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I'm considering making one "creature" that is encountered in a story a sentient star in an alternate universe. I hope to hand-wave a little of the more complicated stuff by saying "this universe's constants are different", but the problem is I don't even know where to start when making a star sentient. Surely I'm not the first person to write about such nonsense, but I'm not sure where to look for examples for inspiration.

Can you give an example of how it could work, or a reference to another author who has done it already? I want it to be at least semi-plausible, not just say "This is how it is, deal with it." Note that "sentient" doesn't mean it has to be an animal of some sort, just a being with self-awareness.

Edit based on comments: I was considering that all stars in this universe could have developed intelligence in the same fashion, assuming that's plausible. But as far as them being a race capable of reproduction, I'm guessing that's better to skip for simplicity. Let's say they just "developed" intelligence somehow, through natural causes. How could a star contain a kind of "brain" or some capacity for intelligence?

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    $\begingroup$ I would look into the C'tan from the Warhammer 40k mythos. Although they are more of a Dyson Sphere inspired ethereal parasitic race which live inside/around stars and leech energy from the star. They could be mistaken for being the celestial object itself, which could perhaps fit your story. Other than that, I would like to ask you if the creature in your story is unique, a race of sentient stars or if all stars are sentient, as that could help others answer your question. Especially when it comes to procreation, social development and their overall personality. $\endgroup$ – Dale Gusta Jan 3 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Frank Herbert did it about fifty years ago. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipping_Star $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Jan 3 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisTheCat If you can turn that into an answer explaining how the stars worked, that would be perfect. $\endgroup$ – thanby - reinstate Monica Jan 3 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ John C. Wright's "Count to a Trillion" series has sort of an epic escalation from sentient computers to a sentient moon, earth, then gas giants, stars, clusters, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and galaxy superclusters. Although the technology is a bit vague at the higher levels, it seems that a sentient "star" in this case means the whole solar system working as one mind, perhaps with a dyson sphere or perhaps with all planets etc composed of thinking material. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Jan 3 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ Check out "Boltzmann brain." $\endgroup$ – Jes L. Jan 6 at 22:28
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If you want a the answer is "no."

A star ball of matter large enough that elements at the core get compressed until nuclear fusion begins. Lots of energy is generated which heats the rest of the star, molecular bonds break down, etc.

While there is no sound, scientific explanation of that I know of, the usual assumption is that this takes highly organized matter, while a star has highly homogenized matter.

Either you think of it as or you "invent" some property of matter that lends itself to organized structures and would not get affected by the fusion reaction. Technobabble about cosmic strings and quantum.

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I believe that one of the characters in the television series Andromeda 2000-2005 turned out to be the humanoid avatar of an intelligent star.

Morris the Cat's comment mentioned a Frank Herbert story about intelligent stars: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipping_Star 1 http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?302 http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?22573

workerjoe's comment mentioned John C. Wright's "Count to a Trillion" series. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?72274

Ross Rocklynne's Darkness series was about an intelligent nebula or galaxy. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?4505

Isaac Asimov's story "Buy Jupiter!" (1958) featured aliens who were plasma in highly structured magnetic fields and lived in the atmospheres of hot stars. If the entire atmosphere of such a star was a single intelligent giant plasma being one might say that the star was a person. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?682726

Intelligent stars are among the wonders in Olaf Stapledon's novel The Star Maker (1937).

Here is a link to an article about living planets and living stars: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/living_worlds7

It mentions about nine examples, and some of them may offer explanations of how the stars became structured enough to develop intelligence.

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I don't know about sentient stars in fiction, but Terry Pratchett in Dark Side of the Sun wrote about The First Sirian Bank which is an intelligent planet. Basically if I recall correctly the rock (silica) of the planet had formed computer circuits and it had developed artificial intelligence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could such substances survive inside the pressure of a star, though? $\endgroup$ – thanby - reinstate Monica Jan 3 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ I believe most stars are made up of hydrogen and helium, so it is not really possible. If you really want it to be a star then you would have to come up with a different idea. $\endgroup$ – mwarren Jan 3 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ If I remember correctly (and it's been a very long time since I read it, so I might not), Dark Side of the Sun mentions that a sentient star exists (since there is sentient rock and also water), although only as a passing comment, so almost definitely with no comment as to how. $\endgroup$ – BBeast Jan 4 at 10:49
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Not through natural means, however, a very large computer would look like a star from the outside. The waste heat from it's calculations could be transferred to a coolant which becomes a plasma by time it is ejected out of the core. The plasma would be cooled by space before returning back to the core to repeat the process over again. Ejecting the coolant maximizes the surface area the coolant has to release heat into the space around it and the gravity produced by the mass of the machine pulls the coolant back into the core again.

