Exegesis Volume 4 Issue #96

From: Andre
Subject: Science, statistics, chaos (#92); PS to Bill T (#95)

From: Mark Shulgasser
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V4 #95

Exegesis Digest Mon, 06 Dec 1999

Date: Sun, 05 Dec 1999 10:14:00 +1300
From: Andre
To: Exegesis
Subject: Science, statistics, chaos (#92); PS to Bill T (#95)

Before I address myself to the recent post by Bill Sheeran (#92), those members who have access to a local university and would like a readable introduction to chaos theory in the human sciences might be interested in the following paper:

Ayers, S. (1997). The application of chaos theory to psychology. THEORY & PSYCHOLOGY, 7, 373-398.

I here reproduce the abstract: "Chaos theory has successfully explained various phenomena in the natural sciences and has subsequently been heralded by some as the new paradigm for science. Chaos and its concepts are beginning to be applied to psychology by researchers from cognitive, developmental and clinical psychology. This paper seeks to provide an overview of this work and evaluate the application of chaos to psychology. Chaos is briefly [and well, AD] explained before existing applications of chaos in psychology and possible implications are examined. Finally, problems of applying chaos are evaluated and conclusions drawn regarding the usefulness of chaos in psychology".

Although it might seem to some that the 'application to psychology' has little relevance here, Susan Ayers' treatment embraces freewill vs determinism, the mind-body problem, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology to name just a few topics mentioned in this forum. The generality of chaos beyond just the 'natural sciences' is discussed, including the problems of applying it to human behaviour. This discussion is rather pertinent to a small number of contributions made earlier this year by Dennis, Bill Sheeran, and myself.

 > Science has nothing at all to
 > say about the quality of time. In fact, time has hardly any relevance
 > at all for science. This is why they are able to cling onto their
 > doctrine of reproducible results. It doesn't matter when an experiment
 > is done, or repeated. It could be six months later. Time is not
 > relevant.

Fortunately this is becoming less true, although I agree that science has a long way to go. I have often pondered the relationship between experimental outcomes and the time they are done, and this year I noted the start times of 54 discussions conducted during my group research. I have yet to set up the charts, but it may be interesting.

OTOH, I note that my experiments reproduced the effect observed in hundreds of other studies over the last 38 years in numerous countries and with numerous populations. With the possible exception of what must be quite general outer-planet effects, this appears to establish some degree of time-independence. Or if not time-independent, it may highlight certain regularities in the large-scale form or organisation of behaviour, regardless of major differences at the detail level, such as have been well demonstrated in chaotic systems.

 > One of the main drifts of my own work is that astrology has no meaning
 > until it is considered in terms of a specified context. Such contexts
 > are almost limitless, in that they include anything which can be said
 > to begin.

Yes, the some-time interest of the 'hard' sciences with nomothetic (universal) law has meant the exclusion of context, or its effective exclusion by specifying transformations that 'correct' for context. (Allied with this my supervisor, Guerin, recently pointed out that Western cultures are generally concerned with establishing universal 'substitutibility', so that by and large a Westernised New Zealander could exist in any other Westernised setting in the world. Thus again, context is rendered unimportant).

The situation is somewhat different in the comparatively marginalised 'soft' sciences. I understand behaviourism has always held that context is everything, and certainly most of the social sciences either have taken or are now taking essentially the same view. That the notion of 'environment' has not yet been extended to the planets may well be, as Bill and others have suggested here, just a matter of time.

 > When science starts to seriously research the relationship
 > between consciousness and time perception, astrology will be seen in a
 > new light (and probably be given a new name).

Yes. Somewhere in these pages I have written about this, I think earlier this year. If I correctly understand what Bill is implying, then the related ideas that Dale and I have been advancing are relevant. Although I am not a cognitive psychologist (although I frequently seem to end up tutoring in the field), I have used the term 'cognitive' for where I think a planet/human interface is to be found. In effect, our perception and hence our 'reality' - including our perception of time, and our memory, or present, remembered and future events - is structured by the time-cycles of the planets.

Although this does not address concerns part of the Exegesis group has with the influence of astrology in non-human areas (Bill listed some of them in #92, such as geophysics and weather), we need to remember that the distinction between human and non-human reality is unclear. As we *are* the measuring instrument of everything we know and do, although we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking otherwise such as when we consult an externalised instrument of some kind such as a gauge, it can be argued that there is nothing that is not ultimately psychological or cognitive.

