Monday, September 22, 2008

Alien Music

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
-- William Congreve

Music has been with man since the beginning. Babies react to music in the womb, and are born with musical preferences. Music affects the mind and the body. Music can affect our moods, concentration, and memory. Think of how indispensable music is in setting up tension and suspense in movies. It seems that music is an inherent, integral part of us.


It seems that there is no one music center in the brain - our ability to react and appreciate music involves interaction with both spheres of our brains. It is another way of seeing the world. Think how with our eyes we detect patterns in what we see. We see patterns in the stars and faces in mountain cliffs (or in Martian hills). There is a mathematical side to nature, and it shows up visually, and audibly. Maybe our inherent love of music is connected to our inherent love of art - from doodling (progressive jazz), to pop art (pop music), to classical art (classical music). We use art to communicate with - sometimes literally, other times much more abstractly. Many alphabets or syllabaries started off as pictures. We use music to communicate with as well.

So, does this mean that aliens would have musical abilities as well? Is this a probable result of developing advanced sentience?

Or is it possible that aliens could have no musical abilities? Sure, I suppose there could be alien races that are rather deaf, but what about aliens that have good hearing? If musicality is inherently connected to emotions, it could be argued that aliens that are fairly emotionless (Vulcans?) would have little to do with music. Though Vulcans played lutes. Incongruent? Maybe not. Recognizing patterns is the activity of sentience. Playing around with patterns is one way we investigate our universe and make sense of it. Playing music is playing with patterns of sound. It is audible art.

The question becomes, then, can a sentient race notice and experiments with patterns, and yet have no real emotional connection to musical patterns? Could there be alien races that look at musical patterns purely as interesting mathematical formulas, patterns - looking at the interaction of periodic sound waves as means of conveying information or as tools (echo location, investigating structures via sound waves, using sound to destroy things, etc.) with no real emotional connection other than the pleasure of investigation, of learning, of exploring?

Maybe the real question is can a sentient race be sentient and not have emotions? If natural laws naturally gave rise to universe, and if there is a universal biology (that is, biology naturally arises from physical and natural laws given the right conditions), and sentience the natural result of evolution (if given enough time), then are emotions a universally natural result of sentience (or naturally occurs hand-in-hand with it)?


Cromie, William J. "Music on the Brain." Harvard University Gazette. 22 Mar. 2001. Web. 22 Sept. 2008. <>.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Water Bears in Space!

No, not a new Muppet Show skit. Water bears (tardigrades) are intriguing aquatic microscopic (0.5 mm or 0.02 inches) multicellular animals. They have a head and six limbs with claw-like structures. Their liquid habitat range is quite large - they've been found within ice, in oceans down to almost 4 miles beneath the surface, in mountain ponds, and in droplets of water in moss and lichens. They can survive long (7 years) periods of total dehydration, acid attacks, and extreme temperatures and pressures. Recently Dr. Ingemar Joensson of Kristianstad University of Sweden, sent up 3,000 water bears into space for 12 days and discovered that water bears are able to survive the vacuum and cosmic radiation of space.

OK, most did not survive the intense ultraviolet radiation they encountered above the Earth's atmosphere. But some did. These little "bears" are tough! It's no wonder that some people think water bears are extraterrestrials.

But it does make one pause - could life spread out from a planet and evolve surviving in space? I've mentioned transpermia before - the idea that microbes or the organic precursors of life can spread from one planet to another, usually through meteoric impacts. Now it is feasible that multicellular life forms could traverse space.

Ah, but meteors are intensely hot when the streak through the atmosphere, are they not? Yes, but only on the surface. Many times the core is still cold. A dehydrated microscopic multicellular creature resting in the core could conceivably survive the trip. Could a meteor strike on the Earth send up a shower of water bear laden rocks into space, to eventually land on Mars? An interesting thought. Wouldn't it be crazy if when we do discover life on Mars, it turns out to look a lot like a water bear?

So here's to the water bear, possible intrepid space explorer!

(And maybe we ought to be just a bit careful when bringing back rock samples from other planets, moons, and even asteroids...).


Mach, Sabine and Martin. "Tardigrades (Tardigrada): images, video clips, text and monthly magazine." Tardigrades. Sept. 2008. Web. 14 Sept. 2008. <>

"Transpermia." Transpermia - microbes hitch a ride between planets. The Planetary Society Australian Volunteers. 26 Aug. 2008. Web. 14 Sept. 2008. <>.

"Unique animal species can survive in space." SpaceRef. 10 Sept. 2008. Web. 14 Sept. 2008. <>.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Extrasolar planets simulation site

Stumbled across a most excellent (yes, I watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) site for those not only interested in the search for extrasolar planets, but would like to help out, even as an amateur: Systemic: characterizing extrasolar planetary systems at <>. From the "What is Systmeic?" section of their Website:

The near-term goal of the systemic research collaboration is to improve our statistical understanding of the galactic planetary census. This will be accomplished through a large-scale simulation in which the public is invited to participate. No prior experience or expertise with Astronomy is required. All you need is an Internet connection and a desire to learn and explore.
Check it out!


Laughlin, Gregg. "What is Systemic?" Systemic: characterizing extrasolar planetary systems. Wordpress. 2 Jan. 2006 Web. 11 Sept. 2008. <>

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cyborgs (Re: Robot Aliens)

In this month's Discover magazine is an interesting article, "Rise of the Cyborgs," which examines the present state of cyborg development. After reading it, I find myself believing that the earlier estimates for the arrival of the technological singularity may be correct (the predicted arrival varies between years 2040 and 3000). We are well on our way to making the lame walk, the blind man see, and the mute to talk - we are freeing minds that are trapped in bodies that have quit (or never did) responding.

There already has been dramatic successes with cyborg experiments with primates (including monkeys able to control robot arms with their thoughts, like the Duke University experiments by Dr. Nicolelis experiments involving an owl monkey named Belle). A few human trials are already underway. Humans and machines are merging.

In a previous posts on postbiologic / robotic sentience, I've discussed some reasons why postbiologic creatures make pragmatic sense in regards to space travel: postbiologic, or sentient robots, will have greatly improved abilities to survive cosmic radiation, alien atmospheres, alien germs, and the long travel times. This includes having improved reaction times to unexpected space phenomenon or events - a blessing for travelers far from home and thus rescue.

But while reading the Discover article, I realized there is an additional advantage: the ability of those postbiologic sentient space explorers to more efficiently and effectively control both large and microscopic equipment and tools by using just their minds. This could include controlling the space craft to microsurgery to communicating with their comrades.

The likelihood that aliens are cyborgs or robots is, I would think, rather high. And the likelihood that we are headed in that same direction, whether some of us like it or not, is likewise rather high.

Resistance is futile. Or maybe even irrelevant.


Baker, Sherry. "Rise of the Cyborgs." Discover. October 2008, 50 -57. Print.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Exploring artificial gravity

© Mars Society
The Mars Society has chosen an new project to fund: TEMPO3. For the long trip to, and back, from Mars (around 6 months), there will be a need to produce artificial gravity. However, very little research has been done in this area (NASA abandoned such research after project GEMINI). NASA's plate is rather full, and its budget strapped, so the Mars Society has stepped in with TEMPO3 , an experimental satellite that will help fill the gap in artificial gravity research. In the future, when the technology singularity allows cyborgs to explore space, maybe being able to produce artificial gravity for space explorers won't be a concern. But for now, it is.


Hill, Tom. "Tethered Experiment for Mars interPlanetary Operations Cubed (TEMPO³)." Mars Society. 27 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 Sept. 2008. <>.