IS OUR SUN CONSCIOUS?
I have been studying our Sun for some years, focusing on the influence of erratic solar behaviour (erratic from a modern human perspective) on the course of human development and civilisation. One of my major conclusions is that the last ice age ended abruptly circa 9700 bce due to a major solar outburst (or series of outbursts). Solar activity is intimately tied to climate changes on Earth, which in turn have major effects on life on our planet, including humanity.
Following the solar agitation and disturbances that ended the last ice age and possibly continued for several millennia, during the last 8,000 years or so the Sun has been relatively stable, with periods of quiescence.1For example, in historical times during the Maunder Minimum (circa 1645 to 1715) the Sun appeared to “shut down” or go dormant (as reflected in the rarity of sunspots), corresponding on Earth to the middle of the “Little Ice Age” (which in totality lasted from circa 1500 to circa 1860). At the end of the “Little Ice Age,” in 1859, the Sun “burped,” spewing out two coronal mass ejections (CMEs), accompanied by solar flares and other solar activity, that hit Earth. This become known as the Carrington Event (named after British astronomer Richard Carrington who observed a solar flare that preceded the main event). At the time unusual auroras were seen around the world due to the solar outburst, and the primitive mid-nineteenth century telegraph lines were overloaded by the incoming charged particles and accompanying geomagnetic storm.
Overall, in 1859 the solar outburst caused little more than minor damage and a bit of an inconvenience for those who utilised the telegraph lines. If a Carrington-level event were to hit today, the story would be much different! A Carrington-level event could knock out modern electronics around the globe, bringing computer systems, electrical grids, the Internet, communications, satellites, and much more to a standstill.2
In modern times, that is since about the middle of the twentieth century, the Sun has shown increasing signs of agitation, of variability, of erratic behaviour, of “mood swings,” the likes of which have not occurred since the solar outbursts that ended the last ice age. And the solar outbursts of circa 9700 bce and the succeeding millennia were orders of magnitude greater than the 1859 Carrington Event. Prior to 9700 bce sophisticated cultures – civilisation – had developed (witnessed dramatically by the archaeological remains found at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey). This early cycle of civilisation was devastated by the solar outbursts of circa 9700 bce and a solar-induced dark age (or SIDA for short, an acronym coined by my wife Catherine Ulissey) ensued for thousands of years until civilisation fully re-emerged in places such as Mesopotamia and Egypt during the period of circa 4000 bce to 3000 bce.
If we were to witness a repeat of the events, the solar outbursts, that ended the last ice age, there is no doubt our modern technological civilisation would be utterly decimated. We would be thrown back to a “stone age” and worse. Why do I say “and worse”? Because today we have hundreds of nuclear power plants around the globe. If a Carrington-level event, much less a solar outburst at the level of that at the end of the last ice age, were to hit us today, power lines would be disabled, the cooling systems and other components of nuclear power plants would be compromised, and we would have Fukushima type situations or worse around the world releasing radioactivity into the environment, compounding all of the other problems brought on by the failure of modern electronic and electrical systems.3
What are the chances of a Carrington-level event, much less a 9700 bce-level event, occurring in the foreseeable future? I suspect very high! I do not want to be a scaremonger or doomsayer, but there is evidence to suggest that our Sun is going through a volatile period, with major ups and downs in activity.4Some researchers suggest that although the Sun was very active in the last few decades, it has in recent years gone into a quiescence period. Some even claim we might be headed for another “ice age” (whether a mini or major ice age).5 I feel this is an invalid extrapolation of the limited data we have.
It could be that the Sun is once again going through a period of extreme variability, manifesting as a pattern of highs and lows in solar activity. That is, we should not extrapolate from a few years (or even a couple of decades) of relatively low solar activity to the conclusion that we are imminently entering another ice age. Indeed, the Sun may suddenly become active again, or it might undergo a major solar outburst even in the midst of an overall period of relative inactivity. The 1859 Carrington Event occurred between a solar minimum and a solar maximum during a rather mediocre solar cycle; based on short-term methods of analyses, it is unlikely to have been predicted even with modern techniques (at the time, scientists were not even aware of the modern concept of major solar outbursts so no one was even attempting such predictions).
Looking at the longer term pattern of solar activity over the last 12,000 years (reconstructed from such data as isotope concentrations in Greenland ice cores), my judgment is that our Sun is showing all of the same signs of extreme variability and disequilibria which occurred at the end of the last ice age.6 The implication is we may experience a major solar outburst in the very near future. Indeed, in July 2012 a significant solar outburst barely missed hitting Earth.7 If the eruption had occurred just a week or so earlier it would have been Earth-directed, and most likely destroyed or compromised much of our modern electronic and electrical technology and infrastructure. Even now, years later, we would still be attempting to rebuild the modern world. And the July 2012 event occurred during our current solar cycle,8 which has been unusually quiet overall, to the point that (as noted above) some people predict a partial solar shutdown and a “mini ice age” or even the beginning of a true ice age.
