"It's completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise," says Dr Lucie Green, from University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
The drop off in activity is happening surprisingly quickly, and scientists are now watching closely to see if it will continue to plummet.
"It could mean a very, very inactive star, it would feel like the Sun is asleep... a very dormant ball of gas at the centre of our Solar System," explains Dr Green.
This, though, would certainly not be the first time this has happened.
Christof Koch at Scientific American asks if consciousness is universal. It's a question that causes him to consider the idea of panpsychism, and what such an idea might entail for human exceptionalism. His assessment?
Given the lack of a clear and compelling Rubicon separating simple from complex animals and simple from complex behaviors, the belief that only humans are capable of experiencing anything consciously seems preposterous. A much more reasonable assumption is that until proved otherwise, many, if not all, multicellular organisms experience pain and pleasure and can see and hear the sights and sounds of life. For brains that are smaller and less complex, the creatures' conscious experience is very likely to be less nuanced, less differentiated and more elemental. Even a worm has perhaps the vaguest sense of being alive. Of course, each species has its own unique sensorium, matched to its ecological niche. Not every creature has ears to hear and eyes to see. Yet all are capable of having at least some subjective feelings.
Taken literally, panpsychism is the belief that everything is “enminded.” All of it. Whether it is a brain, a tree, a rock or an electron. Everything that is physical also possesses an interior mental aspect. One is objective—accessible to everybody—and the other phenomenal—accessible only to the subject. That is the sense of the quotation by British-born Buddhist scholar Alan Watts with which I began this essay.
I will defend a narrowed, more nuanced view: namely that any complex system, as defined below, has the basic attributes of mind and has a minimal amount of consciousness in the sense that it feels like something to be that system. If the system falls apart, consciousness ceases to be; it doesn't feel like anything to be a broken system. And the more complex the system, the larger the repertoire of conscious states it can experience.
For better or worse, The Economist is recognizing science fiction. In short, Jonathan Ledgard believes that it's time for science fiction to save itself from all of these vampires, zombies, and other elements of dystopia (?) in favor of a more optimistic, "planetary" writing.
Accelerating technological advances will rekindle hope that man can manipulate the atmosphere and genes to help lifeforms flourish. Stories will move away from howling and towards the possible. The new optimism will be most clearly seen in science fiction. The biggest successes in the genre in 2014 will be cheering tales set in the near future. That will mean more of Africa, more of equitable politics and, crucially, more of engineering solutions.