Astronomers are presently looking for signs of life in nearby stars’ “habitable zones,” which are defined as the area around a star where liquid water might theoretically exist.
However, according to a recent research, we need to take a more nuanced and cautious approach, based not on the possibility for life, but on the capacity for computation.
Life can be defined as a set of computations that act on information. The data is stored in DNA, and the computations are carried out by numerous proteins. The ability to store information and act on its surroundings allows life to evolve through natural selection, resulting in ever more complex structures.
Traditional searches for life focus on how we comprehend it from an earthly perspective. Specifically, animals that live on the surface of a planet that is just the right distance from a parent star and use liquid water as a solvent for chemical reactions.
Other solvents could be used in life. Life could be buried under the frigid outer moons. A star may not even be necessary in life. Furthermore, biological systems may give rise to technological systems that may not satisfy our present concept of life but may be alive in their own right.
As a result, a group of scholars would like to recreate the concept of the habitable zone using a more fundamental concept of computation. They suggest that the ideal places to look for indications of life are those with the simplest access to computation.
According to the researchers, these so-called computational zones require three criteria.
One, there must be the ability to compute, which implies that a diverse range of chemicals is available. Two, there must be a source of raw energy, such as sunshine or hydrothermal vents. Finally, computation necessitates the presence of a substrate – something in which the computation may take place.
The old concept of livable zones is now viewed as a subset of a much bigger concept of computational zones. There is computation taking place wherever there is life as we know it on Earth. However, this paradigm enables us to create search algorithms for life concepts that go beyond that.
For example, if we examine individual systems through the lens of computing ability, we may be able to determine whether systems are suited to artificial energy harvesting structures such as Dyson spheres. Or we may investigate how gas clouds surrounding sub-stellar structures could meet all of the parameters required for computation, and hence all of the conditions required for a broader definition of life.
The scientific quest for life in our Universe has only recently begun. And, as the writers highlight, it’s critical to have an open mind.