Speculations on the Existence of Inorganic Life in the Universe

In most popular science fiction stories we encounter bizarre monsters with lots of heads and eyes, odd number of appendages, green skin, and other absurd oddities. However imaginative we try to be in our conception of an “alien”, we inevitable end up creating a humanoid or a monster out of our childhood nightmares. Our imagined alien life forms are, usually and inescapably, exaggerated versions of beings that scare or fascinate us the most. If there indeed is life elsewhere in the universe, would it look like aliens in our cartoons and films, or would it be completely and utterly be something we could never have imagined?
Recent discoveries strongly suggest that organic life is just one manifestation of life and its molecular make-up. In late 2011, a kind of bacteria called an “extremophile” was found to have a baffling feature: it had the element arsenic in its DNA structure in place of phosphorus. Arsenic is one of the deadliest natural poisons found on earth. The discovery of a life-form whose very structure is composed of a natural poison bears very profound undertones. It suggests that it is entirely possible for extraterrestrial life, if it exists, to be composed wholly of inorganic matter.
So can there be complex, multi-cellular inorganic life in the universe? Can there even be inorganic life? It is known that the origin of organic life on Earth is a few inorganic molecules that were present abundantly in the primordial Earth atmosphere. But what if the whole string of molecular evolution that takes place on some faraway alien planet is inorganic?
Inorganic molecules can have a variety of different elements in their core atomic makeup because any variety of atomic arrangements is possible. As a consequence, the structural possibilities of the inorganic life forms can be endless, and, consequently, the morphology of life must be strikingly diverse.
The most important chemical property that would characterize the evolution of inorganic life would be the rate of chemical reactions, or how fast the constituting inorganic molecules react with each other. If these molecules have a very fast rate of reaction, with, say, the order of one ten-thousandth part of a millionth of a second, then the resulting life forms would interact rapidly with the surroundings. They would live a brief life, move fast, talk fast, and think fast. They would be, as Carl Sagan puts it, the “fast talkers”. Even on a lazy day, they’d seem to us like fast-forwarded beings going about their fast forwarded affairs.

Essay Help on the Existence of Inorganic Life in the Universe

Essay Help on the Existence of Inorganic Life in the Universe

On the other hand if the life-forming inorganic substances have very slow determining reactions, their evolution would also be very slow. Each evolutionary milestone would take millions of years. They would trudge and lumber around with unbearable lack of speed, and their briefest “moments” would be the same as the time taken by the fast talkers to live their entire lives. To understand this, let’s compare plants and animals. Plants hardly move, whereas animals hardly stop. The reason is that most reactions in plants are very slow. Quick-fire chemical interactions like those involving neurotransmitters in animal nervous systems are entirely absent in plants. One can therefore speculate on the correlation between the absence of fast determining reactions and the remarkably slow interactions plants have with their environment.
How then, in absolute terms, can the existence of extraterrestrial beings be relevant to other intelligences in the universe? The fast talkers would evolve from microbial origins to advanced civilizations and reach their eventual demise in the shortest possible time span. Would they be able to observe the universe and question their own existence? Would they begin to realize how they are not even a fraction of a moment in time? How will they figure out the slowness with which universe evolves? How will they describe time, and what will it mean to them? Would they be able to live out an entire Earth season, or an entire Earth year? Would any daydreaming fast talker be able to observe the start of a solar eclipse and live long enough to see the diamond ring?
Conversely, the slow inorganic beings would be most suited to life in the slowly changing universe. Indeed, if their evolution takes place very slowly, even by astronomical standards, it is entirely conceivable that the 13 billion years of the universe’s age is too short a time-span for them to have evolved into intelligent, thinking beings. Assuming they do evolve to intelligence, they would be able to observe, record and research astronomical events in real-time. They would observe seasons and years like we observe a glass of water falling down and shattering into a thousand pieces. By our standards, they would be patient. A brief conversation between two sentient slow beings would take place parallel to an era on Earth. If humans were to observe these beings, they would be staring at stillness. A single frame stretched across years and years of a human lifetime.
Assuming that there are thousands of living worlds scattered across the galaxy, a substantial few are bound to have reached the milestone of advanced technology needed to communicate with their galactic neighbors. How would such communications take place? How would fast talkers and slow talkers engage in a meaningful conversation? A brief “hello” from one would span out years for the other. It might take several generations to conduct a brief conversation. Universe, then, must be a cold, harsh, and ironic place.
More importantly, to which category do we belong? Would we be the fast talkers to other life forms in the universe or are we the slowest? What is the measure, the yardstick, if at all? Maybe nature doesn’t want civilizations to communicate, develop understanding, and form an alliance. Maybe wilderness is our destiny, and we’d be wasting our time looking for candles in the dark.
In our existential loneliness, we have taken measures in the last fifty years or so to search for beacons that technologically advanced civilizations might have sent our way. We’ve also sent our own beacons in the form of encrypted radio signals and gold-plated phonograph records into the endless void. It is, amusingly, conceivable that there are fast talkers or slow talkers (or other “difficult to comprehend” beings) in our galactic neighbourhood that might have evaded observation despite relatively close proximity. Even if we do make contact with them, having a meaningful conversation would be rendered utterly meaningless and confusing.
Our best bet, then, must be civilizations that evolved similar to Earth’s. The ideal place to look for such aliens would be solar systems not very different from ours, with planets not very different from our own. Those must be pretty rare in a universe that upon observation seems completely lifeless. It is entirely possible that there might not even be another civilization in the universe, and it is equally possible that it is flourishing with millions. We simply do not know. We just don’t have enough facts. Our intellect forces us to illustrate the idiocy of the thought that we are alone and unique. But then again there has been no sign at all, let alone evidence, to indicate otherwise. The Drake Equation and SETI could only be manifestations of our existential solitude. We might as well be alone in the universe, unique if you may.
But if that is the case, aren’t we just an awful waste of space? To what purpose do we fight our meaningless wars, kill people in the name of honor, and subscribe to social injustices in the name of class, race, and religion? If life is an aberration of nature in an otherwise dead universe, shouldn’t we be utilizing our time here and be doing something of everlasting significance?


1. Brown, Dwayne and Weselby, Cathy. \”NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical\”. NASA. Dec 12, 2010. Web.

2. Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Random House. 1980

3. Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J. The Anthropic Cosmological Principal. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1988

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