A company, building, or "race" horse, for example, are outcomes of a context and history of *human* actions. Anyone who highlights a building or company (or a horse) in such a way that it becomes the subject of a chart is doing so from a *human* subjective or perceptual concern. If a company "fails", a building "collapses", or a horse "loses", these are not happening to the company or building or horse, but to the humans who constructed the 'context' or reality in which these behaviours and events are interpreted and these terms have meaning. In short, we must be wary of bringing hidden objectivist assumptions to our discourse.

Postscript to Bill Tallman, #95: You are quite right Bill! My own increasing theorisation around the cyclical idea is at odds with my own use of the Sabian Symbols, to my increasing embarrassment! But I am nothing if not pragmatic < g > . But it is absolutely true that we must not hide from anomalistic aspects of astrological experience.

As a matter of fact, those of us who insist on cycles still require the notion of a reference or anchor point. Transits for example require that the person somehow "knows" that Venus is upon the birth location of one's Mars. Memory for seasonal context will not do of course, because only the Sun corresponds (and then not perfectly) to the seasons. So when a planet returns to its "birth position" or aspects another birth position, in what sense has it "returned". Unless there is some validity to the zodiac and the notion of degrees or some similarly sized unit, the only way around this impasse is to abandon the zodiac as a reference point and think of cycles *only* in terms of successive conjunctions between the planets.

 > Astrology is not
 > an exact science, and will not be validated using the techniques of
 > exact science. Statistical analysis is a very weak tool when it comes
 > to studying astrology, as it requires an homogenous group of
 > individual bits of data in order to come up with any information.
 > Astrology, being concerned with the qualitative uniqueness of time,
 > and the interface between this and an infinite diversity of contextual
 > factors, does not lend itself easily to this kind of analysis. You'd
 > need several hundred identical horoscopes and their associated stories
 > in order to do the work properly. This is hard to engineer.

I rather largely disagree with this, although the gist of it (Astrology's concern with the qualitative uniqueness of time) is something I argued myself for years! Unfortunately, as I tried to point out earlier this year but probably unsuccessfully, astrology's uniqueness is an illusion. Astrological knowledge is *social* (or socialised) knowledge. It cannot be otherwise, for in truth if all moments and all persons are unique, then the only honest astrologer stays mute before her/his client, as there is nothing that can be *said* through the *social* medium of language that does not instantly defeat uniqueness. In other words, astrology is not different from the social sciences in the knowledge gathering techniques it must use (if we are talking about doing it through language, sharing of experiences, or reason; that is, if we are talking).

Point by point:

Being in a quarrelsome mood, I take issue with Bill's opening sentence (although he may well have not meant is as pendantically as I am about to take it, so apologies in advance). I doubt that there is any such thing as an "exact" science, or that there are any "techniques of exact science". Chaos has already rather dented these notions. But that aside, exactness is a human convenience, nothing more. We say something is "exactly right" when we mean it is good enough for our purposes. What meaning this has in the universe is unclear, beyond our knowing, and as a species we appear to have little interest or cause to be interested in what it means outside our own convenience. That being the case, then astrology is exact when it is good enough for our client, and it is not exact, or even plain wrong, when it isn't good enough. An identical situation once arose in debate between the hard and soft sciences, and in the "physics envy" of some psychologists; but the distinction was always an illusion, and the cause of much time-wasting.

Whether "statistics is a very weak tool [applied to astrology]" is something I hope to address in the next few months. Bill appears I think to be talking about the 'between groups' design, but there are as many designs and techniques as the researcher has the ingenuity to invent. The key issue, when statistical techniques are involved, is to select and/or calculate the correct distribution, and in astrology this will not generally be the 'normal' or 'Gaussian' distribution. (For example, Venus does not spend most of its time in Leo say, with a rapid fall off in time spent in signs to either side). Fortunately, thanks to the "exact" science of planetary calculation, we are in a position to produce these distributions with little difficulty.

It is the *strength* of statistics in the social sciences (SS) that makes its use promising in astrology, as SS confronts a similar situation to astrology; to wit, the influence of context or the simultaneous presence of numerous (possibly limitless) factors. Given good study design, statistics is a tool that is able to "single out" the effect of one factor (or up to three factors as the current practical limit) from the confusing pattern produced by these other factors. (There is an assumption about the validity of 'random sampling' which is supposed to account for these other factors, and about which astrology may have something to say, but I have addressed this before and will not reproduce it here).

