3. STARS

Stars are best regarded as living organisms, but organisms which are physiologically and psychologically of a very peculiar kind. The outer and middle layers of a mature star apparently consist of “tissues” woven of currents of incandescent gases. These gaseous tissues live and maintain the stellar consciousness by intercepting part of the immense flood of energy that wells from the congested and furiously active interior of the star. The innermost of the vital layers must be a kind of digestive apparatus which transmutes the crude radiation into forms required for the maintenance of the star’s life. Outside this digestive area lies some sort of coordinating layer, which may be thought of as the star’s brain. The outermost layers, including the corona, respond to the excessively faint stimuli of the star’s cosmical environment, to light from neighboring stars, to cosmic rays, to the impact of meteors, to tidal stresses caused by the gravitational influence of planets or of other stars. These influences could not, of course, produce any clear impression but for a strange tissue of gaseous sense organs, which discriminate between them in respect of quality and direction, and transmit information to the correlating “brain” layer.

The sense experience of a star, though so foreign to us, proved after all fairly intelligible. It was not excessively difficult for us to enter telepathically into the star’s perception of the gentle titillations, strokings, pluckings, and scintillations that came to it from the galactic environment. It was strange that, though the star’s own body was actually in a state of extreme brilliance, none of this outward-flowing light took effect upon its sense organs. Only the faint in-coming light of other stars was seen. This afforded the perception of a surrounding heaven of flashing constellations, which were set not in blackness but in blackness tinged with the humanly inconceivable color of the cosmic rays. The stars themselves were seen colored according to their style and age. But though the sense perception of the stars was fairly intelligible to us, the motor side of stellar life was at first quite incomprehensible. We had to accustom ourselves to an entirely new way of regarding physical events. For the normal voluntary motor activity of a star appears to be no other than the star’s normal physical movement studied by our science, movement in relation to other stars and the galaxy as a whole. A star must be thought of as vaguely aware of the gravitational influence of the whole galaxy, and more precisely aware of the “pull” of its near neighbors; though of course their influence would generally be far too slight to be detected by human instruments. To these influences the star responds by voluntary movement, which to the astronomers of the little minded worlds seems purely mechanical; but the star itself unquestioningly and rightly feels this movement to be the freely willed expression of its own psychological nature. Such at least was the almost incredible conclusion forced on us by the research carried out by the Galactic Society of Worlds.

Thus the normal experience of a star appears to consist in perception of its cosmical environment, along with continuous voluntary changes within its own body and in its position in relation to other stars. This change of position consists, of course, in rotation and passage. The star’s motor life is thus to be thought of almost as a life of dance, or of figure-skating, executed with perfect skill according to an ideal principle which emerges into consciousness from the depths of the stellar nature and becomes clearer as the star’s mind matures.

This ideal principle cannot be conceived by men save as it is manifested in practice as the well-known physical principle of “least action,” or the pursuit of that course which in all the gravitational and other conditions is the least extravagant. The star itself, by means of its purchase on the electromagnetic field of the cosmos, apparently wills and executes this ideal course with all the attention and delicacy of response which a motorist exercises in threading his way through traffic on a winding road, or a ballet-dancer in performing the most intricate movements with the greatest economy of effort. Almost certainly, the star’s whole physical behavior is normally experienced as a blissful, an ecstatic, an ever successful pursuit of formal beauty. This the minded worlds were able to discover through their own most formalistic aesthetic experience. In fact it was through this experience that they first made contact with stellar minds. But the actual perception of the aesthetic (or religious?) rightness of the mysterious canon, which the stars so earnestly accepted, remained far beyond the mental range of the minded worlds. They had to take it, so to speak, on trust. Clearly this aesthetic canon was in some way symbolical of some spiritual intuition that remained occult to the minded worlds.

