Silicon-based life

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Khemehekis
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Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

After I finish the kektas/homa/añak/azhwea/sochitl/mophmon bioswath, with its multitudinous animals and its black plants, the final step in my populating the planets of Lehola with species will be the albhikar bioswath, which has silicon-based life.

For all the searching the Web for silicon-based life that I did (including the Wikipedia article), I'm having a surprising amount of trouble finding out what silicon-life would actually be like. OK, I get that instead of CHNOPS it would be SiHNOPS and the silicon-based heterotrophs would eat other silicon-based organisms, but . . . how would they look, behave, eat, and reproduce? Will silicon-based organisms transmit genes that mutate -- with chromosomes -- the way Earth's organisms do? Will they have analogues to the plant (photosynthesizing, sessile, no brain) and animal (heterotrophic, mostly mobile, with a brain) kingdoms, among other kingdoms? Would the methods of reproduction be something familiar? Could silicon-based organisms get body parts like satellite-dish-shaped ears or helicopter-like propellers on their heads? Will silicon-based organisms, all in all, be more "mechanical" in how their bodies work, in how they move, think, and behave, than carbon-based organisms?
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Tanni »

Khemehekis wrote: 18 Jul 2021 09:13 After I finish the kektas/homa/añak/azhwea/sochitl/mophmon bioswath, with its multitudinous animals and its black plants, the final step in my populating the planets of Lehola with species will be the albhikar bioswath, which has silicon-based life.

For all the searching the Web for silicon-based life that I did (including the Wikipedia article), I'm having a surprising amount of trouble finding out what silicon-life would actually be like. OK, I get that instead of CHNOPS it would be SiHNOPS and the silicon-based heterotrophs would eat other silicon-based organisms, but . . . how would they look, behave, eat, and reproduce? Will silicon-based organisms transmit genes that mutate -- with chromosomes -- the way Earth's organisms do? Will they have analogues to the plant (photosynthesizing, sessile, no brain) and animal (heterotrophic, mostly mobile, with a brain) kingdoms, among other kingdoms? Would the methods of reproduction be something familiar? Could silicon-based organisms get body parts like satellite-dish-shaped ears or helicopter-like propellers on their heads? Will silicon-based organisms, all in all, be more "mechanical" in how their bodies work, in how they move, think, and behave, than carbon-based organisms?
Even though there were some claims that there could be life based on silicon decades ago, as it has some similarities to carbon, it seems that silicon-based life actually is not possible.

Thinking of silicon-based live, the first (fictional) species which comes to mind are the Maahks. In the early Perry Rhodan Series, they were ''depicted'' as silicon-based. But as it turned out that such life cannot be, they changed it to that only some parts of the Maahk body consist of/contain some silicon-based material. Now, in the Perrypedia page about the Maahks, silicon (Silizium) is not even mentioned.

As I know that you know some German, check out this: Potista and this Rhoarxi ... das Silizium-Leben, das Potista, ... There is also a Google translate button.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by eldin raigmore »

Could 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5 of the carbon be “replaced” by silicon and life still be possible? At least theoretically, in an SFnal sense?
….
Similar replacements might occur with other elements.
Maybe 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5 of the hydrogen replaced by lithium or fluorine;
1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5 of the nitrogen replaced by phosphorus;
… oxygen …. Sulphur;
…. Phosphorus … arsenic;
… sulfur … selenium.

My guess is that 25% replacement is the most extreme that’s still plausible. That way there’d still be -C-C-C- chains.
I don’t think I’ve ever read fiction that proposed more than 50% of the carbon replaced by silicon; H Beam Piper’s Uller Uprising has half-silicon-half-carbon chains as “backbones” for biological molecules, and I can’t recall how much fluorine replacing how much hydrogen.

We have selenocysteine etc. in mitochondrial amino-acids IRL.
And some people have reported IRL finding life that had some arsenic where other organisms have phosphorus, though I imagine those reports are preliminary and not yet confirmed.



If anything like this is in fact plausible, I’ll bet the different elemental replacements have different maximal fractions.
Maybe, for instance, one couldn’t replace more than 25% of the carbon with silicon, but one could replace 50% of the sulfur with selenium, or something.

