Exegesis Volume 3 Issue #70

From: Andre Donnell
Subject: Re: Another approach to astrology (V3 #64)

Exegesis Digest Tue, 15 Dec 1998

Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 12:46:21 +1300
From: Andre Donnell
To: Exegesis
Subject: Re: Another approach to astrology (V3 #64)

As always, I find William's posts provocative and always deeply thought out. I am backtracking somewhat, as I am aware of 3-4 posts since, including the excellent contribution from Mark Melton. I hope to come to these presently, and meanwhile append a few comments here and there to this initial statement of William's.

 > My purpose on this list, and in discussions of astrology in general, is to
 > get the point across that it is *not* astrology that we need to investigate.

Hmmm...see below.

 > We know what astrology is: it is a construct that allows us to order
 > certain physical information with the intent of applying meaning and
 > significance thereto. That is all it is and all it ever has been. What we
 > get, hopefully, when we use this construct is the ability to discern
 > something of the nature of the reality it reflects; specifically, the
 > ability to discern the meaning and significance of that reality as it may apply to us.

Yes !

 > What we need to investigate is the phenomenon that this construct is
 > intended to mirror, to model, to reflect. Until we can understand something
 > of that phenomenon, we have little or no real hope of understanding the
 > construct we have developed to make use of it.

I say something more about this below. I endorse what you are saying - but here a personal digression: when I first encountered astrology I was studying theoretical physics and had every intention of making it my career. Astrology - which I found sufficiently convincing (in the terms you use above; i.e. there was some kind of correlation evident) - captured my imagination as an radical challenge to the prevailing theories in physics. The physics account seemed incomplete.

The alternatives seemed to me this: (a) There is a _new_ "force" that links certain extra-terrestrial configurations with human being and behaviour and perhaps other living things. Unlike Mary Downing (although I am receptive to Mary's view), I considered that the _level_ of the link was probably directly "psychological"., i.e. _not_ mediated by known physical mechanisms such as gravitational or electromagnetic influence. Such a view - incidentally - renders the hard sciences (e.g. astronomy, physics) in no privileged position to comment on astrology in any respect - as they are not actively engaged with the psychological effects with which astrologers' are concerned. (b) The influence _is_ mediated by a known force. At the time - perhaps short-sightedly, perhaps not - I rejected this out of hand. Like Jerome L. Stanton and his co-signatories, I accepted the idea that the gravitational influence of the doctor and other attendants at a birth far exceeds the gravitational influence of the planets. Of course, given the ideas of Dale Huckeby about the significance of the structure of time influences ("temporal templates"), I now see that objection as possibly irrelevant. (c) Like Roger (if I understand him correctly) the influence occurs entirely within the realm of consciousness. In other words, the connecting mechanism is merely the fact that we are _aware_ of the positions and movements of the planets as well as the circumstances in which we live. Thus there is no _directly_ causal or physical mechanism; in much the same way is there is no _directly_ causal or physical mechanism in the effect that a fine Spring day or a painting has on us. (Well, behaviourists would see it differently, but I won't go into that).

(a) seemed to me the most interesting possibility for physics, but astrology (and other influences) lured me away from that direction in my life. Moreover, it seemed to me that many decades if not centuries of work might be required to get close to understanding this "force", when I considered the history of our attempts to "understand" the nature of the forces we already know of, and that this might be an impossible task for a small and poorly resourced band of astrologer/investigators. Pragmatically, what might one do about this? Well, in the first place I thought, demonstrate convincingly that there _is_ something to be investigated, so as to command the resources and efforts of the scientific world at large. So here I _do_ see a political end to direct investigation of astrology - hence my opening hmmm (!).

 > In general, statistical
 > studies are able to show where direct investigation may be useful; in
 > specific, statistical studies can serve to confirm or refute hypotheses,
 > about the nature of the item of interest.

There are other ways to do statistics, such as the approach used in psychometrics; and there are also other methods of research. The problem is (I think) that the hypothesis testing approach is only useful when one has some kind of established foundation (of what Dale calls "matters of fact") upon which to formulate viable theories which can then be tested. Otherwise, one is trying to find the needle in the haystack before one has even found the haystack ! So again, I think we do need to investigate astrology, because I think we need good raw data on which to found good (fruitful) conjecture. This is a reasonable account of how physics proceeded I think.

