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Star Consciousness: An Alternative to Dark Matter

by Dr. Gregory L. Matloff

Gregory Matloff is a major figure in what might be called the ‘interstellar movement,’ the continuing effort to analyze our prospects for travel to the stars. Greg is Emeritus Associate Professor and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at New York City College of Technology as well as Hayden Associate at the American Museum of Natural History. Centauri Dreams readers will know him as the author (with Eugene Mallove) of The Starflight Handbook (Wiley, 1989) and also as author or co-author of recent books such as Deep Space Probes (2005), Living Off the Land in Space (2007) and Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel (2010). My own acquaintance with Greg’s work began with the seminal JBIS paper “Solar Sail Starships: The Clipper Ships of the Galaxy” (1981), and the flow of papers, monographs and books that followed have set high standards for those investigating our methods for going to the stars, and the reasons why we should make the attempt.

In the summer of 2011, Dr. Matloff delivered a paper in London at the British Interplanetary Society’s conference on the works of philosopher and writer Olaf Stapledon, the author of Star Maker (1937). One of Stapledon’s startling ideas was that stars themselves might have a form of consciousness. Greg’s presentation went to work on the notion in light of anomalous stellar velocities and asked what might make such an idea possible. His paper on the seemingly incredible notion follows. –PG


The Dark Matter hypothesis has been invoked as an explanation for the fact that stars revolve around the centers of their galaxies faster than can be accounted for by observable matter. After decades of failed experimental searches, dark matter has remained elusive. As an alternative to the Dark Matter hypothesis, a idea first presented by author Olaf Stapledon is developed in this paper. Stars are considered to be conscious entities maintaining their galactic position by their volition. It is shown that directed stellar radiation pressure and stellar winds are insufficient to account for this anomalous stellar velocity. Previous research rules out magnetism. A published theory of psychokinetic action that does not violate quantum mechanics is discussed, as is the suggestion that stellar consciousness could be produced by a Casimir effect operating on molecules in the stellar atmosphere. It is shown that a discontinuity in stellar velocities as a function of spectral class exists. Cooler red stars in the solar neighborhood move faster than hotter, blue stars, as would be expected if the presence of molecules in stars was a causative factor. Further research in experimentally validating the psychokinetic effect and demonstrating the role of the Casimir effect in consciousness is required to advance the concepts presented here beyond the hypothesis stage.

Introduction: Elusive Dark Matter

The motions of our Sun and other stars around the centers of their galaxies cannot be fully accounted for the presence of observable stellar or non-stellar matter. Possible modifications to Einstein-Newton gravitation do not seem appropriate since general relativity has easily passed every experimental test to date. Cosmologists hypothesize the existence of a non-reactive, non-observable but gravitating substance dubbed “dark matter” to account for the discrepancy. Dark matter seems to out-mass ordinary matter, according to many estimates [1].

But science requires observation or experimental validation for even the most beautiful of theoretical constructs. The continuing failure to detect or observe candidate dark matter objects or particles presents astrophysics with a very serious anomaly. Perhaps, as was the case in the late 19th century with the failure to confirm the ether hypothesis, the solution to the dark matter paradox may require a change in paradigm.

Image: Gregory Matloff (left) being inducted into the International Academy of Astronautics by Ed Stone.

Here, we reintroduce a 1937-vintage hypothesis of the British philosopher/science-fiction author Olaf Stapledon. In his monumental visionary novel Star Maker, Stapledon develops the thesis that stars are conscious and their motions around the galactic center are due to voluntary stellar adherence to the canons of a cosmic dance [2]. This is admittedly an extraordinary hypothesis. But if dark matter remains elusive and undetected no matter how expensive and elaborate the equipment seeking it, exotic alternatives cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Stellar Kinematics

Kinematics arguments presented here are elementary. Because of the low velocities (relative to the speed of light in vacuum), Newtonian dynamics is assumed. The reference frame is centered on the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Following Newton’s Second Law, force is defined:

F = MA

where M = mass and A = acceleration. Linear momentum is defined:

P = MV

where V= a star’s orbital velocity around the galactic center and kinetic energy is defined as:

KE = 0.5MV2

The Sun revolves around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at ~220 km/s [3]. Let us posit that a solar-type star must alter its velocity by 100 km/s in 109 years by applying a non-gravitational force. This amounts to an acceleration of ~3 X 10-12 m/s2 or about ~3 X 10-13 g.

A solar-type star has a mass of about 2 X 1030 kg [5]. The (assumed) constant value of the non-gravitational force is about 6 X 1017 Newtons. While this seems like a huge force, it is roughly a million times less than the Sun’s gravitational force on the Earth.

Another means of considering this force’s magnitude is to assume that a 100-kg human is able to produce the same acceleration on herself during a 100-year lifetime. The average magnitude of this force on the human is about 3 X 10-10 N. During the person’s life, the force alters her velocity by about 0.01 m/s or 1 cm/s. This is far below the threshold of detection.