Just guessing!
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Salmoneus »

Khemehekis wrote: 18 Jul 2021 09:13 After I finish the kektas/homa/añak/azhwea/sochitl/mophmon bioswath, with its multitudinous animals and its black plants, the final step in my populating the planets of Lehola with species will be the albhikar bioswath, which has silicon-based life.

For all the searching the Web for silicon-based life that I did (including the Wikipedia article), I'm having a surprising amount of trouble finding out what silicon-life would actually be like. OK, I get that instead of CHNOPS it would be SiHNOPS and the silicon-based heterotrophs would eat other silicon-based organisms, but . . . how would they look, behave, eat, and reproduce? Will silicon-based organisms transmit genes that mutate -- with chromosomes -- the way Earth's organisms do? Will they have analogues to the plant (photosynthesizing, sessile, no brain) and animal (heterotrophic, mostly mobile, with a brain) kingdoms, among other kingdoms? Would the methods of reproduction be something familiar? Could silicon-based organisms get body parts like satellite-dish-shaped ears or helicopter-like propellers on their heads? Will silicon-based organisms, all in all, be more "mechanical" in how their bodies work, in how they move, think, and behave, than carbon-based organisms?
These questions are obviously unanswerable, and not very interesting: a sufficiantly advanced silicon-based lifeform in a sufficiently similar niche to us would act more or less like us. If they're in a different niche, they might be different.

What shape ears something has has nothing to do with its biochemistry (assuming its biochemistry allows the possibility of ears, and isn't, say, entirely liquid...), but is instead determined functionally.

I don't understand what is meant by 'more mechanical'. Carbon-based organisms obey the laws of mechanics, just as silicon-based organisms.


In any case, it seems likely that silicon-based life as we know it would not be possible, or would be extremely primitive in any case. But if you can get around that, it'll look just like carbon-based life, because functions evolve to fit the available niches.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Torco »

It's pretty hard to prove a negative, but yeah, silicon life seems less likely than it seemed a while back. even if it was likely, the short answer to your question is that no one actually knows or has a lot of an idea, sadly. Think about it, how is water-carbon based life? the most we can say is "it's the kind of thing that lives "between minus a few and 100 degrees, likes wet sugar and is probably made out of sugars and proteins mixed, so they get hurt by, say, strong acids". but would siliconites be able to figure out that sugar can be made into wood and bug shells? probably not.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

Tanni wrote: 18 Jul 2021 17:11 Thinking of silicon-based live, the first (fictional) species which comes to mind are the Maahks. In the early Perry Rhodan Series, they were ''depicted'' as silicon-based. But as it turned out that such life cannot be, they changed it to that only some parts of the Maahk body consist of/contain some silicon-based material. Now, in the Perrypedia page about the Maahks, silicon (Silizium) is not even mentioned.

As I know that you know some German, check out this: Potista and this Rhoarxi ... das Silizium-Leben, das Potista, ... There is also a Google translate button.
Thank you for the links, Tanni!
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

Salmoneus wrote: 18 Jul 2021 20:18 These questions are obviously unanswerable, and not very interesting: a sufficiantly advanced silicon-based lifeform in a sufficiently similar niche to us would act more or less like us. If they're in a different niche, they might be different.

What shape ears something has has nothing to do with its biochemistry (assuming its biochemistry allows the possibility of ears, and isn't, say, entirely liquid...), but is instead determined functionally.
I asked this because I remember one of my housemates asking a question (as a joke) on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia ... _dish_ears several years back, and a respondent at the Reference Desk saying that satellite dish ears would be excellent for an organism that was "silicon-based".
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by elemtilas »

This is where science fails and where we need to engage creativity. Ignore the naysayers and continue your quest for silicon lifeforms, please! I think it's most unhelpful for folks to respond with "it's impossible" or "it can't be done". Especially when that wasn't even the question. If I had a penny for every time I've seen this kind of shoot-down the question response to this kind of question, I'd have two pounds seventeen and fourpence.

While the proposition that silicon life is impossible or likely impossible may or may not be true, does that even really matter? The fact remains that you've got in the Lehola Galaxy silicon life forms. Period, end of discussion. That's not a matter for debate. The question isn't whether such a concept can exist in the real world, but rather what might such life be like in your fictional world! It already exists, you just want to consider possibilities for future exploration!

