Could the sun be conscious? Enter the unorthodox world of panpsychism

The nature of consciousness, how it arises, and how it relates to the physical world has been a major philosophical and scientific topic of debate for as long as humanity has thought. Are mind and body separate? Some think yes, others think no, but a third camp expresses an in-between and even more radical idea: everything in the universe has consciousness, and that includes the sun.

This view of the universe is known as panpsychism. The idea that consciousness arises from the physical world is known as physicalism, although we remain uncertain about what makes animals conscious. Instead, the idea of ​​mind and matter as two separate entities falls under the dualistic view of the world. Panpsychism acts as a bridge between the two. Consciousness arises within us because consciousness is present in everything.

Similar concepts have been seen in religions and philosophies around the world and for millennia. The concept has had a recent revival in analytic philosophy and there is a particularly unorthodox article discussing the potential consciousness of the sun, written by biologist Rupert Sheldrake, known for his work on morphic resonance – the belief that similar organisms somehow share telepathic connections and that species share collective memories.

In an article published in 2021 in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Sheldrake argues for the consciousness of the sun and all other stars. The biologist states that “consciousness, awareness or experience can be present at many levels of complexity in self-organizing systems.” Sheldrake argues that this takes us away from the physicalist concern about how consciousness emerged from a simple system and instead brings consciousness to stars, solar systems, galaxies, and the universe as a whole.

“Consciousness doesn’t have to be limited to the brain,” Sheldrake told Popular Mechanics. “The link between mind and physical systems appears to be through rhythmic electromagnetic fields, which are of course present in our brains. They are also present in and around the sun, and these can provide the interface between the solar mind and the sun’s body.”

Now there are many philosophical and scientific arguments that challenge panpsychism, but in the article we were particularly intrigued by what the consequences would be of a conscious sun and the 100 billion other conscious stars that make up the Milky Way. For example, one proposed consequence is that the stars can move by releasing directional jets that place them where they want.

According to Sheldrake’s research, some suggest that stars do not move under the gravitational influence of dark matter, but steer themselves into the correct position. As always, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Although stellar jets exist in many objects, stars never have a way of propelling themselves.

There’s also an incredible map of the Milky Way courtesy of the European Space Agency’s Gaia Observatory. And it not only shows the position of nearly two billion stars, but also their motion. With this data we can turn back the clock on the Milky Way and see how stars have moved over billions of years.

If stellar motions that weren’t governed by the laws of gravity existed in a universe where dark matter was supposed to exist, scientists would surely scream about them. The motion of stars as if there was much more matter than we could see is how dark matter was imagined in the first place.

In the article, much of the argument is based on the sun’s magnetic field and its complex nature. But if we want to consider something even more complex, we need to look at Uranus’ magnetic field. Unlike the solar dynamo or Earth’s magnetosphere, Uranus’ magnetic field is off-center, and can open and close and rotate daily. Significantly more complex than the Sun, but perhaps “Is Uranus conscious?” doesn’t quite have the same sound.

[H/T: Popular Mechanics]

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