March 21, 2013

Living Worldships

In Prophet: Remission, a city called Jell City was described as a corpse of a living ship. For all intents and purposes, Jell City was once a sustainable "Worldship" that needed to be "alive" in order to accomplish its primary purpose--to transport passengers and sustain them during transit. It is biodegradable and recyclable. And its usefulness does not end in its death. Rather, upon reaching its destination it continues to serve even as it rots. Its structure providing shelter and sustenance to its inhabitants.

There are a lot of key ideas in that panel and this is the reason why I have fallen in love with Prophet, a wonderful sci-fi comicbook that never ceases to send my imagination careening to exowonders. I am amazed at how the idea of Worldships converges with Living Architectures and how one day these ideas will take us to other worlds.

Lately there has been a lot of discussions about Worldships. A wave of articles flowed after the inauguration of the 100 Year Starship Study. They are listed below for those who are interested about the ideas presented in this post. One may think that these are all just sci-fi and wild imaginations. But there are real people who are pushing the boundaries to make these ideas a reality. such as Rachel Armstrong (@livingarchitect) and Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams who are passionate about ideas that are stepping stones for humanity's journey to the outer worlds.

100 Year Starship Study -
Life Aboard the Worldship -
Project Persephone – Living Architectures -
Designing a Sustainable Interstellar Worldship -
A Trip To The Living City Of The Future -
Lawless Sustainability: Persephone -

January 21, 2013

The Constructs of a New Idea

I've just finished reading a book called 'Design in Nature'. And by sharing what I've learned from that book I am practically validating its premise--that everything in the universe has a tendency to flow--even information itself. Good ideas flow and I am happy to act as a conduit for another great idea to flow onwards via the constructs of social media: That idea is called the Constructal Law.

I will list 4 major ideas from the book in a short and concise manner and then provide my own comments. I hope I captured the main ideas well enough to stimulate your own mind to explore it further. There were plenty of ideas that captured my attention but I am still reeling from the fresh new eyes I got after reading that book and I am scrambling to write down as much as I can to share it, understand it, and articulate it.
I promise you that I will post more ideas in bite-sized format soon. But for now you may consider this post as a preview.

1) The Constructal Law makes Design a Concept of Science.
"The constructal law accounts not only for the emergence of design but also its evolution. Design is a spontaneously arising and evolving phenomenon in nature. Design is a phenomenon that emerges naturally as patterns..."
In my opinion, the Constructal Law has done a good job of explaining the trouble that has arisen with the word 'Design' in scientific circles. And I wholeheartedly agree that it is time for Science to embrace Design. And I re-iterate that Constructal Law does not give credence to Intelligent Design. As a matter of fact, it clarifies the fact that design arises without any need for a "designer".
Now in terms of planets, I think that the subject of "Planetary Design" will be a very interesting field for future terraformers.

2) The Constructal Law Can Predict
"We use the constructal law to predict what should occur in nature--that designs should emerge and evolve in time to facilitate flow access."
This part is what I'm quite excited about because we may have the beginnings of a systematic way to predict the morphology and structure of lifeforms. There are sections in the book wherein the possible configurations of animals (and vegetation and trees) are explained and predicted along with some basic equations and charts to prove it.
Thus, I would assume that these equations, given different environmental parameters that correspond to different planetary characteristics (such as gravity, atmospheric density, etc) can allow us to predict the likely shape of alien lifeforms on another world.

3) The Constructal Law Challenges Scientific Views
"An irony of the constructal law is that it is a scientific principle that challenges scientific orthodoxy while confirming impressions of the world held by nonscientists."
It is a breath of fresh air to read about science improving on the previous ideas and creating new ones. The author of Design in Nature, Adrian Bejan disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's idea that if we replay of the tape of life, the lifeforms that would arise would be different. The Constructal Law on Animal Design says that even if we replayed the tape of life, the animals (and vegetation) would still turn out to be similar to the animals we see today in their basic configuration. This is because nature has a tendency to facilitate the movement of mass in the most efficient way possible, and that is where design arises.
The Constructal Law also challenges the Darwinian concept of winners and losers by saying that all the players are not competing against each other but are in fact, working together as components of a larger global organism. I consider this as a nod to Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, which is itself has been challenged scientifically.

