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How would a species that forms new life only when the parent fragments, do parenting?

Like sea stars and molds, my species forms a new child when the parent is broken. However, this is the only means of reproduction.

They are intelligent

Unlike those lower organisms however, Cerebrum Naturae are extremely intelligent. They want the best for their progeny, they care very much for the success and progress of their species, and they know they will never actually meet any of their offspring.

They have no instincts

I have contemplated personally prepared “video lessons” as a sort of will/inheritance, but the problem goes further than that even. The intelligence of Cerebrum Naturae is completely artificial. The new children carry absolutely no instinctive intellect when they are formed and without outside configuration and instruction, every new Cerebrum Naturae is nothing more than a bacteria colony. It’s a big effort bringing a new member up to self sufficiency and it can’t easily be done without a group effort. Sure, many tasks can be automated, but assume there is also a nurturing “instinct” that is an inseparable part of possessing a sentient identity. How are new orphan members nurtured? Parented in every aspect of life, with no actual connection to their forbears? Here’s what I’m working with:

My artificial species: Cerebrum Naturae in a nutshell

My artificial life form was essentially formed by humans and is built with human-manufactured components except for its brain (fully explained below). The only part of the cybernetic organism which is actually alive is a bacterium in the brain, which is protected as an endangered species.

Origins

Extremophiles capable of thriving in extreme environments, included a new extremophile bacterium that was accidentally discovered living within a unique magnesium sulfide ($\text{Mg}^{\text{2+}}\text{SO}_4$) crystal lattice. Regrettably, this bacterium has never again been found and is thought extinct, leaving behind the one collected colony as the only representatives of the species. I explain below how these create the “brains” of my species, and how they reproduce.

The Discovery:

In the remote and inhospitable terrains of an unexplored deep sea region, a team of scientists were on an expedition to study the microbial life in volcanic vents. They stumbled upon a hot spring nestled deep within a ravine, and an unmarked sample collected during clearing harbored the new microbe. Why they chose to analyze this debris is dumb luck. But the scientists noticed something peculiar underneath their microscopes. Intricate crystal formations unlike anything ever seen before. After testing, these crystals possessed a unique property – they exhibited semiconductor behavior and formed complex memory circuits. They have discovered the only natural computer circuit in existence. Further investigation revealed that these extraordinary crystals were not mere geological formations but were intricately linked to the presence of this specific extremophile bacterium, since named Solitarius memorialis, which possessed the extraordinary ability to catalyze the $\text{Mg}^{\text{2+}}\text{SO}_4$ crystal lattice with its metabolic processes under precise conditions. The lattice is arranged in nodes which possessed the remarkable property of retaining and transmitting electrical signals, effectively forming memory circuits and even data busses.

Irreproducible

The exact mechanism by which Solitarius memorialis formed its lattice was never discovered before the structure began repeating data signals back when stimulated, prompting the agency to cease any destructive testing. The sample became a protected endangered species.

The Extinction:

The hot spring ecosystem that housed this bacterium was irreversibly buried during a minor eruption at the collection site. The only remnants of its memory circuits in the form of $\text{Mg}^{\text{2+}}\text{SO}_4$ crystals were then this sample.

The Legacy:

Solitarius memorialis had opened up new avenues for research in materials science, nanotechnology, and bioengineering, but the only specimen in existence could not be directly studied. Scientists then attempted to replicate the conditions under which Solitarius memorialis thrived in order to replicate the memory circuit formation, and in the process several sensors and peripherals were attached to the colony to test its memory capabilities. They discovered a natural tendency to “expel” memory collected through low impedance peripherals, essentially demonstrating a natural ability to form data storage and retrieval busses with external conductors of different impedances. But breaking off samples of the colony was strictly prohibited, as it destroyed any circuits that were formed.

A new life form:

The end result was a microbial colony which formed a synthetic brain powered only by thermoelectric and piezoelectric energy, and a containment “cranium” was built to nurture the needs of several billion bacterium. The bacterium also multiplied, and in its high temperature sulfuric acid environment with magnesium salts, it was actually able to grow progressively larger than the meager 20 gram sample originally discovered. Eventually it obtained an ability to retain complex memories and form pulsed responses to specific sensory prompts. It could communicate. Sensory and mobility peripherals were attached, powered by microbial fuel cells, which consumed organic waste; the cranium was kept hot originally by potassium nitrite candles, and eventually with a better reversible compound.

