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Dyson Tree (wikipedia.org)
176 points by Petiver 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments

Kinda sad that Integral Trees doesn't make the list. Although it doesn't quite fit the definition... I'd say Niven's was almost certainly a derivative twist on the same idea.


It's at the bottom in the 'see also' section.

the list does miss brin & bedfords 'heart of the comet' though

This is weird. I am sure “Die Terranauten” discussed this topic at length (one of the main ideas was that a plant based galaxy wide civilization had been one of the first to ‘conquer’ space). However the series ended in 1981.


It often seems to me that SF ideas and concepts are treated as mere notions, whereas the mere notions of scientists are treated as - grander sounding - hypotheses.

It really depends. In the 30s and 40s, many scifi [comic books] were largely based on well defined and plausible rocket theory. Hollywood though...

I guess the distinction between scientific hypotheses and scifi that extends beyond well understood science is that you have to have scientifically rigorous reasons to think the hypothesis might be true. So not mere notions, e.g. there is no cold fusion reaction hypothesis anymore.

Thought the sameaafter reading the article.

I guess it simply shows that atuhtority is the most important quality you need for breakthrough ideas and whether you are doing science or writing fiction is not so relevant :)

Relatedly, anyone know of anybody working on genetically modifying trees to create human-habitats on earth? It’s a fun and crazy concept, but perhaps it’s still far too technically difficult to approach with current tools.

Imagine planting many acres of genetically-modified trees and coming back in forty years to the primary structures of thousands of beautiful forest homes :P

As far as I understand it, the mechanisms that trees and other plants use to make themselves plant-shapes wouldn’t generalize to other useful things like houses; e.g., the algorithm is something akin to an L-system [0], and there’s only so much one can do with that.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-system

Well you could program a die off of cells, so internals of a tree could possibly be hollowed out with rooms.

What if you use multiple trees together? A system of L-systems surely allows for more complexity?

EDIT: Might even lead to interesting "composite materials" if you can get different wood types to (semi)fuse together naturally.

A step back from that, you can grow trees into furniture and bridges. So I suppose you could grow trees into the shape of houses, or house frames.



The baobab tree[1] is already pretty close - it grows to large circumferences and has hollow trunks.

1. https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Baobab-Tree-Home/

As an aside, every time one of Dyson's ideas comes up on HN, I have to google, and so far have always had the same reaction: Holy crap, Freeman Dyson is still alive.

And his ideas successfully manage to blow my mind every single time. They are so human-centric, yet so vast and exploratory.

I hope he's signed up for cryonics so he'll maybe be able to see his ideas in action.

Before clicking I thought it was another odd vacuum for gardening applications, given that there is already a model called the Dyson Animal.

And I thought it was a data structure possibly inspired by the idea of Dyson spheres.

I'm of the same vein, fully thought this was going to be some data structure.

Technically it is a vacuum tree (at least initially).

I’m confused. Wouldn’t it be way too cold to grow anything? And there wouldn’t be enough sunlight?

Space (without an atmosphere) near the Earth either too hot or too cold. The Moon gets up to 127°C during in the sunlight and -173° when during a lunar night.

My guess is you would use Dyson Trees inside hollowed out asteroids that are rotating, with the axis of rotation constantly pointing towards the sun. The window that lets the sunlight through (and keeps the new atmosphere in) could be adapted so the trees do not get too hot.

You could also have an asteroid on a circular orbit around the Sun at a distance of 1.7AU. There, in constant daylight the temperature should be just right (300°K, 26°C) when constantly facing the Sun.

Yes, I'm not exactly sure how this would work.

Trees/plants still respire, so they would need some sort of atmosphere to be present within the comet. But if it's sealed so that gases don't get out, how does sunlight get in?

Not to mention that the whole plan goes bottoms up if the comet just happens to pass close enough and most of it evaporates into space. There goes your "tree" along with it.

I was trying to envision this myself, and at some point was wondering if maybe the comet had some translucent ice, then light could get through and gases could stay in? Still, if it's cold enough to maintain the ice, I don't see how a tree is going to have a good time with it.

