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I'm currently enamored with the idea of having a species of living, sapient stars (called "astrae") as the firstborn children of the gods in my space fantasy setting. Magic exists in this setting, so it's perfectly possible that I could just handwave it and say that astrae exist because magic or they're made of magic and just look and act like stars or their excess of numen (divinity) allows them to exist. It's a fantasy set in space – I'm fine with ignoring blatant impossibilities for the sake of having living, magic-wielding stars in the mythologies and lore of this universe.

But, both magic and evolution (because they were created; they did not evolve) aside, is it possible to have 'stellar organisms'? Could a star or star-like object (e.g., luminous spheres of plasma held together by their own gravity with thermonuclear fusion occurring within) accommodate cell-like, organ-like, and brain-like structures so as to allow memories and complex reasoning? Or should this be a case of "screw it, my world has magic, and what I say goes"?

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  • $\begingroup$ Please read The Heart of a Star. It is not an answer to your question, but may be further inspiration for you. Also Neil Gaiman. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jul 27 '16 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ Also, Frank Herbert's Whipping Star. $\endgroup$ – Michael Vehrs Jul 27 '16 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ I keep shooting myself because I cannot remember which one of the greats wrote the story (I think it was Clarke, but might have been Asimov), but I read a short story of a whisp of living electromagnetic energy that dared flare up into the cold of the corona of the sun, and was observed as RF interference by human antennas. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 7 '17 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Read Eater by Gregory Benford. It's about how intelligence and even self-awareness could potentially arise even in something like a black hole (which is of course itself just a dead star). Dragon's Egg may be another good novel to read, as it's about a species of intelligent microorganisms that evolve on the surface of a neutron star. Basically the point I'm trying to make is that while we don't have a complete or even working understanding of what gives rise to intelligence, there are some VERY intriguing possibilities that may end up being plausible (at least enough to pass muster). $\endgroup$ – Z.Schroeder Mar 7 '17 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ There's an online story called Star Walker that has sentient stars. starwalkerblog.com $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 7 '17 at 21:16
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This is a very interesting concept!

Abiogenesis used to focus on synthesis of organic chemicals, such as the famous Miller-Urey experiment. But a more recent approach is to consider the process from a 'metabolism-first' perspective. Before there were organic chemicals, there may have developed auto-catalyzing reactions, where the products of a chemical reaction catalyze further production of the same chemicals. This is the beginning of self-replication.

I have heard recently, that life may have begun in a network of tiny pores in a stone where the stone simulated cell enclosures that allowed the autocatalyzing reaction to continue constantly inside.

Applying this metabolism theory to stars, it seems to me that magnetic fields would have to create the cells. Instead of a chemical reaction, a certain magnetic field pattern could give rise to a plasma shape that caused that magnetic field pattern to replicate. The cells would then be packets of plasma that built a magnetic field that encapsulated their constituent plasma. Perhaps these patterns could only exist within the photosphere or chromosphere of the sun, and to stay alive they had to stay around the core of the sun which provided the radioactive heat from fusion that maintained their bodies in plasma form.

Not sure if that is scientifically feasible (seems like there would be LOTS of magnetic interference from adjacent cells). And how these cells would band together to make a superior life form, and from where would come the impetus towards sentience I don't really know...but you said you were okay with magic!

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    $\begingroup$ Also keep in mind that such an organism would think very, very slowly. The plasma cells are physically large and separated by long distances. In the limiting case, the equivalent of being pricked by a pin - ow! - would take the equivalent of the diameter of the star's surface divided by the speed of light, and this is typically much longer than the transition time for nerve impulses in biologicals. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 7 '17 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast Well I was imagining that packets of magnetic 'cells' in the chromosphere or photosphere would be the organism, not the entire star itself. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 7 '17 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ I was afraid of that. Positing a plasma cell with a persistent, yet self-modifying structure of the intricate sort required to support consciousness is going to take an awful lot of hand-waving, IMHO.. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 7 '17 at 18:42
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The interesting thing about your idea is that the origin of the conscious mind is still a great mystery. However, it does seem to require a high degree of complexity.