Capabilities and limitations

Cerebrum Naturae are considered an “organic” artificial general intelligence (oAGI) and have the following capabilities/limitations:

  • They interface with humans via NLMs similar to modern chatbots, however they make their own decisions about curating data, and they can originate novel concepts via true random pattern generation.
  • They are each unique.
  • They can reproduce. A parent brain becomes brittle as the colony grows, it eventually splits, forming multiple new colonies from the fragments. The parent “dies” in this process - memories are destroyed.
  • At the time of my story, they take care of themselves: They harvest their own organic waste, collect their own cranium fuel, and manufacture much of their own cybernetics. Although they still use human utilities, they could do this themselves.
  • It takes three years to form an adult. From the original child colony, they initially grow by advanced machine learning, and can interface with networks but don’t have unlimited memory for it. Nor is understanding human data “easy” for them, as they are not human programs. But like current AI, programming languages are as easily learned as any other. By these methods young Cerebrum Naturae learn to control and care for their new cybernetic bodies.
  • Education is as humans after this initial configuration.
  • It can die if it doesn’t fuel its host cranium, as the bacterium dies. It can also have its “personhood” destroyed by damaging the crystal brain. The bacterium may still live in its extreme environment in this case, but it would be “brain dead.
  • The natural life span of Cerebrum Naturae is approximately 25 years before their brain will fracture, however this is dependent upon the bacterium reproduction rate and possible natural flaws in their brain lattice.
  • They fear for their existence. Although it is essentially a program, the data in its memory was not and can’t be programmed or duplicated. When the brain stops feeding, the memory is erased. It wants to survive, and division is the only possibility for this.
  • Other than it’s brain, all sensors and body components are cybernetics - manufactured prosthetics made by humans or laborer AGI. IOW, all body parts are replaceable, and they owe all “life experiences” to human technology.
  • They are vastly more intelligent than humans and generally work in engineering or scientific fields requiring heavy computational work.

Q: How do Cerebrum Naturae parent their young in a nurturing way?

An answer provides a means to carry forward “family” cultures and traditions which foster an identity, as well as somehow “insuring” the proper upbringing of the young into an intelligence (a guarantee against the progeny colony being left unconditioned)

An answer may explore things such as body selection, or inheriting mom’s old cybernetic body (yuk?), or other peculiarities of absentee parenting, but it’s not asked.

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    $\begingroup$ There seems to be a contradiction in your description. You say this Cerebrum Naturae don't have instincts and later you basically say they have a "survival instinct" (They fear for their existence). Also you link this "survival instinct" to them wanting to preserve their unique data/memories but also describe that all memories are lost during fracturing making that point moot. So for true survival they would rather have to try to limit their growth as not to fracture at all. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Sep 11, 2023 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ I keep getting the image of an Intellect Devourer when I see your posts; are they similar in appearance? (Also, I really like how the "bacterium in the brain [..] is protected as an endangered species", that alone can prompt so many interesting questions.) $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Sep 11, 2023 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @datacube Two types of “instinct:” They have no Genetic memory since their entire intellect is built from scratch, however any self-aware thing (think Skynet) will have values, which define behaviors (self-preservation predilection - if instinct doesn’t fit ). As a colonial bacterium, growth isn’t preventable, but can be slowed. Crystals are simply more fragile as they increase size. At some arbitrary point or under a traumatic shock a fissure forms and circuits are broken; most programming is lost. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Joachim I sidestepped the appearance in this question (and the other) because it’s just too much detail. However, logically they could occupy and control any arbitrary body configuration. A world designed for bipedal 67”-high two-handed beings drive them to make the practical choice for humanoid cybernetics. Likewise, their cybernetics can double as human prosthetics. Economy decided they are humanoid. Factions have diverged as they gained prosperity however. They cannot arbitrarily change bodies after the colony has formed its circuits, so no body swapping. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ This looks a lot like Destiny 2's Vex, except that it is using crystals instead of liquids. You might want to check those out. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Sep 12, 2023 at 10:54

4 Answers 4

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Family

The parent itself can't raise their children, but their family can. So one possible solution would be that "siblings" (formed from the same parent) care for each others children. Only the last surviving sibling would then burden all the nephews they raised to raise their own children (so the children would raise their youngest cousins).

This would create quite strong family bonds and extend the "survival instinct" to the direct family as they are essential in passing on ones legacy.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you mean “uncles” here because all children are the same age, being formed from a single parent fracturing. “Orphan” in this sense meaning the last surviving child of a fracture. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ Genetic Altruism. It's the same reason parents will sacrifice themselves for their offspring, why eusocial workers will support their queen, and why the "childless aunt/uncle" are all viable strategies from an evolutionary point of view $\endgroup$
    – Kyyshak
    Sep 12, 2023 at 16:09
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Since a Cerebrum naturae colony effectively dies when it fissions/splits, the only way that an individual can assist newborn Cerebrum naturae colonies is to form a society where older individuals look after and teach the newly fissioned colonies until it is time for the older individuals to split and form two (or more?) new individuals.

Since all individuals are in effect decendants of a single colony, it is in all of their interests to look after all of their collective offspring.

