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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