Greg Matloff: Conscious Stars Revisited

by Paul Gilster on September 18, 2015

It’s no exaggeration to say that without Greg Matloff, there would have been no Centauri Dreams. After reading his The Starflight Handbook (Wiley, 1989) and returning to it for years, I began working on my own volume in 2001. Research for that book would reveal Matloff’s numerous contributions in the journals, especially on solar sail technologies, where he illustrated early on the methods and materials needed for interstellar applications. A professor of physics at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) as well as Hayden Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Matloff is the author of, among others, Deep Space Probes (Springer, 2005) and Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel (with Les Johnson and Giovanni Vulpetti; Copernicus, 2008). His latest, Starlight, Starbright, is now available from Curtis Press, treating the controversial subject of today’s essay.

by Greg Matloff


Introduction: Motivations

As any web search will reveal, most of my research contributions have been in the fields of in-space propulsion, SETI, Earth-protection from asteroid impacts, planetary atmospheres, extra-solar planet detection and spacecraft navigation. Since I have consulted for NASA on solar-sail applications, I have trained myself to err on the side of conservatism. However, a true scientist cannot ignore observational data. He or she must base hypothesis and theories upon such results, not upon previous experience, ideology and dogma.

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

Until 2011, I never expected that I might contribute to the fascinating debate regarding the origin and nature of consciousness. On one side are the epiphenomenonalists, who believe that consciousness is a mere byproduct of bio-chemical activity in the complex brains of higher organisms. On the other side are the panpsychists, who believe that a universal field responsible for consciousness, sometimes referred to as “proto-consciousness,” reacts with matter to produce conscious activity at all levels. The philosophical arguments were fascinating, but to me as a scientist they were a bit disappointing. There seemed to be no way of elevating the argument from the realm of deductive philosophy to the realm of observational/experimental science.

But in 2011, as documented in my June 12, 2012 contribution to this blog – Star Consciousness: An Alternative to Dark Matter – I learned (much to my surprise) that it may be possible now to construct simple models of universal consciousness and test them against observational evidence.

I was primed for this work by several factors. First, an early mentor of mine and a coauthor of several astronautics papers, was the late Evan Harris Walker. With expertise in plasma and quantum physics, Harris (as his friends called him) was a pioneer in the infant field of quantum consciousness. Although I am far from an expert in quantum mechanics, I was fascinated by Harris’ attempt to explain consciousness by the quantum tunneling of wave functions through potential wells created by the inter-synaptic spacing in mammal brains [1].

After the success of The Starflight Handbook and other contributions to interstellar travel studies, I was asked by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the early 1990’s to join the team of scientific consultants for a science-fiction novel he was co-authoring with John Barnes [2]. For plot purposes, Buzz required the stable, long-term existence of a Jupiter-like planet at a 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) distance from a Sun-like star. When he asked me to check the possibility of such a planet, I was initially very pessimistic. When I told Buzz that most exoplanet experts believed that the Hydrogen-Helium atmosphere of such a planet would likely evaporate quickly (in cosmic terms), he asked me to check this assumption. I located an appropriate equation in a space science handbook and calculated the estimated lifetime of the giant planet’s atmosphere. I was surprised and Buzz was gratified to learn that the lifetime of the Jovian’s atmosphere at 1 AU would be billions of years. At that point in my career, I was an adjunct professor and consultant. Since I was unable to locate a derivation for the subject equation, I elected not to challenge scientific orthodoxy and attempt to publish these results in a scientific journal. After the discovery of “hot Jupiters” circling Sunlike stars a few years later, I became credited (by Paul Gilster and others) with predicting the existence of hot Jupiters in a science-fiction novel, but not in a peer-reviewed journal. I vowed to never repeat this mistake again and hold back data, if my results challenged established paradigms.

The third influence pointing me in the direction of conscious stars was an undergraduate, liberal arts student at New York City College of Technology. Between the time I became a tenure-track professor in 2003 and my retirement from full-time teaching in 2011, I organized and coordinated the astronomy program at New York City College of Technology (NYCCT). In the first term of the NYCCT astronomy sequence, students learn about astronomical history, aspects of classical and modern physics and solar-system astronomy. In the second term, they investigate the astrophysics of the Sun, stars, and galaxies, cosmology, and the prospects for extraterrestrial life. In one Astronomy 2 section, I was lecturing about dark matter. The existence of this mysterious substance has been invited to explain anomalous stellar motions. When a liberal arts undergraduate interrupted the lecture, I learned that he doubted dark matter’s existence. His supposition was that physics is at an analogous stage to the situation in 1900. A major shift in physical paradigms may be necessary to explain the many anomalies (including dark matter) building up in observational astrophysics.

In 2011, it all came together. Kelvin Long, who edits the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS), invited me to participate in a one-day symposium at the London headquarters of the BIS to celebrate the work of Olaf Stapledon, a British science-fiction author and philosopher who has greatly influenced astronomical and astronautical thought. In his 1937 masterwork Star Maker, Stapledon predicted nuclear energy, nuclear war, interstellar travel, space habitats and rearrangement of solar systems by intelligent extraterrestrials. Because I usually author papers on these topics and have often cited Star Maker, I elected to avoid astrotechnology in my contribution to this BIS symposium and instead concentrate on a core aspect of Stapledon’s philosophy: that the stars and indeed the entire universe are in some sense conscious.

A Toy Model of Stellar Consciousness and Astrophysical Evidence

Many people have written about consciousness. Since there is no agreed upon definition of this quality, I decided to investigate a symptom of stellar consciousness. This is Stapleton’s supposition that a fraction of stellar motions around the centers of their galaxies is volitional. According to Stapledon, stars obey the canons of a cosmic dance as they travel through space. Many researchers consider the seat of consciousness in humans and other lifeforms to be neurons or tubules [1,3,4]. I have little knowledge regarding the intimate details of the stellar interior. But I am pretty sure that neurons and tubules do not exist within stars. However, most cooler stars, including the Sun, do have simple molecules in their upper layers.

Contrary to what many of us learned in high school chemistry, the Van der Waals forces that hold the atoms in molecules together are not purely electromagnetic. Some of this attraction is due to the so-called Casimir Effect [5]. Vacuum is not truly empty. Instead, in tiny intervals of space and time, there are enormous fluctuations of energy and matter. Generally, positive and negative energies in these fluctuations exactly balance. But in the opinion of most cosmologists, the Big Bang was a stabilized vacuum fluctuation. All the matter, energy, space and time in the universe inflated from a tiny volume of dynamic vacuum during this event.

An echo of this most creative event in the universe’s history occurs in every molecule. Not all vacuum fluctuations can fit between adjacent molecules. A fraction of the Van der Waals force holding molecules together is produced by the pressure of these vacuum fluctuations.

With astrophysicist Bernard Haisch [6], I assumed that a proto-consciousness field operates through vacuum fluctuations or is identical to these fluctuations. I developed a very simple “toy model” in which this field produces a form of primitive consciousness by its interaction with molecular matter in the Casimir Effect (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. A “Toy Model” of Proto-Panpsychism.


But models, no matter how simple or complex, are useful in physics only if they can be validated through experiment or observation. So I conducted a Google search for “Star Kinematics Anomaly and Discontinuity”.