But what might be the cause of this elusive stellar force? Magnetism has been ruled out, at least for many astrophysical objects [4]. So we can consider two other physical candidates—a directed stellar wind and a unidirectional radiation pressure force.

Assume that a star can generate a continuous, unidirectional flux of ionized particles. The velocity of this “jet” is the typical solar wind velocity of 400 km/s. By the Conservation of Linear Momentum, the star must expel one-quarter of its mass in the uni-directional jet to alter its galactic velocity by 100 km/s. Such an astronomical event has never been observed and would be very disconcerting (most fatal) if it occurred on the Sun. The solar wind of ionized particles is clearly inadequate to alter a star’s velocity by 100 km/s.

Now let’s see if the radiation pressure on the star produced by its radiant output could produce a velocity change of 100 km/s in a billion years, if all the solar electromagnetic flux was concentrated in a narrow beam. If the star’s mass is equal to that of the Sun—2 X 1030 kg [5], the required change in stellar linear momentum amounts to about 7 X 1018 kg-m/s. If the star has a solar radiant output of about 4 X 1026 watts [5] and we apply the standard equation for a photon’s momentum (P) [6],

P = E/C

where E is the photon energy and c is the speed of light, we see that the total maximum radiation-pressure-induced linear-momentum change on the star is about 1.3 X 1018 kg-m/s. A star can clearly not affect the required linear momentum change in this fashion.

Magnetism, particle flow, and photon flow all fail to produce the required alteration in star kinematics. But there is at least one theoretical possibility that remains.

The Psychokinetic Option

One physically possible explanation for anomalous stellar motion is psychokinesis. The hypothesis is here presented that the “mind” of a conscious or sentient star can act directly upon the physical properties (in this case the galactic velocity) of that star.

Although no claim is made that psychokinesis (PK) is part of mainstream physics or psychology, at least one serious theoretical study indicates that it is possible within the currently accepted framework of quantum mechanics [7].

According to the arguments presented in Ref. 7, consciousness (or “mind”) can directly influence the properties of a physical system by utilizing the energy present in quantum mechanical fluctuations. Consciousness may do this by affecting collapse of the wave function of the system to the desired quantum state.

Such anomalous phenomena as alteration in the output of random number generators and levitation could be explained by such a process [7]. Although energy is conserved in this model of PK, the authors of Ref. 7 acknowledge possible violations of the second law of thermodynamics.

If a 2 X 1030 kg star changes its velocity by (a somewhat arbitrary) 100 km/s in a 109 year time interval using this technique, its kinetic energy changes by 1040 Joules and the average power required for the stellar velocity change is about 3 X 1023 watts. This is about 0.1% of the Sun’s radiant output.

In order to demonstrate that such a process could be applicable to stars, it is necessary to present arguments that at least some stars are conscious. Perhaps a good place to start is to consider what some researchers have said about consciousness in humans and other life forms.

Consciousness in Humans, Animals, Plants and Stars

Defining consciousness is not easy. We are all rather certain of our own consciousness and relatively convinced that other humans are conscious as well. Most would agree that whales, dolphins, chimps, cats and dogs are conscious organisms as well. But how about snakes, corn, amoeba, and bacteria? Do in fact the mechanisms that support consciousness in the higher animals, in fact, require billions of years of organic evolution to develop? Or does consciousness in some form permeate the entire universe?

Some, like Walker, conclude that consciousness cannot be defined. Instead, it must be thought of as the immediate experience of the world around us and our internal thoughts and emotions [8]. Bohm believes that conscious thought is a process rather than an object [9]. Kafatos and Nadeau argue that this process in some perhaps pantheistic sense permeates the entire universe [10]. Many theories have developed to fit this elusive phenomenon into the framework of physical science. Some are reviewed and developed in Refs. 11 and 12.

The concepts developed in this paper accept that consciousness, like gravitation, is built into the structure of the universe [10]. Like gravitation, it cannot be explained by invoking fields or matter independently but requires the interaction of both.

Many of the quantum-physics-based theories of organic consciousness postulate that a universal consciousness field interacts with electrically conducting nanostructures within the cell or nervous system. In higher animals (such as humans) the ~20-nm inter-synaptic spacing in the brain’s neuronal structure have been suggested and analyzed by Evan Harris Walker as locations of the quantum-level events contributing to consciousness [13]. But all living eukaryotic cells contain microtubules. As suggested by Lynn Margolis, a form of “microbial consciousness” may be centered upon these nano-structures [14].

Various quantum phenomena within these nanostructures have been suggested as the primary “active agents” of consciousness. These include quantum tunneling [13], quantum entanglement [15], and the Casimir Effect [16]. It is known that the Casimir Effect—a pressure caused by vacuum fluctuations—is a component of molecular bonds [17].

We propose the following Casimir-Effect approach to stellar consciousness. It is assumed that the interaction with vacuum fluctuations produces a form of consciousness in all molecular bonds, although this is weaker than the forms of consciousness affected by the interaction of vacuum fluctuations with organic nanostructures such as microtubules and the inter-synaptic spacing. Admittedly this is a pantheistic approach to the universe. All molecules to a certain extent are conscious. Stars cool enough to contain stable molecules are therefore conscious, at least to some extent. Over a very long period of time, they can apply psychokinetic effects to maintain their galactic position and remove at least some of the requirement for the thus-far undetected dark matter.

