Are Stars Conscious? A SCIENCE-FICTION THEME by Greg Matloff

Matloff, “Are Stars Conscious?: A Science Fiction Theme”, Eyepiece Submission, dr.2, Oct. 2015

I am known as a researcher in interstellar travel and related topics. But because of a mentor—Evan Harris Walker—who helped pioneer quantum consciousness and an undergraduate astronomy student who questioned mainstream assumptions regarding dark matter and informed my class of his opinion that astrophysics is in a similar situation to classical physics in 1900. In 2011, I began a scientific study of the possibility that anomalous motions of some stars are partially due to stellar volition.

Published in a 2012 issue of JBIS (the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society), and subsequent work (some of which can be accessed on-line in the Centauri Dreams astronomy blog) my ideas were partially due to an influential science-fiction novel, Star Maker, authored by British philosopher Olaf Stapledon in 1937. A few years ago, after a joint presentation with artist C Bangs (who is my wife) at the London headquarters of the BIS, the publisher of a small British press, Neil Shuttlewood, suggested that I author a popular book on the subject with C’s work included as chapter frontispieces. The resulting recently published book, Starlight, Starbright: Are Stars Conscious? (Curtis, UK, 2015) contains a lot of the relevant physics and astronomy. Two chapters are devoted to science-fiction authors who have explored the concept of sentient stars.

First was Stapledon. Because of his technological and scientific predictions in Star Maker, that are widely cited by scientists and engineers, his core metaphysics that stars are in some sense conscious is hard to ignore. Stapledon feels that stellar motion, although primarily due to gravitational effects, is in part due to the stars’ desire to maintain their position in a stellar dance. To their dismay, organic planetary residents discover this when their stars explode after attempts are made by advanced technological civilizations to alter stellar motions.

Arthur C. Clarke, also famous for his work in space science and technology, was an early protege of Stapledon. In his 1953 story “Expedition to Earth,” a ship from a galactic empire touched down on ancient Earth. Bertrand, one of the alien explorers, tells his human counterpart that the Empire’s stars are exploding and hopes that Earth, in its distant technological future, can avoid the same fate.

In 1957, influential British astrophysicist, Sir Fred Hoyle authored The Black Cloud. A sentient molecular cloud takes up residence in our solar system, inadvertently damaging Earth’s climate. It is warned away by radio astronomers using 1950’s-vintage technology.

American authors have also delved into this concept. One is physicist Greg Benford, who co-authored with Gordon Eklund If the Stars are Gods in 1957. Here, the authors investigate the possibility that stars possess a god-like intelligence as opposed to a simple herding instinct.

In my recently published book, I discuss contributions by many other authors. But it is clear that science-fiction plays a major role in introducing new concepts to science.