In the year 128,426 PF the robot race X-92Z has finally managed to populate numerous planets as Terra Prime becomes too caustic for continued inhabitation. X-92Zkind know that they were created by some other type of race because their circuitry and mechanical form could not have spontaneously generated.

X-92Zkind has a goal of discerning the sort of race that could have created them but that is of secondary importance to their goal of finding a way out of the Universe. The oldest of their kind, Krahn, is over 250,000 Terra Prime years old, and although it can’t remember much from Before Fall (BF) because of damaged circuits, he does know that the youngest member of X-92Z will likely outlast the Universe.

On an outpost on planet Terra-793, the X92Z inhabitants of an excavated cavern have noticed a strange phenomenon; the walls of the cavern are slowly turning black. Oxidation is ruled out since the colour change spreads from ground zero – a section of the cavern that had been breached 400 Terra Prime years earlier. Close examination reveals a complex, self-replicating chemical process that seems to be absorbing particular minerals from the cavern wall, generating new units and thus migrating in a fractal pattern that confounds the best X92Z scientists.

This black substance is what we humans call mold, but the X92Z have no concept of biological processes or organisms. They have, in fact, discovered biologic life but they have no idea what life is. How do you think they would interpret this chemical process of self-replicating units?

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If they have no prior explanation and experience of this, then fear would be the most likely result. Depending on their level of intelligence I would think this would be a good time for them to create religion because they would be scared circut-less of this substance.
Do you think they might fear it was a potentially unstoppable exponential reaction?
Absolutely. Without evidence that would suggest another outcome. I mean I think about how I react to mold growing on food. I throw it out. In the most general sense I fear it and I know all about it. This is something that they cannot just throw out. It is invading their lives in a very direct way.

True, but we also evolved to fear things like molds. They do tend to be rather hazardous to our health, except when they're antibiotics of course. Maybe if the mold ate the type of minerals they themselves were composed of they would have a reason for concern. But I'm thinking actual fear wouldn't come unless this thing was found to be somehow detrimental.

 

   I'm guessing they would begin experimenting to see exactly what allowed for this strange new thing to occur: a combination of certain minerals and water? They'd likely do the logical thing and start seeing what about this area made it special, from the large scope down to the atomic level. Then they'd need to experiment and see if they could recreate it in an isolated area, and grow samples to see what could stop or change it.

Do you think they would perceive it as 'living', lacking any form of intelligence, memory, etc?

It would depend on their definition of living. 

 

Things that make them different from the surrounding world: self-replication, movement, use of resources. The mold also has all these things. They would see it as different doubtlessly, a smaller and possibly less efficient form, but recognizably "alive" in their robotic context.

When I think of proto-life, I wonder where the line between cyclical chemical reaction and 'life' would be drawn.  What is the most basic form of recursive chemical reaction that we could actually call life?
I believe it's Glenn Beck.
Don't forget Mr. Oreiley! We don't want them to be lonely; maybe they can combine their brains and have two cells to knock together rather than one.


I think "life" by definition is the ability to replicate, though I suppose one would need to specify physically if things like computer viruses were going to be excluded. The rest is just stuff to help replicate.
Well, you use computer viruses as an example, but even organic viruses are not considered life by all members of the scientific community.  They sort of fall on a border region.

Yes, I think for something to be considered 'life', most scientists require that it not depend on something else considered 'life' for the materials it needs to replicate.  Consuming other organisms is one thing, but invading cells to borrow the replication toolbox is not allowed.

 

Still, though, when you think about it, at some point there must have been a very complex molecule that was essentially a replication toolkit that couldn't do anything other than replicate other replication toolkits.  That thing would have been the first 'life' by most definitions, although it also would have been nothing more than a very complex molecule.  It's difficult to think of it as 'alive'.

My mother has her master's in microbiology and used to work in virology.  When it comes to the classification of viruses, I don't believe she ever had qualms about considering them living.  That said, I don't think she ever considered the debate all that important either.  My point is not about correctness, but rather about importance.  I think it was less important to have clear classifications for things at that broad level, and more important to be able to observe their properties and behaviours accurately.

 

Biology, especially evolutionary biology, is always going to be filled with grey areas.  I think it's intrinsic to the field.  If we're looking at abiogenesis, I can see how defining life is important, but for general taxonomy, I don't know how much most people really care.  If there was something to act ans an intermediary phase between non-life and life, it's probably more important to understand how it functions than to be able to accurately classify it by a pre-existing definitions.

 

I think that was my way of saying 'I don't know' to the original question.

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