Will have to consider this. SF and Fantasy have certainly considered the question. You might look into the relevant Discworld novels that focus on the Trolls. There's also a Star Trek (TOS) episode where the crew come across silicon based life.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

elemtilas wrote: 19 Jul 2021 04:34 The fact remains that you've got in the Lehola Galaxy silicon life forms. Period, end of discussion. That's not a matter for debate
To clarify: I have a vague idea of what the albhikar (the sapient species of this bioswath) will look like, and I've decided they'll be silicon-based, but I haven't thought up what the rest of the life-forms that evolve with them will be like. So I've got one silicon-based species, and if it turns out silicon is impossible, I can try some other idea for them. As for now, I just have a vague "picture" of an albhikar and some of the place names of planets they've settled (which suggests a phonology for their lingua franca).
Will have to consider this. SF and Fantasy have certainly considered the question. You might look into the relevant Discworld novels that focus on the Trolls.
The Trolls in Discworld are silicon-based? :wat: Didn't know that. I'll have to check this out.
There's also a Star Trek (TOS) episode where the crew come across silicon based life.
What were the organisms in that episode like?

@Torco, thanks for your answer, it got me thinking. If I research silicon compounds, I can come up with things sort of analogous to wood, bug shells, and the like, I think.





Another silicon question: carbon-based life requires a carbon cycle, which requires tides, which requires at least one moon. Would silicon-based life require a similar cycle with silicon?
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Re: Silicon-based life

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I have 404 on most pages of your site.
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Re: Silicon-based life

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Khemehekis wrote: 19 Jul 2021 05:34
elemtilas wrote: 19 Jul 2021 04:34 The fact remains that you've got in the Lehola Galaxy silicon life forms. Period, end of discussion. That's not a matter for debate
To clarify: I have a vague idea of what the albhikar (the sapient species of this bioswath) will look like, and I've decided they'll be silicon-based, but I haven't thought up what the rest of the life-forms that evolve with them will be like. So I've got one silicon-based species, and if it turns out silicon is impossible, I can try some other idea for them. As for now, I just have a vague "picture" of an albhikar and some of the place names of planets they've settled (which suggests a phonology for their lingua franca).
Vague picture is all you need! It's the seed, or I guess in this case, seed crystal, from which wonders may sprout.

It's 100% up to you whether you continue the idea or not!
The Trolls in Discworld are silicon-based? :wat: Didn't know that. I'll have to check this out.
Do. Well, they are made of stone and crystals. Especially the stories involving Detritus.

What were the organisms in that episode like?
Those are Horta.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by WeepingElf »

Tanni wrote: 18 Jul 2021 17:11Even though there were some claims that there could be life based on silicon decades ago, as it has some similarities to carbon, it seems that silicon-based life actually is not possible.
Indeed, it almost certainly doesn't work. Despite its proximity in the periodic table, silicon has very little in common with carbon, and the difference between the dioxides (gas vs. high-melting solid, because silicon doesn't form double bonds as readily as carbon does) is the least of the problems. Si-Si and Si-H bonds are very much weaker than C-C and C-H bonds, which makes silicon analogues to organic compounds extremely unstable and highly reactive. And doesn't the fact that life on Earth is carbon-based despite the fact that there is much more silicon than carbon here ring a bell? Silicon-based life is just bad science fiction, nothing else.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Torco »

@Torco, thanks for your answer, it got me thinking. If I research silicon compounds, I can come up with things sort of analogous to wood, bug shells, and the like, I think.
oh, excelsior! please do post them here, i remember once upon a time wanting to do so, but decided against it on account of I know almost no chemistry.
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Re: Silicon-based life

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planet Mars is home to silicon-based lifeforms in a Choose Your Own Adventure book that I read when I was a kid. There was a large crablike creature that bumped into me and then ate me.

CYOA isnt necessarily big on accuracy, though .... they were kind of hit or miss. After all, the fact that this scene takes place on Mars shows theyre already making things up.
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Re: Silicon-based life

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Pabappa wrote: 19 Jul 2021 21:38 planet Mars is home to silicon-based lifeforms in a Choose Your Own Adventure book that I read when I was a kid. There was a large crablike creature that bumped into me and then ate me.