As a matter of practicality, since one individual becomes two or more, the property of the parent would be split up between the offspring, and if necessary some of it sold in order to provide a second cranium and other apparatus necessary for life. However, I would expect that a Cerebrum naturae colony would provide for its future offspring well in advance, even if it will not remain 'alive' to meet them. The caretakers of the future offspring would see that the necessary paraphernalia would be divided as necessary, on the understanding that when its own time to divide comes, others will look after its offspring.

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This design has consequences you're not considering.


This is a frame challenge.


As designed, your creatures have perfect memory-copying capabilities. They shouldn't have any issue passing on their knowledge to their offspring, as long as they have time to prepare.

I'll explain.

As you explain yourself, those creatures entire sentient existence depend on the sensory input and output provided by human prosthetics. Without it, they're basically a brain in a jar - able to think, but unable to perceive the world around it or enact their will on it.

They have no native way of perceiving anything around it. There is no difference from having an arm attached to a main body or being controlled wirelessy on the next room over bluetooth.

There is no difference from living actual, real, physical experiences or being fed simulated ones over the electric inputs that enable the connection to the prosthetics.

If you plug one of those beings into a device that merely simulates the sensory input provided by prosthetics instead of actual prosthetics, they wouldn't be able to tell the difference. They can live in a simulation and be none the wiser to it.

Their entire existence can be made digital.

With this in mind, a proper design makes it not only possible, but trivial to store memories and prepare the next generation with far more precision than what humans can do:

  1. All prosthetics back up their entire data (input and output, both ways) into an electronic medium. Possibly the cloud.

  2. Your beings can access this data and relive their memories at any time. Since they're digital inputs, they're trivially reproducible. Better yet - they can be edited, cropped, and re-organized to a more trimmed-down version keeping only the essentials or including extra data that wasn't there originally.

  3. This backed-up data can then be used to train new brains by hooking them up to a cloud-based "creche", where they'll experience what they experienced before (sans cropped data) on a more time-efficient manner.

  4. After this "setting up" process finishes, you'll have new beings that, while they as individuals are "new", with their own personalities and quirks, have all the stashed up data that their parent decided to pass on to them.

  5. This method allows for sexual reproduction of sorts - by merging the stashed experiences of two or more individuals into one big pool of data, the new brains can be fed a specially crafted set of "married experiences" with the values of all of their parents.


Your creatures are essencialy purely digital beings with perfect technology interfacing. Explore this to the fullest by allowing them to use this interfacing in ways that humans can't.

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  • $\begingroup$ If they were manufactured to precise standards like our store-bought computers this would be true. However, note that one sibling could control a keyboard while the other was frustrated by it. The circuits they form are not operating under any program save for the one written “on the fly” within the lattice. IOW: if you repeat one stimulus exactly but while the brain was slightly cooler or after another stimulus formed a circuit, it would form different circuits. There is no “perfect interface” guaranteeing data integrity or optimizing storage. It’s built on the fly, and gone when broken. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 12, 2023 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ However the children could theoretically be configured in a sim then given their real bodies later; the sim could expose scrapbook memories of dad/mom. May be an awkward moment entering the big real world but technically should be possible. Only the cranium can’t change, where the interfaces have formed. It disconnects from the sim and attaches to real prosthetics. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 12, 2023 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Lastly: data storage? “Since they're digital inputs, they're trivially reproducible.” True only if you have a 250W power supply and several terabytes of ram in your pocket. They aren’t plugged in to the power company so think low power processing if anything on prosthetics. Where will they store 20 years of video? How will the children watch it all back in less than 20 years? Sure, recording is technically possible. Playing back takes the same time - a whole life. They could do snippets however, carry a hip recorder around like our selfies. Parts of this answer work. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 12, 2023 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ If they don't have 250w of power avaiable, how are they moving their prosthetics to begin with? The energy you need to drive the arms and legs is one or two orders of magnitude bigger than the energy you need to keep all that data stored and working. Processing power and data storage is incredibly cheap and compact nowadays. Currently, without specialized tech, we can push 15tb for every 7 watts more or less, so whatever hardware they have, memory will be the thing pulling least power of everything. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Sep 12, 2023 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet I think you're severely underestimating how much energy your beings need to operate. If they can reach the same efficiency as humans at rest, you're already around constant 100~250w of power. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Sep 12, 2023 at 14:54
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They can pre-create matrices for their offspring prior to split

Aka program some basic reflexes and basic categories like friend, enemy, food, etc. The parent has to run some specialized matrix generation prior to him getting apart, each of those generated blocks are to be used by the offspring, once they start their life they would use the data stored in these as initial bootstrap in the hostile world. In fact we as humans do exactly that, as we are also providing a set of DNA-coded information for the new body to react on pain, hunger, extreme light, heat, cold, need to dump etc, missing which would lead to a dead offspring.