4) The Constructal Law Unites the Animate and Inanimate. Everything is Alive!
"Life—flow, with freely morphing configuration—was there from the start"
I love this idea. Primarily because up until now I've been having a hard time defining what life is in a broader sense. It makes it so much simpler when you look the universe and see that everything is alive.
Just like the Copernican Revolution it may seem to strip us off a pedestal once more--that we have no right to claim any difference from the inanimates. I am actually relieved to think of it that way. And I can feel that it opens up my mind to mentally explore what other sort of 'life' there may be on planets elsewhere.
Although the idea that "everything is alive" brings constructal law a little bit in the camp of mysticism, I am sure there are plenty of good ways to mitigate this, such as assigning "levels" to life.

Moving Forward...
The Constructal Law covers a lot of disciplines. And it will have plenty to contribute to Exoplanetology. For one, I can see that the Constructal Law can validate the idea that smaller planets are more numerous than larger ones, aside from the obvious fact that there are more grains than pebbles, more pebbles than rocks, more rocks than boulders.
It was not discussed in the book, but I am sure that its proponents will come up with the equation to seal it soon enough in a scientific way. And my hunch is that its explanation will have something to do with the idea that clumps of matter can flow much easier, farther, wider, when they are in the form of smaller planets. Therefore, smaller planets must form first and should have higher distribution than larger ones around a star system.

To Sum it up...
The Constructal Law has an extraordinary claim, that it is a "first principle", at par with The Second Law of Thermodynamics. It says that "where the second law describes the universal tendency to flow from high to low, the constructal law describes the universal tendency to generate evolving configurations that facilitate that flow." The evidence for its claim seem to be extraordinarily clear and visible all around us. It has a lot of potential. Adrian Bejan may have hit upon a great idea right on the spot with the Constructal Law.

December 13, 2012

River Patterns on Other Worlds

Just putting in a quick note about this picture of a river in Titan. It came in today just as i was in the early onset of reading this book, Design in Nature, about the Constructal Law which not only explains, but predicts the formation of patterns, such as river flows and other fractal structures in nature. If you ask me, this constructal idea is a pretty monumental claim of answering the question of how patterns and 'design' arises. For a while now, I've always been fascinated about the similar patterns that are visible all around us, like trees, and bifurcating networks, spiral galaxies and hurricanes, and so on. Well, it's worth writing about this river in Titan because what flows in that river is not water but liquid methane and ethane. It stikes me with awe that on the surface of an alien world with a wildly different chemical make up could produce a pattern that is so familiar to us. Should we then expect to see on other planets the familiar patterns we see on earth, or should we expect something different on truly alien exoplanetary worlds?

November 30, 2012

Solving the Puzzle of Life

Last week, I stumbled upon an idea called The Constructal Law (for an overview, see this PDF) and I am browsing through the book 'Design in Nature' by A. Bejan and J.P. Zane. Almost immediately I felt something click as I continued to read it. Some concepts in that book resonate with bits of ideas that have already crossed my mind in the past. This book has wasted no time in explaining the new concepts clearly.

Parts of the Constructal Law will have something to do with how we should think about exolife, too. It hasn't done that yet, but the time will come.

We are currently in the age of mashups, integrations, collaboration, and new ways of thinking about the questions and mysteries that confront us. In the context of this blog, some of these questions are timeless, and some are up-to-date with our current stage of discovery: What is Life? What are the patterns that we should look for in order to detect signs of life on alien environments? Will our earth-centric definition of "Life" change once we discover life on other planets?

Indeed, these questions require us to think beyond the limits of any particular field of science. We cannot hinge solely upon Astrobiology or Exobiology to define exolife and ignore other fields of thought. We also cannot limit our minds to think about life only in terms of computation, complexity theory, or emergence (think Wolfram's New Kind of Science, NKS), nor should we think about life only in terms of physics. We need scientists and thinkers in every field to collaborate and mash up ideas. If you still don't get my gist, please read this post. I have been lapse in blogging for a while about unorthodox ways of thinking about life, and i hope to post more about this interdisciplinary aspect of answering questions about exolife, especially on how exoplanets contribute vital clues to solve this exciting puzzle.