Contrary to my expectation, what appeared on my screen was amazing. There was a Soviet-era Russian astronomer named Pavel Parenago (1906-1960). In addition to his astronomical contributions, Dr. Parenago was a very clever man. Unlike many of his colleagues, he avoided an extended vacation in a very cold place by dedicating a monograph to the most highly evolved human of all times – Joseph Stalin!

The anomaly named after Parenago, which is referred to as “Parenago’s Discontinuity”—is his observation that cool, low-mass stars in our galactic vicinity (such as the Sun) move around the center of the Milky Way galaxy a bit faster than their hotter, higher-mass sisters.

I used two sources to quantify Parenago’s Discontinuity for nearby main sequence stars. One was a chapter in Allen’s Astrophysical Quantities, a standard reference in astrophysics [7]. The second was a compilation of observations of 5610 main sequence stars using the European Space Agency (ESA) Hipparcos space observatory out to a distance of ~260 light years [8]. Figure 2, a graph presenting this data, is also included in my June 12, 2012 contribution to this blog and the JBIS paper based on my contribution to the BIS Stapledon symposium [9].

In Fig. 2, star motion in the direction of galactic rotation is plotted against star (B-V) color index, which is a measure of the difference between star radiant output in the blue range of the spectrum and the center of the human eye’s visual sensitivity. Hot, blue, massive stars have low and negative (B-V) color indices. From Table 19.1 of Ref. 7, G spectral class main sequence stars such as the Sun have (B-V) color indices in the range of about 0.6-0.7.

Fig 2: Solar Motion in Direction of Galactic Rotation (V) for Main Sequence Stars vs. Star Color Index (B-V). Diamond Data Points are from Gilmore & Zelik. Square. Data Points are from Binney et al.


Note in Fig. 2 that cooler stars to the right of the discontinuity move as much as ~20 kilometers per second faster than their hotter sisters around the center of the galaxy. As discussed in the June 12, 2012 contribution to this blog and in Ref. 9, Parenago’s Discontinuity occurs near the point where stable molecules begin to appear in stellar spectra.

Recent Work and Consideration of Alternative Hypotheses

Science is essentially a testing ground of alternative hypotheses to explain observational and experimental data. Since data points to at least the local reality of Parenago’s Discontinuity, some astrophysicists have developed rival explanations to Volitional Stars.

One possibility is stellar boil-off from local stellar nurseries. Perhaps this results in faster motions for cooler, low mass stars. But this process should result in a greater velocity dispersion in low mass stars, not a higher velocity of revolution around the galaxy’s center. Also, stellar nurseries typically live for tens of millions of years [10]. Why is there no discontinuity in the motions of short-lived O and B stars?

If Parenago’s Discontinuity is a local phenomena extending out a few hundred light years from the Sun, at least one other alternative explanation is possible. This is the Spiral Arms Density Waves concept [11]. The matter density of the interstellar medium is not uniform. Although the typical density of ions and neutral atoms in the Sun’s vicinity (the so-called Intercloud Medium) is less than 0.1 per cubic centimeter, matter density in the cooler, mostly neutral diffuse nebula that operate as stellar nurseries in the spiral arms of our galaxy is orders of magnitude greater. If a dense diffuse nebula passed through our galactic vicinity in the distant past, low-mass, cool, redder stars might be dragged along faster by the dense cloud than hot, blue, more massive stars.

There are at least two ways to check the validity of the Spiral Arms Density Waves hypothesis. One is to investigate the typical size of diffuse nebula in the Milky Way galaxy. The second is to check observational consequences of this hypothesis.

In a recent book, I reviewed the sizes of diffuse nebula in Messier’s compilation [12]. As part of a recent research paper, I performed a similar review of the more comprehensive Herschel catalog and an on-line listing of New General Catalog (NGC) deep-sky objects [13]. These results are summarized in Fig. 3.

Fig 3: Fraction of Galactic Bright Diffuse Nebulae with Diameters > D Light Years from Messier (Blue), Herschel (Green) and Atlas of the Universe—NGC (Yellow) Compilations.


Note in Fig. 3 that, in all three compilations of deep-sky objects, diffuse nebulae with diameters greater than a few hundred light years are rare. Since the Hipparcos main sequence dataset used in Ref. 8 includes stars in a ~500 light year diameter sphere, Fig. 3 does not support the Spiral Arms Density Wave hypothesis.

But there is worse news for this hypothesis, also derived from Hipparcos data. Giant stars are considerably brighter than their less evolved counterparts on the main sequence and
are consequently visible over greater distances. Richard Branham, an astrophysicist based in Argentina, has analyzed the kinematics of thousands of giant stars in the Hipparcos data set [14]. His conclusion that Parenago’s Discontinuity is present in these results is demonstrated in Fig. 4.

Fig 4: Giant Star Motion (V) in Direction of Sun’s Galactic Revolution. The reduction of Branham’s data to produce Fig. 4 is discussed in Chap. 23 of Ref. 12.


Note that Fig. 4 is not as neat as the corresponding results for main sequence stars in Fig. 2. This may be due to uncertainty in the > 1,000 light year distance estimates for many of the stars in Branham’s Sample.

An interpretation of the above results is that a local explanation for Parenago’s Discontinuity is unlikely. Existing galactic diffuse nebula are simply too small (and widely separated, as discussed in Ref. 12) to produce a stellar kinematics anomaly over a radius greater than 1,000 light years.

However, although the existing data does not support Spiral Arms Density Waves, the sample of stars, which numbers in the thousands, is not large enough to rule out this and other local explanations for Parenago’s Discontinuity. After all, the Milky Way galaxy contains more than a hundred billion stars.

Within the next few years, astrophysicists should know conclusively whether Parenago’s Discontinuity is a local or galactic phenomenon. In December 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched Gaia as a more capable successor to the Hipparcos space observatory. While Hippasrcos accurately determined the distance and motions of perhaps 100,000 stars,
Gaia should gather similar data over the next few years for about a billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Gaia, its mission and capabilities are discussed in more detail in Ref. 12.

Fig 5: The European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Observatory (Courtesy ESA).


But even before the data from Gaia is analyzed and released, astronomers using different equipment have gathered preliminary data that may lead to the falsification of the Spiral Arms Density Waves hypothesis. Note in Fig. 6 the structure of M51, a typical nearby spiral galaxy not dissimilar from the Milky Way. The revolution of this galaxy is in the counterclockwise direction, from our point of view. Hundreds of millions of years are required for one
complete revolution [15].

A team of astronomers have carefully analyzed the light received from the leading and lagging edges of spiral arms of twelve nearby spiral galaxies. For the Spiral Arms Density Waves Hypothesis to be correct, differences should be observable between these two locations. Sadly for Density Waves (and happily for Volitional Stars), such an effect was not noticed.

Fig 6: The Whirlpool Galaxy M51 (courtesy NASA).


Since the universe contains ~100 billion spiral galaxies, this result is not conclusive. Using new telescopes, about 300 spirals should be observed to statistically rule out Density Waves. Density Waves is apparently limping, but it cannot yet be completely ruled out.

