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chaos &
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revisioning astrology
as a process

philosophy &






Vilanova 1998

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home    consultations    courses    ideas    irish astrology        Bill Sheeran

The following essay puts forward some initial suggestions as to why astrologers should give consideration to new theories such as those of Chaos and Complexity.

Revisioning astrology as a process

Initial assumptions
Humans construct conceptual systems (e.g. mathematics, astrology, etc.) to help organise their experience of reality.

Knowledge and understanding flow from the application of such systems, but are also constrained by them.

The evolution of knowledge occurs as a result of the feedback loops which couple together the conceptual system and the reality within which it thrives and which the system also attempts to map.

Occasionally the self-organisational ability of traditional knowledge to adjust and assimilate new insights while maintaining its overall coherence is overwhelmed. At such critical points the buffering capacity of the conceptual system fails, creating a selection pressure for its own evolution.

For astrology (and the pre-modern view in general), the classical scientific revolution was such an event.

The modern conceptual system
The modern conceptual system was characterised by mechanical and inanimate presumptions, breaking with earlier cosmological, philosophical and theological traditions. Its implementation relied exclusively on the combination of logical reasoning and the methodology of scientific experimentation.

In the west, this bifurcation resulted in the dominance of the modern conceptual system, it running in parallel with the lesser and to some extent submissive descendants of the pre-modern reality models. Very broadly speaking, science and technology became polarised from the arts, literature, religion and so on, giving rise to what C.P.Snow called the Two Cultures.

For all the seeming exclusivity, the two branches have remained in dialogue, albeit one of a primarily uneasy and argumentative nature. The arguments have not been without benefit to astrology, which at its core has made modest advances based on the rewards of rational self-examination. At the same time, the rational objective universality and material orientation which informs the modern conceptual system cannot accommodate the imaginal subjective particularity of astrology as currently conceived without the former undergoing a major conceptual evolution.

Common ground between the modern and pre-modern perspectives
The products of the modern conceptual system and the contemporary echoes of the pre-modern system nevertheless have a shared lineage. The former emerged from the latter and brought with it a central concept from the earlier perspective. That is, a belief that the Cosmos is in essence orderly, stable and knowable. Disorder, instability and the unfathomable, all recognisable features of living reality and the main sources of existential anxiety, can in principle be clarified or tamed.

This belief in the orderliness of the dynamic Cosmos is supported by the ability to successfully predict the future state of any system within the Cosmos. Science and astrology are two of the main predictive tools in human culture, with science (underpinned by mathematics) being by far the most successful. Each attempts to address quantitative and qualitative prediction respectively.

Acknowledging unpredictability
As a result of the feedback coupling between the modern conceptual system (mathematical sciences) and the reality it addresses, a major crisis emerged in the 20th century. The traditional sense of an orderly, stable and knowable Cosmos could not withstand the impact of novel insights. Unpredictability was acknowledged to be an irreducible feature of reality.

This earthquake shakes both science and astrology, as it impacts on the shared conceptual ground which was unaffected by the bifurcation that happened in the 17th century (that being a belief in an orderly Cosmos).

Science has adapted where necessary by changing its expectations regarding prediction. Instead of attempting to calculate specific future Ďend statesí of a system for any given time, efforts are made to model future system behaviour. In other words, understanding the process has become more important than calculating the static end state, which for many systems is mathematically extremely difficult if not impossible.

The emergence of Chaos and Complexity
Chaos and complexity theories have emerged from the efforts to mathematically model complex dynamic systems, these latter being the norm in life. To whatever extent they have any value, these theories are generally applicable to any complex dynamic system and are not just restricted to traditional subjects for scientific elaboration. Economists for example work with complex dynamic systems which include such unmeasurable parameters as consumer confidence, and make use of the new insights from process thinking in their predictive work.

For all their differences, astrology and science both attempt to make predictions about life processes. The new insights into modelling reality transcend the divide between quality and quantity in this regard. This is partly because the theories themselves function independently of any knowledge about the causal mechanisms involved. Their conceptual potency is such that they illuminate the whole spectrum which links the literal and the metaphorical.

Astrology considered as a process
Astrology takes on a different hue when considered in the light of process rather than structure. Instead of emphasising the structure of the horoscope in isolation from context as if it was the key determining factor, the context becomes the primary focus. Some understanding of the inherent Ďnon-astrologicalí dynamics of the system under study is crucial if the astrological perspective on that system is to generate useful insights. Even if astrological factors have a causative input into the systemís dynamics (and this is highly debatable), that input is just one of many which together contribute to the systemís future behaviour.

It is important to emphasise that the shift from a structural to a process orientation as regards the modelling of reality is a recent development within the sciences. It is partly a consequence of the emergence of wholistic perspectives in the biological sciences during the second half of the 20th century. The notion that processes could be fully understood by studying the structural components as isolated elements in the system - that processes can be reduced to structure - became untenable.

The implications of complex dynamical systems' theory shake the foundations of concepts of order as envisaged long before the onset of the scientific revolution. Thus there are many reverberations for astrology, which is built upon the same drive to reveal the order in the world as science. In my view, the ramifications are so important that they constitute a selection pressure for astrology to undergo a reformation as profound as any other which has occurred in the subjectís long history. Hopefully the contents of these essays will make a constructive contribution to that process.

Copyright © 2004 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.