Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LAWDNKI – A Notational Review

Title: Life As We Do Not Know It. Subtitle: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life. A non-fiction book by Peter Ward. First published in 2005 by Viking Penguin.

About the author: “Peter Douglas Ward is professor of biology, professor of earth and space sciences, and adjunct professor of astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle.” (Cover jacket, inside back flap.)

-- Glacial metabolism? We might be slow to notice it as life.
In discussing the concept of Silicon/carbon clay life (pages 77 – 80), Ward mentions that such a life-form might exist here on our planet, but its changes are stretched over long periods of time and so we wouldn’t think of it as being alive. I like how our limited human perspectives – in this case, our perception of time – can keep us blind to the reality around us.

-- If it don’t work in da lab, then it don’t work at all.
On page 80, Ward talks about plasma life, a life form existing as the fourth state of matter (not solid, gaseous, or liquid). He mentions that physicists in Romania “produced small spheres of plasma that just might show lifelike characteristics.” Created by “sparking” with gas argon plasma, the proud human progenitors noticed that some spheres took on more argon – eating, if you will – and grew. Others reproduced by splitting. Sounds lifelike to me.

But not to Peter Ward. Why? Life has to evolve and the spheres failed that basic requirement.

I think Ward is a little hasty dismissing plasmoid beings, or what Eric Frank Russell called Vitons in his SF novel, Sinister Barrier. What happens in a lab isn’t necessarily what can occur Out There in the mind-boggling vastness of the universe. The artificially created spheres indicate that there is potential for plasmoids, even if the lab can’t make them evolve. I hope a Viton doesn’t float up to Ward and sink its charged “fangs” into his meaty gluteus maximi.

-- Chapter 14 is entitled “A Manifesto: Send Paleontologists to Mars and Biochemists to Titan.”
So how about sending proctologists to Plattsburgh?

Anyway, Ward thinks that traces of life on another worlds in the solar system should be done at the microscopic level. The best bet for finding any evidence of Martian life will be fossils. Hence, a paleontologist would be better qualified than a microbiologist. In the case of Titan, Saturn’s moon, a biochemist would serve better to detect life, maybe even silanes or silicon-based critters.

The seven-or-more-year trip to Titan would be probably one-way. But to see Saturn’s rings and to make a major biological discovery, says Ward, should mean that volunteers will step forward. He observes: “Scores of terrorists blow themselves up yearly. Surely we can ask the same sacrifice for a better cause from our scientists, especially the older ones.”

Really. I’d like to see Ward spend seven year or more years living here in Plattsburgh. I mean, we’re talking about hostile, alien environments, right?

Or maybe he would prefer sending a remote-controlled probe with an empathic feedback system? Remote viewing and interactive perception via cybernetics. All in the comfort of your own home world.

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