The Galactic EntityPosted: July 30, 2012
So I’m a little obsessed with the fantastical and speculative, I admit. Just bear with me, here. I have talked a bit about scope, and I think I should expand on that idea a bit.
An author once mused that the human organism was just a collection of like-minded cells conspiring for survival. He went on to say that the earth was exactly the same thing. The earth, being a collection of specialized organisms (for cinematic value, these could also be called cells), is alive. The earth is a collection of like-minded organisms conspiring for survival. Now here is where it gets weird (read: Awesome). Imagine a thriving galactic economy with hundreds or thousands of species, thousands of small component cells, all conspiring for survival. Suddenly an entire galaxy is a form of life, much like a coral reef. Its a geographically massive life form filled with Cells conspiring for their survival.
Life ascends from the microscopic, to the macroscopic, to the massive. But, as we are not interacting with any other theoretical life in the galaxy, we are one singular ecological entity.
At this point it might be helpful to descend into metaphor. When I say organism or ecological entity, there is an assumption that I am saying that the earth has an inherent intelligence, and can make decisions. The earth in itself is a simple organism, a small bacterial colony.
So imagine, if you will, your stereotypical Protean Sludge-pool. Filled with anywhere from 2 to millions of types of simple cells. Every single one of these cells is vying for a few things: Food, Sunlight, and biological dominance. This process will continue for a while, often with the majority of other cell types dying out as one type gains dominance. Throughout this process, cells will become more complex, adapting as best as possible to their environment until one gains the ability to travel to the next Protean Sludge-pool.
If you haven’t figured it out, this protean sludge-pool is earth. Big twist, I know. Organisms will vie for dominance within their given ecological boundaries until they are developed enough to expand their ecological boundary. A bacteria will escape its pool, a fish walks out of the ocean, man walks on the moon.
This has led me to somewhat of an interesting thought. Intelligence is not a necessary precursor to expanding ecological boundaries. The truth is, the more complex a cell is, the less hardy it becomes. My first thought goes to extremophiles. Small, nearly indestructible cells living in ice, acid, and right on the edge of the earth’s mantle. A meteorite from mars was found to have fossilized organisms on it. These may have been introduced to it after impact, but it brings to mind another method of jumping the ecological boundary.
So lets introduce a hypothetical organism to this exercise. Take star system BI5ht. A yellow sun, with a decaying asteroid belt, and a small planet with a thick water based atmosphere, and a high presence of sulfur, methane and silicon. This planet develops cellular life, and about 2 billion years into their evolution, when complex cellular life starts to develop, the asteroid belt starts to decay into the planet, kicking up chunks of this small life-bearing planet into the solar system. among them, a small plant-like organism that uses sunlight and feeds on water. This small organism takes to its new home in the decaying asteroid belt, spreading with each new asteroid collision until it has populated any piece of rock that has any bit of ice on it.
So we now have a scenario in which an organism has expanded its ecological boundary to the solar system. This is not assuming an direct control of the process, something that only intelligence gives to expansion (and only barely). Is it possible for such an organism to spread to the galactic level? with a little bit of luck, yes.
Our galaxy is populated by a vast number of comets, asteroids, and free-floating planetoids that have been tossed from a solar orbit into the vast darkness of space, and all it will take is for one of these to pass through our BI5ht system, and through another system, then all of a sudden, our hardy little parasite has increased its ecological boundaries.
So moving out to the big picture, we realize how big this picture actually is. Evolution is a mechanism for an organism to grow beyond its ecological boundaries, and adapt to them. Intelligence is a feature of this. We needed the ability to analyze situations and pass down knowledge. We made tools to adapt our environment to our needs, and then we learned to create clothes and used other methods to react to swift environmental change. Then we expanded our reach, made complex societies to better deal with the world, then these societies did what any organism with multiple variants does, they battled for dominance. Then we started to expand our grasp, seeking resources like simple cells search for sunlight or food. Now, with any luck, we are starting to find our ecological balance, becoming a complex ecosystem.
Expansion is just part of our evolutionary imperative. We must go on to find new resources, to continue building. If we are lucky, ecological balance is also an evolutionary imperative, and as society evolves there is less infighting, and a greater need for mutual self-interest.