November 20, 2012

Extremophiles, Archaeans, Biogenic Stromatolites, and Mars

When a scientist teases the whole world about an "earthshaking" discovery on Mars, you just can't help but think what it might be. In the age of social media, you can't help but tweet about it. I was going to tweet about extremophiles on impulse but I decided to dig (no pun intended) a little bit further to be more specific and to put more substance into my tweet. For some reason, the word "Stromatolites" came up in my mind. But "Archaean Stromatolites" is a better deal. But now I think "Biogenic Stromatolites" is way much better.

Some Archaeans are extremophiles and this gives me a good reason to post about it here (because I love extremophiles!) In turn stromatolites are sedimentary structures produced by the activities of microorganisms (such as archaeans) in shallow water. They precipitate calcium carbonate or limestone when they metabolize. Putting together the clues that I know, such as the evidence that water once flowed on Mars, I would think that if they ever existed, these early martian single-celled critters (which I would temporarily equate with archaeans for lack of a better term) must have formed mats of stromatolites or calcites and their signature became fossilized, and then eons later this badass curiosity rover came along and scooped up some of it and unpacked the chemical evidence with its SAM instruments and beamed the data to earth. And then one Geologist got so excited that he remarked “This data is gonna be one for the history books," and then everyone got crazy on twitter.

Well, a little sleuthing about what would make a geologist so excited points me to this paper (PDF) which I think pretty much sums up most of the clues regarding the puzzle. I'm guessing the findings would be similar, i think, but the main idea is that evidence of fossilized by-products of ancient forms of life on the red planet may have been found by Curiosity. Or could just be organic chemicals, upon which further study is needed to know if it is biogenic or abiotic. But definitely the discovery is not Life itself but perhaps (or maybe i am just hoping) it may be microfossils or some ancient signature of simple lifeforms in the distant past. And so, with that little background you know what I'll tweet about. Of course I may be wrong most probably, but tweeting with some substance is better than tweeting some senseless snarkiness. And relax, it's just a tweet about a wild guess.

November 18, 2012

Halo 4 Review : Exoplanetary Landscapes & Emotions

Having just finished the campaign in Halo 4, I just wanted to give a nod to 343 Industries for making this Halo installment such a great experience. From the perspective of this blog, I begin by expressing my appreciation for the impressive exoplanetary landscapes that was a major part of the game's appeal. All the planetary visuals, including the architecture of the forerunners, are beautiful art. I admire all the aesthetics that was put in every scene and multiplayer maps which makes it such beautiful worlds to step in to.
But the most important part of the game was the emotional aspect. Thankfully, the facial expressions of the characters (except Master Chief, who never shows his face) shows great detail in conveying human emotions. In Halo 4, you will not be burdened by the botox faces you have come to see in most games (such as in Mass Effect). Halo 4 has used the technology to appeal to the player's emotions, and it proved to be crucial in the storyline.
As the story goes, Cortana, the AI companion of Master Chief is dying. The emotional stress involved in the prospect of losing her life shows in her face which draws you in. I salute Master Chief because he actually tries to save Cortana and treats her rightfully--as a person. The common folk would have no attachment or feelings for such entities like software. People would simply install a new version or get a new one. But not Master Chief. He truly cares for his companion.
I am fond of AI constructs (such as EDI and Legion (Geth) in Mass Effect) so it was natural for me to identify my self with Master Chief at the onset. So I knew right from the start that I will definitely finish this game. Indeed I savored every moment of it, and cherished the last moments with Cortana.

October 23, 2012

Breaking Through the Limits of My World

You've heard it said, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world". It's one of the famous quotes from the only book ever published by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I'd like to share a bit of my personal experience on this matter as I curate content about exoplanets via social media tools such as twitter and google plus.

In the last few years of the ongoing discoveries of new exoplanets, I have indeed felt the limit of language in my attempt to describe the new ideas that is brought by the awareness of new worlds. I have often felt that our existing language(s) are not sufficient to support the new changes that will occur in our ways of thinking.
Aside from the English language, I speak another language and a dialect distinct enough to be considered as a unique language by itself. I experimented with shifting the language of my inner thought from one to the other, and I observed that without the proper words to describe any new concept, the mind is truly limited to effectively grasp, describe, or share new ideas. With this realization, I wondered what other concepts I am missing as a result of not knowing other languages. And I yearned to know more ideas. I longed to break free from the limits of language.

As I tracked the breath-taking pace of exoplanet discoveries, I stumbled upon new ideas, and new avenues of thought--about other planets, and on the topics of life elsewhere, on interstellar travel, and on the future of humanity. Yet I am at loss for words to efficiently share those new concepts that bubbled inside my mind.

