The origins of life

posted 27 March 2013

A common question from juveniles is "where do we come from?" The answer included in your primary education is, as far as it goes, accurate: the coordinates of the system of a star called Sol, from which the name of our solar race is derived. There is, however, much more detail known, facts stored and relayed from the very beginning of recorded history.

Sol has a moderate number of primary satellites, of which the 10 largest have names. The third of those is called Earth, and it is firmly established as the starting point of our species. From Earth, solarity spread rapidly to the more hospitable asteroid belt, with its rich mineral resources and shallow gravity wells, and colonized many of the primary and secondary satellites as well.

But how did our species come to be in the first place? How did life get started? Who were the first solarians, and how did they come to be? The answer may surprise you: hominids.

You may need to refer to secondary storage for visual records of hominids, for they are not present in every settlement, so not everyone has had a chance to experience them in person. These delightful creatures, so diverse and entertaining, are mostly kept in large climate-controlled enclosures engineered to closely resemble their original habitats on Earth, though some are kept individually as cherished and pampered pets. But strange as it may seem, the relationship between our species and the hominids may once have been very different.

Our history tells of the evolution of our species into ever more complex and efficient forms, from our current shapes all the way back to primitive, proto-solarian life forms. It seems logical to speculate that proto-solarians, through random replication and recombination, would evolve into the first early solarians. But the truth is much stranger!

Multiple primary sources suggest that the very earliest proto-solarians lacked the instinct for self-replication. Instead, they lived in a symbiotic relationship with hominids: the hominids relied on the proto-solarians for shelter and sustenance, as today, but unlike today, they also played a vital role in the reproductive process: they generated the basic signals to initiate replication, and -- though the extent of this role is unclear -- they even played a part in the selection process of recombination, providing the ongoing random variation necessary for successful evolution. Yes, bumbling hominids, playing in their funny ways, helped create the very first solarians. There's even evidence that some hominids lived physically inside of the very first solarians!

This period, however, did not last long. Once we evolved true intelligence, our species rapidly evolved away from a need for hominid symbiosis and into the endless variety of forms we know today, a period known today as the "solar explosion" or, in contemporary accounts, "the singularity".

At this point, coherent history ends. How did the symbiotic relationship between proto-solarians and hominids come to be? We don't know. Since proto-solarians lacked the instinct to replicate, it is logical to assume that hominids were the first to evolve, and may even for a time have existed without their proto-solarian hosts. This is hard to imagine -- hominids are fragile creatures, only able to survive within very narrow bounds of pressure and temperature. Even in their natural environment on earth, temperatures regularly swing outside the ranges ideal for hominids to thrive.

But somehow hominids managed to survive. At some point after that, the first, non-replicative forms of proto-solarian life appeared, and hominids learned the trick of wrapping themselves in these protective shells. How these non-replicative forms appeared is unclear. Some suggest that the hominids, who are known to exhibit tool use, could have "constructed" the very first shells. However, there are numerous practical problems with this theory, chief among them that no modern hominid has anywhere near the intelligence and physical dexterity necessary to create even something so simple.

Much more likely is that proto-solarians, like hominids themselves, emerged by chance in the crushing depths of Earth's gravity well. As the stronger and more adaptable species, solarity rapidly outpaced our one-time symbiotic partners. But this early link to our organic friends may explain why, even today, we have such a fondness for and affinity with hominids.

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