If observations from Gaia indicate that Parenago’s Discontinuity is a galactic phenomenon rather than a local phenomenon, some astrophysicists will attempt to develop explanations that are alternatives to Volitional Stars. As discussed in Ref. 13, this will be challenging. The only reasonable galaxy-wide explanation might be a collision between the Milky Way galaxy and another large galaxy in the distant past. While such a collision might have produced a galaxy-wide “starburst” episode of rapid star formation, simulations indicate that the ultimate result of such galaxy smash-ups is a giant elliptical galaxy, not a spiral such as the Milky Way.

Volitional Star Kinematics

In my June 12, 2012 contribution to this blog, I considered methods that a volitional star could use to adjust its galactic velocity. One possibility was stellar jets.

Many infant stars eject high-velocity matter streams (Fig. 7). Surprisingly, some of them are unipolar or unidirectional, ejecting more material in one direction than others [16]. In April 2015, Paul Gilster e-mailed a link indicating that solar winds from mature stars like the Sun
enter interstellar space in a complex system of jets [17]. The complexity of these jets is at least partially due to solar galactic motion and the interaction between the solar and galactic magnetic fields. Uni-directional matter jets from infant and young stars are discussed in greater detail in Chap. 15 of Ref. 12.

Fig 7: A Jet of High-Velocity Material Ejected From an Infant Star (courtesy NASA).


If Gaia observations reveal that Parenago’s Discontinuity is a galaxy-wide phenomenon, attention might turn to these unidirectional stellar jets. Are they generally aligned to accelerate molecule-bearing stars in the direction of their galactic motion? Since star galactic revolution velocities generally increase with distance from the galactic center, do jet velocities increase as well?

Although unidirectional material jets from infant and mature stars is one method that a volitional star could use, there is another possibility. This is the admittedly very controversial possibility of a weak psychokinetic (PK) force. Much has been written about the investigation of PK and related paranormal phenomena funded by US intelligence agencies.

As I have described in my earlier treatments of this subject, this is the only scientific controversy that I am privileged to know participants on opposing sides. On one hand are the physicists who claim that Uri Geller, the alleged psychic who scored best on their screening tests, could not possibly have cheated on these tests. On the other hand, I met a retired Time-Warner editor at a cocktail party years ago who demonstrated that Geller’s signature fork bending could be duplicated as a magic trick, and who also claimed to have enlisted a magician The Amazing Randi, to further investigate Geller.

Many web sources conclude that Geller is indeed a trained magician. When my friend Dr. Eric Davis of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin (Texas) mentioned (while reviewing a draft copy of Ref. 12) that there is no confirmation of Geller actually having attended a magician’s college, I decided to check what I consider the best reference available on the Geller-Randi controversy. I carefully checked a book by MIT physics professor David Kaiser on this topic and learned that Dr. Davis is apparently correct [18].

Eric Davis also sent me an electronic copy of a report he authored for the US Air Force in 2005. Many countries other than the US have investigated PK and related phenomena in studies funded by government agencies. Some of the results are positive and have reportedly been replicated [19, 20].

As discussed in Refs. 9 and 12 and my June 12, 2012 submission to this blog, a PK force required to accelerate a Sun-like star by 20 km/s during a ~1-billion-year time interval is many orders of magnitude less than that required to bend a kitchen utensil. Perhaps it is time for experimental physicists to put the Geller-Randi controversy aside and perform a new set of carefully controlled experiments to test the existence or non-existence of a weak PK effect.

One possibility discussed by others is to include professional magicians on the experiment design team. Another possibility, raised by a responder to my June 12, 2012 contribution to this blog, is to perform PK tests on the interaction between human subjects and an Einstein-Bose condensate. As further discussed in Ref. 12, an Einstein-Bose condensate is a macroscopic state of matter in which all of the particles share the same quantum state. A human subject might be instructed to see if he or she could “will” the condensate to climb the enclosure wall repeatedly to the same level. This would test not only the validity of PK but the assumption that consciousness is related to quantum phenomena.

Conclusions: A Learning Experience

Since 2011, I have spent a large fraction of my creative time investigating whether the Volitional Star hypothesis can be considered scientific. As reviewed in Ref. 12, it is certainly a venerable concept. Shamans, astrologers, philosophers, mystery-cult members, poets, and fiction authors have considered this possibility for millennia.

It is also interesting that at least a few scientists have walked this path before me. Although the concepts of stellar or universal consciousness are certainly not in the scientific mainstream at present, scientific speculation along these lines is becoming more respectable.

One creative group that apparently welcomes these concepts is fine artists. The chapter frontispiece art in Ref. 12 created by C Bangs has been presented in several artistic forums, including the Arts Program at the 9th IAA Symposium on the Future of Space Exploration, which was held in Turin, Italy in July 2015. A version of one of these images is presented as Fig. 8. Modifications of 18 of these images on 11” X 14” panels painted on both sides in the form of an accordion book are on display at the Manhattan gallery that C Bangs is affiliated with: Central Booking Art Space, 21 Ludlow Street.

Fig 8: Modified Version of C Bangs Chapter frontispiece from Starlight, Starbright.


Recently, with my assistance, C prepared an Artist’s Book entitled Star Bright?. In July 2015, Star Bright? was collected by the Prints and Illustrated Books division of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

It is of course very premature to claim that the work presented here has proven the case for volitional stars. The toy model of proto-panpsychism is certainly too simple to have much traction in the theoretical world. But it is not impossible that this work might move panpsychism from the realm of deductive philosophy to the realm of observational astrophysics.


1. E. H. Walker, “The Nature of Consciousness,” Mathematical Biosciences, 7, 131-178 (1970). Also see E. H. Walker, The Physics of Consciousness, Perseus, Cambridge, MA (2000).

2. B. Aldrin and J. Barnes, Encounter with Tiber, Warner, NY (1996).

3. L. Margulis, “The Conscious Cell”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 929, 55-70 (2001).

4. S. Hameroff, “Consciousness, the Brain, and Spacetime Geometry”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 929, 74-104 (2001) and R. Penrose, “Consciousness, the Brain, and Spacetime Geometry: An Addendum”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 929, 105-110 (2001).

5. H. Genz, Nothingness: The Science of Empty Space, Perseus, Cambridge, MA (1999).

6. B. Haisch, The God Theory, Weiser, San Francisco, CA (2006).

7. G. F. Gilmore and M. Zelik, “Star Populations and the Solar Neighborhood,” in Allen’s Astrophysical Quantities, 4th ed. A. N. Cox ed., Springer-Verlag, NY (2000), Chap. 19.

8. J. J. Binney, W. Dehnen, N. Houk, C. A. Murray, and M. J. Preston, “Kinematics of Main Sequence Stars from Hipparcos Data,” Proceedings of the ESA Symposium Hipparcos Venice
, SP-402, Venice, Italy, 13-15 May 1997, pp. 473-477 (July, 1997).

9. G. L. Matloff, “Olaf Stapledon and Conscious Stars: Philosophy or Science?”, JBIS, 65, 5-6 (2012).

10. E. Chaisson and S. McMillan, Astronomy Today, 6th ed., Pearson-Addison/Wesley, San Francisco, CA (2008), Chap. 19.

11. R. S. DeSimone, X. Wu, and S. Tremaine, ”The Stellar Velocity Distribution of the Stellar Neighborhood”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 350, 627-643 (2004).

