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.