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Questions about Consciousness

“Before I came here I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture I am still confused. But on a higher level.” -Enrico Fermi

What is consciousness? Is it a narrow set of parameters allowing an organism to possess knowledge of its own place in space and time and to act in its own best interest? Does consciousness itself predicate self-awareness? Or is it possible that consciousness is a much larger concept than we typically realize? Is the universe in some way aware, are all of the components therein, not just those living, breathing organisms but all things, in possession of some form of consciousness? We know now that plants, once thought to be entirely inanimate, possess a sophisticated level of awareness of not only themselves but the environment around them. Plants have the ability to detect light, color, and to sense danger and send out alarm signals. Perhaps our limited view of the concept of consciousness is due for re-evaluation.

Greg Matloff began his career as a rocket scientist. He teaches in the astronomy department at New York City College of Technology and frequently collaborates in multi-disciplinary projects. Together with his partner, C Bangs, Matloff collaborated on a book titled Starlight Starbright: Are Stars Conscious. Matloff has authored many peer-reviewed papers and given lectures on the topic of panpsychism, the notion that consciousness is pervasive across the universe. The definitions of consciousness are vast and varied, but as applied to stars generally refer to the concept of volition, according to Matloff. That is, stars may possess some organizational abilities that allow them to perform acts of volition. Matloff is presently awaiting a decision from the European observatory Gaia as to whether he can pursue his findings using their advanced technology. Also together with C Bangs as well as Les Johnson, Matloff is working on a book examining alien megastructures using data from Kepler and other interstellar satellites. While Matloff began his career as a rocket scientist, he made the shift to sail technology and is a leading expert in interstellar propulsion such as near-sun solar sail technology that may make interstellar travel possible. On the subject of alien life elsewhere in the universe, Matloff points to two well-known reference points. The Fermi Paradox goes back to the scientist Enrico Fermi who famously asked of the possibility of alien life, “where is everybody.” Matloff also brings up the lack of definitive evidence produced by SETI for the existence of alien lifeforms. He says there are many possible reasons that alien cultures may choose not to reach out, should they in fact exist.

C Bangs has recently completed a residency through Central Booking Artspace in collaboration with the New York Academy of Medicine. As one of five selected artists, Bangs worked at NY Academy of Medicine in the rare book room for six months on the topic of her choice. Because of her work with partner Greg Matloff on the topic of panpsychism, Bangs brought this topic to her research. Through the research of traditional medicinal flowers, Bangs investigated the potential for consciousness in living things not typically believed to possess consciousness. In addition to Starlight Starbright: Are Stars Conscious, Bangs also collaborated with Greg Matloff on an artist-led book titled Starbrightfor which Bangs created images that Matloff responded to in prose. Bangs and Matloff have been together and married since 1986 but have worked together far longer. They initially met at Pratt Institute where Matloff led the center for computing with a large mainframe that allowed faculty artists like Bangs to create computer art. Early on, the two discussed the relationship between mythology and science and formed a longterm collaboration partnership. In all of their work, both Bangs and Matloff operate from the very ancient point of view that consciousness pervades the universe.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Our universe is vast and alive. Of this, we are in no doubt. Perhaps we must consider that we alone are not in possession of the key to consciousness.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. C Bangs and Greg Matloff’s collaborative works, Starlight, Starbright: Are Stars Conscious and Starbright? are available now.

Opportunities / Open Calls

The Royal Watercolour Society invites established and emerging artists working in any water-based media to submit to their annual competition. Winners’ work will be exhibited in March at the Bankside Gallery located next to Tate Modern in London, England. Prizes also include art supplies and cash awards. Deadline for submissions is January 15.


Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.



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