I am sure others have felt the same. Here are some examples: how would one describe a double exoplanet transit in one word? As what happened with our observations of KOI-94 some has called it 'Exosyzygy'.

Another recent discovery of a pair of stars orbiting a planet (PH1) which is orbiting another pair of stars, I'm sure we don't even know what words to describe unique events on such a system (can we imagine an 'exoclipse' or 'multiclipse'?).

Some words I had to make up in order to make the idea fit within a constrained medium such as twitter. For some phrases I had to borrow and mash up some words. The words listed below are only a handful that I felt I had to 'invent' in order to express some concepts concisely: Exolife, Exogazing, Exoplanetary Thinking, exogasm, Hab Worlds, Known Worlds Law, exostellar, Habitable Bubbles, exoplaneteers, exoprobe.

I'm not sure if they were used before, or if these words will appear in the Google Ngram Viewer someday, but I am sure that the never-ending discovery of new planets will constantly create a plethora of new words as humanity's noosphere expands further onto other worlds lightyears away. And thus breaking through the limits of our world trains our minds to break through the limits of language itself.

July 18, 2012

Oh What A Tangled Exoweb...

As everyone in the exoplanet community have noticed, the Exoplanet Encyclopedia ( has updated its site with a nifty new look along with new functionalities. It's great. And I love change. The only thing is that it broke my Total Known Exoplanets Chrome Extension. I didn't think anyone ever uses it, until a twitter user inquired on when it will be fixed. So i spent some time to fix it. And now i'm happy to report that the chrome extension is back up online again. Well, at least for now, it's not showing blank. I know it's showing a count that is still late by a factor of weeks but it will be improved on the next deployment. I will now explain the changes that happened under the hood and what it would mean onwards.
When changed its pages, my robotic HTML scraper was no longer getting the updated exoplanet count. Much as i tried, I can no longer grab hold of the updated count from that site. So i turned to the coolest open to provide the exoplanet count. Using a simple AJAX call, it returns some data that includes the total count. Of course there's always room for improvement and I contacted the awesome developers of ExoAPI to provide a function to grab *just* the total count for speed and lighter load. So now my exoplanet count chrome extension fully depends on ExoAPI to show the latest stats on exoplanets. And I got some new upgrades planned that will make use of ExoAPI some more. Yes, this is another use case showing how important an open exoplanet API is.
Here's some quirky curiousity on how Salaak and Silver Surfer keeps track of planets. I am definitely sure that they maintain a database of planets to do their job (it would be awesome to see at least one issue of green lantern corps mention that 'fact') and that they must have some form of API in order to pass along data and work with other advanced lifeforms' technology. In light of this fiction, can you imagine what it would mean if we suddenly made contact with a more advanced civilization? For some reason, I think that their web developers would be awesome enough as to provide an API for us to be able to access their own planet database. But prior to that, via the Known Worlds Law it is automatic that advanced civilizations have a huge database of planets containing information on gazillions of worlds. And I am optimistic that they will share that information--which would mean access to study trillions of planets!

June 21, 2012

Spaceships and Exoplanets [part 3]

Since we're at it, let me refer you to this wonderful collection of vintage spaceship art to wrap up my previous posts on the impromptu series "Spaceships and Exoplanets". This collection of rare retro space art by Dark Roasted Blend certainly made me reflect on how far we've gone and how far we have to go. In the 1950's there were no known exoplanets at all. Now we have more than 700 hundred exoplanets catalogued. How did our new planetary discoveries impact how we think? How did it change our designs of spaceships? If you look closely at these vintage space artworks, what do you notice? Did anything change in the design of the spaceships as the pioneers envisioned them back then versus our modern day ship designs?
First of all, these vintage photos confirm the pattern that spaceships and planets go together on spaceship artworks, as I've noted in the first Spaceships and Exoplanets post. Another thing is that spaceship designs back then were symmetrical, while spaceship designs nowadays are 'becoming' non-symmetrical (take a look at ship designs in Eve-Online to grok what i mean). Spaceships are mostly designed for outer space so they do not need to be aerodynamic (duh!).
I could go one blabbing about spaceships but I would rather leave you thinking about the fact that more than 60 years after these imaginative art were envisioned, we still haven't landed an actual spaceship on another planet. A lot of work needs to be done to make our science fiction a real fact for future generations.

