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tonybaloney
2009-Jan-22, 06:19 PM
I was just wondering if was possible that life on earth (be it humans or anything) could actually be Von Neumann Probes in action.

I do not see anything that woud limit this possibility other than the fact that we have no evidence of having a direct purpose as VNP.

As the purpose of VNP is to replicate, use up resources, and build more VNP to expand further - isn't this exactly what we are doing?

I have also read that VNPs would probably be biological in nature. Nothing says that they have to be machines made out of metal and advanced electronics. Why could it not be designed to be seeded throughout the universe or carried through space by stellar winds?

I think we know so very little about life and its origins and where else in the universe it can exist that this has to be given as a possibility.

If this can be given as a possibility, how does this not lead back to ID?

Thanks.

m1omg
2009-Jan-22, 07:44 PM
I was just wondering if was possible that life on earth (be it humans or anything) could actually be Von Neumann Probes in action.

I do not see anything that woud limit this possibility other than the fact that we have no evidence of having a direct purpose as VNP.

As the purpose of VNP is to replicate, use up resources, and build more VNP to expand further - isn't this exactly what we are doing?

I have also read that VNPs would probably be biological in nature. Nothing says that they have to be machines made out of metal and advanced electronics. Why could it not be designed to be seeded throughout the universe or carried through space by stellar winds?

I think we know so very little about life and its origins and where else in the universe it can exist that this has to be given as a possibility.

If this can be given as a possibility, how does this not lead back to ID?

Thanks.

I think you are thinking about it backwards.We only invented the concept of Von Neumann Machine because we were already familiar with a similiar concept - life.

RalofTyr
2009-Jan-22, 08:04 PM
Like Fermi's Paradox, the universe should be crowded with Von Neumann Machines, but there are none here, so, where are they? I'd say, effects of radiation affect the Machine's programming and they can only last, say a few thousand years, before they malfunction.

Swift
2009-Jan-22, 08:14 PM
So, you are basically conjecturing that life on Earth was introduced here deliberately by some other intelligence, whether we are "von Neumann machines" or not? I guess this does have some connection to Intelligent Design, though my understanding is that ID has more to do with the evolution of life, not the formation of it.

The problem is that there is absolutely zero evidence for your conjecture (and for ID).

eburacum45
2009-Jan-22, 08:41 PM
The molecular clock in our DNA (and that of all the other organisms tested so far) seems to indicate that we come from organisms that have been evolving for about four billion years; this suggests that we actually did evolve here, not on another world.

If some ancient civilisation seeded our world four bilion years ago, then we have been 'replicating and using up resources' for all that time, but we still haven't managed to build more VNPs 'to expand further' if by that you mean spreading out to other worlds.

As a strategy, infecting a world with a few microbes and expecting them to eventually produce starships is an extraordinarily poor choice.

cjameshuff
2009-Jan-22, 09:02 PM
Like Fermi's Paradox, the universe should be crowded with Von Neumann Machines, but there are none here, so, where are they? I'd say, effects of radiation affect the Machine's programming and they can only last, say a few thousand years, before they malfunction.

Hyper-reliable data storage is quite easy. Etch or cut patterns in a metal disc. Not high density, but it'll take a meteor penetrating through the craft to damage it. Higher density, faster access, more modifiable types of memory can store also data with arbitrary reliability, just add redundancy to the storage. It's not hard to make a system that, with typical bit error rates, can be expected to retain correct data longer than the age of the universe.

Long lived electronics are harder, a lot harder, and not just due to radiation. However, parts designed to function for such long periods would also tend to be radiation hard, just due to being physically large enough that things like diffusion and electromigration aren't major issues. The same attributes that make them long-lived and radiation-hard would probably also make them easier to fabricate.

Anyway...we don't actually know that there aren't any here. Probes that fill entire solar systems with more probes sound irritating and not particularly useful. There may be hundreds of probes from as many civilizations that have been sitting dormant in our system for the last billion years, waiting to either wake for scheduled self-repair/replacement or for someone to come knock on their shell. We've confused our own artifacts for asteroids before, there could be whole communities of probes sleeping in the Trojan points for the gas giants.

spoerl78
2009-Jan-23, 10:55 AM
We've confused our own artifacts for asteroids before, there could be whole communities of probes sleeping in the Trojan points for the gas giants.

Do you think that these are most stable points where a probe would end, when it comes from a distant star?

cjameshuff
2009-Jan-23, 04:41 PM
Do you think that these are most stable points where a probe would end, when it comes from a distant star?