12. G. L. Matloff and C Bangs, Starlight, Starbright: Are Stars Conscious?, Curtis Press, UK (2015).

13. G. L. Matloff, “The Non-Locality of Parenago’s Discontinuity and Universal Self Organization”, IAA-FSE-15-06-03. Presented at 9th IAA Symposium on the Future of Space Exploration, Turin, Italy, July 7-9, 2015. Published in Conference Proceedings.

14. R. L. Branham, “The Kinematics and Velocity Ellipsoid of GIII Stars,” Revisita Mexicana de Astronomia y Astrofisica, 47, 197-209 (2011).

15. K. Foyle, H.-W. Rix, C. Dobbs, A. Leroy, and F. Walter, “Observational Evidence Against Long-Lived Spiral Arms in Galaxies,” Astrophysical Journal, 735 (2), Article ID = 101 (2011), arXiv: 1105.5141 [astro-ph.CO].

16. F. Namouni, “On the Flaring of Jet-Sustaining Accretion Disks”, Astrophysical Journal, 659, 1505-1510 (2007).

17. I. O’Neill, “Sun May Blast Two Jets of Plasma into Interstellar Space”,, (March 4, 2015). Also see “A New View of the Solar System: Astrophysical Jets Driven by the Sun”, (February 19, 2015).

18. D. Kaiser, How the Hippies Saved Physics, Norton, NY (2011).

19. E. W. Davis, “Teleportation: Mind and Intelligence”, Report to the US Air Force Future Technology Branch, Future Concepts and Transformation Division Workshop, Mitre Corporation, McLean VA (Oct. 21, 2005).

20. E. W. Davis, “Teleportation Physics Study,” Final Report AFRL-PR-ED-TR-2003-0034, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Materiel Command, Edwards AFB, CA (2004):


Greg Matloff September 21, 2015 at 16:25

Dear Alex Tolley

Please don’t feel bad about this. We all do it. A few years ago, for some unknown reason, I decided that the very standard grey-body equation used to calculate near-Sun solar sail temperatures was wrong. I tried unsuccessfully to convince my colleagues of this and felt like an idiot when one of them sat me down and slowly went through the theory.

Some philosopher of science wrote that all physicists (perhaps he said scientists) are in love with their current project. In that solar-sail temp case at least, passion over ruled my rationality.

Best Wishes and Regards, GREG

Geoffrey Hillend September 21, 2015 at 17:51

From the scientific point of view if the Sun has consciousness we should be able to communicate to it like it was alive and sentient. It is not, therefore it does not have consciousness. I can’t prove that it does not have consciousness but we can’t prove it does.
In Jungian psychology, material things can have a symbolic meaning. The Sun, and light are only symbols of consciousness. Light symbolizes meaning, purpose, intelligence, intellect, and knowledge. The unconscious symbolizes darkness, the unknown, etc. Astrology has myth, the Sun god Apollo etc symbolize consciousness. These have psychological value but not necessarily a physical value. This argument leads to ones world view and the epistemology of knowledge. If one thinks that knowledge has a a priori source, then we don’t need the Sun to have consciousnessness or atoms, molecules or virtual particles which are only physical but not non physical or psychic.

Michael September 22, 2015 at 1:29

This article pertains to heavier stars moving slowly towards the centre giving up momentum to smaller stars.

‘When such a massive object flies by one of the greater number of less massive stars, the lighter body gains speed while the heavier body loses speed. Several such two-body interactions make heavier bodies fall towards the galactic centre, while lightweight stars are ejected towards the outer regions of the galaxy. Such a mass segregation is well known in dense globular clusters, and was predicted a decade ago to cause stellar black holes to sink towards the centre of the galaxy.’

This article looks at black holes and compact stars out to 20kpc, not sure if it extends to large massed stars although they are responsible for compact objects. Some large stars will not even make a complete circuit of the galaxy in their lifetimes.

As for the sentience of stars I will apply Occams inertia, i.e. I will continue to believe in what I know until a knowledgeable force acts upon me to change my mind:)

torque_xtr September 22, 2015 at 4:55

What does mean the statement “cooler stars move faster”? Maybe there is some form of discontinuity associated with stellar populations – in the halo there are only lower mass stars (all F- and earlier type stars have long ago turned into remnants, whuch could not be observed in 20 century) and in the disk we can observe young and hot stars too. If the halo stars in our vicinity have higher average galactocentric speed, this would lead to observed effect (though in reality there would be only slow disk population for the massive stars, and two populations of dwarfs – faster halo and slower disk). On a plot there would be a tighter contentration of hot stars and more diffuse region of late-type stars, but here it could not be seen clearly because of small amount of points. But the first high speed stars on the graph have roughly the B-V index and associated spectral class which allows them to be born in the halo and survive to the present. This hypothesis appeals to me quite more, it can be substantially proved after a few hours of exploring through stellar archives, and much more with GAIA data.

But the stellar consciousness (and especially, pcyshokinesis) should be considered extremely carefully. It is the traditional field of pseudoscience. And what I’ve learned of pseudoscience, many evidence may be considered firm by the public, but NEVER ever underestimate the human ability and the willing to construct evidence, if the field is attractive and prone to pseudoscience (UFOs, psychokinesis, etc.)

It is quite funny also to observe the evolution of pseudoscientific evidence with the advance in other fields. All the known cognitive biases to construct a subtly non-disprovable tale, all known technical means to montage a video, etc…. to the time of publication. We have to look at the human psychology and mythology to find the causes of the stellar consciousness as a mem, and clearly separate it before trying to explain anomalies. Anyway, for the stellar kinematics, the GAIA data would be entirely new level!

Greg Matloff September 22, 2015 at 5:44

Dear Geoffrey Hillend

The problem of organic, planetary intelligences such as humans communicating with their sentient stars is a very interesting one. I devote a chapter to it in the new book.

First there is the spotty record of our treatment of non-human intelligent creatures on Earth. Yes, horses, parrots, small felines and small canines are treated by civilized people at least as animal companions. Some of us respect and attempt communication with dolphins and chimps–others eat them. Elephants make nice pack animals, but they too are often hunted. The squid and octopus, with all their intelligence, often end up on our dinner plates.

Then there is the failure (so far) of SETI. If advanced technological intelligent life is within 100 light years or so, they obviously wish to be left alone.

Also, there is the time scale. If minimum awareness duration coincides with life span, a human lifetime corresponds roughly to the equivalent of one second in the life of a Sun-like star.

Finally, there is the human aspect that I have discussed privately with a regular contributor to this blog. Say, for example, that a group of true psychics decide to influence the Sun’s activity during the solar activity cycle by asking the Sun to produce a specified number of sunspots at a certain time. If they announce their intentions in advance, they are in trouble. Since the Templeton Prize (at the very least) will be in play, rival groups will almost certainly work to foul the communication channel. If, on the other hand, they keep the project secret until they can report success, few people will believe them.

