would be required.

3) polymers

Any complex life form needs to create complex molecules, and there’s no better way to accomplish this than polymers: long strings of repeated units. Silicon is capable of forming these polymers and with great variety, however these compounds (call silicones) are stablized by bonds to carbon and oxygen. Not exactly a silicon skeleton.

4) genetic instructions

If silicones might be the structure of silicon cells, there would need to be some method of coordinating the creation of these structures. DNA, is out as a canditate as it has a great deal of carbon base. Like DNA these instructions would be a highly stable chemical (the cell couldn’t survive otherwise) that is relatively easy to use by the members of a cell. 

The search for a primary silicon based ecosystem is rather remote, even in the vastness of the galaxy. But amidst man’s fears of his own creations is an artifiicial life form worth considering: the robot.


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Non Linguistic Communication

September 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm (Inventive Prototypes) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Alternatives to Language

Human beings are creatures of language. It is our primary way of communicating. There is an inherent satisfaction in being able to put your thoughts to words. And when we can’t put feelings to words, we idolize the people that can. The novelists, the singers, the greeting card companies.

Yet it is apparent that language breaks down when it comes to discussing some objects. While it works as narrative (fiction) or as information (non-fiction), its power to describe certain objects is quite limited. The raw emotive power of music provides a fine example. No combination of words will ever put you in the ecstatic state that music can. And for this reason we have ipods, car stereos, etc. Clearly us linguistic apes operate outside of language quite a bit.

But even as we operate outside of language, we still find ourselves bound by it. Our reaction to music, or other non linguistic forms such as smell and taste, is highly personal. While language is not immune to subjectivity, it’s the only form of communication that human beings can readily share. A short talk over the phone with the fire department is the quickest way to call for help, not music or perfume. Even in our increasingly pixelized society, the direct power of words still holds sway. Thus it is hard for us to imagine a communication system that is not language. But it can be done.
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