What if you made an entire galaxy a conscious mind with each star communicating with its neighbors by means of gravitational waves and fluxes across the vacuum of space? This system could be analogous to neurons in the human brain communicating with neurotransmitters across synapses.

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    $\begingroup$ See my comment on kingledion's answer, and ramp it up by a whole lot of powers of 10. A galaxy-sized organism is going to take at least 100,000 years to produce even the simplest thought. If you want to restrict things to the galactic core, where population is denser, you'll cut the time to 10,000 years, but I'm not sure that's all that much of an improvement. Simply singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall" is going to take an awfully long time. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 7 '17 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast In my experience, "99 bottles of beer on the wall" already takes an awfully long time. I'm not sure if I have every participated in a successful completion of the song. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Aug 24 '17 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast so? $\endgroup$ – Dan Burden Mar 5 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DanBurden - How can an "organism" be said to think if it can't appreciate "99 bottles of beer on the wall"? $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 6 at 4:48
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Yes, but they would be ... different

This is, conceivably, possible, though I wouldn't try to explain it as a conventional biological organism. Instead, let's focus on directly physics-based lifeforms. In The Five Ages of the Universe, there is a suggestion of emergent intelligence through networked black holes, so there are all kinds of crazy-sounding ideas that could function based on physical principles without traditional biology. Given that we're dealing with stars, light is an obvious candidate.

Our Sun is a fairly average star, so we'll use it for rough approximations to determine feasibility. The basis of this intelligence will be signalling with photons, or groups of photons. The Sun is just over 2 light-seconds across, but light takes about 1 million years to travel from the core to the surface, because it bounces around somewhat randomly for a very long time. Having such long signalling times would slow down the mind immensely, so there are two ways to get around that.

  1. 'Minor' stellar restructuring: Small tubes of lower-density material could be created (by your gods) to allow photons to traverse the star in reasonable times for a thinking being, but without special constructs, I don't see how these could be held open.
  2. Quantum entanglement: Though this does not allow for FTL communication, it can allow lightspeed communication without all that finicky structural stuff.

So signalling can be by quantum entanglement of certain photons, but how about the actual computation? It could be distributed throughout the star in computation centers, vaguely similar in function to neurons. This can be achieved through multiple means, including a combination of these:

  • Location-based computation: Based on the location of certain photons within the star (which can be determined by interactions with known 'marker' particles), values can be determined and operated upon in various ways.
  • Entanglement-based computation: Just like a 'normal' quantum computer, operations can be performed on qubits, and special, non-arithmetic outputs can be obtained, though this would require highly controlled cavitation on small scales to maintain the low temperatures needed.
  • Value-based computation: The constants associated with certain particles (ie spin, color, EM field interaction, speed, and mass) could be used to store values around individual ions, operating somewhat more like a conventional computer, though not really through normal electronic means.

The one problem remaining is that this is still just a massive computer system, not a living being. Such problems, though, could be solved just like they are in current AI research. The 'software' running on the stars' computational matrix could simulate a neural network, or some more sophisticated form of learning, to implement a general AI as an independent, living being. Even limbic system (hormonal) changes could be simulated through gradual life changes in the star, and the cycles of luminosity stars normally undergo, as well as random errors introduced by potentially imperfect computations.

Overall, this is an idea that is definitely feasible (and pretty cool) to implement, and I'd love to see where you go with it, even if you don't use my idea!

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In "The game of life" you see simple random arrangements of elements coalesce into complex activities. You could imagine that in rare cases, the random magnetic fields and plasma flows of a star begin to react in similar stable and complex patterns. Evolution of those patterns could slowly manipulate them into a form of consciousness. The data transfer rates would be horrendously slow, but there are examples of this in literature already. The trees in Disney's Sword in the Stone were constantly communicating, but Arthur has to be slowed down to the same slow timescale the trees are on before being able to understand it. A star may take centuries to have a single thought. And the changes necessary to achieve any sort of action would take even longer as various flows and fields have to be modified to produce forces. But perhaps that's reasonable on the timescales that the stars live.