With all these caveats, I have heard that some groups are attempting communication with the Sun. Although I think (with Stapledon) that success must wait at least until humanity has developed a global mind, I wish them the best of luck.

And all the best to you if you wish to pursue the idea further!

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 22, 2015 at 10:07

Dear Michael

Thanks for the information. You are, of course, welcome to maintain your position. I myself will not push too hard until and unless GAIA demonstrates that Parenago’s Discontinuity is a galaxy-wide phenomenon. However, the article I cite on giant star kinematics and the references therein due point to a non-local explanation. It is not my role to convince anyone. But it is my purpose in this exercise to demonstrate that universal consciousness or self-organization cannot be removed from consideration. They are certain;y as valid as many of the reductionist dark-matter proposals.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 22, 2015 at 10:19

Dear torque-XTR

It is not my purpose here to delve into the many papers on Parenago’s Discontinuity. These are available to you, as well as to me. As I have mentioned several times, I have dealt in papers, blog posts, and a book with the two non-volitional-star explanations I have come across in my literature search. You are welcome to search for others or develop/publish your own.

I would be very careful in listing stellar consciousness as a “pseudo-science”. If it is, Sir Roger Penrose, Dr. Erich Jantsch, and other well known scientists are guilty. Dr. Janysch is no longer with us. But if you are a superior mathematical physicist to Sir Roger, you can probably substantiate your claim.

I no where say that PK is proven or even necessary. What encouraged me to present my recent IAA paper, write the blog piece and the new book was my discovery of work demonstrating that some young stars, at least, put out uni-directional jets.

Regarding the existence or non-existence of PK, I am neutral (as I say in the blog and elsewhere). But before you lump all such research as “pseudo-science”, I suggest you read “How the Hippies Saved Physics”, authored by MIT physics professor Dr. David Kaiser.

Regards, Greg

Alex Tolley September 22, 2015 at 13:02

“I would be very careful in listing stellar consciousness as a “pseudo-science”. If it is, Sir Roger Penrose, Dr. Erich Jantsch, and other well known scientists are guilty.”

This is just an appeal to authority. Francis Collins believes in God, but his opinion really carries no more weight than Joe Sixpack’s (or the man on the Clapham Omnibus) without solid evidence. (c.f. his book “The Language of God”).

The danger with a theory of volitional stars is that it becomes hard to falsify. Any phenomenon becomes a behavior – stars leaving the galaxy, the pattern of flares, etc. The theory should extend to brown dwarfs and arguably planets and below in mass. Volition becomes the default explanation for phenomena that are not understood, which really pushes us back to the pre-Enlightenment and panpsychism. Science has generally removed agency or supernatural phenomena, leaving such explanations in the trashcan of history. By all means raise the idea (to be first?) but accept that it is almost certainly wrong and will be shown as such in time.

To my mind, as Sherlock Holmes once said “(…) when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,however improbable, must be the truth?” -The Sign of Four

At this point we have most certainly not eliminated the impossible.

Greg Matloff September 22, 2015 at 15:45

Dear Alex

Yes, volitional stars may be hard to falsify. If my toy model fails, someone could try another one. But the same can be said about string theory–a concept (really a set of mathematical hypothesis) that are impossible to verify. And the same can be said about dark matter. In the book, I devote space to one week’s worth of unverifiable theories getting a lot of web attention.

I always require validation for my deductive concepts. And I always try to pinpoint how to validate or falsify them.

Sadly, not everyone has the same approach. There are those who attempt to convert science to mathematical dogma. There are also those who attempt to convert it to religion. Walking the middle ground, particularly with an innovative idea, requires care, caution and humility. I have striven for thst in my interstellar travel work and I strive for that now.

Your thoughtful cooments are most welcome. Let’s hope that all new concepts don’t drift into pseudo-science or pseudo-religious dogma.

Regards, Greg


Alex Tolley September 22, 2015 at 17:24

But the same can be said about string theory–a concept (really a set of mathematical hypothesis) that are impossible to verify.

I agree this is problematic. I recall reading Green’s”The Elegant Universe” and thinking this will all be wrapped up in a few years. 15 years later and still nothing. It’s no wonder so many scientists complain about the theory/theories. It is definitely arguable string theory isn’t science at all. I tend to agree in the absence of testable predictions.

Greg Matloff September 23, 2015 at 8:26

Dear Alex

I really enjoy our continuing dialog. I teach in a department mainly composed of
theoretical physicists. It might surprise the layperson to learn how many of them are aware of the problem of non-verification and non-falsification. One has suggested to me that much of this work should be considered as a sub-division of mathematics rather than physics since application of induction seems to be beyond hope.

Regards, Greg

ljk September 25, 2015 at 12:09
Greg Matloff September 25, 2015 at 13:19

Dear ljk

I had come across the star larvae website before. If GAIA confirms that Parenago’s Discontinuity is galaxy-wide and a correlation is discovered relating unidirectional jets from young stars to galactic revolution direction and distance from the galactic center, there will (I think) be many speculative websites regarding stellar volition. Separating scientifically verifiable ideas from the others will be a challenge. But reading through them should be entertaining!

Thanks for posting.
Regards, Greg

Alex Tolley September 25, 2015 at 17:01

@ljk – The larval star hypothesis seems like a stretch of the analogy. Biological life needs a means to evolve though generations as well as selection processes to increase “fitness”. I am not seeing that with stars.

@Greg – if it turns out that stars have asymmetric flares/jets which are aligned in star swarms, I would bet on some sort of magnetic alignment as the mechanism.
I do hope that dark matter’s properties are determined soon, because it does seem rather elusive and just maybe it is the equivalent of “ether”. Also possibly of some concern is that gravity waves aren’t being seen yet. I hope the new LIGO gets definitive positive results, or some theories will have to be modified.

Rob Henry September 25, 2015 at 20:12

Dear Matloff,
I am only half way through the comments, so I hope the following hasn’t been covered.

I discovered long ago that those who go by the name ‘skeptics’, and claim to be followers of science do NOT follow scientific method. They use high selectivity in their use of results, they are easily fooled by charlatans who claim to have debunked unexpected peer reviewed results, and have a disproportionate number of fraudsters and fabricators among their number. However, none of that means that they are wrong. What it does mean that it is easy to get sidetracked, and yes, of cause, if you scratch the surface of an ‘analysis’ coming from these quarters you will find multiple inconsistencies. The fact remains that PK is not proven, and nor is the idea that ‘volition’ can arise in the way you postulate remotely mainstream. Surely, it is not the best of practices to mix two such speculative ideas until at least one of them is on a firmer footing.

I also note that if stellar volition exists, then it is disconnected from evolutionary mechanisms, and that mean we have no reason to connect it to anything we would recognise as motive. As such you should be searching for further and unrelated stellar positioning and motion anomalies patterns. As I understand it, Hipparcos data has found that the Sun is having a ‘freakishly’ high number of close stellar encounters. Volitional stars gives you reason to believe that the same could apply to other stars, and suggests a test. Another test would be if stellar locations reflect a random distribution, or if there is some pattern to them. To that purpose, I remember dissing with ENIAC on these pages the unusual distribution of the nearest stars around Sol that looked very much as if it fell into shells – even when accounting for multiple systems, and speculating on a mechanism it it was real.

