This article was first published in Réalta, vol.3 no.3 in August 1996. It is the transcription of a talk I gave at the Irish Astrological Association conference held in May of that year. The article is spread over three pagesThis is Part 1 of a three-part article. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3
Astrology & Science - a relationship in transition
The contents of this talk have been prompted by an increasing frustration at the way that the astrological community seems unable to make any headway in counter-acting astrology’s chronic misrepresentation by both the media and her critics. Astrologers seem to have no problem tearing each other apart, but when it comes putting up a strong front against detractors, timidity and meekness set in.
I have felt for a long time that while much effort is put into refining the practice of the craft, development on a theoretical or philosophical level is conspicuous by its absence, and that this leaves astrology weak, hollow and vulnerable. There is no consensus or united front which can be put forward to counteract what are often valid criticisms and justified questions. I feel this has to change, and that there's no time like the present. Pluto and Uranus are signalling this in glowing neon lights. Astrology is as likely to experience a problematical but ultimately constructive transformation and reform during this phase of outer planet activity as anything else.
Earlier this year, some fairly rabid anti-astrology polemics emerged in the media. The most significant was that by Richard Dawkins. As a well known author and holder of the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Dawkins is a high profile spokesperson for the scientific establishment. He suggested that astrologers should all be jailed for fraudulent practice. Such comments make it difficult for astrologers to keep their heads buried in the sand.
What was most frustrating about these attacks is that they were not based on any knowledge, never mind understanding of what astrology actually is. So one very big question is how do we change this situation? To simply ignore it achieves nothing. We shouldn't underestimate the extent to which authority is projected onto science by the general public. Scientists are believed, just like doctors and priests. These attacks are like sermons from the pulpit. and many people blindly assume that out of the mouths of scientists comes factual truth. This indicates the extent to which the idealised self-image promoted by science has infiltrated the collective psyche. But this public image is highly mythologised, a point which needs to be emphatically exposed. Which leaves only one option - a proactive (rather than reactive) strategy should to be pursued. Becoming familiar with the cultural roots of the opposition to astrology is an important part of that process.
The following list of ‘reality perspectives’ describes in orthodox terms the bones which make up the skeletal framework of modernity’s cultural myth. To one extent or another they are woven into the fabric of the modern world view, and astrology is not readily compatible with any of them. Not all scientists would unquestioningly accept the full list - some, such as reductionism, have come under critical re-assessment in the last couple of decades. While the combined elements provide the dominant tone within the scientific establishment, it is counter-balanced to some extent by a quieter but growing alternative view.
Whatever can be considered to exist is either matter, or entirely dependent on matter for its existence. Soul, spirit etc. do not exist. Consciousness only exists because of the material activity of the brain.
The universe is like clockwork, governed by strictly deterministic laws. The behaviour of a system is understood in terms of the forces acting on the system. There is no ‘purpose' to anything. Qualities are ignored while much attention is focused on what is quantifiable
A system can be fully understood by breaking it down into constituent parts, studying the properties of the parts, and seeing how they fit together. The whole is never more the the sum of its parts.
There is an objective reality which exists independent of our consciousness. Things can be said about it that are absolutely and universally true. Subjective bias and error are eliminated using the methods of science. Only objective knowledge is true knowledge.
A committment to reason as opposed to faith, prejudice, intuition, or any source of conviction that could be considered irrational. Knowledge of the nature of what exists can be obtained by using reason alone, independent of experience.
All true knowledge has to be grounded in experience. Scientific experimentation is the key, not mathematical reasoning. Meaning is linked to verification. That which cannot be verified is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless.
In addition, there are a couple of primary myths which modulate the application of these reality perspectives:
- The Big Bang Theory
This implies life is literal coincidence, and in itself has no meaning.
- Darwinian Evolutionary Theory
Genetics and natural selection explain everything about our natures and life processes.
Many of these '-isms' are under increasingly critical attack, both from within and outside of science. However the growing disenchantment has still to shift this entrenched Saturnian edifice off balance. As Pluto moves through Sagittarius, the climate is ripe for a transformation of beliefs or of the way we conceptualise truth. The increased questioning within science about the ability to make unambiguous statements concerning objective reality is generating a certain tension. The old saying that one person’s crisis is another’s opportunity comes to mind, so perhaps it’s a good time for astrologers to engage in some creative thinking.
