"Consciousness does not need to be confined to brains."

Mind Over Matter

A bong rip of a theory suggests that all matter possesses some form of mind or consciousness, not just animals — including, as one biologist suggests, the Sun itself.

In a fascinating dive into the hypothesis, which adherents call "panpsychism," Popular Mechanics reports that this out-there concept has existed for thousands of years, and in its more crystallized form has been bubbling around for the last few hundred years.

Though inklings of similar thought had existed since ancient Greece, the term "panpsychism" was, as the report explains, coined in the 16th century by Italian philosopher Francesco Patrizi. Though it enjoyed 19th century credibility when the psychology superstar Williams James publicly ascribed to it, the theory was veritably killed in the 1920s by the Vienna Circle when its "logical positivism" — the idea that philosophical questions must have logical answers — took hold of the philosophical world.

Fast forward to the year 2004, when another Italian, the neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, proposed what he called the "integrated information theory of consciousness," which suggests that consciousness is, essentially, almost everywhere. By and by, a sort of panpsychist renaissance began to take place, and in 2014 — nearly 100 years after the Vienna Circle killed the feel-good theory — the respected neuroscientist Christof Koch argued in Scientific American that if lumps of matter can form into human bodies and become conscious, there's no reason that groups of elementary particles couldn't either.

Sun Salutation

While AI pioneer and fashion-forward hat-wearer Ben Goertzel has been an adherent since at least '04, perhaps one of the most compelling instances of panpsychist thought came in 2021, when biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake published a paper questioning whether the Sun itself might be conscious.

"Consciousness does not need to be confined to brains," Sheldrake told Popular Mechanics in its new story. "The link between minds and physical systems seems to be through rhythmic electromagnetic fields, which of course are present in our brains. They are also present in and around the Sun, and these could be the interface between the solar mind and the body of the Sun."

To be fair, there isn't a lick of evidence to support this theory. And Sheldrake is a peculiar character; he does hold a PhD in biochemistry, and he did research at Cambridge University in the 1970s. But since then he's been drawn to a variety of extremely out-there topics ranging from crystals to telepathy, and been largely dismissed in the mainstream.

Still, it's a fun idea in a sci-fi type of way. The Sun is a complex system; maybe it harbors mysteries we haven't yet comprehended.

And say the whole thing is somehow true — if so, what would the Sun think about?

"It may be able to choose in which direction to send out solar flares or coronal mass ejections," Sheldrake mused to PopMech, "which can have an enormous effect on life on Earth, and to which our technologies are very vulnerable."

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