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Tyranids: Biological Possibility or Fanboy Myth?
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Old 02 Jun 2007, 07:37   #1 (permalink)
Shas'El
 
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Default Tyranids: Biological Possibility or Fanboy Myth?

Actually, I kinda like things how they are. The only real complaint I have is how things vary; I wish it was more streamlined.

I enjoy reading the Necron fluff. I like how it shows what happened before the rise of today's factions. That's one reason that drew me to them. I saw the codex, they looked interesting, and I started reading the fluff. That's always the first thing I do when I see a new codex. I couldn't put it down. I sat in the store and read the entire fluff in the codex, so then I bought it and made an army. Why? Because I love the feel of the army, through it's fluff and how it is represented in-game. I love seeing how the Nightbringer instilled the vision of death into many races as they were young, or how the Deceiver is plotting some grand scheme.

That's also the same reason I play Tyranids. They are my favorite 40k army. Do I enjoy playing the army and gaming with it? Sure! But I love reading the fluff more. Again, right as the new codex came out, I read all the fluff first. The Tyranids are the ultimate villains in the 40k universe. There is no way a casual glancer would suspect them being the good guys. They pose the greatest threat to the entire 40k universe. The evil of Chaos is laughable compared to the Tyranids, and I think that's how it should be. They are innumerable, vast, insatiable, and I know that the galaxy will eventually be consumed by them. So? I love playing an army with that identity. Most players don't know of the Tyranid victories, but every player is familiar with the Battle for MacCragge, and the classic Space Marines vs the Tyranids clash.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder
They're also immune to nearly all forms of attack that make the idea of a purely biological army an utterly laughable concept, to boot... :
How is something biological an "utterly laughable concept?" They are super organisms, they very height of evolution and adaption. They can manipulate other's DNA to their own advantages. They are the most technological race in the 40k universe, this taken into consideration.
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Old 02 Jun 2007, 13:24   #2 (permalink)
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Default Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tyrant Chrysaor
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder
They're also immune to nearly all forms of attack that make the idea of a purely biological army an utterly laughable concept, to boot... :
How is something biological an "utterly laughable concept?" They are super organisms, they very height of evolution and adaption. They can manipulate other's DNA to their own advantages. They are the most technological race in the 40k universe, this taken into consideration.
I hate to break it to you, but I'm afraid you're suffering from something called a Brain Bug. Don't worry, most Sci-fi fans do. It's nothing bad, just a misconception.

I'd explain it to you myself, but its been done to death already, so I'll let Wong explain it for you;

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Wong
In sci-fi nowadays, virtually all truly advanced technology seems to be "organic". From Tin Man in Star Trek to the Vorlons and Shadows in B5 and now, the latest additions to the Star Wars "extended universe" (which has obviously been polluted by sci-fi chic), the theme is omnipresent and inescapable: bio-technology is vastly superior to primitive heavy metal technologies. The motivation for this theme is tinged with human conceit; could it be that we simply want to believe that organic life is vastly superior to any piece of technology, because we refuse to accept that we are an insignificant organic speck in the history of the universe? Because like it or not, we are an insignificant speck in the history of the universe. If the time between the Big Bang and the formation of our solar system were one day, the entirety of human history would take place in less than one second, before lunch on the second day.

Either way, the popularity of the organic technology myth is somewhat baffling. One of the most baffling parts is the fact that it is assumed to be more "advanced". Here's a question for you: when did we produce the first armoured vehicle? Was it in World War 1, with the tank? Or was it centuries earlier, with the mounted knight? Did you know that the mounted knight was made possible through selective horse breeding (ie- organic technology), which produced horses big and strong enough to carry the heavy armoured riders into battle? Do you believe that sheepdogs were always like that? Dogs and horses could both be described as examples of bio-technological tools, engineered by humans for specific tasks through the use of applied evolutionary scientific principles (even if they didn't have a name for them at the time). Bio-weapons are nothing new either, having been used since at least medieval times (besieging armies would catapult diseased carcasses into a fortress). And what about bio-armour? Sorry, but all I can say is "been there, done that". Wooden ships had bio-armour, remember? Would you seriously want to pit bio-armour against the 120mm smoothbore gun of an M-1 Abrams? There is a reason we switched to steel, people! Think about it.