The task facing astrologers in persuading others of astrology’s non-trivial nature is not nearly so great as that facing the early proponents of Copernican theory. Not only did they have the weight of orthodoxy against them, but the radical notion that the Earth moves around the Sun is patently counter-intuitive and contrary to common sense. To put it bluntly, it's a crazy idea.
Astrology is not so counter-intuitive, and a consultation with a good astrologer can leave a sceptic with room for doubting pre-conceived notions.
One could also argue that the postulation of an astrological reality of some kind is nowhere near as bizarre as some of the speculations of astrophysics - multiple universes, time travel, and all the rest. Presented facts such as black holes and quarks can never be directly experienced and remain as abstractions. In this respect, they can only be imagined. They exist in the first instance as digital read-outs generated by instruments. These are transformed within the scientific imagination into concepts which are linked together to form a vast abstract sculpture. The role of reasoning is to refine models which have been born in the imagination.
As astrologers, we have to communicate why we think astrology should be taken seriously. In order to achieve this, it would help to first understand more fully why science finds astrology so threatening or absurd; to recognise the less rational and perhaps psychologically driven aspects of the vocal anti-astrology movement; to become more conscious and less naive of the debunker's well tried ‘smoke and mirrors’ strategies; and maybe even to look for allies in the camp of the supposed enemy.
Instead of bewailing the way scientists misconceive astrology, it may be more constructive to become more aware of the true nature of science with all its hidden weaknesses. The illusory unity presented in science's public image belies the reality. Science is as fragmented in its attitudes and beliefs as Christianity, for example. lndeed the newer ideas surfacing in science may prove to be a lot more friendly to the possibility of astrology than is the case with the rusting entrenched tradition.
Astrologers can't engage in creative dialogue with a projection. We need to be able to see science for what it actually is and the philosophical ground from which it has emerged; not what we fear it to be, and not in terms of the mythologised self-image which it successfully projects to the world. To do otherwise is to commit the same error as science does in relation to astrology.
In the same way that we feel science could fruitfully develop its relationship with imagination and intuition, we need to get our own house in order in terms of reasoning. Tightening up our out-of-focus internal logic, developing theoretical frameworks that can enable creative dialogue not only within astrology, but also outside in the world. If ever there is a time for astrology to engage in a phase of rational and detached self-examination in a spirit of reform, it's while Uranus moves through Aquarius.
If one believes astrology has a reality and is of value, then it surely has much to offer. For it to be capable of fulfilling its promise, it needs to be re-integrated into the mainstream and become a significant feature in the established world view. This process of re-integration is the main issue, and it does not out of necessity depend on proving astrology to the satisfaction of science. However if we look at the western world view as it currently stands, the dominant philosophical stream is the one driving science. Science has long since replaced Christianity as the backbone for western cultural beliefs and the conceptualising of what can be seen as True. It is fanciful to think that astrology can regain its proper place in the collective world view without engaging in some kind of creative dialogue with the philosophy which currently dominates that perspective.
Interestingly, that dominant philosophy is on increasingly shaky ground. The claim that science can be detached, objective, ideologically neutral and value free in its pursuit of absolute truth is faltering. Cognitive scientists make the point that all observations are theory laden. An experiment is said to have been a success when it gives the expected answer. In other words, you do not see what you're not looking for. When an experiment works it can be very similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy. While this is by no means the establishment view as yet, the fragility nonetheless suggests a possible opportunity that astrologers could exploit.
It may also help explain why the defenders of rationalism and traditional science are taking side swipes at the usual suspects in order to stem what they call ''the rising tide of irrationality'' in society. In reality, western society has never been more educated or secular than it is at present. This then seems to be a major projection prompted in response to the growing ''cloud of unknowing" that is currently diffusing through science. Perhaps this can be mapped onto Neptune's passage through Capricorn, who knows. But astrologers have to find ways of assertively grasping this opportunity, which will entail philosophical or metaphysical dialogue rather than statistical experimentation.