With this introduction, I want to turn to the subject of the title of this article: Is Our Sun Conscious? I wonder, in all seriousness, if it was just luck or good fortune that the July 2012 solar event was a near miss from Earth’s perspective, or if there was possibly something else involved?
A Conscious Sun?
For the past several years my wife, Catherine (Katie) Ulissey, has been following observations of the Sun on a regular – usually daily – basis. Solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can erupt from sunspots, so sunspots and their activity are a potential short-term indicator of an impending major solar outburst that, if Earth-directed, could cause massive devastation to our modern technological society, as might have happened if the July 2012 solar eruption had hit us.
Katie often comments to me that otherwise very active sunspots strangely lessen the severity of their activity, producing smaller solar flares and so forth, or even appear to become temporarily dormant and shut down their activity, when they are Earth-facing. Then, as they move around to the side and back of the Sun (as viewed from Earth; the Sun rotates on its axis and of course Earth revolves around the Sun), these same sunspots begin firing again, increasing their activity dramatically. It is as if the Sun is aware of Earth’s presence and is attempting to avoid spewing a major solar outburst (whether a solar flare, CME, or some other type of solar eruption) directly at us.
Katie is not the only observer to comment anecdotally on this apparent pattern;9 others have independently suggested, perhaps in jest, that our Sun is consciously attempting to protect us from being hit by a major solar outburst. In analogy, imagine a person who is about to sneeze, but is able to hold it long enough to turn away and avoid sneezing on someone else.
This may seem like a very weak basis for suggesting our Sun has the property of consciousness, but there is additional evidence. The Sun is a fairly typical star, and it has been found stars exhibit anomalous behaviours that are not easily explained by the theories of standard physics.
As physicist Gregory Matloff (New York City College of Technology) has discussed,10 stars do not appear to move in the ways that standard theories, such as formulations based on Newton’s theory of gravity, predict. Stars typically move around the centre of the galaxy in which they are located. Standard theory predicts that stars closest to the galactic centre should revolve more rapidly than those farther from the centre (just as Mercury travels more rapidly around the Sun than does Saturn, which is much farther from the Sun). However, this proves not to be the case. On the whole, stars farther from the galactic centre move more rapidly than stars closer to the galactic centre; it is as if all of the stars are mounted on a huge rotating wheel. Another problem with standard theory is that the masses of clusters of galaxies (as best as can be calculated based on our observations) are not great enough to hold the clusters together gravitationally. To address these issues, the concept of “Dark Matter” has been hypothesised. In simple terms, Dark Matter, which according to its advocates is said to compose the majority of matter in the universe, is essentially undetectable except for its gravitational effects on visible matter and radiation. Supposedly, Dark Matter can explain the anomalous movements of stars and the clustering of galaxies.
Do Stars have a Will of Their Own?
There is another explanation that could also account for the anomalous behaviour of stars, an explanation that does not need to invoke undetected Dark Matter: stars are conscious and move according to their own will or volition. In one of his articles, Gregory Matloff defines “a conscious entity as one capable of volition – it has enough self-awareness that it can decide to take (or not take) a selected action.” Thus “a conscious star can decide to alter its motion to participate in the great stellar dance as stars orbit the centres of their galaxies. Such a star need not have a human-level or god-like consciousness. A simple herding instinct is enough.”11 The existence of such consciousness in stars, which are following a herding instinct (similar to a school of fish swimming together or a flock of birds flying together), would adequately explain their otherwise anomalous motions. Is this a simpler explanation than invoking Dark Matter?
Matloff has also discussed several potential mechanisms by which stars might be able to express their will and consciously change their trajectories. The best established mechanism is the use of jets of material emitted from the star. Young stars emit intense jets of material, often bipolar but not necessarily symmetrical. Asymmetric jets exuded by young stars could be used to preferentially change and adjust their trajectories. Mature stars, such as our Sun, emit a “solar wind” consisting of electrically-charged particles. Variations in the intensity, in various directions, of the solar wind could change the path of the star. One must remember that, as Matloff points out, changes in the trajectory of a star that may be “significant” to the star over its long lifetime of millions or billions of years (our Sun is estimated to be nearly five billion years old) may appear trivial or imperceptible to us. The use by our Sun of jets and variations in the solar wind to express will and volition could be related to the idea that our Sun may consciously attempt to avoid throwing solar eruptions toward Earth – and if this is the case, it is then also the case that the Sun could consciously decide at some point to hit Earth with a major solar outburst. Is this what happened at the end of the last ice age, circa 9700 bce? Or was the solar outburst at that time an “accident”?