The very odd flare activity as well as the abnormal light spectrum for a star of very small size would attract curious travelers to see what the deal is. The computer could communicate with these travelers to gain data about the outside world.

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The only two things you might have going for you are:

  1. The equations that govern plasmas are non-linear. So maybe, maybe, maybe complicated combinations of 'structures' in the plasma waves could be possible.

  2. There is a tremendous amount of high-quality energy to be had in a star. Specifically, there is a thermal gradient between the various layers of a star. That thermal gradient can be the source of useful energy. Any kind of life form needs an energy input. Any kind of computation also needs an energy input.

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As noted in other answers, intelligence, while poorly understood, is most likely to be related to a kind of high-level heterogeneity; a certain kind of structure that is predictable and unpredictable in equal measure.

For this reason, highly homogeneous environments, like the inside of the star are a poor candidate. Luckily the outside, the photosphere and the corona, show more structure. In particular, sunspots provide an interesting level of heterogeneity and interaction. Sunspots move across the surface, have polarity, interact with each other, and expand and shrink. Ingredients enough to make complex interactions feasible.

If you can engineer a star with a much higher number of starspots than ours, at a much finer scale, it's not too big of a stretch to imagine self-sustaining structures being a possibility. The "life forms" found in continuous versions of Conway's Game of Life might be an inspiration:

A Lenia life form

Of course, this gives you life on a star, not a star that is itself sentient. But there's a spectrum between a colony of sentient beings and a single sentient entity. Even our brains are often hypothesized to function as a kind of "council" of competing desires. The self-replicating structures could evolve into greater complexity, driven by competition for resources (probably the energy from the star powering their internal computation), and eventually merge into something like a single entity.

These would be largely 2D entities, so learning to manipulate the third dimension, and discovering a universe in three dimensions would be a big breakthrough early in their evolution. On the other hand, they have a lot more energy to tap into than we do, so their evolution may proceed much quicker than ours did.

Finally, if you can think of a mechanism by which this intelligence could be transferred from one star to another (perhaps an incredibly focused gamma ray beam could copy a structure from one photosphere to another across light years) then the spontaneous emergence of structure could be relatively rare. After they've covered their first star, all they need to do is focus their energies in order to expand to a whole new universe. Before long, the entire galaxy would be covered in sentient stars.

In fact, who's to say that it isn't...

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  • $\begingroup$ How are creatures crawling on the surface of a star more 2D like than creatures crawling on the surface of Earth? $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jan 6 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Muuski They may extend a little down into the star, in which case they are more like us, but if the whole thing is just like a cellular automaton on the surface of the star, they have only two degrees of freedom. The star is like a computer that calculates their universe. Moving in 3 dimensions would be like "breaking out of the simulation". $\endgroup$ – PTm Jan 11 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ They don't have two degrees of freedom any more than we do though. Do me a favor, get out of your chair and jump up and down. Enjoying your third degree of freedom? Well creatures on the surface of a star could do the same thing... $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jan 20 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski We are creatures on the surface. They are creatures within the surface. Run a Game of life simulation, and ask those creatures to jump up out of your computer screen. $\endgroup$ – PTm Jan 20 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ I'll run a version with a third dimension, since the atmosphere of the sun has depth, and see if the resulting life forms develop the ability to swim in any direction ;) $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jan 20 at 19:38
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Plasma Processors and Godstars from the Orions Arm Project

In the Orions Arm Universe a substance called magmatter exists. Magmatter has a bunch of fancy properties, but has the slight flaw that we have never observed any magnetic monopole in a physics experiment. However it is a downright conservative substance compared to exotic matter with negative mass.

Magmatter enables some godlike AI's to create the ultimate computers, plasma processors.