At no time have we ever seen a shred of evidence that biological systems can realistically supplant wholly artificial technologies in applications such as large-scale power generation, armour, naval or aircraft propulsion, military weaponry, bridges and buildings, etc. In fact, all of those technologies were developed to replace biological systems! Biological systems are chemically reactive and structurally feeble in comparison to metals and ceramics, and both of these characteristics can spell doom for a starship. Furthermore, there are strict limits to how much this will ever change, because chemical reactivity is a prerequisite for life! Moreover, living cells requires a constant supply of nutrients, which means that all living cells must always be semi-permeable. Compare this to a massive, inert piece of metallic or ceramic/metal composite armour, and you can quickly see the problem for organics.

"But biological organisms can self-repair!" some might say. However, they are far more easily injured in the first place, and the kind of attack that a biological organism can repair won't even scratch the surface of a metallic armoured vehicle. "But biology is the most powerful force this planet has ever known!" some might say. Sorry, but that's one of those non-literal figures of speech, like "the pen is mightier than the sword" or "faith can move mountains". Nuclear fusion (particularly from the Sun) is far more powerful. "But the roots of a tree can push up sidewalks!" some might say. Sorry, but it's no big deal to push up a sidewalk. A sidewalk is just stones laying on gravel and dirt, and the routine thermal contraction and expansion of the ground every winter destroys more sidewalk slabs and miles of pavement than tree roots ever could.

Organic technology is good for medical applications (obviously, since we are organic) and bioweapons are certainly dangerous (although they're also fraught with difficulties). However, the idea of organic space combat vehicles and high-powered propulsion and/or weapons systems is just silly. Even organic computers are a highly questionable idea in sci-fi, since we are already researching quantum computing today, and quantum computing operates on a smaller scale than organics can. Sci-fi writers and fans who tout the omnipotence of organic technology tend to identify areas in which it is superior, while ignoring all of the areas in which it is vastly inferior. As usual, they simplify variables out of the equation, and the remaining oversimplified idea becomes a brain bug.

[hr]

"Captain, I'm picking up an approaching ship."

"What can you tell me about it?"

"Oh my God, it's organic! What are we going to do, Captain?"

"There's not much we can do, Ensign. Organic technology is so far beyond our grasp that we can't even imagine the power they must have. All we have is high-powered guns, nuclear missiles, and our primitive metallic armour. What are you reading from their incredibly advanced bio-ship?"

"Their ship is soft and flexible. Its construction materials are semi-permeable and laced with a network of delicate circulation passages. Instead of using impermeable high-density materials, it's made from countless tiny thin-walled cells which tend to rapidly break down in the presence of corrosive chemicals or radiation."

"What? And we were supposed to be afraid of this? Open fire!"

SQUISH ...
Other brain bugs; Gravitics, Evolutionary Transfigurations, and Exploding Fusion Reactors. Oh, and of course, Plasma Weapons.
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Old 02 Jun 2007, 15:35   #3 (permalink)
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Default Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Wong is once again making very strong statements about a topic in which has no idea what he is talking about. You would be better off trying to explain it yourself. At the end of the day, you are still talking about science fiction. It is folly to assume that you know how it works and why in the absence of any solid information. But even so, biological systems are more than capable of precipitating and manipulating inorganic materials as part of their growth. In our own natural world, we commonly see it with calcium and silicon. But there is nothing to say that a species that has had billions of years to evolve in different conditions could not do it with heavier ions. We assemble almost all of our heavy technology by melting metals, then milling the cooled stock into designed forms or casting the molten metal. We already have myriad examples in microbiology of organisms shaping components at the atomic scale by influencing where different ions precipitate. Some of them are pretty spectacular. But the things they build are mostly just calcium. They aren't living tissue. Even on earth, there are a number of organisms that can produce shells and other structures that are relatively impermeable, hard, and do not require further nutrients to maintain. And you don't have to evolve naturally to a state where you skin serves as a starship hull. You only have to reach a point where your ability to manipulate your environment is easier to do with your own limbs than it is with things you gather and assemble. Most biotech races in science fiction are not evolving into their forms. They just have a control over organic processes that lets them do the same thing that we might do with inorganic machines.

