By Rupert Sheldrake
From The Bridging Tree, Vol. 1 No. 1 – Winter, 1997 – 1998
Over the summer solstice of 1997, thirteen people of diverse backgrounds and disciplines met in a secluded valley in the west of England to discuss the consciousness of the Sun. One participant, John O’Donohue, an Irish poet and visionary, arrived with the misunderstanding that we meant human consciousness of the Sun in science, myth and art. When he discovered we meant the consciousness of the Sun itself, he later confessed he was convinced that this would be a non-starter. In fact, it proved to be the most wonderful starter to all our imaginations. No one is used to thinking about the consciousness of the Sun. The subject is rarely raised, still less discussed. There are no experts. If we want to think about this subject, we’re on our own.
As Kevin McCarthy, a school teacher, pointed out, young children almost invariably draw the sun with a face and a smile. Its consciousness is not discussed but simply accepted. And the face has eyes: the Sun does not only emit light but also sees. Similar imagery of the Sun is found in all civilisations including Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, India, and in Christendom.
On the other hand, since the seventeenth century, science has portrayed the universe as inanimate. The Sun is simply a star like other stars, burning up fuel. Celestial bodies, like all other bodies, are essentially mechanical. In modem scientific thought, the Sun cannot be conscious. The question does not even arise.
For materialists, our consciousness is nothing other than the activity of our brains. From this point of view, since consciousness is confined to human brains ( and is perhaps present to a lesser degree in higher animals) then neither the Sun nor the stars, nor the Earth, nor anything within it except man and perhaps some animals can have consciousness. The Sun, Gaia and indeed the entire universe cannot be conscious because they do not have brains.
Most materialists suppose that the complex electromagnetic rhythms in our brains provide the interface between brain activity and consciousness. Could rhythmic patterns of electromagnetic activity likely be associated with the consciousness of the Sun? One of the starting points of our discussions was the recent discovery of the extraordinary dynamism of the Sun. The eleven year sun-spot cycles, linked to reversals of the magnetic polarity of the Sun are well known. But the sun has recently been found to reverberate, like a gong, to over a million pitches, each bouncing back and forth through the different layers of the interior of the Sun, with the resonance being determined by their pitch. As well as this extraordinarily complex spatio-temporal pattern of vibration, there are the oscillations, perturbations, and harmonics of the electromagnetic field associated with the phenomena on the surface of the Sun such as sun-spots. Magnetic storms on the sun are so intense that they can disrupt radio communications, cause homing pigeons to lose their way, and in other ways affect what happens on Earth.
A cosmologist at Queen Mary College, London (who prefers to remain anonymous) described some of the ways these investigations are being carried out through an international programme called SOHO (the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) with a special satellite positioned at the point of equal gravity between the Earth and the Sun and orbiting around the Sun together with the Earth, permitting continuous examinations and observations of the Sun’s activity. Meanwhile an earth-based network of observatories, GONG (the Global Oscillation Network Group), is also tracking the Sun’s vibratory activities 24 hours a day, overcoming the interruption of observations by nightfall by means of observatories at different longitudes.
Perhaps the Sun can think in a way barely imaginable to our more limited power of thinking, its thoughts interfacing with its ever changing patterns of vibratory activity. In this way, it is scientifically imaginable that the Sun could be conscious.
The scientists among us were more interested in such arguments than some of the other participants. Some, like esotericist and educator Ida Urso, said they had never doubted for a moment that the Sun was conscious. They thought of the whole universe as conscious; and if there is consciousness in everything, why not the Sun?
Inevitably, it was not long before we found ourselves discussing what was meant by consciousness. Christopher Clarke, a physicist, was opposed to any attempt to see consciousness as a kind of add-on extra, somehow fitted into a world of autonomous physical processes in autonomous space-time. Consciousness, in his view, is somehow fundamental or innate to physical processes and these processes are not separable from space-time itself. Space and time are not absolutes, as they were for Newton, but bound up with everything else, including consciousness.
On the morning of the summer solstice itself, most of us set off at 4 AM in the dim grey light and in steady rain. Our hopes of seeing the sunrise seemed remote. We climbed up across the fields to a nearby hilltop, the site of an ancient Iron Age fort, the Blackdown Rings. As we entered the circular enclosure, we passed through a simple ceremony involving the elements of earth,air, fire and water and leapt over a mid-summer fire. We then climbed up to the highest point, and there miraculously, in the Northeastern horizon was a window in the cloud over Dartmoor. And there we saw the Sun rise. The full moon shone between the rain clouds in the west. And as the Sun rose there was a rainbow behind us. After this extraordinary display, Jill Purce led us in a chant.
When we started our discussions again later that day, more questions came to mind. We thought about the Sun’s relationship with the other stars. Do stars communicate with each other? Can they do so through gravitational effects and electro-magnetic radiation, not only in the visible range, but through x-rays, radio waves, and particle emissions? Or can they also communicate “telepathically”? Does the galaxy itself have a mind at a yet higher level, or is it simply a kind of collective consciousness of the individual star-minds within it? If the Sun has habits, like all other living organisms, then these habits will probably be unconscious, as habits usually are. Thus the Sun may have an unconscious mind. And perhaps stars have a collective unconscious. By this time everyone was really having fun and we were so far beyond any known bounds of academic respectability we all felt quite free.
On the last day of our gathering we came to the question of intergalactic telepathy. The scientific starting point for this particular discussion was that any messages that traveled at the speed of light would take billions of light years to reach distant galaxies, and the same again for the message to return to our galaxy. Even within this galaxy, light based or radio based communication would be very slow. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is over 100,000 light years across. So for a radio signal to reach from one solar system on one side of the galaxy to one on the other side, and for the message to return, it would take 200,000 years. It is unlikely that any human type civilisation would be around in 200,000 years time, and even if it were, the record-keeping system would have to be immaculate if the original message to which this was the reply, were not to be forgotten. Only through some form of communication vastly faster than light, or through some other kind of non-local linkage, could conscious communication occur within and between galaxies.
For me, one of the most astonishing thoughts was rather casually advanced by David Lorimer, director of the Scientific and Medical Network. He told us that in August, 1997 the followers of the Bulgarian teacher Peter Dhunov, would be gathering in Bulgaria to commune with the spirit of their deceased master and other illuminated beings who would be meeting in the Sun at the same time!
Satish Kumar told us of the traditional Indian belief that the departed spirits of enlightened human beings pass first into the light of the Sun and then to dimensions or realms beyond; the Sun was a kind of gateway through which human consciousness could move after bodily death.
As our time together drew to a close our minds were boggling. It was the most stimulating and enjoyable few days of discussion I have attended in many years. But needless to say, we came to no firm conclusions about the consciousness of the Sun.
I for one am very grateful for this blessed time we spent together, and to the Lifebridge Foundation for making it possible.
July 30, 1997
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