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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 pages

This is Part 2 of a three-part article.      Go to Part 1      Go to Part 3

Astrology & Science - a relationship in transition

Part 2

Objectivity and subjectivity
Within the common ground of truth that we share with all humanity (e.g. the day is divided into a light part and a dark part), one could argue that there are autonomous cultural 'holons' to use a term from Arthur Koestler, each with their own truths (e g. aboriginal Australian truths as opposed to Hindu truths). And in turn, these contain smaller sub-sets (e.g. astrologers as a sub-set of the western cultural collective), and so on down the scale, until we reach the level of the individual, and personal truth. The spectrum defined by personal truths at one end and universal truths described by science or religion at the other is impossible to resolve into a unity. It remains a spectrum of possible balance points. But as western culture is dualistic - in other words tends to see things in black and white, either/or rather than both/and - the universal truth of objectivity is pitted against the personal and relative truths of subjectivity.

It is argued that if the relativism or subjectivity viewpoint is taken to its logical conclusion, as far as the truth is concerned, anything goes. Many people feel uncomfortable with the implications of this perspective. There does seem to be a need in humanity to feel securely supported by general certainties.

Even though science promotes a hard core objectivism, it is the case that everyone is influenced by both views to one extent or another. Subjective feelings and imagination, for example, are obviously important. In other words, we don't tend to live in an idealised objectivist way, but many people still want the security that absolute truths bring. Some get it from religious faith, others subscribe to the ideals of scientific objectivity. In both cases, the psychological need for certainties helps to maintain the idealised myths that constitute establishment truths.

For what it's worth, I fall somewhere between these two views, moving around somewhere in the spectrum between the two opposites. I feel the need for truth to have a tangible inertia and weight, but one which has a flexible dimension that can allow for a degree of diversity. I don't feel comfortable with the fog of relativism with its infinite truths, or the belief in stark and lonesome absolutes. I believe in the possibility of collective consensus truths that function perfectly well within cultural boundaries, and that these constitute a pragmatic objectivity within each culture.

Pragmatically objective truths emerge paradoxically from the subjective ground of the culture. This is why I have no problem with Hindu or Chinese astrologies. I don't see them as contradicting the truths of western astrology. They are all true (to one degree or another) in their own contexts.

If one resonates with subjectivist notions. as many astrologers do, one could argue that it's pointless discussing anything with scientists, as they believe their truth to be absolute and unchanging, and that that truth excludes the possibility of astrology. But this ignores the fact that we're part of the same cultural landscape, one that is heavily influenced by scientific thinking.

We are not outside it, and if the concept of what's true is to evolve to accomodate our sub-set of truths it is we who have to actively promote that evolution. We have to engage in some landscape 'gardening' and nurture the re-growth of what is actually an old gestalt rooted in our sense of connection to and participation in the Cosmos. Otherwise astrology will remain like a seed that has blown onto barren ground.

Creative dialogue
So how does one begin the dialogue? Here's a quote from Metaphors We Live By [2], a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:

"When people who are talking don't share the same culture, knowledge, value, and assumptions, mutual understanding can be especially difficult. Such understanding is possible through the negotiation of meaning. To negotiate meaning with someone, you have to become aware of and respect both the differences in your backgrounds, and when these differences are important.

You need enough diversity of cultural and personal experience to be aware that divergent world views exist and what they might be like. You also need patience, a certain flexibility in world view, and a generous tolerance for mistakes, as well as a talent for finding the right metaphor to communicate the relevant parts of unshared experiences, or to highlight shared experiences while de-emphasizing the others. Metaphorical imagination is a crucial skill in creating rapport and in communicating the nature of unshared experience. This skill consists, in large measure, of the ability to bend your world view and adjust the way you categorise your experience."

Such communication and dialogue is a real art. It also requires two sides willing to engage in the process, and the creation of an arena within which the dialogue can happen. As regards astrology and science, this is some way from coming to pass. I would see several stage in the process, the first being a dismantling of erroneous pre-conceptions about each other's perspectives. Given the extent of ignorance within science regarding astrology, astrologers have their work cut out here. But a good start would be to wrest away from the media the control of astrology's public image, which is in a dire state. I read recently that the academics who associate themselves with skeptics groups like CSICOP gain virtually all their so-called knowledge of the paranormal phenomena that they criticise from the pages of newspapers, which is depressing, and which also explains a lot. We need to actively promote what astrology is.

But this then raises the issue within astrology of what we actually believe about our subject - what are we actually doing? What are the theoretical frameworks that underpin the practice of our craft? Where is the evidence of self-critical re-appraisal that helps to keep astrology potent and free from the worst excesses of subjectivism? Does astrology, in its current state, deserve respect? Are we that detached from the Air element that the notion of applying an intellectual gaze to our subject fills us with fear and nausea? For me, the seeming denial of the value of reason within astrology is as problematical as the denial of the value of imagination and intuition within science. This is not to say that astrologers are not rational or do not use their intellects - of course they do, just as scientists in their work constantly use imagination and intuition. But in both cases one could ask whether or not these faculties are used in a conscious and creative way.

A critical discussion of underlying assumptions is what is required. Recognising that such beliefs are in some ways subjectively or cultural determined and that this imposes limits in terms of what one understands to be true, could lead to the creation of a space where differences can be allowed to co-exist for the purposes of dialogue. Unfortunately, it is a recognised fact within the world of science that most scientists are completely detached from the philosophical premises that inform their work, and the same could probably be said of most astrologers. It's very rare for a student of a scientific discipline to have to take a phlosophy stream during their degree course.

