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Non atomic life forms

  1. Jul 20, 2015 #1
    I'd like to understand if non-atomic life forms are possible. For example, purely electrical ones. I'm not talking about those electron eating bacterias, they are still made out of atoms. Is there a possibility to form a stable structure out of electrons, or photons? Not necessarily in a vacuum, but the structure should not have atomic matter as its building blocks. Does it make any sense?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2015 #2
    There are states of matter and energy which bear little resemblance to the world of atoms with which we are familiar.
    'Life' however is not a very well defined term, although anything living does require some basic properties such as self reproduction to be considered as life.
    Even within the realm of familiar atomic matter there are undecided cases, viruses being the best example.
    Basically the question can only be answered if you first can give a precise definition of what you would consider to be life.
  4. Jul 20, 2015 #3
    Well, since you mentioned viruses, let's use that. Do you think it's possible that non-atomic structures could form that would function as a virus (and would be as stable and as complex)?
  5. Jul 20, 2015 #4
    Familiar life is all based on the fact that carbon can form bonds easily with other elements and also with other carbon atoms.
    This mean that complex chains and other structures can be formed and these structures are essential for all forms of life we know of.
    Anything other than carbon based life has to be pure speculation. there certainly is no evidence for it.
    That does not mean it's impossible, but you will find that threads of a purely speculative nature are discouraged here, and often they will be removed.
  6. Jul 21, 2015 #5


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    If you read up on some of the abiogenesis work, I think one of the main points is that for life you need some kind of system capable of storing information - likely a lot of information. The system needs to be stable over time, it needs to be able to replicate itself, and it process for translating that information into some kind of effect on the environment it's in.

    On earth, this role is filled by DNA or RNA. There's no rule that I'm aware of that excludes other molecules from performing this role. But your question is whether this could be formed by something that is not made up of atoms. I suspect that answer is that there is no rule necessarily excluding non-matter mechanisms, but you run into major issues with the requirement for stability over time when you look for alternative building blocks.
  7. Jul 21, 2015 #6


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    As rootone said, it depends entirely on your definition of life. For example, Stephen Hawking has argued that computer viruses should be considered a form of life. Most biologist, however, consider metabolism, the ability to extract raw nutrients from the surroundings in order to replicate itself, part of what defines life (which is why most don't consider biological viruses to be a form of life). However, if you relax some of the classical definitions of life (many of which are not universally agreed upon), then you might be able to claim that some borderline cases like computer viruses as having the "properties" of life.
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