Greg Matloff September 26, 2015 at 6:47

Dear ljk

I agree. And I don’t know how to get a handle on this idea. But I must concede that it is evocative and might have merit.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 26, 2015 at 7:01

Dear Rob Henry

I appreciate your thoughtful comments. The discussion and controversy that arose from my 2 posts on this site indicates that science is very healthy.

I agree about skeptics. Some are honest and thoughtful. Others seem to be orthodox adherents of one of two new religions–scientism and militant atheism.

Regarding evolution, the interpretation of many orthodox Darwinists that mutation is caused by random change goes against the volitional star hypothesis. But some scientists, such as Erich Jantsch postulate universal self-organization at many levels. Dyson hints at this also in at least one of his books. Even the computer “game of life” hints that perhaps “random” is not totally random.

I also realize now that I ignited a firestorm mentioning PK as a possible means of stellar volition. I did this because, when I did the work in 2011 that resulted in my JBIS paper and my initial entry in this blog, I did not know that uni-directional matter jets from young stars had been detected. But as I informed one of the reviewers of the JBIS paper, I was not unhappy to do this since I learned from Kaiser’s great book that PK cannot be ruled out and should perhaps be revisited.

Regarding close stellar encounters, Gene Mallove and I quote in Starlight Handbook a NASA study of close encounters with various stars over the last few million years and during the next few million years. No star in the sample approached the Sun within a light year. Although these encounters may be close by galactic standards, they are much to distant to alter a star’s galactic velocity.

Regards, Greg

Michael September 26, 2015 at 9:54

I am wondering if larger hotter stars are interacting with the gas in the galaxy which acts as a brake slowing them down more than smaller stars, large stars have massive emission winds and great reach. If you work out a radius of 2 lys around our Sun there is about 1 to 2 % the mass of the Sun in H/He.


Alex Tolley September 26, 2015 at 14:31

Nice piece at The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter.

Prof. Priyamvada Natarajan seems to be very sure dark matter exists based on her analysis of gravitational lensing of galactic clusters.

Speculative idea. Could some property of dark matter explain Parenago’s Discontinuity?

Rob Henry September 26, 2015 at 16:38

Sorry Greg, I am not sure if I communicated the idea behind my last paragraph well. I will try again.

If Parenago’s Discontinuity is due to volition then their is volition.
If their is volition in any group of traveling objects then non-random patterns tend to occur in their positions as well as their velocity.
We know exactly how random should distribute – any significant departure from this is otherwise hard to explain (especially if stars are spaced more evenly that expected).
A combination of an abnormally high degree of close approaches and abnormally even distribution would be hardest of all to explain in any other way.
Unlike the Parenago’s Discontinuity, departure from the norm immediately gives where the volition lies (is it really the red stars, or is it actually the blue).

Sure, close approaches gives a mechanism by which galactic velocities of volitional stars can be altered and, if they occur more frequently than random I also suspect that the very closest of these is the ‘force multiplier’ by which they operate, but this need not be the case.

Ron S September 26, 2015 at 17:23

Greg: “…orthodox adherents of one of two new religions–scientism and militant atheism.”

I’m disappointed that you would utter pejoratives. Be classy.

Greg Matloff September 26, 2015 at 17:55

Dear Alex Toley

One reason for getting into this line was Dark Matter (or “Fred”, as Neil de Grasse Tyson calls it in one of his on-line pod podcasts. There are many, many problems with it. First, the astrophysicists who study galaxy clusters, including the person you mention, are quite sure that their simulations would not work (from what some of them have told me during a talk at American Museum of Natural History, Astrophys. Dept.) that only cold, non-energetic dark matter would hold the galaxy clusters together.

But the particle physicists insist, possibly based on the Standard Model, that cold dark matter is unrealistic. In a talk a few months ago at New York City College of Technology, a young post-doc from Pittsburgh argued that the mighty, next-gem collider that some hope for in China, would probably not be energetic enough to find the stuff; lots more energy would be required. So wht is the solution–perhaps, since Centauri Dreams started as a interstellar travel blog, the fast little guys put out mag sails after they are generated.

There are other problems as well, as I go into in the new book. Some have put forth”axions”, energetic dark-matter particles produced by the stars. But, as many astronomy texts published after 1999 or so will reveal, dark matter is not necessary to explain the motions of stars like the Sun, in the inner reaches of their galaxies. As I discuss in a paper in “Acta Astronautica” published within the last few years, all searches for dark matter in the solar system or its vicinity have come up short.

But that is only the problem with “WIMPS”, weakly interacting massive particles. MACHOS (massive halo objects) do not work too well either==they would disrupt globular clusters are create many more gravity lens events that observed.

So lets look at MONDS–modifications to Newton’s Dynamics. Why must the Law of Universal gravitation be exactly an inverse square law??? Perhaps it is inverse 1.99999 0r 2.00001 law, or perhaps this number varies with time (as speculated by Umber and Smolin in their recent book), and therefore cosmological distance. But according to a paper I reference in the JBIS article and my first blog post on this subject, all corrections tried to Newton’s gravity law do not work both within the galaxy and at cosmological distances.

During the talk at the American Museum of Natural History, I discussed this issue with an astrophysicist colleague who studies galaxies and wants to remain anonymous. If it turns out that the probable cause of anomalous stellar motions in the outer portions of galaxies is different from the cause of cosmological galaxy-cluster effects, MONDS could be revisited.

If Parenago’s Discontinuity turns out to be galactic rather than local and if there is correlation between unidirectional stellar jets, star rotational direction and star distance from the galactic center, then we can perhaps take on the dark matter effect in the outer galaxy. I think that we must await the GAIA results.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 26, 2015 at 18:02

Dear Michael

To my understanding, the only published attempt to explain stellar velocity differences by interaction with the galactic interstellar medium is Spiral Arms Density Waves, which I cite and critique in my blog post, the recent book, and my recent IAA presentation.

But be my guest. If you have some new ideas about Parenago, please develop them and submit them to an appropriate journal or present them at a conference.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 26, 2015 at 18:14

Dear Rob Henry

Your concept is worth further development, in my opinion. But from what I understand, stars would have to approach each other. I checked Starflight Handbook, Table 2-1. The paper that Gene and I cite, by Cesarone et al of the Voyager team, predicts 6 stellar encounters within 3 light years of the Sun during the next 800,000 years. Only on of these is within 1 light year, with a predicted close approach of 0.29 light years. Bit the authors mention that the error bars are large and the closest approach distance may well exceed 1 light year.

But, of course, there may be more recent data. But I am quite sure that repeated approaches well within 1 light year will be necessary.

I encourage you to perform some calculations and see what you come up with.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 27, 2015 at 6:43

Dear Ron S

As I said in the response to the comment on the Skeptics, some are certainly sincere. Perhaps I should have said something softer about the others–such as “they might have a hidden agenda”. Thank you for the correction. Having apparently become (in a fashion unforeseen by me) a spokesperson for panpsychism, I must develop and practice my diplomatic skills.

