bonny_kate: (doctor and rose)
[personal profile] bonny_kate
When I took astronomy over interterm my junior year, I had a hard time reconciling the scientific facts about stars (how they begin and end, their development, etc) with the Lewis idea (and to go further back, Dante) that the stars are not necessarily what they are made of. There's the lovely bit in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace says that 'in our world, stars are flaming balls of gas' and the star tells him that 'even in your world that is not what stars are, but what they are made of.' With such a grounding in Lewis, I shouldn't have had such a difficult time reconciling the two ideas, but I did. I would look up at the stars, and I could see all the constellations with all my knowledge about the specific stars, their composition and so on, or I could see the medieval heavens full of stars moving as intelligent beings (or at least the possibility of the stars as intelligent beings), but I couldn't see both at once. It took me most of interterm to finally be able to see both at once, and reconcile both views. I finally realized (in what is, I suppose, a stunningly obvious epiphany) that astronomy is rather like biology. One may know everything there is to know about the biology of a person, how every cell works at the most basic level, but that is not what a human is; merely what they are made of. In the same way, a star is made of very hot hydrogen or what have you, but it does not follow that this is what a star is in essence (I am not arguing that stars are intelligent, I am merely arguing for the possibility that they might be).

But looking back, I don't think this entire issue, framed as it was with the question of stars, was really about stars. It was about an insidious materialism that I had bought into, and finally found my way out of. I was used to thinking of humans as being more than their physical reality, but I did not extend this any further. I think this materialism (if this is the right word) is very prevalent in our society, with the possible exception of humans. You see it particularly in the instance of animal cloning. There are people who clone their pets in the expectation that a cat with the same physical self will be the same cat. They seem to think that a cat with the same DNA must have the same personality, as though a cat is no more than its DNA. But the truth is that two cats, even if they are exactly, physically alike, are not the same because they have different personalities, and different selves. Animals are easy, I think, because we intuitively grasp that they have personalities.

Stars. Stars are a little harder, because they are not organic, and we don't generally think of them as being alive. (I am not going to make the argument that they are alive, or intelligent, but I think there are no strong arguments against this.) Stars are, on one level, a large sphere of fire, but they are more than this, even if they aren't alive. But I think we have got into the habit of thinking about stars as being only large spheres of fire. This cannot fully explain stars, because it cannot account for the beauty and poetry of stars. Even if stars are not alive, they are beautiful, and a purely physical understanding cannot account for their beauty. Now, I had fallen into the trap of thinking that a star must be one thing or the other. The truth is that it is both at the same time.

Further, I think it is a useful idea to think of the stars as being intelligences moved by love. I am not suggesting that we accept as fact that stars are personalities, the same way that we accept as fact that animals are personalities (the evidence does not seem as conclusive about stars in either direction). But it is a useful thought experiment. Stars are not organic, and do not fit our understanding of what life is (as a sidenote, it would be a lovely sort of irony to find in the end that Mars never had life, which we looked so carefully to find, but that our sun has been alive all along). It is precisely because they are not organic, though, that stars are so useful as a thought experiment. If the stars are intelligences, then to look up at a starry night is not to look out, but to look in (as I think Lewis puts it). We are not looking out from a lone bastion of civilization and life into a universe empty of life, but rather we are looking from a world of imperfection into a universe full of a more perfect life and love. We are looking into the heavens from the silent planet.

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Kate Saunders Britton

October 2017

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