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In our universe, an organic compound is defined as a compound that contains carbon with an oxidation number lower than +4 (Citation needed.). In a parallel universe where chemistry laws are different, could organic compounds not need carbon to be organic?

EDIT: Since there are misunderstandings with my question I will clarify:

Salt (NH4) is inorganic because it doesn't contain carbon and it has no oxidation.

Glucose (C6H12O6) is organic for the same reasons.

My question is: In a parallel universe where proteins, sweets, fats, etc. (Which are organic and compose the life.) Are not composed of carbon but by other elements such as iron, uranium, copper, etc. Can life exist?

And if this can happen, would the compounds have different names?

What I want to know is if parallel life can be created from our non-organic compounds?


marked as duplicate by Mołot, James, JDługosz, Hohmannfan, kingledion Dec 27 '16 at 15:43

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • $\begingroup$ There is no such thing as an organic "element". Organic compounds are defined in various ways; when I was in school the definition was "hydrocarbons and their derivatives". The important thing is that this is a purely arbitrary definition, which simply tries to circumscribe a certain class of compounds which have certain attributes in common. There is no fundamental difference between organic and inorganic chemistry. The answer to your question depends on what you mean by the word "organic". $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 27 '16 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I clarified $\endgroup$ – dulindraxe Dec 27 '16 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ There are computer simulations that use alternate rules for the universe, and several times the basic components of life have emerged from the soup. Even a couple variants of Conway's Game of Life exhibit rudimentary cellular and evolutionary behavior. I'm in the camp that thinks it's highly likely non-carbon-based life exists out there. $\endgroup$ – wyldstallyns Dec 27 '16 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @wyldstallyns Do you have any links to such simulations? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 27 '16 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ The element Carbon is very good at binding with other elements thus able to form long molecular which means it can store the blueprint for any lifeforms, life takes in organic carbon aka sugar and purge them as inorganic carbon aka CO2 then they die & rot returning back the carbon. Other elements in the same column can also do the trick but it's very tricky business trust me. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 27 '16 at 3:31

It is probable that non carbon based life exists in our own dimension. Most likely silicon based. Given that the theory of alternate dimensions allow for infinite dimensions the answer to your question is of course, yes.

  • $\begingroup$ That is interesting $\endgroup$ – dulindraxe Dec 27 '16 at 1:00

Sort of.

If you had an alternate dimension, in which atoms had different valence structures and bonding behavior, you could create what we consider to be organic compounds out of heavier elements. However, this would drastically change the nature of everything made with those elements.

Let's take iron, for example. We could tweak the laws of reality for out alternate universe so that iron had four valence electrons and bonded in a similar manner to carbon. However, if we did that, iron would no longer act like a metal. Iron, in our universe, acts the way it does because it forms metallic bonds with itself, and with some other metals.

In your alternate universe, life could form based on compounds built around iron. These compounds would likely be considered 'organic' in that universe. However, they wouldn't behave anything like metals do. Whatever elements that formed metallic bonds in your altered chemistry world would, instead.

  • $\begingroup$ "Let's take iron..." that's exactly my question: if in the other universe there is iron, I would like that iron to be organic and not changing the composition of iron to make it organic and make parallel-iron organic. I'd like to know if through different chemistry laws iron can create life. Or for example in this parallel universe if I unite lead and oxygen I don't get 2 elements but one called, I don't know...Leaxygen. This triggers me. $\endgroup$ – dulindraxe Dec 27 '16 at 2:29

What you ask is actually a standing question in philosophy. Hilary Putnam put forth a similar argument for semantic externalism. The issue at hand is what we would call things in such a parallel universe. His version of this is known as the Twin Earth though experiment.

Putnam's original formulation of the experiment was this: We begin by supposing that elsewhere in the universe there is a planet exactly like Earth in virtually all respects, which we refer to as "Twin Earth". (We should also suppose that the relevant surroundings are exactly the same as for Earth; it revolves around a star that appears to be exactly like our sun, and so on). On Twin Earth, there is a Twin equivalent of every person and thing here on Earth. The one difference between the two planets is that there is no water on Twin Earth. In its place there is a liquid that is superficially identical, but is chemically different, being composed not of H2O, but rather of some more complicated formula which we abbreviate as "XYZ". The Twin Earthlings who refer to their language as "English" call XYZ "water". Finally, we set the date of our thought experiment to be several centuries ago, when the residents of Earth and Twin Earth would have no means of knowing that the liquids they called "water" were H2O and XYZ respectively. The experience of people on Earth with water and that of those on Twin Earth with XYZ would be identical.

Now the question arises: when an Earthling (or Oscar for simplicity's sake) and his twin on Twin Earth say 'water' do they mean the same thing? (The twin is also called 'Oscar' on his own planet, of course. Indeed, the inhabitants of that planet call their own planet 'Earth'. For convenience, we refer to this putative planet as 'Twin Earth', and extend this naming convention to the objects and people that inhabit it, in this case referring to Oscar's twin as Twin-Oscar.) Ex hypothesi, their brains are molecule-for-molecule identical. Yet, at least according to Putnam, when Oscar says 'water', the term refers to H2O, whereas when Twin Oscar says 'water' it refers to XYZ. The result of this is that the contents of a person's brain are not sufficient to determine the reference of terms they use, as one must also examine the causal history that led to this individual acquiring the term. (Oscar, for instance, learned the word 'water' in a world filled with H2O, whereas Twin Oscar learned 'water' in a world filled with XYZ.)

These questions strike deep at the heart of what you are asking. What is a "protein?" What is a "fat?" What is an organic molecule? All of these terms are subject to the linguistic challenges Putnam suggests in his Twin Earth experiment.

No matter how big and how mighty the universe is, the semantics of our dreams will always reach even further.


Life only requires a few things, and maybe even not all of those.

  1. Cell membranes. An inside and an outside. Me and not-me. Us vs Them.
  2. Some sort of initial chemical replication that allows for evolution.
  3. An energy differential in the environment to exploit.

Wait a few billion years and bam, they're inventing Internets and spaceships.

  • $\begingroup$ I like to wonder about how many possible things there are in the universe $\endgroup$ – dulindraxe Dec 27 '16 at 2:29

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