An analogy with Northern Ireland suggests itself. There, an extreme polarisation between two perspectives is weakening. What is being sought is an 'agreed Ireland' that moves beyond the injustices of the past. What we need to seek is an agreed reality model that is, as they say up North, incluslve of both traditions. The fact that the spokespeople for science, in their demonising of astrology, come across as a regiment of lan Paisleys (Science says No!), should not stop us from seeking dialogue, which as in the North is the only sane way forward. Not all scientists are paid up members of the fundamentalist movement within rationalism.
The nature of truth
The claim from critics that astrology cannot be true and that this is self-evident leads one to contemplate the nature of truth. Without dwelling too long on the subject, there are a couple of points to make that reflect my own beliefs on this matter. Firstly I would suggest that concepts of truth evolve, and are not fixed or absolute (as the history of science itself demonstrates). Secondly that these concepts of truth have filtered through the matrix of our cultural conditioning. Thirdly, that our cultural conditioning in turn emerges from the fertile ground of a mythologised past (history), climate, bodily experience, religious beliefs, cosmological assumptions, language, and so on.
The idea of absolute truth is incompatible with this suggestion, as there are obviously a wide range of cultural filters modulating its potential expression. Objective truth shifts from being absolute to being a consensus within a cultural domain.
As an illustration of how cultural filters can leave their imprint on truth models, consider the following (based on the model described by Brian Goodwin in How the Leopard Changed its Spots ):
- The Fall/Redemption myth in Christian culture
- Humanity is born in Sin - fallen from grace, in a state of self-consciousness and uncomfortable knowledge.
- Humanity is therefore condemned to a life of suffering, conflict and
- perpetual struggle. But
- Humanity can be saved from its fallen, selfish state. This can happen through faith and moral effort.
- The Fall/Redemption myth in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory
- Organisms are constructed by groups of genes whose goal is to leave more copies of themselves. This hereditary material is basically 'selfish'. The inherently selfish qualities of the genes are reflected in competition between organisms that result in the survival of the fittest (i.e. the most successful genes).
- Organisms are always struggling to get better (fitter for survival), to be able to do better than their competitors in adapting to their environment.
- But the environment keeps changing as evolution proceeds, so the struggle is endless.
- However human beings, alone among life forms, can develop altruistic qualities that contradict their inherently selfish nature, and transcend the struggle. This can happen through education and culture.
- The Fall/Redemption myth in natal astrology
- We incarnate into an imperfect world as individuals. Our horoscopes describe a map of the Self in terms of potential.
- The horoscope, among other things, describes patterns of tension which are 'fated', inevitable, and associated with challenge and struggle.
- Through transits progressions, etc., these patterns of tension emerge repeatedly and rhythmically, ensuring an enduring struggle. But
- these challenges can be surmounted through engaging consciously in an on-going process of individuation and integration, the wise and conscious exercise of free will, and the development of an appropriate spiritual perspective.
There's a definite pattern here that is 'western' in nature.
Although it is only one example, for me this hints at the possibility that we evolve in a psycho-physical matrix which ultimately has a formative and constraining influence on both the kind of questions we ask, and also the structure of possible satisfactory answers. I'm sure Jungians would have a lot to say about this! This view is contrary to the objectivist claim that there is an absolute reality out there independent of observers (and their psyches). And that this can be uncovered using the logic and methodology of science, while amenable to description using the rational language of mathematics. It implies that the truths which emerge from western science arise from a non-universal cultural landscape.
continue to Part 2
References in Part 1:
l. How the Leopard Changed Its Spots - Brian Goodwin pp 29-30. pub.Wiedenfeld & Nicholson London 1994. Goodwin is a radical biologist whose models challenge the reductionism of evolutionary geneticists like Richard Dawkins. As opposed to total dependence on DNA and genes Goodwin proposes a complementary model of the organism as a dynamic self-organising process that obeys certain principles of order. One of his goals is to help develop a 'science of qualities', the title of the last chapter in this very interesting book. back
Copyright © 1996-2005 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.