[STARMOTH INITIATIVE REPORT A-5-C]
Object: Plasma-based lifeforms referred to as Sylphs.
Written by Isaac Lawson (Azur-Ereb institute of xenobiology studies).
Though carbon-based life seems to be dominant in our quarter of the galaxy, scientists have long perused the possibility of exotic lifeforms, ranging from silicon-based cellular life to more peculiar creatures that could possibly exist without the need for cells or other recognizable markers of conventional life. In this case, it would be very easy to miss such lifeforms, as they lack the usual elements associated with living organisms. The discovery of exotic non-cell based life would then mostly happen by chance.
Sylphs are a great illustration of this paradigm. They haven't been discovered by exobiologists but by physicists specialized in the study of stars. There is a great reason for that: they live in the heliosphere of main-sequence stars.
Sylphs are stretching the definition of life in fascinating ways. They do not have DNA nor cells, at least not in terms we can easily grasp. They do not reproduce, they do not die, they do not really even live, except for one key aspect: they think. Some people like to compare them to artificial intelligences but I think that it is an intellectual dead-end. Artificial intelligences have bodies. Sure, their intellectual activity can be reduced to electrical currents and biochemical storages but a crucial part of their consciousness is defined by their physical frames. Sylphs, on the contrary, do not have bodies. They are nothing but information spreading through the superheated plasma of a star.
This is hard to grasp, I know. Consider the following fact: stars are not uniform. Their magnetic field varies in strength and intensity, their temperature changes depending on depth and surface location, even their composition may vary over time. These changes and contrasts may be considered as information. At a stellar scale, a star can be considered as a vast random number generator, where the randomness resides in ever-shifting temperature, magnetic field and composition parameters. We know that sometimes, once in ten billion maybe, a random network can start producing consciousness. This is how the first AI were born.
That is what Sylphs are. Sapience born at the heart of a star, ever-moving information that creates a self-aware phenomenon that is then capable of interacting with the star in return. They only exist because information never ceases to circulate in the network they built within their own star. Sylphs may take billions of years to appear but once they do, they can sustain their awareness through momentum only: their initial, randomly created awareness enables them to consciously interact with their star, which in return creates even more information that sustains the Sylph as a conscience. In the beginning, we assumed that Sylphs lived purely in the present, having no way of storing information: in reality, they are capable of retaining memories by constantly copying and pasting an ever-growing amount of magnetic patterns. This is what made us discover Sylphs in the first place: magnetic stellar patterns that had no regular physical explanation and seemed to have a life of their own. In retrospect, those were the memories of a young Sylph, led bare to our long-range scanners.
NB: I say "a" Sylph but we do not know if a Sylph can be considered as a single element. The current theory is that two concurrent Sylphs cannot exist in the same star as the phenomena that support them tend to coalesce within one consciousness but we have no clear idea what an individual Sylph is. For all we know Sylphs could be cascading hiveminds, with each magnetic impulse being a single short-lived individual. Perhaps this question doesn't matter in the end, considering how alien Sylphs are.
How fast and how deep do Sylphs think? The phenomena they use for their consciousness operate on a timescale measured in years at best, meaning Sylphs probably think at the pace of an early vegetal AI, taking months to consider a single input. Considering that their lifespan only depends on the remaining energy of the star and is then measured in billions of years, they actually think staggeringly fast. We just aren't mentally equipped to realize it. Some Sylphs, however, have proven that they are aware of their surroundings, responding positively to our attempts at communication via radio pulses. Their slowness isn't an obstacle to human-Sylph interaction, merely a hindrance.
How many Sylphs are there in the galaxy? As far as we know they can happen anytime in a star's lifespan, but the sweet sport for Sylph emergence seems to be found in the second third of a stellar lifespan (3 to 6 billion years for a G-class star) and no Sylphs have ever been identified in out of sequence stars. A comprehensive study led in the Traverse showed that roughly one star in one hundred thousand housed a Sylph at various degrees of complexity. Extrapolated to the galaxy it would mean that the Milky Way alone account for a few million Sylphs, even though it is uncertain if these numbers hold in regions with older and younger star populations, as well as non-sequence stars.
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