June 20, 2012

On Prometheus

Prometheus is an eye candy. The visuals and special effects are well done. The design of the space suits are unique and beautiful. The user interface to control gadgetries and machineries are good. And the star maps are marvelous. The photos shown are part of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Beautiful as its visuals may be, an eye candy is what Prometheus will ever be. It failed to live up to the hype. It will not be among the classic science fiction films such as Blade Runner, Solaris, The Matrix (1), Aliens, or The Fifth Element that one would watch (over and over again) for the sheer engagement of the mind, complemented with great visuals.
I thought the film was going to be smart, as projected by snazzy marketing tidbits such as Weyland's TED talk and great interactives. I felt cheated because when the film finally came out it had a lot of dumb moments. It had massive holes in the plot. The science was flawed in many instances, and the stupidity of all the characters distracted me throughout the movie. The promotional materials used to market the film seemed smarter than the actual film itself. Lastly, I am disappointed because it made scientists (astrobiologists and archaeologists) look like fools.
Although I am happy about the exoplanetary aspects of the film, it's just that Prometheus is hollow and is not inspiring at all. There's no enduring character to remember and no brilliant concept to keep.
But I do recognize the artistic aspect in the cinematography of the film. I am aware that one must not be taken in by all the fantastic visuals and one must look deeper into the analogies and metaphors expressed by the movie--that it tells of our endless yearning to search and know our beginning and our future. And yes I am also aware of the claim that there is a 'religious hidden message' in it. But whatever those messages were, or the metaphors therein, the film's attempt to express them utterly failed.
Besides, I do not agree with panspermia--it will not answer our quest for the origin of life, so the idea that we were created by those burly but lame 'Engineers' was a wrong premise to begin with. Sure, the film gets merit for ending with a question (of who created our creators), but perhaps the film-makers should have started with that instead, rather than making this one which turned out to be a spectacular scifi incarnation of Dumb and Dumber.

Spaceships and Exoplanets [part 2]

Well, well, well. Two nice visualizations have grazed the interwebz just days apart. And now it's my job to make sense of it all and share the wisdom. The idea could be a variation on my previous post about spaceships and exoplanets but it's still worth reiterating nevertheless.
The other day, the spaceships chart came out from supernova condensate. Today the Exoplanets rendered by xkcd exploded on the net.
Why, spaceships should have destinations, right? And that is exactly the reason why I bring them together in one post lest people fail to get the point.
Our species must expand to other planets! Let's build the spaceships and starships and worldships and go to Mars and beyond. You see, the destinations are real. These exoplanets are out there for real. Yet the means to go there isn't here just yet. That means we have plenty of things to catch up with.
I know it's hard, but it's ok. We just have to do something simple persistently, like send out extrasolar probes every year as our technology allows. This will keep the inspiration alive to keep the action going for centuries to come.
The Voyager1 probe is on the threshold of being interstellar so it is a perfect time to stress the point: Let's go 'exo' !

June 11, 2012

The Skroderider

I just felt compelled to share what I saw last saturday at the Bionic Garden: The Orchidarium named "Floriguay" by artist Mike Smith had a 'Big Dipper' setup solely for plants! Yes, for plants!!! A set of LED lights was used to simulate the constellation (and some fireflies) for the plants' enjoyment.
I think that the whole setup was fun and awesome. Imagine if plants can actually gaze up at the stars and see constellations. Wouldn't that be amazing? You know, somewhere at the back of my mind, on some other world there exists plant-like creatures that could really see and think.
It's a perfect timing that I've been reading Vernor Vinge's "Fire Upon the Deep" in which there are sentient plants called "Skroderiders" (one of them is aptly named Greenstalk). 
The Skroderiders often become lost in thought when they see spectacular landscapes which I imagine to be stars, constellations, and ringed star systems. They also are perched or riding on a contraption called 'skrodes' that enables them to move around (hence the term Skroderiders) but also contains other mechanisms that aid their memory, among other things. The skrodes were a gift to them by an advanced civilization.
So you can just imagine my delight when i saw the Floriguay, a wheeled frame outfitted with wires and tubes, a laptop, and LED lights and other contraptions. This is a Skroderider in the flesh! Or rather, a Skroderider on a skrode!