Wong is making the assumption that biotechnology doesn't make sense just because some of these things are not observable in life on Earth at the scale we are interested in. He assumes that they should not be possible in any life. It is not a "brain bug". It is just something he doesn't like and at the same time doesn't really understand.
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Old 02 Jun 2007, 22:39   #4 (permalink)
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Default Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Khanaris
Wong is once again making very strong statements about a topic in which has no idea what he is talking about. You would be better off trying to explain it yourself. At the end of the day, you are still talking about science fiction. It is folly to assume that you know how it works and why in the absence of any solid information.
Tell me something I don't know. But of course, folly is why we're here discussing this to begin with...

Quote:
But even so, biological systems are more than capable of precipitating and manipulating inorganic materials as part of their growth. In our own natural world, we commonly see it with calcium and silicon. But there is nothing to say that a species that has had billions of years to evolve in different conditions could not do it with heavier ions.
Like what? What are they going to precipitate to match a square of battleship armour plate? Or tank armour, even? What mechanism are they going to cause long-range damage by? They can't possibly hurl anything fast enough to match the Imperium's guns, or lasers, rockets, fighters or much else for that matter...

There isn't a single macroscopic creature on this planet that is bulletproof, or even nearly so, even though we've hunted them with projectile weapons for thousands of years. Why should we expect anything grown to be so?

Quote:
We assemble almost all of our heavy technology by melting metals, then milling the cooled stock into designed forms or casting the molten metal.
Your point?

Quote:
We already have myriad examples in microbiology of organisms shaping components at the atomic scale by influencing where different ions precipitate. Some of them are pretty spectacular. But the things they build are mostly just calcium. They aren't living tissue. Even on earth, there are a number of organisms that can produce shells and other structures that are relatively impermeable, hard, and do not require further nutrients to maintain. And you don't have to evolve naturally to a state where you skin serves as a starship hull. You only have to reach a point where your ability to manipulate your environment is easier to do with your own limbs than it is with things you gather and assemble. Most biotech races in science fiction are not evolving into their forms. They just have a control over organic processes that lets them do the same thing that we might do with inorganic machines.
You need to actually read the article to deflate it, Khanaris.

We're talking about military technologies on all battlefields, not simply drifting through space uselessly. Armour is a must. Skin tends to be the best place for armour (it wouldn't be too effective if it were on the inside, after all...)

And the Tyranids did 'evolve' into their current forms. They're able to control their mutations like R&D, however.

Quote:
Wong is making the assumption that biotechnology doesn't make sense just because some of these things are not observable in life on Earth at the scale we are interested in. He assumes that they should not be possible in any life.
He doesn't claim that at all... He's saying that the idea that pure biotechnology can match or exceed our own is a laughable concept.

Quote:
It is not a "brain bug". It is just something he doesn't like and at the same time doesn't really understand.
And I suppose you do understand it, when your degree is in something entirely unrelated? (Not that his is any closer to the mark, but that's sorta my point...)

You can't match a fusion reactor with mere mitochondria, the energy density simply isn't high enough, which means that you can't feasibly match anything powered by it because you simply don't have the energy to.

Organic technology is far less efficient and weaker than our heavy metal-based tech as far as waging war is concerned.

So, Brain Bug it remains...
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Old 02 Jun 2007, 23:12   #5 (permalink)
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Default Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

I did read the article. It was ridiculous. I don't claim to fully understand the subject, although you don't know enough about my academic background for me to be interested in your opinion of it. I am simply not arrogant enough to pretend that I do, as Wong does. And I certainly know a lot more about the subject than he seems to, if that article is any indication of his level of familiarity.

A few thousand years is nothing to a species that lives for ten. You think a deer is spontaneously going to mutate body armor? It doesn't work that way. It would take millions of years of selective adaptation for that sort of change to occur. And even then, if the rate of adaptation was not fast enough to keep the population stable, they would simply become extinct, which is far more likely. Wong makes this point fairly clear in the paragraph after the one you quoted, which I do credit him for. But that certainly does not mean that these adaptations are not possible for organic systems to manifest in the right sort of environment. The environment is the limiting factor. If a species does not need a trait, it will not be favored to develop, as the advantage it grants may not be worth the increased cost of resources to use grow and maintain it. We can not look at the range of life on Earth and say that it represents a good sample of the capabilities of all life, since the range of enviroments found on earth is not that extreme. There is an entire field of geology called Astrobiology that looks at this issue. It falls under geology because it is based on using the geologic record to look at how life developed here in the first place.