CYOA isnt necessarily big on accuracy, though .... they were kind of hit or miss. After all, the fact that this scene takes place on Mars shows theyre already making things up.
Which is rather the whole point of those kinds of fantasy and sci-fi books. Who cares if an adventure on Mars or silicon based life don't work in reality? That's why we have imagination, so we cán adventure on Mars and cán meet silicon based life. Or any other -based life.

Otherwise, what would be the point of this forum, then? Except for very hard historical fiction or alt-history. I mean we've seen actual stars that fly across the universe and fight each other, and space-faring folks who sweep the dust into stars and planets; we've had worlds made of moss and wax and cellotape, and all sorts of other impossibilities. What's so crazy about silicon based life?
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

Titus Flavius wrote: 19 Jul 2021 10:09 I have 404 on most pages of your site.
I haven't uploaded all my Lehola pages yet! Most of those webpages were never up there in the first place.


Also, I'd like to explain this question of Salmoneus':
I don't understand what is meant by 'more mechanical'. Carbon-based organisms obey the laws of mechanics, just as silicon-based organisms.
By "mechanical", I mean whether silicon-based sapients will think more like machines than like animals. Humans, as a carbon-based life-form, are clearly animals, who, "as the herd-animals we are sniff wxrily at the strange one among us". Of course, even other carbon-based sapients might be minus some of the psychological tendencies of humans, such as fear of the unknown or distrust of strange people, but some sapients (as described in Wikipedia's section on silicon-based life in science fiction) might actually be AI's, and could therefore have a predilection for being able to do difficult calculations in their heads, or could be without some of the animal human tendencies mentioned above.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

elemtilas wrote: 19 Jul 2021 11:59
Khemehekis wrote: 19 Jul 2021 05:34
elemtilas wrote: 19 Jul 2021 04:34 The fact remains that you've got in the Lehola Galaxy silicon life forms. Period, end of discussion. That's not a matter for debate
To clarify: I have a vague idea of what the albhikar (the sapient species of this bioswath) will look like, and I've decided they'll be silicon-based, but I haven't thought up what the rest of the life-forms that evolve with them will be like. So I've got one silicon-based species, and if it turns out silicon is impossible, I can try some other idea for them. As for now, I just have a vague "picture" of an albhikar and some of the place names of planets they've settled (which suggests a phonology for their lingua franca).
Vague picture is all you need! It's the seed, or I guess in this case, seed crystal, from which wonders may sprout.
Well, after reading what WeepingElf wrote, silicon-based life seems to be "bad science fiction" to me, like the "women look just like human women, men look like green monsters with horns and fangs" trope mentioned on the website Pabappa brought up. So I've scrapped the silicon idea. Perhaps I can scour that Wikipedia article for other alternative biochemistries.

There are only so many ideas for chordologue phyla, entomologues, and malacologues before your creativity gets overworked new ideas for phyla and classes run out. So species like the añak and homa belong to a subphylum with a glembos (their skull shows growth at the side -- much like synapsids all having the trademark skull), hajons belong to a phylum with a braincurl, glomas belong to a phylum with a pyramid-like brain protrusion on their heads and can time-travel, nilas belong to a vertebrate infraphylum descended from teleost fish and have dorsal spines on their backs, nuk and lapans belong to a phylum with small tentacles in front of their mouths (although in the case of the nuk they've evolved into two big trunks), and zesmans look a lot like us but have a fuzzy substance that differs a bit from hair and slightly different faces, and belong to a whole phylum of creatures that look as if they could come from a Muppet workshop. What other roughly humanoid or cephalopodologue body plans are there left to do that will keep me from having a whole menagerie of creatures that look identical to their analogues on other planets?
Those are Horta.
Fun stuffs! I wonder if Klingon has a word for those?
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

Pabappa wrote: 19 Jul 2021 21:38 planet Mars is home to silicon-based lifeforms in a Choose Your Own Adventure book that I read when I was a kid. There was a large crablike creature that bumped into me and then ate me.

CYOA isnt necessarily big on accuracy, though .... they were kind of hit or miss. After all, the fact that this scene takes place on Mars shows theyre already making things up.
Maybe you're exploring Mars as it was millions of years ago?

But then humans would have to develop time travel with 1980's/1990's technology, and that's a whole different camel to swallow.