The life of the individual star is not only a life of physical movement. It is also undoubtedly in some sense a cultural and a spiritual life. In some manner each star is aware of its fellow stars as conscious beings. This mutual awareness is probably intuitive and telepathic, though presumably it is also constantly supported by inference from observation of the behavior of others. From the psychological relations of star with star sprang a whole world of social experiences which were so alien to the minded worlds that almost nothing can be said of them.

There is perhaps some reason for believing that the free behavior of the individual star is determined not only by the austere canons of the dance but also by the social will to cooperate with others. Certainly the relation between stars is perfectly social. It reminded me of the relation between the performers in an orchestra, but an orchestra composed of persons wholly intent on the common task. Possibly, but not certainly, each star, executing its particular theme, is moved not only by the pure aesthetic or religious motive but also by a will to afford its partners every legitimate opportunity for self-expression. If so, the life of each star is experienced not only as the perfect execution of formal beauty but also as the perfect expression of love. It would, however, be unwise to attribute affection and comradeship to the stars in any human sense. The most that can safely be said, is that it would probably be more false to deny them affection for one another than to assert that they were, indeed, capable of love. Telepathic research suggested that the experience of the stars was through and through of a different texture from that of the minded worlds. Even to attribute to them thought or desire of any kind is probably grossly anthropomorphic, but it is impossible to speak of their experience in any other terms.

The mental life of a star is almost certainly a progress from an obscure infantile mentality to the discriminate consciousness of maturity. All stars, young and old, are mentally “angelic,” in that they all freely and joyfully will the “good will,” the pattern of right action so far as it is revealed to them; but the great tenuous young stars, though they perfectly execute their part in the galactic dance, would seem to be in some manner spiritually naive or childlike in comparison with their more experienced elders. Thus, though there is normally no such thing as sin among the stars, no deliberate choice of the course known to be wrong for the sake of some end known to be irrelevant, there is ignorance, and consequent aberration from the pattern of the ideal as revealed to stars of somewhat maturer mentality. But this aberration on the part of the young is itself apparently accepted by the most awakened class of the stars as itself a desirable factor in the dance pattern of the galaxy. From the point of view of natural science, as known to the minded worlds, the behavior of young stars is of course always an exact expression of their youthful nature; and the behavior of the elder stars an expression of their nature. But, most surprisingly, the physical nature of a star at any stage of its growth is in part an expression of the telepathic influence of other stars. This fact can never be detected by the pure physics of any epoch. Unwittingly scientists derive the inductive physical laws of stellar evolution from data which are themselves an expression not only of normal physical influences but also of the unsuspected psychical influence of star on star.

In early ages of the cosmos the first “generation” of stars had been obliged to find their way unhelped from infancy to maturity; but later “generations” were in some manner guided by the experience of their elders so that they should pass more quickly and more thoroughly from the obscure to the fully lucid consciousness of themselves as spirits, and of the spiritual universe in which they dwelt. Almost certainly, the latest stars to condense out of the primeval nebula advanced (or will advance) more rapidly than their elders had done; and throughout the stellar host it was believed that in due season the youngest stars, when they had attained maturity, would pass far beyond the loftiest spirit insight of their seniors. There is good reason to say that the two over-mastering desires of all stars are the desire to execute perfectly their part in the communal dance, and the desire to press forward to the attainment of full insight into the nature of the cosmos. The latter desire was the factor in stellar mentality which was most comprehensible to the minded worlds. The climax of a star’s life occurs when it has passed through the long period of its youth, during which it is what human astronomers call a “red giant.” At the close of this period it shrinks rapidly into the dwarf state in which our sun now is. This physical cataclysm seems to be accompanied by far-reaching mental changes. Henceforth, though the star plays a less dashing part in the dance-rhythms of the galaxy, it is perhaps more clearly and penetratingly conscious. It is interested less in the ritual of the stellar dance, more in its supposed spiritual significance. After this very long phase of physical maturity there comes another crisis. The star shrinks into the minute and the inconceivably dense condition in which our astronomers call it a “white dwarf.” Its mentality in the actual crisis proved almost impervious to the research of the minded worlds. It appeared to be a crisis of despair and of reorientated hope. Henceforth the stellar mind presents increasingly a strain of baffling and even terrifying negativity, an icy, an almost cynical aloofness, which, we suspected, was but the obverse of some dread rapture hidden from us. However that may be, the aged star still continues meticulously to fulfil its part in the dance, but its mood is deeply changed. The aesthetic fervors of youth, the more serene but earnest will of maturity, all maturity’s devotion to the active pursuit of wisdom, now fall away. Perhaps the star is henceforth content with its achievement, such as it is, and pleased simply to enjoy the surrounding universe with such detachment and insight as it has attained. Perhaps; but the minded worlds were never able to ascertain whether the aged stellar minded eluded their comprehension through sheer superiority of achievement or through some obscure disorder of the spirit. In this state of old age a star remains for a very long period, gradually losing energy, and mentally withdrawing into itself, until it sinks into an impenetrable trance of senility. Finally its light is extinguished and its tissues disintegrate in death. Henceforth it continues to sweep through space, but it does so unconsciously, and in a manner repugnant to its still conscious fellows.

