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No. 111: May-Jun 1997

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Life On Different Scales

In SF#110, we introduced the possibility of nannobacteria: life forms that are smaller than 0.4 micron, perhaps even as small as 0.01 micron. Nannobacteria are not completely accepted as bona fide organisms. However, electron microscopes are imaging "somethings" that are very tiny and ubiquitous.

We now shift speculation to life forms much larger than blue whales or even that 2,000-meter-wide box huckleberry mentioned in SF#82/170. In fact, we will transcend even Gaia; that is, earth-asanorganism (SF#56/339); and ask whether entire universes might be alive in the sense that they are governed by natural selection, can transmit hereditary information, and adapt themselves to new situations.

The evidence for such large-scale living systems or super-superorganisms is widely pooh-poohed by biologists because it does not meet their definition of life; i.e., metabolism, reproduction, etc. But perhaps they are missing something by thinking too small. In this vein, M.G. Bjomerud has opined:

"...there is no reason to expect that super-organisms would meet criteria based on observations of individual organisms. Isn't it time to consider the possibility that the boundary between life and non-life may be diffuse, non-stationary over time, and dependent on scale?"

(Bjomerud, M.G.; "Live Universes," Nature, 385:109, 1997.)

Comments. The concept of oscillating universes that mutate to better adapt themselves -- a sort of cosmic Darwinism -- can be found in SF#81/106.

F. Hoyle's science fiction tale The Black Cloud speculated about humanity's encounter with an immense, sentient, intelligent molecular cloud!

From Science Frontiers #111, MAY-JUN 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987