And more to the point, the Tyranids did not evolve into their current forms via natural selection, nor do most sentient races in science fiction that make extensive use of biotech. Rather than adapting through selective breeding of advantageous random mutations, they deliberately incorporate genetic information from other species, or generate artificial traits based on their requirements and understanding of their own biological chemistry. This dramatically reduces the time needed for new traits to manifest, because it is no longer random. And with parasitic adapation, there are indications that this sort of thing occurred very early on in the history of life on this planet in the transition from sub-cellular to cellular life forms. But it is not an ability that any higher organisms have retained. The Tyranids may well have been applying this ability for millions or even billions of years, selectivly choosing traits not just by breeding advantage, but by rationale collective decison. It is the elimination of the random element that Wong, and apparently you, are failing to factor in.

With regard to the systems themselves, armor plating is not as complicated as you seem to be implying. You melt iron, add other elements, and then you let it cool into an orderly structure, applying other processes to control how this happens. Then you apply heat treating to it, adding other chemicals to change the lattice structure of the material to make it less flexible or harder. But having to melt it is wasteful. If you were able to control the way in which the ions precipitated to the surface, you could assemble the same structure via a completely different process. Ceramics work in a similar way. Biology is just directed chemistry. So is all of our material science and engineering. It is just a question of how you get the reactions to occur. There are still a number of processes that biological systems do better than we can. You see it in everything from waste treatment to medicine to the chemical industry itself. And that is all with fairly simple organisms.

As I said before, this is not a "brain bug". You can believe whatever you want to, but you have no right to deny that right to others based on so little support as this. You are trying to look at the species that exist on earth today and pretend that they represent the absolute maximum capabilities of biological systems. That isn't a supportable statement even for scientific theorization, let alone the realm of science fiction. Wong certainly doesn't have the right to pass judgement on other writers given all the pseudo-scientific drivel he hosts.
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Old 03 Jun 2007, 01:07   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Organic technology is not accurately represented by evolution. Evolution favors a balance between the strength and energy. Trees have to make the wood weaker because making it stronger would require to much energy. However, if the biotech was grown in a lab and genetic engineering was used wood could be made much stronger.
You should read the Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke. In the books a species called Octaspiders rely almost completely on biotech. They have about our present level of regular engineering technology but they produce electricity and food with biotech and their equivalent of cars are also biotech.
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Old 03 Jun 2007, 23:36   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Khanaris
I did read the article. It was ridiculous. I don't claim to fully understand the subject, although you don't know enough about my academic background for me to be interested in your opinion of it.
Well I respect you for your honesty, then. Fair enough.

Quote:
I am simply not arrogant enough to pretend that I do, as Wong does.
He only claims to know enough, not everything there is to know...

Quote:
A few thousand years is nothing to a species that lives for ten. You think a deer is spontaneously going to mutate body armor? It doesn't work that way. It would take millions of years of selective adaptation for that sort of change to occur. And even then, if the rate of adaptation was not fast enough to keep the population stable, they would simply become extinct, which is far more likely. Wong makes this point fairly clear in the paragraph after the one you quoted, which I do credit him for. But that certainly does not mean that these adaptations are not possible for organic systems to manifest in the right sort of environment. The environment is the limiting factor. If a species does not need a trait, it will not be favored to develop, as the advantage it grants may not be worth the increased cost of resources to use grow and maintain it. We can not look at the range of life on Earth and say that it represents a good sample of the capabilities of all life, since the range of enviroments found on earth is not that extreme. There is an entire field of geology called Astrobiology that looks at this issue. It falls under geology because it is based on using the geologic record to look at how life developed here in the first place.
The dinosaurs had millions of years to develop into all sorts of wierd and wonderful forms, many chances to grow skin to rival Kevlar (certainly would have been useful) and what not. In spite of that, we still don't see any evidence of the sort of lunacy the Tyranids regularly dish out.

Quote:
And more to the point, the Tyranids did not evolve into their current forms via natural selection, nor do most sentient races in science fiction that make extensive use of biotech. Rather than adapting through selective breeding of advantageous random mutations, they deliberately incorporate genetic information from other species, or generate artificial traits based on their requirements and understanding of their own biological chemistry. This dramatically reduces the time needed for new traits to manifest, because it is no longer random. And with parasitic adapation, there are indications that this sort of thing occurred very early on in the history of life on this planet in the transition from sub-cellular to cellular life forms. But it is not an ability that any higher organisms have retained. The Tyranids may well have been applying this ability for millions or even billions of years, selectivly choosing traits not just by breeding advantage, but by rationale collective decison. It is the elimination of the random element that Wong, and apparently you, are failing to factor in.
I see your point there, but I do have a question; How does that suddenly allow them to grow bulletproof skin, muscles and hardened flesh to crush adamantium-plated vehicles, psychic powers, propulsion to travel for lightyears quickly enough to be an actual threat within a man's lifetime, etc?