Thus scientifically trained astrologers launch enthusiastically into statistical research experiments based on philosophical premises which don't necessarily have much value in the context of astrology. The wrong questions get asked, category errors are made. etc., with predictable consequences.

Using the imaginative landscape
Another angle which can be adopted to establish a toe hold in dialogue is by becoming familiar with the models and metaphors of science, and mapping aspects of astrology onto them through the use of analogy. This is not the same as explaining astrology using scientific models. What it does is make clear that there can be an overlap between the pattem of relationships which exist between the structural elements of an aspect of astrology and patterns which exist in science. This establishes a common ground through familiarity on the level of imagination rather than reason.

The more this occurs, the more imaginatively plausible astrology becomes, which is a start. For example, the aphorism ''As above, so below" can be analogically mapped onto the topic of fractal geometry, which recognises that in nature it is normal for phenomena to exhibit the characteristic whereby a particular pattern keeps repeating itself across a huge range of scales - as above, so below. Or one might contemplate the consequences of complexity theory, which applies to virtually all life processes. It indicates that predictability in a complex system is constrained to a general or global level, and that what will happen specifically cannot be determined with any certainty. Given that natal astrology is concerned with life, which is definitely complex, one might ask whether it is reasonable to expect astrologers to come up with successful specific predictions in contexts for which science would be happy with something rather less.

In other words, one can use arguments from within the models of science to argue against the demands which science makes of astrology - for example, that it be as good at making specific predictions. The huge success that science has had in this regard has been with systems which are 'simple' in terms of their dynamics. Ironically, the dynamics of the solar system are simple - this is the reason why we can have reasonably accurate ephemeris information at our fingertips that predict very well the positions the planets will hold day after day. This leaves us with the interesting observation that astrology attempts to map the predictable cycles (in other words, simple dynamics) of the solar system onto the rhythms of life, which exhibit complex dynamics for which unpredictability on the specific level is almost a defining quality.

It doesn't seem to be stretching things to far to suggest that it is the true predictability of the planetary movements which leads astrologers to hope or believe that if the aphorism ''As above, so Below'' is true, then life below must also be predictable to the same degree as the processes above. Through contemplations such as these, we astrologers are led into a consideration of one of astrology's central theses - that there is an astrological determinism. If that is the case, then what is its nature, or how do we imagine it to be?

To my mind, this is a very important question, but one which it is easy to avoid addressing. If one is asked by sceptics to justify astrological claims of prediction, to then engage in answering without having a clear sense of the ambiguous nature of astrological determinism is a reckless act. It's like walking into the lion's den smelling of dinner. The one thing you have to hand to scientific method is its predictive power - skeptics know more about prediction than anyone else. It makes sense to be well armed going to battle with the experts.

But where is be debating forum within the world of astrology for considering such questions? One can perhaps understand that the world of science, satisfied with its absolutes, may become distanced from the idea of philosophical argument about the pros and cons of different models, because for the most part in science there are no different models. With astrology, not only is there a plurality of astrological disciplines in a range of cultures, but it also contains a variety of techniques which are different, though not mutually exclusive, and which are all supposed to do the same job equally well. I'm thinking here of the house systems, tropical versus sidereal zodiacs, etc. One would think that this situation would give rise to constant dialogue and debate - not to necessarily prove that one system is the only system - but to help us understand what it is we are actually doing when we practice astrology, and what it may tell us about the nature of reality. Astrology, after all is a discipline within natural philosophy.

Astrology co-evolves with its cultural context
Astrology occurs within a cultural context, and I would contend that its practice and the beliefs which surround it reflect that context. If the context evolves, then so does the astrology, which is exactly what also happens in science, whose truths or world view keep evolving. The current re-definition of reality going on within science is happening simply because computers have enabled scientists to perform mathematical tasks that were previously impossible, providing a contextual development, a huge new canvas upon which they can project their imaginations and cultural accents. Astrology will evolve to become part of the new perspective, whether it remains ostracised or not because its future practitioners (especially those born with Uranus in Aquarius and Pluto in Sagittarius) will be conditioned into a new way of seeing through their education and cultural conditioning.

The old and increasingly redundant way of seeing developed out of the 17th century. Celestial mechanics, gravity, and relatively accurate clockwork mechanisms shared a common and powerful place in the imaginative landscape of the time. They also share the theme of potential mathematical predictability, feeding in to humanity's strong security needs in this regard. This paradigm is still with us, despite all the developments during this century of relativity theory, quantum uncertainty principles, and most recently complexity and chaos theories, all of which undermine the potency of the clockwork modeling of natural processes. This is a testament to the strength of the psychological hold which that old model has for us. The paradigm shift which humanity in the west is currently negotiating has been a long time coming, but we should not be surprised at this.

Copernicus wrote his book on the heliocentric solar system in 1529. Galileo was arguing in its favour with philosophers in Padua almost 100 years later. The first astronomical textbook based on Copernican principles was published around 1621 by Kepler. So using this as a precedent, we can expect there to be a substantial culture lag before the attractions and security associated with clockwork predictability models are replaced by the attractions and insecurities of complexity theory and its attendant unpredictability.

return to Part 1       continue to Part 3

References in Part 2:

2. Metaphors We Live By - George Lakoff & Mark Johnson. p231, pub.University of Chicago Press Ltd., Chicago and London 1980 back

Copyright © 1996-2005 Bill Sheeran. All Rights Reserved.