But then again . . . maybe time-travellers from A.D. 13720 Earth are visiting the Choose Your Own Adventure era on Earth to take you into their time machines and thereby visit Mars 30 million years ago?
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Re: Silicon-based life

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Khemehekis wrote: 21 Jul 2021 07:15
I don't understand what is meant by 'more mechanical'. Carbon-based organisms obey the laws of mechanics, just as silicon-based organisms.
By "mechanical", I mean whether silicon-based sapients will think more like machines than like animals. Humans, as a carbon-based life-form, are clearly animals, who, "as the herd-animals we are sniff wxrily at the strange one among us". Of course, even other carbon-based sapients might be minus some of the psychological tendencies of humans, such as fear of the unknown or distrust of strange people, but some sapients (as described in Wikipedia's section on silicon-based life in science fiction) might actually be AI's, and could therefore have a predilection for being able to do difficult calculations in their heads, or could be without some of the animal human tendencies mentioned above.
Again, you're confusing function with substance. A computer works the same way whether you use electrons in wires or water in tubes, or marbles on grooves, or cogs on an axle (except that the electrons are easier to carry around with you). Modern computers aren't the way they are because we happened to make the chips out of silicon - they're the way they are because they're computers. Build a modern computer out of marble-runs, and it'll run exactly the same programmes (only it will be much, much, much bigger, and take a lot more power to run). Likewise, humans don't act like the products of evolution because we're made of water and carbon; we act that way because we're the products of evolution. If you make a silicon human that evolved, it'll still act like a human that evolved - it won't suddenly act like a computer that a human made. The activity is not, as it were, hidden in the soul of the silicon - it's imprinted onto it by human ingenuity, or brute evolutionary trial-and-error. Humans aren't wary of the unknown because they're made of carbon, they're wary of the unknown because humans who weren't wary of the unknown got eaten, and had fewer children; if you made a human out of silicon - if that were possible - it would still be wary of the unknown, because the early siliconpeople who weren't wary of the unknown would still have been eaten by it and had fewer siliconchildren.

And for what it's worth, you can already do difficult calculations in your head. Quick, what's 7+9? How many animals can do THAT calculation? But more impressively: if I bowl a cricket ball at you, you can - with practice - calculate the trajectory of the ball, taking into account its speed, the angle of release, the magnus effects of three different directions of spin, the swing and the reverse swing, the turn when it hits the ground right in front of you (with your knowledge of the conditions of the pitch in the back of your mind), the air speed and humidity and temperature... and then you can swing your bat to intercept the trajectory of the ball in a procedure that must be accurate to within miliseconds. In a cricket match, you have to perform those immensely-complicated calculations in your head at the same time as attempting a whole other series of calculations, about the possible trajectories of the ball after contact in response to tiny variations in the bat's trajectory and speed, and the trajectories of all relevant fielders and their psychologies, AND a whole other series of calculations about game strategy and risk calibration, with a further series of calculations about the psychology of the bowler and their captian helping to inform all of this consideration. And you do this in fractions of a second. Meanwhile, it's only recently that we've been able to build an artificial intelligence capable of operating a human-shaped robot that can consistently swing a cricket bat without falling over. Your brain's ability to do certain sorts of calculation - involving large amounts of flawed or irrelevant information, physical trajectories, and heuristic estimates of the behaviour of animals - is astonishing, and far beyond what is currently possibly with supercomputers.

And why are you good at precisely those calculations? Because those are the calculations that help you and your ancestors not get eaten by bears.

Contrariwise, other sorts of calculations - like those involving numerical functions - you are bad at. Why? Because being good at them would only rarely help you not be eaten by bears. Likewise, no animal is likely to evolve to be really good at them, because that would not help them avoid being eaten by bears either. Whether the bear uses carbon or silicon muscles is not relevant to this process.
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Re: Silicon-based life

Post by Khemehekis »

Ah, I see. Thank you for explaining this.

And I suppose that means that most sapient species will be psychologically similar to modern humans, unless (a) you instituted a draconian eugenics program somewhere along the line, (b) there was a genetic bottleneck event with a rather atypical population somewhere in the history, or (c) the species has been evolving longer than we have, and is the way humans will be many centuries in the future, after future environmental pressures result in evolution that changes our basic nature? . . . Or perhaps (d) they have some radical biological difference from us directly relevant to the psychology and sociology of the species, such as no genders or three genders, which would result in a different conception of gender roles?
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