The original concept of the plasma processor dates all the way back to the Information Age, when various researchers theorized about the ultimate possible limits of computation using conventional matter. These theorists quickly determined that the ultimate speed of a computer was dictated by quantum theory and Relativity, which stated that the minimum possible time it could take for something to change from one quantum state to another was limited by the amount of energy available to it. Assuming that the maximum amount of energy available could be had by converting the entire mass to energy led to the result that the so-called 'ultimate computer' would consist of a ball of plasma operating at nuclear temperatures for a tiny fraction of a second before radiating energy blew it apart. This was generally presumed to mean that no actual computer could ever operate at the ultimate theoretical limits of computation and for millennia this was the case, until the first S4 minds appeared. First developed at the 4th Singularity level, a plasma processor consists of a complex three-dimensional magmatter mesh constraining high energy plasma via the intense magnetic fields associated with the material. Computations are performed as the plasma changes state an enormous number of times per second, with data being stored in the quantum states of the magelecton clouds associated with the magmatter mesh. Input/output and internal system communications are via gamma ray lasers and/or modulation of the associated magnetic fields. In the most advanced designs, comm-gauge wormholes also play a role, being magnetically contained and used to route communications to external systems (sometimes light-years away) or across the largest internal distances of the processor. A standard S4 plasma-based computronium node is able to process some 2.98e38 bits per second, per kilogram of computronium. This makes a single kilogram of plasma processor as capable as an entire S3 moon-brain. In practice most plasma processing nodes are much larger, being used in Jupiter-brains, god-stars, and other deity-class processing nodes. At higher S-levels, plasma processor capabilities seem to increase greatly, both in terms of raw computational horsepower (it is believed that high energy S5 and S6 plasma processors are respectively some three and seven orders of magnitude more capable than the S4 versions, possibly taking advantage of space-time alterations generated as a side-effect of the energies involved) and the ability to decrease both the size and energies required to produce plasma based computation. Such 'cold plasma' based units are far less capable in terms of raw power but require far less support infrastructure and may be employed in applications such as experimental deep-space lifeforms or god-tech based angelnets employing restructured planetary magnetic fields as part of their processing architecture. The greatest limitation on most plasma processors is often waste heat. The intense energies associated with the devices limits their ability to operate in close proximity to other, less durable devices generally including nearly any object made from conventional matter. This is a common issue with magmatter and other more advanced technologies however, and the design principles and best practices of working with such devices are thousands of years old.

Stars are made of a lot of plasma and some archailects figured out how to combine a magmatter matrix with a star to turn it into a gigantic processor. The baselines call these archailects/stars Godstars.

The godtech modification and transcension of a star into a high S-level (>SI:4 due to multi-nodality) archailect. While appearing as a normal stellar object, the Godstar is a fully transapient being with control over many aspects of stellar behavior. The Godstar is in some ways analogous to a Planetary Caretaker God, maintaining an optimal stellar environment for bionts and AIs. However, unlike the Caretaker God which resides on or in the planet, the Godstar is the stellar object. It is believed that subsidiary beings of SI:2- SI:4 (Flarelings and Spot Dwellers) exist in conjunction with em. The recent discovery of the Godstars provoked varying reactions throughout Terragen Space. The affiliation of 23 currently-known Godstars is unaffiliated with any of the known archailects, nor has the nature of eir origin and creation as yet been ascertained. Their long-term effect upon Sephirotic polities remains unknown pending further investigation and developments.

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    $\begingroup$ Well that just took me down a rabbit hole I didn't expect $\endgroup$ – thanby - reinstate Monica Jan 7 at 14:31
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It is a different question if stars evolve intelligence, or that it is intelligent through other means (perhaps designed to be so).

Evolving intelligence is not possible in my view, as there are not enough generations of stars, not enough interaction to push intelligent forms, and no physical means (they are just mostly fusion explosions) to form a brain.

However it may be possible to design it, by perhaps installing within a star a system of neurons (a brain) using materials that are not fuseable, using the fusion of the star as its energy source. It would have to withstand the heat of the star, and communicate with other neurons in the star the same as a brain. An intelligent race would need to install this into all stars.

The other aspect is sentience - you need this star to communicate and sense otherwise it has no way of knowing it is separate from the universe (no sense of 'self'). Orbiting satellites could give it senses, and could provide a means to transmit and receive messages with other stars, to feed back ideas and give it an identity, a community, an idea of self-knowledge and self-worth to enable a sentient idea.

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