Alternatively, one might hope perhaps that locked within the current physics (or other sciences) account are the solutions that identify the astrological 'mechanism'. But of course others will probably not find what they are not prepared to find.

 > So far as I have been able to discover, no studies of a statistical nature
 > have been done that were not so filled with assumptions and suppositions
 > that they weren't inherently either invalid or meaningless even in concept,
 > much less execution.

I agree entirely. Let's consider two instances. An English study of the correlation between the presence of hard aspects in charts (determined in a number of ways) and scores on the neuroticism (N) and psychoticism (P) scales of the Eyesenck EPI - a test for 'convergent validity' in psychometric parlance. Unfortunately, I don't feel that the astrologers that were consulted as to how to detect N and P were likely to have had the clinical training and clinical experience to be able to realistically suggest what astrological factors correspond to these constructs. The usefulness and 'reality' of these personality constructs are embedded within deep knowledge models of the clinician (much the same can be said of astrology). The methodology thus was deeply suspect: the knowledge _cannot_ be transmitted merely by a few (I assume) hasty descriptions of the high/low N and P types.

The study of the ability of subjects to pick their own chart delineations from a number of alternatives (and variations on this approach, such as the _same_ delineation being presented to all subjects) is equally shallow in conception. The problem is that it treated the 'personal' and 'social' identities of the subjects (as these are understood in social psychology) as though they were a constant: and hence a valid and reasonably fixed basis for measurement. This is simply not the case: rather, how we define ourselves and what we think or _present_ ourselves to be - particularly in social interactions which most social psychological experiments are - are highly variable and highly dependent on context. (Incidentally, this is a genuine problem for astrological practice itself). The experiment would have been more likely to be useful had it included the ability of subjects to pick their own profiles from a set of personality tests, as a control.

 > I think this is to be expected. We are looking in the
 > wrong direction. Instead of looking at astrology, we need to discover what
 > astrology represents.

But I come back to what I wrote above: I think we need to do both.

 > I have elsewhere suggested a fundamental theorem of astrology that has been
 > seen as radical and so somewhat less than well accepted. I state it here:
 > ***There exists a mechanism by which certain terrestrial phenomena are made
 > subject to influence by certain celestial configurations.***
 > What we don't understand is *anything* about that mechanism. We've no idea
 > whether it is a matter of cause and effect, embedded microcosm, linked by
 > common source, etc., or even if the mechanism exists such that we could
 > presently understand it. I would suggest, however, that we have to assume
 > that we can come to understand it, else our efforts are in vain. There
 > would seem to be reason enough to make that assumption: we are involved in
 > that mechanism; it does not lie totally outside of our universe, our
 > environment, indeed, ourselves!

Yes !!!

 > From the standpoint of scientific investigation, we need to understand that
 > it is this mechanism we seek if we are ever to be able to validate
 > astrological practice. The fundamental purpose of science is to achieve
 > deep understanding. On the most basic level, science searches for a
 > principle common to the phenomena of interest. Ultimately, however, the
 > end result sought is the mechanism itself. And that is what we must seek if
 > we are to truly understand astrology, I suggest.

Well, I think you say it below when you comment on Maxwell's equations. Our "deep understanding" can - at one level - be viewed as nothing more than our ability to correctly describe some particular phenomena, in all or part of it's detail. Hence, we don't know what gravity, electromagnetism etc _are_ - but we are able to predict their behaviour under all conditions (so far as we presently know), and we are satisfied with that.

I am guilty of selling this understanding short in one particular. The theories and accounts we give are perhaps remarkable for two additional properties: they _don't_ merely describe; they also unify previously unrelated phenomena; and they _predict_. That is, they have revealed aspects of the phenomena we didn't originally know of. So we are not merely using mathematics to compactly describe the data. We create mental constructs or models which _seem_ to have a deeper reality in that they directly lead us to what we did not/do not know. I still submit that ultimately we are only describing behaviour, but perhaps as Penrose asserts there _is_ something fundamental about the capacity to even have that mental model, that apparent "understanding".



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