The Engineering Case For Alien Monsters

The net result is that big organisms on Earth are just noticeably sluggish compared to small ones. But big organisms don’t have to be sluggish, that is just an accident of the engineering failures of Earth biology. If there is a planet out there where biology has figured out how to efficiently scale its blood vessels, such as by using continuous pumps, the organisms on that planet will have fewer barriers to growing large and active. Efficiently designed large animals on Earth could easily have metabolisms that are thousands of times faster than in existing animals. So, if you don’t already have enough reasons to be scared of alien monsters, consider that they might have far faster metabolisms, and as a result be very large.

This seems yet another reason to think that biology will soon be over. Human culture is inventing so many powerful advances that biology never found, innovations that are far easier to integrate into the human economy than into biological designs. Descendants that integrate well into the human economy will just outcompete biology.

That’s Robin Hanson. There’s also an interesting discussion on the relationship between biomass density and aggregate energy consumption complete with some back of the envelope model building a la Hamming. Biomass being the sum of all living things in an area.

Anyway, my walking around mental model of human progress is that the engineering achievements of nature are underrated. Take for example a story from this week’s economist where researchers are trying to break the a water speed record by replacing a propeller with a fin!

But don’t mix stocks and flows. Sure we’re frustrated that we can’t replicate or enhance some systems but look around. Much (most) of what we’ve built for ourselves exists because it’s better than what nature gave us. There’s always a new frontier to conquer and isn’t it fun to focus on the drama of the cutting edge.

Yet we’ve come a long, long way.

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