A probe from another star is either going to end up wherever it decides, or it's going to swing through the system at many times escape velocity. I'm not saying they'll fall into the Trojan points through random chance after an interstellar journey.

I do think that gas giants are likely common enough for probes to be programmed to seek such points out on arrival, achieving a long-term stable orbit with minimal knowledge of the new system and in a place where any spacefaring civilization is likely to take a close look sooner or later, without the risk of getting taken out by weather, geological activity, or nearby impacts (direct impacts are still a problem, of course, probably only solvable with redundancy). There might be better solutions, but this seems a likely one.

My point was that RalofTyr was basing a conclusion on an assumption stated as a fact...that there are no such probes. We haven't seen any such probes, but we've barely looked...it's a weak foundation for a claim that we're alone in the universe.

tonybaloney
2009-Jan-23, 06:00 PM
Thanks for all the replies.

I am just going out on a limb here with this conjecture (does this belong in ATM?) - that we could be VNPs and we dont even know it. I just think that given the idea of VNPs, how does life in general not fit the mold of a VNP? In fact isn't that the underlying force of life? - to survive no matter what the costs and reproduce and carry on?

Swift, you are certainly right that it does not make a strong argument and that there is basically no evidence (but how could there be unless we were given information of a creator?). As for the ID idea, how do we not know that there is some underlying guidance system (possibly in DNA) for the evolutionary component? If any planet that could be seeded with VNP is constantly under threat of meteor strikes and global catastrophes, what would be better than having a very simple but resiliet organism to survive and continue to evolve? Who says VNPs must be super complex entities that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than from an advanced civilization?

However, at the same time, how can we even think that we can possibly understand what a civilization millions or billions of years more advanced than ours would use as motivations to do, VNP-wise or even if they would at all?

I do see one major flaw as you have pointed out, RalofTyr, in that we should see them everywhere and even competing for resources in the galaxy.

Right now we are still uncertain about other life in our solar system and working on determining if life might actually exist on our closest neighbor, Mars. Forget in vaster reaches of our local galaxy. And who is to say that if intelligent civilizations exist that we should be able to detect Dyson spheres, etc? What if they don't need Dyson spheres?

I just think that our technology is way too limited right now to even determine if VNPs even exist in our local neighborhood regardless of the fact that some think that we SHOULD have our planet overrun with them if other civilizations exist.

Whether I miss the point or not, I just think that this is such an interesting concept and worth discussing and debating.

I am humble next to most of everyone else's knowledge on this forum. However I don't know anyone else in real life to speak with that actually understands these topics or even cares. This forum rocks and at the very least it gives me an outlet. Thanks!

Ken G
2009-Jan-23, 06:50 PM
The basic problem with the idea that life started somewhere else and came to Earth is that this idea only makes sense if that other place is either better for making life than the Earth is, or had a decisive "head start" on the Earth. The former seems unlikely-- the Earth seems an excellent place for live to develop via natural processes. The latter is true-- other places have had a head start. But not a very significant one-- it seems clear that intelligent life on Earth developed very quickly after billions of years of setting the stage, but that stage-setting could easily have happened much slower or much faster. So having a factor of two head start on that process would not seem to do much more than double the probability of it happening, and that would hardly mitigate against all the difficulties faced in getting life to Earth rather than starting it here. Still, that doesn't rule out the possibility that a head start might be telling, and if one intelligent lifeform would try to "seed" everywhere else, then a majority of life would indeed start that way. But as eburacum45 said, why would the seed be so rudimentary, and where is the evidence that this is what happened?

Interestingly, if humanity ever does advance to a point where it has the capability and desire to "seed" its surroundings with rudimentary life that will in turn leave a fossil trail over billions of years, that will be a good time to revisit the question, as we will have demonstrated that this is actually something that advanced life might tend to do! But even if that happens, we must bear in mind that if life did come here from elsewhere, the question remains of how did that life come about on that elsewhere. ID was not devised to say that natural selection caused evolution of intelligent life somewhere else which then got the ball rolling on Earth, because if it did we would still end up facing all the same questions about the evolution of that intelligence-- it just makes much more scientific sense to ask those questions right here, where we have a much better opportunity to answer them, at least until we have compelling evidence that life did not start here. In other words, you never know if your lost keys are in the lamplight or in the shadows, but you certainly start your search with the lamplight and try to find them there.

cjameshuff
2009-Jan-23, 06:58 PM
As for the ID idea, how do we not know that there is some underlying guidance system for the evolutionary component?