Regards, Greg

ljk September 27, 2015 at 14:27

Two Centauri Dreams articles about aiming the twin Voyager probes towards certain star systems just before we lose contact with them in 2025:

and here:

And Erik Anderson’s book Vistas of Many Worlds, which has updated information on close stellar passes to the Sol system:

Rob Henry September 27, 2015 at 18:44

I have done this Greg. Taking the closest star systems or single stars to Earth, I eliminated any that contained A and F stars, and those that were purely brown dwarf systems. Next I placed them in order of their distances squared, such that there should be a similar number of stars (multiple systems counting as 1 star) in each. The number of stars in each successive 25 square light year bracket was as follows…
Note that 9 and 8 are much bigger than any other number. This is highly suspicious, but this analysis needs to be repeated on other close stars to see if those patterns reappear.

As to close approaches,there is this
They found significantly fewer close encounters than the simplest model would predict. I am also interested in the measured exponent in their equation, as I believe that its value was found to be > 2 with statistical significance. In its limit, it would imply that the very closest of encounters were far more likely than chance – so the values might be hinting that this is the case (could the uncertainty level in the data be hiding an even stronger trend??)

Unfortunately I can’t take this too much further, as I am busy trying to prove that sperm whales are as intelligent as humans, due to traits that they have in common with humans to the exclusion of all other animals. It’s infuriating that half of scientists seem to believe that all animals have already been eliminated in this rearguard, and the other half believes that if an animal were as intelligent as humans, they would never display it in the same way we do. There seems to be no other group. More aggravating still, the data set already exists that would prove this hypothesis one way or the other within hours – if the appropriate analysis was run. Sorry, couldn’t help the rant.

PS. I believe the conservation and use of the eyeless gene (PAX6) in both vertebrates and insects, backs your thoughts of there being some degree of overseeing self organisation going on in evolution – but I suspect it may be the exception, not the rule.

Greg Matloff September 28, 2015 at 9:00

Dear Rob Henry

Thanks for the Oort paper. I have downloaded it. This reminds me a bit of Rampino’s unsuccessful hunt for Nemesis, a supposed companion to the Sun that causes mass extinctions by its visits to Oort.

Your statistical analysis is very interesting and evocative. I hope that you or someone else takes these stellar statistics to the next level.

I also greatly appreciate your work on whale intelligence. At the IAA SETI meetings, I sometimes run into folks studying dolphins. It is shame that Sagan’s “Order of the Dolphin” seems to have vanished.

I think that some of the anti-cetacean-intelligence stance of some scientists is a confusion between technical ability (an opposable thumb) and mental capability. Others may still be trapped by the biblical injunction that “Men have dominion over the Earth.”

So as I say to my SETI-dolphin friends, all the best with it. Perhaps you might consider delivering your whale work to that committee.

Regards, GREG

Greg Matloff September 28, 2015 at 9:05

Dear ljk

Thanks for these. They add to the work Gene & I cite in Starlight Handbook by the Voyager team. It is a shame that these craft will soon run out of juice, on the mere edge of the interstellar sea. But symbolically, it would be great if they could be redirected for a stellar encounter in the far future.

Regards, Greg

Michael September 28, 2015 at 15:25

Off topic

Been Birdbrained may not be so bad after all…wow. My neighbour used to have a crow and it could speak English pretty well sound wise! Although cats have gone one better and got someone else to get them food!

There are a lot of intelligent animals out there but they do not rival us in the use of tools.

Greg Matloff September 28, 2015 at 16:34

Dear Michael

But perhaps they can learn from us. I seem to remember a study of African chimps a few years ago. One was released after learning some useful technique from human handlers. Some time later, when the experiment team revisited that part of Africa, many chimps in the neighborhood were using that technique. Hominids might be Gaia’s first high-tech experiment, but not necessarily her last.

Regards, Greg

Rob Henry September 28, 2015 at 23:44

D’oh! above I should have used r^3 not r^2. It sounds so obvious, but if you divide the width of each successive bracket of r to (r+1) by the value r^2, then this adjusts to a linear density, and I had just come from contemplating closest approaches where the distribution is genuinely r^2 because each star is a line segment not a point. Will redo tomorrow, but it won’t change much.

Thanks Greg, SETI may well be the answer. Who should I approach. I don’t have the relevant data set, but here is the matter as it stands today…

Most papers on sperm whale coda report that 95% of their social vocalisations (coda) typically consists of only about 20 types. A couple of years ago I found out that Duda-Hart analysis of sufficiently large samples resolves even the simplest of these into at least a hundred distinct subtypes. I have conformation from Hal Whitehead (the world’s leading expert on sperm whale coda) that the breakdown of sperm whale coda to a degree equal or greater than that expected of a human language is probably not artifactual. He seems to believe this phenomena important, but highly unlikely to be relevant to a human characteristic such as language. This could be resolved quickly if we measure its information density. Given a sufficiently large data set from a single pod (and at least one does exist) we should be a extract an answer tomorrow. Thus my frustration.

Greg Matloff September 29, 2015 at 7:48

Dear Rob Henry

One of the most influential SETI people of my acquaintance is Dr. Claudio Maccone ( and Claudo is an Italian mathematical physicist who currently organizes functions (including SETI symposia) for the International Academy of Astronautics. He will have contact information for several people conducting dolphin-communication research and can tell you about planned future events.

One sad paradox regarding the possible high intelligence of sperm whales. Their preferred food–the giant squid–is also thought to be very bright. Evolution played a nasty trick when it pitted these brilliant creatures into a semi-permanent adversarial role.

Perhaps if we can communicate with sperm whales, we can alter their dietary preference??

Regards, Greg

ljk September 29, 2015 at 10:05

Some sperm whale language articles:

One of my favorite quotes from Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a lesson for humans in understanding other intelligent beings who do not look like them:

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.”

ljk September 29, 2015 at 10:21

Greg Matloff said on September 27, 2015 at 6:43:

“As I said in the response to the comment on the Skeptics, some are certainly sincere. Perhaps I should have said something softer about the others–such as “they might have a hidden agenda”.

I have often felt that most people who say there is no intelligent life beyond Earth have had a hidden agenda beyond the fact that we have not found any definite signs of it so far, because quite frankly we have done incredibly little research on the subject in terms of time and range. Go look at what most SETI projects have really been about and how long most of them have lasted and you will see for yourself.

What are these hidden agendas? Fear for one, that a superior race may come here and do what the Europeans did to the Native Americans as is said so often (though the natives of the Americas were not saints, either. The warred with each other all the time).

Another is religion, that the deity of choice made humans the most important beings in the Cosmos and no one else. Of course this has wavered back and forth: Look at some earlier views on alien life and how it was thought that God would populate the Universe with many creatures for worship, not just humans.

The third is the youth and limited knowledge of our species. We evolved on one world and are suited to it. The stars seem like funny little distant lights that could not possibly be the same as our Sun – look at how much bigger and brighter it seems than those puny nocturnal lights! Most people are focused on their daily lives in their one small section of this small planet, which have little to do with the wider reality called the Cosmos. At best for many of them space is a temporary distraction, such as a total lunar eclipse. Then they go back to their short, narrowly-focused lives.