It's propulsion that kills the whole idea, even if they could beat our defensive tech... What sort of propulsion systems could they use? I suppose they could make some sort of internal combustion engine from their bones, but then that makes them no different from our own vehicles because its the same thing with different materials.

What Wong and I think is ridiculous are things like Carnifexes and Tyranid Bioships, that can withstand things that would completely sterilize any life under normal circumstances. A Carnifex surviving Exterminatus is bunk. A Tyranid bioship surviving gigaton-level firepower at all is stupid. Repelling or dodging it, I could live with, but even so, how's it going to propel itself fast enough to dodge a lascannon?

Quote:
With regard to the systems themselves, armor plating is not as complicated as you seem to be implying. You melt iron, add other elements, and then you let it cool into an orderly structure, applying other processes to control how this happens. Then you apply heat treating to it, adding other chemicals to change the lattice structure of the material to make it less flexible or harder. But having to melt it is wasteful. If you were able to control the way in which the ions precipitated to the surface, you could assemble the same structure via a completely different process. Ceramics work in a similar way. Biology is just directed chemistry. So is all of our material science and engineering. It is just a question of how you get the reactions to occur. There are still a number of processes that biological systems do better than we can. You see it in everything from waste treatment to medicine to the chemical industry itself. And that is all with fairly simple organisms.
Quote:

We're always striving to reduce that number. And we invariably do, in far less time than the biological process took to get to that same point.
As I said before, this is not a "brain bug". You can believe whatever you want to, but you have no right to deny that right to others based on so little support as this. You are trying to look at the species that exist on earth today and pretend that they represent the absolute maximum capabilities of biological systems. That isn't a supportable statement even for scientific theorization, let alone the realm of science fiction.
We call it science fiction because its just that; fiction. We can't build lasguns, or create armies of Space Marines, and we recognize that a gigantic, lumbering, weapon-covered Leman Russ isn't really the best design for a tank, regardless of how that monstrosity would really fare against our own modern vehicles in a straight-up fight.

Would you call it an improvement if the Americans decided to use the ultimate biological ballistic computer (the Human brain) on its tanks instead of their current mechanical ones? Would you think it an improvement if we decided to have gorrillas hurl our shells at the target instead of using current methods? Why do you think they want to create battle drones to replace human pilots?

Care to find a biological substitute for the 120 mm smoothbore? Or better yet, a single creature in our entire biological history that can precipitate a material that will deflect a depleted uranium penetrator more reliably than modern composite armour for similar weight? What happens when your bio-tank gets scared? What if it suddenly develops a psychological disorder? What happens when the enemy deploys biological weapons? Chemical weapons? Your bio-tank's defensive reaction to the first puts it out of action, even if it survives, and it has no defense at all against the second, unless its blind and immobile because of its solid, sealed shell. What do you do when you're done with your bio-tank? Turn it off? You can't do that, because its an animal, and you have to keep feeding it and maintaining it until it eventually grows old and useless. Then it dies, and needs to be recycled. What do you do with the remains of such a creature? How does it get around fast enough to compete with a mechanical tank? How does it react fast enough to compete with, say, an AI-controlled battle drone? How do you make sure they all live up to standards?

You have to train them, a long and arduous process compared to simply climbing in and driving a modern vehicle.

[hr]

I could actually see the Tyranids being effective at ground combat by sheer numbers alone, but even then, there are problems...

Acid attack? Armour. Layer of hardened, non-reactive composite. No problem. We could throw acid back at them and it would be more effective. This could work better if they made something like a flamethrower instead, since the heat would play havoc.

Poison? Since when does a mechanical part care about poison? Effective against infantry if they adopt a biological version of our modern firearm solution. Moving on.

Bio small arms? Ok, effective against light infantry, but anything in full-body armour won't have to worry, never mind armoured vehicles and Space Marines. The only way this is going to be effective is if they emulate our own firearms and start using chitin bullets. Or if they started using lasers, but creating the mirrors would be difficult. In any case, this isn't what GW or anybody else has ever had in mind for them.