That is utterly implausible. Live evolved through random mutation and mixing of genetic material and selection from the resulting populations, from the simplest and most primitive single-celled organisms to the enormous variety of forms seen today. You're talking about somehow encoding a drive for replicating the original pattern across interstellar space into something that didn't even have a framework for coordinating the growth of multiple cells. This guidance system would have to function in organisms the designers would know virtually nothing about, with everything beyond the most basic elements of metabolism having developed outside of their control.



If any planet that could be seeded with VNP is constantly under threat of meteor strikes and global catastrophes, what would be better than having a very simple but resiliet organism to survive and continue to evolve?

A VNP in orbit is only vulnerable to direct strikes. For that matter, a planet "colonized" by probes in sufficient quantity would need to be completely disrupted to destroy them all, they wouldn't need to dramatically adapt themselves.

Something that drifts and evolves to suit its environment as much as Earth life...can't really serve any conceivable purpose VNPs would be suited for. If we're the descendants of VNPs, the project was an abject failure...whether we're capable of performing our tasks or not, all information about what those tasks actually are is long gone.

Also, we have adapted for Earth...and as such, are spectacularly poorly suited for interstellar travel. In terms of tolerable temperature range, nutritional requirements, lifetime...the mass and energy requirements of getting a self-sustaining population of humans to a nearby star would be enormously greater than those of getting a self-replicating machine probe there. We might manage to soft-land cultures of bacteria, but even those are subject to temperature extremes, radiation, etc.

tonybaloney
2009-Jan-23, 07:09 PM
Thank you Ken G. That makes very good sense and is a lot easier to follow that my blabbering.

I completely agree with you about the fact that since we have no direct evidence of life elsewhere, we have to assume it began here. I think that pretty much sums up why my thought does not hold any water whatsoever AT THIS POINT.

But as we venture outside of our Earthly environments and should we find evidence of life on other planets and ecosystems, would this change?

Surely Earth isnt that spectacular of a place for life if life can survive in very inhospitible places like miles beneath the earth or in vents at the bottom of the ocean. There are plenty of places like that in our solar system alone.

And if other life is found throughout the solar system, wouldn't that challenge all of the mainstream ideas for the origins of life here on this planet?

Basically I am pretty sure this argument belongs in ATM because of the fact that current mainstream science does not deal with anything other than what is in the lamplight.

Ken G
2009-Jan-23, 07:20 PM
But as we venture outside of our Earthly environments and should we find evidence of life on other planets and ecosystems, would this change?It certainly could. If we ever discover life elsewhere and have an opportunity to study it closely, it boggles the mind how profoundly that might alter our conceptions, and challenge our assumptions, about our "place in the grand scheme".

Surely Earth isnt that spectacular of a place for life if life can survive in very inhospitible places like miles beneath the earth or in vents at the bottom of the ocean. There are plenty of places like that in our solar system alone.True enough, but those places have not developed intelligent life, and it doesn't seem terribly likely they ever will, though of course I have no way of knowing that.


And if other life is found throughout the solar system, wouldn't that challenge all of the mainstream ideas for the origins of life here on this planet?I suppose that depends on details that we might discover about that life that we can now only wonder about.


Basically I am pretty sure this argument belongs in ATM because of the fact that current mainstream science does not deal with anything other than what is in the lamplight.I would say it is not ATM as long as the lamplight/shadows distinction is clearly made. Even mainstream science is allowed to wonder about the possibilities, the distinction between M and ATM only appears when the "best current model" gets identified. We also tend to think of that as resulting in identifying the "most likely" possibility, though I'm not sure that a systematic consideration of what that really means has ever been done.

tonybaloney
2009-Jan-23, 07:22 PM
cjameshuff, is it really that implausible?

Are you saying that you know the direct purpose of each portion of DNA? Do we share any of the original DNA from the earliest of life that ever existed on this planet? In fact in the case of evolution, wouldn't all life share at least some portion of the original DNA? (I actually have no clue about this, but maybe someone does)

Adapting to environments does not totally rule this out either. I do not think that it would have to be a requirement of a VNP to have a set purpose at the exact point of encountering a new environment. Why coud a VNP not evolve and adapt to an environment? How could we know the direct purpose of a VNP other than to survive and replicate and continue life? Isn't that what is going on here on our own little world?

Also, I think waterbears and possibly other organisms can survive in space as has recently been shown by studies. Another piece of information for the possibility of life spreading in the solar system, galaxy, universe.

Even though this is ATM, I just don't see how this couldn't be a possibility, however remote.