Some Evidence Supporting the Hypothesis of Conscious Stars

The ideas presented above might fit in the realms of philosophy and science fiction rather than physics unless there were some observational supporting evidence. A literature search was conducted to determine whether there is a kinematical discontinuity in stellar proper motion depending upon star surface temperature and occurring in the stellar spectral classes for which molecular lines and bands appear.

Since the 1950’s, such a discontinuity has in fact been recognized. Dubbed Parenago’s discontinuity, it refers to the fact that red, cooler stars have faster motions in the direction of galactic rotation than do blue, cooler stars. Figure 1 presents from two sources a plot of the solar motion of main sequence stars versus star B-V color index [18, 19]. The data set from Binney et al is derived from Hipparcos observations of more than 5,000 nearby stars [19].

Table 1 presents the spectral types corresponding to the B-V color indices on the abscissa of Fig. 1 [20]. The Parenago discontinuity occurs at around (B-V) = 0.6, which corresponds to early G dwarf stars such as the Sun. Note that estimated main sequence residence times for various spectral classes are also given in Table 1 [21].

TABLE 1 B-V Color Indices, Corresponding Spectral Classes and Main Sequence Residence Times for Dwarf Stars


Binney et al [19] present the hypothesis that the faster galactic velocities of cool, red, long-lived stars is due to the fact that gravitational scattering causes a star’s velocity to increase with age. This seems unlikely since F0 stars reside on the main sequence for a few billion years. In the Sun’s galactic neighborhood, stellar encounters close enough to alter stellar velocities are very rare due to the large star separations involved. For stellar encounters to cause Parenago’s discontinuity, these would likely occur while the stars were resident in the open cluster from which they originated. Since open clusters disperse within a few hundred million years [1], such stellar encounters seem to be an unlikely explanation for Parenago’s discontinuity.

The explanation presented here is based upon telescopic observations of molecules in the spectra of stars of various spectral classes. Molecules are rare or non-existent in the spectra of hot, blue stars. As star radiation temperature decreases, molecular signatures in stellar spectra become more apparent. In dwarf stars, N2 rises in abundance as photosphere temperature falls below 6000 K [22]. The spectral signature of CO is present in the Sun’s photosphere [23]. As stellar photosphere temperatures fall to around 3200 K (M2 stars), spectral signatures of many molecules including TiO and ZrO become observable in the infrared spectra [23].


Although it is provocative that Parenago’s stellar velocities around the galactic center increase with molecular abundance in the stellar photosphere, this paper does not claim to prove stellar consciousness as an alternative to dark matter. There are many other more conventional alternative explanations for anomalous stellar kinematics that must be considered as well [24].

But the validity of some of the assumptions presented here will be confirmed if future work demonstrates that PK effects can be reliably repeated in a laboratory environment. Other assumptions will be validated if future nano-scale computers achieve some level of consciousness when the size of computing elements reaches molecular levels.

If stellar consciousness can be demonstrated to be a reasonable dark matter alternative, major challenges will be presented to the SETI community. How exactly do we communicate with conscious, possibly sentient entities with lifetimes so long that a century seems like a second? And if we can’t do this successfully, how do we prevent the catastrophic wars between planetary and stellar intelligence in Star Maker as human interplanetary capabilities mature?

Some may argue in favor of Decartes’ separation of consciousness from the physical world. This approach is no longer valid at the molecular level since consciousness seems to be necessary for quantum mechanics and quantum mechanics is a well-validated physical theory [12].

Adam Crowl has pointed out to the author that the hypothesis presented here addresses one line of evidence for dark matter—the flatness of galactic rotation curves. A second line of evidence—observations that galactic clusters do not have enough visible mass to keep from dispersing—is not addressed by the arguments presented here [25].

Some may disagree with the inclusion of PK as a candidate “propulsion system” for conscious stars. As described in an excellent recent review by an MIT physics professor, this very controversial topic was investigated during the 1970’s by a distinguished group of theoretical physicists centered upon Stanford University. Debate still swirls regarding their courageous attempt to obtain mainstream support for their research [26].

Any scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable. The Hipparchos data used to prepare Ref. 19 utilized statistics for 5610 stars near the celestial south pole. According to the project’s website, the forthcoming ESA Gaia mission is planned to produce a kinematics census of a billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It will be interesting to learn whether this flood of data supports or refutes Parenago’s discontinuity.


The author appreciates the comments and suggestions of A. Crowl, which have been incorporated in the text. He is also grateful to K. Long who presented a version of this paper for him at the Nov. 23, 2011 Olaf Stapledon Symposium at BIS headquarters in London. Comments of anonymous referees are also appreciated.


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25. A. Crowl, “Personal Communication” (Nov. 18, 2011).
26. D. Kaiser, How the Hippies Saved Physics, Norton, NY (2011).


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