Burrowing attack? Ok, this would worry me. Taking the ground out from underneath can't be good for anything...

Gargoyles. One of the most worrisome since they probably have wings like kevlar... Until we use miniguns instead of missiles.

Larger bugs? Tanks. Depleted Uranium penetrators. They can't match us for range, speed, or accuracy. Endgame.

[hr]

They must go to great lengths to nullify the many weaknesses inherent in a purely biological army like the Tyranids.

In short, its generally a bad idea to start. The only reason it works is because they say so.
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Old 04 Jun 2007, 03:06   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder
The dinosaurs had millions of years to develop into all sorts of wierd and wonderful forms, many chances to grow skin to rival Kevlar (certainly would have been useful) and what not. In spite of that, we still don't see any evidence of the sort of lunacy the Tyranids regularly dish out.
I dunno, dinosaurs had some pretty wacked out stuff. Anyklosaurus? Those were armored. Sure it was mostly bone protecting it, but you must remember: by weight, bone is stronger than steel.

Look at insects. There are plenty of bizarre creatures there. Scorpions? Those are the tanks of the bug world. Armored to the teeth with deadly fast reflexes and weapons to boot. Bombardier beetles? Dragonflies?

There are many things that exist even in this world that don't seem like they belong. So why not a race that is bug like, but only our size? Somehow, I think if bugs were our size, or we their size, they would be much, much more frightening.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder
It's propulsion that kills the whole idea, even if they could beat our defensive tech... What sort of propulsion systems could they use? I suppose they could make some sort of internal combustion engine from their bones, but then that makes them no different from our own vehicles because its the same thing with different materials.
Since we have never encountered any kind of space dwelling creature, it would be unknown. It could be akin to a biological rocket engine, spurting gases.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder
We call it science fiction because its just that; fiction. We can't build lasguns, or create armies of Space Marines, and we recognize that a gigantic, lumbering, weapon-covered Leman Russ isn't really the best design for a tank, regardless of how that monstrosity would really fare against our own modern vehicles in a straight-up fight.

Would you call it an improvement if the Americans decided to use the ultimate biological ballistic computer (the Human brain) on its tanks instead of their current mechanical ones? Would you think it an improvement if we decided to have gorrillas hurl our shells at the target instead of using current methods? Why do you think they want to create battle drones to replace human pilots?

Care to find a biological substitute for the 120 mm smoothbore? Or better yet, a single creature in our entire biological history that can precipitate a material that will deflect a depleted uranium penetrator more reliably than modern composite armour for similar weight? What happens when your bio-tank gets scared? What if it suddenly develops a psychological disorder? What happens when the enemy deploys biological weapons? Chemical weapons? Your bio-tank's defensive reaction to the first puts it out of action, even if it survives, and it has no defense at all against the second, unless its blind and immobile because of its solid, sealed shell. What do you do when you're done with your bio-tank? Turn it off? You can't do that, because its an animal, and you have to keep feeding it and maintaining it until it eventually grows old and useless. Then it dies, and needs to be recycled. What do you do with the remains of such a creature? How does it get around fast enough to compete with a mechanical tank? How does it react fast enough to compete with, say, an AI-controlled battle drone? How do you make sure they all live up to standards?

You have to train them, a long and arduous process compared to simply climbing in and driving a modern vehicle.
Anything biological now would be ridiculous. Why? Because we don't have the means to create something like that. We don't have the knowledge, technology, or anything.
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Old 04 Jun 2007, 03:41   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord-General Thunder

I see your point there, but I do have a question; How does that suddenly allow them to grow bulletproof skin, muscles and hardened flesh to crush adamantium-plated vehicles, psychic powers, propulsion to travel for lightyears quickly enough to be an actual threat within a man's lifetime, etc?

It's propulsion that kills the whole idea, even if they could beat our defensive tech... What sort of propulsion systems could they use? I suppose they could make some sort of internal combustion engine from their bones, but then that makes them no different from our own vehicles because its the same thing with different materials.