Matloff tentatively suggests two other mechanisms by which our Sun, or any conscious star, might theoretically change its trajectory: 1) Variations in the pressure of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, given off by the star; and 2) by psychokinesis. Electromagnetic radiation pressure seems like a plausible possibility, although little work has been done to model how great the variation would have to be to change a star’s trajectory. Possibly changes in electromagnetic radiation could be used volitionally by stars for other purposes, such as communication among themselves. Psychokinesis (also known as telekinesis or mind-over-matter) has, to my satisfaction, been demonstrated to exist among biological organisms such as humans.12 Whether psychokinesis could (or does) exist among other conscious entities, such as possibly stars, is currently unknown – although I am not aware of any theoretical reason why it should not.
But how can the Sun and stars be conscious when they are not even biological organisms, at least not in the sense of carbon-based cellular creatures like ourselves? A common notion, which is not to say it is correct (all too often common notions and “common sense” are wrong), is that consciousness and volition (at least in nature) can only occur in carbon-based forms of biological organisms, and many people would limit the notion of consciousness to “advanced” biological organisms like vertebrates, mammals, or, according to some, only human beings. However, various researchers have argued that consciousness may arise at a quantum level and may not be limited to familiar biological organisms such as ourselves.
For instance, the British physicist Sir Roger Penrose (University of Oxford) and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff (The University of Arizona Medical Center) have developed the theory of orchestrated objective reduction as an explanation for how consciousness arises. Essentially, an orchestrated coherent series of quantum reductions (wave function collapses) result in moments and sequences of consciousness and choice or decision-making.13 As it turns out, according to such analyses, the conditions conducive to the manifestation of consciousness may occur on and in stars. Indeed, at a more fundamental level, consciousness may be inherent to the manifestation of matter and exist throughout the universe – with most conscious beings taking forms other than “biological organisms,” yet we as carbon-based life forms may have a difficult time recognising consciousness in other forms of matter. The physicist Max Tegmark (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA) has suggested consciousness may be a “state of matter” (“perceptronium”)14 – perhaps this is a state of matter that our Sun, and stars more generally, possess.
“Afterthoughts” of Our Sun
Possibly related to the concept of a conscious Sun is research that found a correlation between patterns in solar activity and earthquakes on Earth.15 Furthermore, there may be a correlation between earthquakes and major atmospheric disturbances, such as cyclone activity, on our planet.16 If our Sun is conscious, does it consciously influence storm activity, weather patterns, and earthquake activity on our planet? Or are these types of phenomena linked to the Sun, yet “afterthoughts” from the Sun’s perspective? Is the Sun sometimes rather oblivious to its influence on Earth, just as we might be rather oblivious when we unknowingly destroy a colony of bacteria or step on an ant mound by mistake?
When we look at traditional mythologies and ancient beliefs, many past cultures considered the Sun and stars to be conscious entities – and this can perhaps be seen as the basis of astrology. The gods were associated with stars (including objects in the sky that we now classify as planets), and the ancient Egyptians (to give but one example) hoped to be united with the Sun and stars upon death. Plato in Timaeus (circa 360 bce) wrote, “And when he [the Artificer] had compounded the whole, he portioned off souls equal in number to the stars and distributed a soul to each star…”17
Building on such ideas, my wife Katie has speculated that perhaps when human beings die their hydrogen is released (hydrogen can potentially carry information, and many would argue that information is an essential element of consciousness) and at least some of the hydrogen escapes to space where it collects as clouds, collapses under gravitational attraction, is compressed, and ultimately gives rise to stars – stars which may retain some of the information, some of the consciousness aspects, of the former beings who gave up their hydrogen. In this way, perhaps we (and possibly all biological organisms) may be reborn as stars. Of course, this is a highly speculative hypothesis,18 but if we can demonstrate our Sun and other stars are conscious, it may lend support to the idea that ultimately (perhaps after a number of incarnations on Earth) we join our consciousnesses with those of the Sun and stars.
At this point some would suggest I have crossed the boundary from “science” to “science fiction,” but I prefer in this case the label of “speculative science.” What might we conclude? Is our Sun conscious? While the consciousness of our Sun and the stars has yet to be definitively demonstrated, I do not think we should simply dismiss the idea. Indeed, a conscious Sun and stars may go a long way toward explaining various “anomalies” that standard paradigms cannot readily accommodate.