May 2, 2011

Exoplanets, Extremophiles and other Kinds of Minds

Just a few days after I wrote a highly-speculative post outlining the relationship of lifeforms and planets, and the intriguing link between what other kinds of minds are possible for specific characteristics of planets--along comes these findings of bacteria that feel at home with hypergravity.

In the experiment, researchers spun E. coli and other bacteria in an ultacentrifuge and revved it up to its fastest speed, amounting up to something like 400,000 Gs. The bacteria not only lived through the "hypergravity" experience, they even reproduced.

So, on planetary scales, I can say that these bacteria can survive on the surface of a white dwarf with the same spherical size as earth but with the mass equivalent to the sun. The gravitational force on its surface is somewhere around 300,000 G.

So if I was beamed down (a la Star Trek) onto the surface of a cool white dwarf, upon materializing I would immmediately be crushed into a pancake-shaped goo. But some of the bacteria inhabiting my body will still survive the crushing gravity! And if some other conditions permitted (let's be generous by adding oxygen into the atmosphere, aside from temperate other imaginings), they will feed on my jello'ed body and who knows what will evolve from that mass of goo? Let’s settle on “flat” beings for now, by virtue of the flattening gravity of a white dwarf.

Now, “flat” beings with 2.5-dimensional brains wouldn’t evolve much cognitive capacity compared with other brains whose neurons utilize the 3 dimensions of space to connect and communicate with other neurons. Each of our brain’s neurons has an average of 7,000 synaptic connections with other neurons. Clearly, a flat-brained creature on a white dwarf would have a disadvantage over it’s counterparts from earth. But not so if it’s neurons are utilizing wi-fi! Yes, its still highly speculative but there’s been a study outlining the possibility of some bacteria-signaling via radio frequency. If this biomechanism works on another planet, the 7,000 synaptic "wired" connections of a human brain would pale in comparison with a creature whose 'neurons' work in wireless mode to process information collectively with other neurons. What kind of thoughts would it have?

Now, these two possible characteristics of microbial life--hypergravity survival and radio wave communications--that I've mentioned in this post are completely unrelated. I’ve simply fused them in a hypothetical scenario in a playful attempt to mash-up planetary characteristics with extreme-life biomechanisms to speculate on expanding the possibilities of life on other worlds. Rev up your imagination and try it yourself. It's actually fun!

With all the new findings on extremophiles, which comes at a perfect timing with new exoplanet discoveries, we are opening up a lot of incredible possibilities for the mind to speculate about life in other parts of the universe.

Alien Bacteria can Breed in Extreme Hypergravity
Electromagnetic Signals from Bacterial DNA (PDF)
From Planets To Consciousness: Other Kinds of Minds