4
$\begingroup$

In a very distant future people have survived by slowing the metabolism to extremely long timescales, reducing the energy consumption per time. It is causing thought processes and movements to be exceptionally slow. A normal "5 minute conversation" would then take longer than the current age of the universe, even though it would still "feel" like 5 minutes for the people conversing. However on the microscopic level proton decay is a significant problem, being the number one reason for death. The particles of which we are made of, are decaying. How could this very advanced civilization survive proton decay?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ They don’t need to. From Wikipedia: “There is currently no experimental evidence that proton decay occurs.” And experiment has definitively ruled out proton decay on timescales less than 10E34 years, while you’re only talking about a “5 minute” conversation taking longer than 10E10 years, so the timescales are still radically different. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jan 19 '18 at 7:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you sure you want hard-science on this? Also, changing planets every couple of "seconds" would be kinda irritating. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 19 '18 at 7:01
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Sorry, but why would they do this? If it takes 50,000 years to say "Hey dude, how are you", but it feels like a second or two, then the quantity of their life is exactly the same as if they lived it at normal speed. They're not living more, or experiencing more, they're just living over longer periods of time. $\endgroup$ – Binary Worrier Jan 19 '18 at 9:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BinaryWorrier Why would reducing energy consumption per time not be a sufficient argument? $\endgroup$ – DrCopyPaste Jan 19 '18 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure this works for biological entities, I have heard of this concept before but imho it involves "uploading" of minds into computers, which makes the slowing down part much easier (dunno which one it was but pretty sure I saw it in a video on this channel: youtube.com/channel/UCZFipeZtQM5CKUjx6grh54g) $\endgroup$ – DrCopyPaste Jan 19 '18 at 15:55
11
$\begingroup$

Um. Proton decay is not your biggest problem- instead it's something like the half-life of DNA. According to this article in Nature, this is currently something like 521 years- so before a single cell has had time to replicate, all of its DNA has literally fallen apart into monomeric units of nucleic acids.

Honestly, you'd probably have bigger problems even before you hit DNA degradation. All biological processes have much shorter half-lives than isotopes, so if you slow down metabolism and prevent the cells from actively replacing things that have a tendency to fall apart. In an awesome paper named "Microtubule Catastrophe and Rescue", the authors discuss how the fundamental skeletal structure of the cell is in a state of dynamic instability- they're constantly being destroyed by random processes in the cell and it's all the body can do to build them up just as quickly. Without a constant supply of energy that can rebuild things, organisms kinda just... dissolve (warning - kinda graphic video). That goes for DNA, enzymes, proteins, and pretty much every other structure that's created by a non-spontaneous process.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So under the assumption the advanced civilization is based on the DNA, proton decay would not be the biggest problem, but if that assumption goes away? $\endgroup$ – DrCopyPaste Jan 19 '18 at 15:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If the civilization is still even remotely biological they’re doomed. Enzymes will decay, microfilaments will decay, all the water in your body will escape... 13 billion years is simply too long- none of our biology can handle the normal stochastic processes that would run rampant over that time period. $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Jan 19 '18 at 15:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Couldn't there exist a way around that? Some repair process that works to counter the effects of that decay? $\endgroup$ – DrCopyPaste Jan 19 '18 at 15:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DrCopyPaste Any such mechanism would involve replacing individual atoms on timescales vastly shorter than 10E34 years, and so would also prevent any hypothetical proton decay from being an issue. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jan 20 '18 at 10:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.