Because of the complexity and subtlety of human behaviour, those that argue that astrology had an empirical basis in observation over centuries or millenia must credit that astrological influence produces a large number of *gross* effects. Small and medium effects, as they are called in psychology, would have been unobservable because of the many other influences at play. (I don't discount, indeed I take seriously, the notion that behaviour and the mirroring astrological models were considerably simpler in the past; this would mean that only gross effects were sought). The opportunity now is that we can perform studies of small effects too, and so decide subtle but theoretically critical questions (as if we don't have enough *large* questions to decide!).

It is sometimes argued that group designs cannot be applied to astrology because for example one person's Venus in Aries is not the same as another person's Venus in Aries. This is because of (a) *astrological* chart differences (highlighted by Bill); (b) non-astrological differences, such as culture, society, socio-economic status and so on.

This is nonsense!

I have argued that astrology (as it is practiced and discussed) is a socialised knowledge. An indicator of this is that Venus in Aries has standardised meanings that can be looked up in numerous texts (adapted according to the writer's cultural and circumstantial milieu, admittedly). Even though no professional astrologer will ever reproduce a standardised text, or fail to take into account other astrological (and also hopefully biographical) factors, the fact is it is *this* kind of sharable, linguistically formulated knowledge that forms the foundation of our interpretations.

A similar situation applies to personality testing. In some cases, these tests nearly equal the astrological chart in the number of dimensions they contain, their sophistication, and their ability to show that "no two people are the same" (examples are Gough's California Personality Inventory, the MMPI, and Cattel's 16PF). Yet their empirical basis is the group design.

Thus, it would be *possible* to assemble a group of people with Venus in Aries, and another with Venus in Virgo, if one thought one might obtain some kind of between-group difference (effect size) with the measures one has. Any astute astrological researcher however would doubtless be more inclined - based on astrological 'theory' - to assemble groups where slightly stronger differences (effects) might be expected: for example, Venus dominated by 'hard' aspects versus Venus dominated by 'soft' aspects; or hard Venus versus hard Pluto. As astrological (and indeed psychological) theory expects greater individual differences (effect sizes) to arise as one adds further discriminating factors, one can constitute one's groups as specifically as one is able practically to do.

The problem for astrologers, as for social scientists, has been obtaining adequately sized samples from sufficiently dispersed populations. The development of personality tests (truly useful ones) is or has been an enormously expensive process, and this is why after 60 years of the principles being well understood there are still only about six with some generality. The situation has now changed however, thanks to the internet. Although I don't see any immediate need for "identical horoscopes", even this may become possible with expanding populations and increasing intercommunication.

The point is not that statistics is "weak" in this situation; rather it is strong. And finally, it is not in the support or non-support for an often necessarily limited and even puerile hypothesis that statistical findings are fulfilled, but in their ability to point directly to the rich *qualitative* data of what people actually said, felt or did in the particular study. The philosophy of the "multi-methods approach" is that the best studies are those that *combine* statistical or quantitative and qualitative techniques.



Date: Sat, 04 Dec 1999 15:54:40 -0500
From: Mark Shulgasser
To: Exegesis
Subject: Re: Exegesis Digest V4 #95

 > The specific subject of discussion here is the practice of "divination", which is very different from psychological profiling that is the approximate limit of most modern astrology. Divination is about prediction: it seeks answers about the future from the realm of the divine. It does not seek, nor does it yield, nebulous psycho-spiritual aphoristic advice or arcane truths sufficiently removed from our earthly lives to be of safely debatable nature. That it seems so is the result of the difficulty in getting a divinatory form to speak "plain English (substitute appropriate language here...)" In short, the purpose of divination is to gain insight into that which has useful application to the future. The deep understandings of the present and past that we are accustomed to labeling as the proper realm of divination are recent adaptations, but the same definition applies. It will be in the future that we will use that understanding and it will be its applicability there that is of primary concern... or should be, I suggest.

Allow me to toss some small change into this expensive pot. Surely any clearcut distinction between "prediction" and (if you must) "nebulous psycho-spiritual aphoristic advice or arcane truths" crumbles beneath the principle of "character is destiny" and its implications. At best the two (knowledge of specific outcomes or knowledge of causal factors) are opposite poles of the unified phenomenon that is astrological, or for that matter scientific, or any kind of explanation. The idea that there is a component of astrology (including horary, and even tarot, I Ching, etc) that is purely predictive, is simply superstitional, and pertains to outcomes which are remarkable precisely because of their rarity.

The history and literature of oracles (and the two cannot be separated) exists almost entirely to teach the foolishness of believing in prediction. Cassandra who is fated never to be believed, or Tiresias who reveals that the answer is within the asker.

Mark Shulgasser


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