This wouldn't be something that would make sense if you wanted all stars to be intelligent. But may be believable for rare ones.

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  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't really matter if they take centuries to formulate a single though. They are stars after all: they can live for literally billions of years. If we say a human takes 1 second to formulate a single thought then by simple conversion these a sun that lives a moderate lifespan of 10 billion years would have about 16 times more thoughts in its lifetime than human beings. Even more extreme, dwarf stars (living for trillions of years) would have hundreds or even thousands of more thoughts than any human. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 7 '17 at 22:13
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What if the astrae don't work quite like actual stars. The fusion at the center is powered by some other catalyst than massive gravity, perhaps a series of super-powered magnetic fields that aid the compression. The excess energy is channeled through a network of other magnetic fields to the outside in order to preserve the more fragile living tissue between the core and the outer shell, and directed outward very efficiently. These stars would be recognizable by their low gravity for their size and stellar class. Perhaps these creatures evolved shortly after the big bang and fed on the dense elemental clouds available at the time. Much like the denser atmosphere of early earth allowed giant-sized insects, this environment allowed stellar-size evolution in the universal "primordial ooze". As expansion thinned the gas clouds, a species managed to survive by evolving its own internal fusion engine as a more efficient use of the little nutrients they still manage to consume, generating a much higher energy output for a given amount of material intake.

Perhaps it's actually possible that the fusion originates from the plasma of other stars. The astrae siphon it off and capture it outside themselves with their own magnetic fields, using that to jumpstart a fusion reaction and nurturing it for energy. This would effectively work the same as the thought above except that the magnetic fields would channel the energy around the creature instead of through the creature. Maybe it is even a colony of creatures nurturing a central fusion reaction and using the excess channeled outward as camouflage and protection.

In either case, the central core is going to be much smaller than a traditional star's fusion core, even if the envelope appears the same size. The creature or colony will need to continue to gather elements from nebulae and stellar debris disks, either feeding to power the internal core, or siphoning plasma to replenish the external nurtured core.

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There's an SF novel that considers this seriously, but as far as I know, only one: Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. It's well worth reading if you want to develop this idea, although much of the stellar physics in it is now out-of-date.

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A BEC can be used for quantum computation and it might exist under the crust in neutron starslink. I don't know if the additional structures required for computation on the BEC could happen by chance but they could certainly be added by a creator.

As far as plasma beings. I agree with @kingledion and plasma rings seems to support. You could always do computation with collapsing structures as well, à la Chemical Computer.

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  • $\begingroup$ How is a BEC used for quantum computation? I saw this in a great story before but could not find the sciene underpinnings via Google. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 7 '17 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz AFAIK unrelated (2 element vs star) but as for a how it could be used there is this. I could be COMPLETELY wrong but as far as I understand it QC requires the quantum/qubit under inspection to not decohere. You manipulate it indirectly in concert with other quanta to get a "solid" physical aspect you can measure spin, etc. BEC is special in that a bunch of it's properties are forced to be quantum. Decoherence is related to potential signal entropy and BEC mostly occupies lower states... $\endgroup$ – Black Mar 9 '17 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ ...so you could potentially have longer decoherence times (the only thing currently stopping QC). Then again I think I read somewhere that proximity to other atoms reduces the time because of something about wavefunctions collapsing because nearby particles are observing the group more often. At any rate,the structures (organs) to get that "solid" aspect out of the qubits and make everything tick that first time would need to be waved in by a creator but the qubits (blood) could already be there realistically I believe. $\endgroup$ – Black Mar 9 '17 at 4:15
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Whilst not completely "Star Beings" the C'Tan from Warhammer 40k immediately sprang to mind. Their origins are very similar to stars and they live primarily by enveloping a star and gradually consuming its energy much like a parasite.

Perhaps your beings are not actual stars themselves but live within a star and have such a high metabolism that they can never detach from their food source once linked?

Again, most of the detail is hand-waved here but it could be useful.

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