What Wong and I think is ridiculous are things like Carnifexes and Tyranid Bioships, that can withstand things that would completely sterilize any life under normal circumstances. A Carnifex surviving Exterminatus is bunk. A Tyranid bioship surviving gigaton-level firepower at all is stupid. Repelling or dodging it, I could live with, but even so, how's it going to propel itself fast enough to dodge a lascannon?
I think what you are failing to recognize here is that anything you can do via inorganic engineering could be done through organic processes. Because in the end, they are both just chemistry. At some point in our development, we discovered how to manipulate our surroundings via a set of standard techniques. We can compensate for our frailty by manipulating our environment to protect our bodies. But what if we had discovered how to manipulate our bodies instead? That is the root of most biotechnology in fiction. Instead of using inorganic chemistry to adapt to problems, species like Tyranids do it via organic processes. And after that divergence, there is no real difference in what is possible. All the Tyranids need is inspiration and a threat to overcome. They can grow new and stronger weapons just like humans might design a newer and stronger rifle. If you knew enough about how the genetic code worked, you chemically develop and grow a creature that eats iron and secretes a steel shell and spits bullets. There are no more stringent limitations on that sort of thing than there are on any other sort of sci-fi technology. When you get down to, there is not much difference between biological engineering and inorganic nanotechnology.

Dinosaurs are irrelevant. Their development was guided solely by natural selection. They did not have the advantage of deliberate manipulation of their own genetic code that the Tyranids do. They could not adapt to their environment as quickly as it changed, and so they became extinct. Wong (and you) are making the mistake, as I said before, of assuming that organic processes should be limited solely by what we observe today and in the fossil record. And there is no good reason for this to be the case. Even with our current level of technology, we don't know enough about biological engineering to exert much more control than selective breeding. We can not "write" traits in the genetic code. The Tyranids evidently can, which is how they have been able to build propulsion systems, armor plating, metal-eating compounds, and all of their other squishy toys. There is nothing inherently superior about gunpowder and steel plate. If you can manipulate chemical compounds and material properties with engineering, it can theoretically be done with biology. You grossly underestimate how efficient, complex, and capable living tissues can be. The only reason "heavy metal technology" is superior in our understanding of warfare is that we understand it far better than we do more complicated living systems.

So if you can stomach superlasers and Warp travel, there really isn't any reason to doubt the plausibility of complex biotechnology. Wong's disregard for the subject is based on mere dislike, not on any real level of understanding. It is only "laughable" in the same manner as all imaginary technology that characterizes Science Fiction as a genre.
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Old 04 Jun 2007, 08:00   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Tyranids: biological possibility or fanboy myth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Khanaris
I think what you are failing to recognize here is that anything you can do via inorganic engineering could be done through organic processes. Because in the end, they are both just chemistry.
Some chemistry only happens at hundreds or thousands of degrees. As long as an organism is based on little sacs of polypeptides dissolved in water, there's a limit to what sort of chemistry it can achieve without using external, non-living tools.

That said, there's still plenty of chemistry that can be done in the narrow windows of temperature and pressure where life as we know it can exist. For example, we're only just beginning to learn about the extraordinary properties of some arrangements of carbon. I wouldn't like to rule out the possibility that someday that someday we may have enzymes that catalyse the production of nanotubes or buckyballs. That's the sort of thing that is only likely to arise through directed bioengineering, because it's too big a leap to achieve with the incremental changes allowed by evolution.

I can accept organic armour superior to the bone and chitin of the real world - though how much superior, I don't know. I can accept organic rockets - perhaps a tree whose core is a chemical explosive, which can be ignited to deliver a tiny seed at its crown into orbit. I have some trouble with the idea of active lifeforms in space - animals on Earth only maintain their high level of activity because most of their fuel is floating all around them in the form of oxygen. I have a lot of trouble with an organism manipulating plasma - I think we need to posit a biologically-produced high-temperature superconductor for it to be at all feasible. But then again, I have problems enough with the plausibility of many other things at this level in 40k - the Tyranids are not notably worse than the other factions in this respect.

The single aspect of the Tyranids which I find the most ridiculous is the idea of them incorporating DNA from other genomes into their own. This requires that every species in 40k uses the same biochemistry - the same water-as-a-solvent chemistry as life on earth, the same nucleic acid/polypeptide inheritance paradigm, the same set of base pairs and amino acids, and the same genetic code to relate the two (not to mention the same chirality for all of the above). And even with this implausible degree of similarity, they'd need to do so much editing to make a foreign gene benefit their genome that it would be easier to have designed the gene from scratch.
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