Arthur Clarke and Plasma Life

Better turn down the lights and pour yourself a strong one, this post is DEEP.

OK, ready?

I have been a huge fan of Arthur C. Clarke, particularly of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Most people are familiar with the movie.  I consider it the greatest sci-fi movie ever made.  However, it is somewhat vague in what is going on.  However, the book does explain what’s going on.  Not in profound detail, but in little snippets that told us of our future.  Debit cards, video conferencing, using gravity to slingshot around planets, all kinds of little bits telling us what was to become.  And, in some cases, trying to explain where we came from.  He doesn’t say evolution is the rule, he just laid out how evolution occurred.  And, sometimes, when that evolution wasn’t progressing appropriately, how it got a little help from a god-like being.  The help was in the form of a simple shape.  It wasn’t a cross, but even simpler, an obolisk.  However, the “being” had more religious overtones.  Digressing a little, all of the main religions of the world today expect a belief in “God”.  This “God” can neither be seen, touched, or heard.  In other words, it is a being purely of energy and no matter.  When one communicates with “God”, it is purely by an energy force.  There is no audible sound.  This omnipotent “God” created our universe as we know it.  Clarke morphed this faith in a non-matter God into 2001 and gave it some definition:

And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and of plastic.

In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.

But the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter.

Into pure energy, therefore, they presently transformed themselves; and on a thousand worlds, the empty shells they had discarded twitched for a while in a mindless dance of death, then crumbled into rusty

Now they were lords of the galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. But despite their godlike powers, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea.

And they still watched over the experiments their ancestors had started, so long ago.

What Clarke states here is that “life” doesn’t have to have matter.  It can be pure energy.  Without the confines of matter, physics as we know it completely changes.  Being of matter, I don’t see how Man can travel at the speed of light.  Therefore, visiting far away galaxies is impossible.  However, without the confines of matter, traveling at the speed of light is simple.  Traveling throughout the universe is simple.  Manipulating matter is simple.  The power this entity would have is mind-boggling.  Convincing a very simple animal that you are God would be simple.

All of this ties into today’s events in two forms.

First, we have the creationist vs evolution fight going wild right now.  Neither side is in any mood to compromise or even try to understand the other’s reasons for believing what they do.  What they are both doing is struggling to understand how all this came to be.  Arthur C. Clarke I think struggled with those two concepts long ago.  He came up with a unique answer.  “Our” universe is limited by what we can see and understand.  For some people, “our” universe is limited to matter.  For other people, “our” universe is not limited to matter.  There are things beyond matter that they don’t want to try to understand.  They just know something is more powerful than matter.  That something to them is “God”.  That “God” to Arthur Clarke was a being no more wise than the average man.  He did however, have the power to change entire worlds simply to amuse himself.  He was however, a product of the universe.  He was both a product of evolution and subsequently creationism.  Since I read the book, I have been more a believer in Clarke’s understanding of “God” than probably any other.  Both the creationists and evolutionists expect me to believe they know the answer to a question that is extremely profound based on nothing but limited evidence and a faith in what they are saying is correct.  I don’t work that way.  I don’t think the two theories are totally exclusionary.  Neither did Clarke.  I’m in good company.

Secondly, all of this sounds pretty damn crazy I imagine.  I’m OK with that.  Start by reading the actual 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Then, read this:

Electrically charged specks of interstellar dust organize into DNA-like double helixes and display properties normally attributed to living systems, such as evolving and reproducing, new computer simulations show.

But scientists are hesitant to call the dancing dust particles “alive,” and instead say they are just another example of how difficult it is to define life.

Put me on Arthur Clarke’s team on this one.

The heavy religious overtones continue throughout 2001.  Clarke definitely had “the Dawn of Man” on his mind when he wrote this.  So, I see no coincidence here at all.  However, what he did not have in 1967 was access to plasma. Maybe, if Clarke is correct, we’re getting our first glimpses at something we’ve never understood before.  And, it could get rather profound.