Atmosphere isn't even a requirement for life yet they talk about it as if it is... Water is the main requirement and if it's all frozen there can be no life as it exists on earth.

I read Swanwicks "Vacuum Flowers", but didn't realise the Dyson colonies were named after a particular idea of Dysons.

I love the idea of a Dyson swarm. Just build some self-replicating factories on Mercury for building sun-orbiting PV arrays and our energy problems are solved for the next million years or so! Short-sighted argument against doing this at[1].

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/04/03/destroying-...

Yeah, that article doesn't make a very strong case against a Dyson swarm. At least it's been updated with an admission that any remotely sane approach is practical after all (rather than the assumed "set up a 1-square-km solar array, in the same orbit as Earth for some reason, and power yourself solely with that while you dismantle an entire planet and stash it in a warehouse somewhere before starting to build more solar panels"). Although the second update shows a continued lack of understanding - who on (or off) Earth would expect a planetary-scale engineering project to take less than 100 years?!

I've skimmed the follow-up article and I'm not going to read it in depth to avoid spending the morning shouting at clouds.

Anyway I digress. Self-replicating factories sound great but eventually they're gonna start evolving no matter how tightly we try and lock them down, at which point we'd better hope the planet we're living on doesn't look too much like lunch to them. (I'm picturing the Greenfly mentioned in some Alistair Reynolds books.)

Perhaps before building a swarm around the sun we should build one around the earth to gain fine grained control over the weather, and it even doesn't need to be in the orbit, but can be a swarm of sun heated air balloons.

Just remember to remove any baobabs you see, these can get nasty real quick.

Would be nice to have a version of this for semi-deserts, a tree that collects and stores large amount of water during rainy season and then secretes it in the dry season.

Succulents and semi-succulents effectively do this. The one that sprung to mind was the Baobab tree, which stores up to 120,000 litres (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adansonia)

Trees in aggregate kind of do this already. Plant enough trees in an area and you change the local climate.

Yep. This is one of the reasons the current (and past) burning of the Amazon (and other forests) is such a problem. Forests like that create their own climatic systems, and strongly influence the weather on a local or regional level depending on their size. It's kind of like a bigger version of the effect you get when urban areas are "greened".

It’s more than just that too. Certain types of trees form forests near beaches and effectively act to pull water inland for other species of trees and plants. A lot of the things that need to be done (clean, maybe even desalinate?, water and carbon sequestration) may be done with trees.

It's easy to forget how old some genuses of trees are and that in some cases they did all of this many times before across many epochs of this planet. It is interesting to wonder what would happen if we just planted a lot more trees. Replaced some of our asphalted parking lots and flattened single crop agriculture fields back with forests.

Plants did all of these, but they did the minimal amount necessary for them to survive. We can use existing plants as a huge library to mix and match behavior to get what we need. Unfortunately "just replacing" won't produce a very good results, as in many places normal forests won't survive, and in many other places they won't produce enough food compared ti single crop fields. But with gene engineering we can change that.

Right, but the process of going from no trees to enough trees that can change climate enough to sustain themselves is very hard, and one bad year in the process can reset many year worth of progress.

The linked article made me think that perhaps it is possible to create a new species of a tree that would bootstrap this change naturally. With new gene editing methods, it should be possible to combine features of different plants to do this.

Kudzu Tree?

Every time I use a Dyson hand dryer (pretty popular in the UK), I think "Dyson sphere"!!!!

Star Trek was, what lately has been, TBBT making people love sciences, space, and dreaming big.

For the record, that's a different Dyson. Not to say it won’t trigger the thought though!

How the brain works for non-native speakers.... "Bart" for me will always bring Bart Simpson in mind first, because the first Bart I got to 'know' is from thr Simpsons, and my brain has is bound together those two points.

The same applies for the word "Dyson". I may have lunch with a Bob Dyson, but the word "Dyson" will always bring Star Trek and Dyson sphere in mind :)

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