Imagine other relationships, other evolutions! In the eyes of Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the human being – or more accurately, the historical-technological being – is not associated with the apes. Who are very thankful, by the way. As things stand, our nearest relatives are the diatoms, because they, like us, are on excellent terms with silicon.
Diatoms, a type of algae, build the spectacular ornamental symmetries of their shells – they are either round bivalves or boat-shaped, and only a scanning electron microscope can reveal their intricacy to our eyes – from silicates in the sun-filled upper layers of the ocean: SiO2 and Si(OH)4. Their metabolism maintains the amount of silicon in the ocean at a consistently low level. When megatons of diatoms sink to the ocean floor, they carry oceanic silicon into the Earth’s crust.
We, on the other hand, do not eat or digest silicon; it is foreign to our metabolism. But when biologists study enzymes, such as those involved in the diatoms’ silicon metabolism, they simulate the complicated structures of those enzymes on the computer, using 3-D programs whose complexity puts Hollywood in the shade. Then they say: This is how the enzymes look “in silico.” But we are still a long way from resolving how they look “in amino,” as proteins. The biologists’ regard éloigné thus returns digital technology to the geologic record. The structure of integrated circuits is embedded in the p-n-p and n-p-n junctions of extremely pure, then calculatedly adulterated crystals of silicon and germanium. We engineer these crystals from the most common element of the Earth’s crust: the silicates in sand and quartz. They are stones that think, “Brilliant Pebbles,” or as Friedrich Kittler put it, alluding to a novella by Ludwig Tieck: “We live in the runic mountain of magnificent worlds of stone.”
The historical-technological being, too, exists as a living creature in this crystalline world. Almost everything we perceive runs on silicon: digital machines, interfaces, smart objects, embedded processing, solar cells. If perception – along with movement, molecular transport, and bio-synthesis – is a part of active metabolism, then we perceptually “metabolize” silicon. The historical-technological being has become a relative of the diatoms.
Original article by Peter Berz