Such, very roughly stated, would seem to be the normal life of the average star. But there are many varieties within the general type. For stars vary in original size and in composition, and probably in psychological impact upon their neighbors. One of the commonest of the eccentric types is the double star, two mighty globes of fire waltzing through space together, in some cases almost in contact. Like all stellar relations, these partnerships are perfect, are angelic. Yet it is impossible to be certain whether the members experience anything which could properly be called a sentiment of personal love, or whether they regard one another solely as partners in a common task. Research undoubtedly suggested that the two beings did indeed move on their winding courses in some kind of mutual delight, and delight of close cooperation in the measures of the galaxy. But love? It is impossible to say. In due season, with the loss of momentum, the two stars come into actual contact. Then, seemingly in an agonizing blaze of joy and pain, they merge. After a period of unconsciousness, the great new star generates new living tissues, and takes its place among the angelic company. The strange Cepheid variables proved the most baffling of all the stellar kinds. It seems that these and other variables of much longer period alternate mentally between fervor and quietism, in harmony with their physical rhythm. More than this it is impossible to say.

One event, which happens only to a small minority of the stars in the course of their dance-life, is apparently of great psychological importance. This is the close approach of two or perhaps three stars to one another, and the consequent projection of a filament from one toward another. In the moment of this “moth kiss,” before the disintegration of the filament and the birth of planets, each star probably experiences an intense but humanly unintelligible physical ecstasy. Apparently the stars which have been through this experience are supposed to have acquired a peculiarly vivid apprehension of the unity of body and spirit. The “virgin” stars, however, though unblessed by this wonderful adventure, seem to have no desire to infringe the sacred canons of the dance in order to contrive opportunities for such encounters. Each one of them is angelically content to play its allotted part, and to observe the ecstasy of those that fate has favored. To describe the mentality of stars is of course to describe the unintelligible by means of intelligible but falsifying human metaphors. This tendency is particularly serious in telling of the dramatic relations between the stars and the minded worlds, for under the stress of these relations the stars seem to have experienced for the first time emotions superficially like human emotions. So long as the stellar community was immune from interference by the minded worlds, every member of it behaved with perfect rectitude and had perfect bliss in the perfect expression of its own nature and of the common spirit. Even senility and death were accepted with calm, for they were universally seen to be involved in the pattern of existence; and what every star desired was not im-mortality, whether for itself or for the community, but the perfect fruition of stellar nature. But when at last the minded worlds, the planets, began to interfere appreciably with stellar energy and motion, a new and terrible and incomprehensible thing presumably entered into the experiences of the stars. The stricken ones found themselves caught in a distracting mental conflict. Through some cause which they themselves could not detect, they not merely erred but willed to err. In fact, they sinned. Even while they still adored the right, they chose the wrong.