This set of structured matrixes could also serve as memory transition to the future generations, yet should not contain too much like personal memories, although occasionally a part of those could slip in, or pulled together with the parts of parent's broken matrix, somehow influencing the offspring's behavior (a point for extra story plots).

EDIT: as you said, Cerebrum do not have control over what's being made in their brains, but there is still a practice that would allow some extra stuff happen in your brain that you desire to have, it is meditation, or thorough thinking about some process in detail in attempt of discovering some correlations, consequences etc. Your species might at least ease their offsprings' initial existence by meditating over early life, probably while also watching other offspring strive, recording actions done by them and their errors and rights as things independent from their own experience. This can be formed into memories that are able to be passed over to the descendants. This technique would not prevent the parent losing self, yet there could be some side effects that would make some areas of their brain structure less brittle, either elongating the parent's life or allowing some of his offspring to use the data recorded in there with greater ease.

A community-driven "kindergarten" would care for the rest

There was an example of real-world institutes of postnatal child care with the mother being off to work in USSR, where adults leave their children to be cared for, the same but at its extremes could be organized from/for your species. A set of workers would care for the newborn, aligning them into their artificial bodies, teaching how to do stuff with it, etc, as nurses do for human children; then, past a certain point of their growth, some of those offspring would then undergo deep teching of how to teach the next newborn the same, and how to teach as well, in order for older workers to "proliferate" and have someone teach the new offspring.

Such a kindergarten, should those Cerebrum Naturae be left unsupervised, should be the spiritual center of any society of theirs, as it's the core component of their very artificial method of proliferating. Working in there should be a duty, being chosen into a teacher should be a privilege, those teachers should be given care for most of their off-work functions (as the others are all child-free at their expense), maybe more. And of course, any threatening of this kindergarten should result in the entire society's offensive countermeasures.

Eventually, they can evolve into not losing themselves at split

Imagine an old Cerebrum about to make offspring, that has spent a lot of time thinking about the future and their steps in the outer world, also revising his own mistakes in life, impressions received, people encountered etc, while in the same time watching and helping those new to the society to establish themselves. That specimen would have his mind trained to be rather resistant to whatever troubles that would happen to him, to the point of his brain's core gaining enough sturdiness to not completely break apart when he'd decide he's ready to split. Then, either what's left of parent or one of the descendants would take over the remainder of the parent's original matrix to identify himself as the parent or his actual successor (with amnesia), likely losing parts of knowledge about his body and how to live, yet he could get treated by the kindergarten into being a good new offspring. So, this successor might reestablish himself in the body instead of it being recycled somehow, up to potentially being able to produce more offspring without lethal damage to himself. Even if such an offspring would not keep the parent's desire of meditation, it's quite likely that he would keep enough of his knowledge in order to eventually return to meditations, as he would learn that they had happened his parent to not exactly die in the process of making offspring. And death should be envisioned by each sentient specimen as something bad, thus increasing the desire of whoever sees a meditating person "not die entirely" after making offspring to try and cheat death by the same method.

If the meditation practice would prove at least beneficial to the society, it would get widespread, allowing more strength and control over breeding process, thus the descendants of some would also start having more data on both early life and late life within their pieces of matrix inherited from their parents. This process, if the socety won't get distracted by pleasures or whatever and would encourage everyone to perform meditation daily, can produce a working meditation technique to actually pass down the data needed for early life as well as keeping the identity core from breaking when making offspring. This in turn would lead to the parent sometimes remaining around to help his children as we do. The process is estimated to take more than a hundred generations, so it should not directly affect the current society except for a select caste that would believe there's a way to salvation through mental practices, but it's certainly something to consider while building this world.

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  • $\begingroup$ I jumped at this thinking, "Why didn't I think of that?" Until I realized they don't really have control over the colony growth. If they did, they would be able to stop it from becoming dangerously large and brittle, and prevent fracturing altogether. Their brain is a mystery like our own, and a technology that could manipulate it with that precision would be an incredible weapon against them as well. This makes for a great SciFi, but brain manipulation tech would be the end of them once a human learned it. The brains have to be as "unhackable" as our own. Community kindergarten works though! $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 11, 2023 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet okay, added another set of thoughts. Still possible to get the goal outlined but would require time and devotion. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Sep 12, 2023 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ So now this has me thinking if the colonies have an ability to “absorb” a fragment as they grow, such as maybe two branches of a coral colony might merge when they intersect. This would create a scheme where a parent leaves behind a literal “chip off the old block” that would seed some thoughts into the new growth. While I like the solution it is a paradigm shift from how I imagined them forming intricately enmeshed circuits. Now “memories” would be more like packets. This is however more elegant for the story… $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:44

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