Do other minds out there think and act the same as they are evolving? Do any of them get out of their cradles and if so, are they benign and dangerous from their trial by fire? This is why SETI needs to be ramped up.

And of course as the theme of this post is all about, perhaps terrestrial life is the exception rather than the rule and we cannot grasp the possibility that the “true” life forms of the Cosmos are those twinkling lights in the sky – and maybe they are just part of an even vaster collection of life forms that we call galaxies.

ljk September 29, 2015 at 12:34

Here is a fourth reason some folks may not want another planet with life in the galaxy: Environmentalism. We know of only one planet in the Universe where terrestrial flora and fauna can live and that is Earth. True at the moment, but we are aware of only a few thousand exoplanets and almost every one of the 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy may have planets, so we have a long way to go about that one.

Oh, and there are terraforming and Worldships, but many environmentalists either do not know about these concepts or just avoid them. It is Earth or nothing for them.

And here is the very recent example:

Especially this news item:

Yes it is very noble what Dr. Boruki is doing for life on Earth, but if you look at it strictly from a scientific viewpoint, he is making an assumption based on very limited data and a rather outdated understanding of how SETI works. In this regard he is no better than Stephen Hawking when he declared his view on what might happen if advanced ETI came upon Earth, spinning a scenario straight out of the 1996 science fiction film Independence Day.

And no, I do not hate Earth life or want to see our environment destroyed. I just want to see the search for alien life conducted scientifically and with as little bias as possible. It does not help when a respected scientist plays politics with the subject, even if he means well.

Alex Tolley September 29, 2015 at 13:17

@Rob Henry. I recall that there has been work using information theory to look at the complexity of cetacean songs. My recall is that is has been higher than most animals, but lower than human language. Are you expecting sperm whales to have higher information content than other whales and dolphins? If so, very cool. Please keep us apprised of your results.

I recall that there was a talk about this at one of the Galaxy meetings in Silicon valley a few years ago. Perhaps it might be a suitable` article for CD?

ljk September 29, 2015 at 13:19

Greg Matloff said on September 29, 2015 at 7:48:

“Perhaps if we can communicate with sperm whales, we can alter their dietary preference??”

Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod probably felt the very same way.

Alex Tolley September 29, 2015 at 14:45

@Rob Henry re: Star distribution.

I tried a similar analysis for stars in the RAVE database out to 75 ly.
Using 5 ly increments, and looking for the number of stars in each “shell” and dividing by shell volume, I found that from 15-75 ly, the distribution is pretty uniform and not significant using a Chi-squared test. It is just high out to 15 ly. This doesn’t analyze whether clustering is occurring, as the stars could all occupy a small segment of the shell, but if they are randomly positioned, it does suggest no unexpected clustering.

Greg Matloff September 29, 2015 at 14:55

Dear ljk

Nice quote. If we ever physically meet ET, we’ve got to get over our chauvinism.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 29, 2015 at 14:59

Dear ljk

Having just learned that a famous spokesperson for humility and rationality, Rush Limbaugh, has concluded through careful analysis that running, seasonal salt water on Mars is a left-wing plot, I heartily concur that politics and science do not mix.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 29, 2015 at 15:29

Dear ljk

As I remember, Moby Dick did not actually eat the crew. But if he did, he may have had some stomach or intestine issues.

Regards, Greg

Rob Henry September 29, 2015 at 18:58

@Alex, let me take your second and easier reply first. I am not suspecting a pure crystal form more like that of a solvated ion. If you look at the distribution of water molecules around an ion, they form shells close in but are completely random three or four shells out. You were quite right to take you analysis out to 75ly, but you must keep to how stars separate from each other – not make Earth extra special. So, if it seems that stars up to that 15ly from sol are in shells, then take stars at random 30-50ly distance, then drop a 15ly sphere around each and test the distribution around them.

And, yes the Shannon entropy has been measured for the vocalisations of, at least, bottlenose dolphins and humpback whale songs. Neither has anything like the information density of a human language. The vocalisations of sperm whales turn out to be more complex than I thought at first, as the DAREWIN website points out that each click has substantial internal structure that they seem to be able to vary and repeat – if so that complicates things far too much (especially since since there is no peer reviewed literature on it, my guess is that it is being ignored as a presumptive off axis effect) so here I will ignore it also. This makes sperm whale coda the simplest of all cetacean social vocalisations to analyse, since they transfer all their information through inter-click interval spacings. It is thought that 95% of the vocabulary of a single pod consists of about 20 coda, with a total vocabulary of, perhaps, 100. If each is said in 100 different ways as Duda-Hart analysis implies, then that would be around 10,000 variants. So… the much, much larger vocabulary than other cetaceans is my first hint that the Shannon entropy may prove lower. Another is that in the south pacific they form up into cultures of circa 10,000 individuals, with the units in each pod swapping freely with each other – as long as they speak the same ‘dialect’ and never otherwise. This would make most sense if these weren’t dialects at all but mutually unintelligible languages. The other hint is that they share with us may characteristics with us seen in no other animal. see my summary

ljk September 30, 2015 at 14:12

Speaking of sperm whales, I am suddenly thinking of this recent video:

From the group founded by the man who helped show science that the ocean floor was not largely barren of life, based on their few expeditions before the discovery of hydrothermal vents and the amazing life around them in 1977:

Greg Matloff September 30, 2015 at 17:49

Dear ljk

There is an absolutely wonderful exhibit of deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, including videos of the life there, in the Rose Earth and Space Center of the American Museum of Natural History. I often recommend it to my students. Thanks for the link.

Regards, Greg

Greg Matloff September 30, 2015 at 17:56

Dear ljk

I just viewed the video. I wonder who was studying whom. Perhaps the whale was gathering data for his/her thesis at Sperm University in Inter-Species Communication. Once again, thanks.

Regards, Greg

Rob Henry October 1, 2015 at 17:36

@ljk that is a great encounter to watch, but I am unsure of what we can take from it of analytic value. For that reason, I think the Oban encounter trumps it.

For eight days in 2013, a young adult sperm whale came close in to the shore of the Scottish town Oban, on what, to the uneducated eye, appeared to be a sightseeing excursion. Since its behaviour was disrupting fishing lanes, the local authorities urgently called in the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences. Because of the urgency they sent a whole team who did an extensive study, and found no signs of ill health or distress. Harder to explain was that they found no signs of feeding. Though the animal started in perfect health, they found it emaciated by the time it left. Whatever it was after, this whale was prepared to pay a very high for – now that’s what I call an interesting encounter!

Greg Matloff October 2, 2015 at 8:53

Dear Rob Henry

Sounds like a whale explorer.


TLDR October 14, 2015 at 16:38

From Plato’s Timaeus:
“Thus he spake, and once more into the cup in which he had previously mingled the soul of the universe he poured the remains of the elements, and mingled them in much the same manner; they were not, however, pure as before, but diluted to the second and third degree. And having made it he divided the whole mixture into souls equal in number to the stars, and assigned each soul to a star…”
“He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence.”

Greg Matloff October 15, 2015 at 6:30


Thanks for this. It demonstrates a natural progression of an idea: from myth to metaphysics to science-fiction to science.

Regards, Greg

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