I said that the trouble was unprecedented. This is not strictly true. Something not wholly unlike this public shame seems to have occurred in the private experience of nearly every star. But each sufferer succeeded in keeping his shame secret until either with familiarity it became tolerable or else its source was overcome. It was indeed surprising that beings whose nature was in many ways so alien and unintelligible should be in this one respect at least so startlingly “human.”

In the outer layers of young stars life nearly always appears not only in the normal manner but also in the form of parasites, minute independent organisms of fire, often no bigger than a cloud in the terrestrial air, but sometimes as large as the Earth itself. These “salamanders” either feed upon the welling energies of the star in the same manner as the star’s own organic tissues feed, or simply prey upon those tissues themselves. Here as elsewhere the laws of biological evolution come into force, and in time there may appear races of intelligent flame-like beings. Even when the salamandrian life does not reach this level, its effect on the star’s tissues may become evident to the star as a disease of its skin and sense organs, or even of its deeper tissues. It then experiences emotions not wholly unlike human fright and shame, and anxiously and most humanly guards its secret from the telepathic reach of its fellows.

The salamandrian races have never been able to gain mastery over their fiery worlds. Many of them succumb, soon or late, either to some natural disaster or to internecine strife or to the self-cleansing activities of their mighty host. Many others survive, but in a relatively harmless state, troubling their stars only with a mild irritation, and a faint shade of insincerity in all their dealings with one another. In the public culture of the stars the salamandrian pest was completely ignored. Each star believed itself to be the only sufferer and the only sinner in the galaxy. One indirect effect the pest did have on stellar thought. It introduced the idea of purity. Each star prized the perfection of the stellar community all the more by reason of its own secret experience of impurity.

When the minded planets began to tamper seriously with stellar energy and stellar orbits, the effect was not a private shame but a public scandal. It was patent to all observers that the culprit had violated the canons of the dance. The first aberrations were greeted with bewilderment and horror. Amongst the hosts of the virgin stars it was whispered that if the result of the much prized interstellar contacts, whence the natural planets had sprung, was in the end this shameful irregularity, probably the original experience itself had also been sinful. The erring stars protested that they were not sinners, but victims of some unknown influence from the grains which revolved about them. Yet secretly they doubted themselves. Had they long ago, in the ecstatic sweep of star to star, after all infringed the canon of the dance? They suspected, moreover, that in respect of the irregularities which were now creating this public scandal, they could, if they had willed firmly enough, have contained themselves, and preserved their true courses in spite of the irritants that had affected them.

Meanwhile the power of the minded planets increased. Suns were boldly steered to suit the purposes of their parasites. To the stellar population it seemed, of course, that these erring stars were dangerous lunatics. The crisis came, as I have already said, when the worlds projected their first messenger toward the neighboring galaxy. The hurtling star, terrified at its own maniac behavior, took the only retaliation that was known to it. It exploded into the “nova” state, and successfully destroyed its planets. From the orthodox stellar point of view this act was a deadly sin; for it was an impious interference with the divinely appointed order of a star’s life. But it secured the desired end, and was soon copied by other desperate stars. Then followed that age of horror which I have already described from the point of view of the Society of Worlds. From the stellar point of view it was no less terrible, for the condition of the stellar society soon became desperate. Gone was the perfection and beatitude of former days. “The City of God” had degenerated into a place of hatred, recrimination and despair. Hosts of the younger stars had become premature and embittered dwarfs, while the elders had mostly grown senile. The dance pattern had fallen into chaos. The old passion for the canons of the dance remained, but the conception of the canons was obscured. Spiritual life had succumbed to the necessity of urgent action. The passion for the progress of insight into the nature of the cosmos also remained, but insight itself was obscured. Moreover, the former naive confidence, common to young and mature alike, the certainty that the cosmos was perfect and that the power behind it was righteous, had given place to blank despair.