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|Another Approach to Astrology
by William D. Tallman
Ed. N.: This text was first edited on the Exegesis Discussion Group (mailing list focused on astrology and moderated by Francis G. Kostella) on Mar. 10, 1998 (3.26), Oct. 30, 1998 (3.64), Feb. 15, 1999 (4.13) and Mar. 2, 1999 (4.19). Thanks to Bill for his kind permission to publish it here.
It is customary to regard the notion of predisposition on the part of the scientific community with some amount of caution, for it obviously conveys some fundamental disrespect for the scientists involved. Although there seems to be some compelling circumstantial evidence that might support this notion, there is in my view another and more damning foundation, and one that is squarely planted at the core of the scientific community.
I spoke about deep water science, out beyond the shores of accepted scientific knowledge. Clearly, most scientists are not prepared to do that sort of thing. It requires a far greater range of expertise and a much more thorough grasp of the philosophy of science than most scientists ever need. Nevertheless, the requirements for such a project are quite well understood in theory, and they in fact constitute the foundations of the philosophy itself. It seems to me that these requirements are well within the scope of any postdoc in a relevant field, and I guess I'm surprised that some young Turk out there hasn't taken up the challenge already, although maybe I haven't heard of some one or more that actually have done so. I presume that if this is the case, I will be quickly disabused of my ignorance.
The requirements are 1) a grasp of the complete methodology of science in principle, and 2) an expertise in a relevant field. Let me address the first:
As I said, the very first step is a completely uncritical and doggedly thorough investigation of the issues at hand. Traditionally, a fundamental part of this process is in fact handled by academia, and the certification of competency includes a working grasp of all the work that has been done before; this is what advanced education is all about from the upper divisions of undergraduacy onward. Unfortunately, this is most effective when the area of interest and endeavor is already established, and there does in fact exist some amount of solid and dependable work in the field. When the area of endeavor is not already established, then interdisciplinary postgraduate work is usually the current protocol, but even this is not entirely adequate to the area of interest here.
The essence of the problem is that the existence of the field itself is denied, and so all relevant academic material is intended to be unsupportive thereof, and in fact mostly designed to refute the idea of the field itself. Thus, the investigator must be able to transcend the academic bias implanted in the expression of the findings upon which he must draw. This is why a thorough grasp of the scientific process itself is of primary importance; it must be assumed that there is no preceding work in the field and that the whole process must be addressed from the ground up.
What we would expect is that the investigator immerse him/herself in the lore of astrology in order to understand the current views, and do so both as a matter of research and then as a matter of exploration. The investigator would be expected to put some time into achieving some level of competency in the practice of astrology as it is commonly carried out. The investigator, as competent observer, must be able to experience this practice with no critical predisposition, lest one of the aforementioned blunders occur. Then the investigator needs to seek some sort of idea of what is going on that will satisfy the data (experience as well) at hand.
This is a critical point. We must assume, as astrologers, that the investigator has discovered that some part of astrology actually functions somewhere in the ballpark that is advertized. If not, then he hasn't been able to duplicate the experience that so many of us have obviously had, and the first part of the process has not been completed. And so we must expect that one of the primary factors in the initial observation is that "something" is going on! The first blunder has been avoided successfully. If nothing is actually going on, I think it's time for most of us to go home..... well, let us proceed on faith here and assume that we are right.
The next question and the next part of the process is to discover what that might be. This is the dreaded question we cannot address; it can be called, I think, "The Problem of Astrology". But the question is not what we think it is, and that is the first point that we as astrologers must grasp. What is going on here is that there is some correspondence between celestial and terrestrial phenomena, and for the purposes of further investigation, we must assume that some mechanism is involved. The nature of that mechanism is unknown and any speculation at this juncture is premature.
In short, it is not "How does astrology work?" that is the question. It is: what is the mechanism whereby this correspondence exists. This is, I believe, the first and most profound insight that we as astrologers can grasp about our art. The implications, however, can be shattering for anyone who has placed their faith in astrology as the essential world view. Astrology is an artifice, an intellectual structure the intent of which is to mirror this mechanism in such a way as to produce insight into the consequences of that mechanisms function.
I repeat: astrology is not a direct observation of the reality we are seeking, but only of its reflection. It must not be assumed to be either necessary or sufficient as a body of theory about this reality, only one that produces some results. Therefore, it is not astrology that needs investigating, but the mechanism that produces the effect that astrology was developed to interpret.
The investigator must arrive at this conclusion, because nowhere in the astrological construct is there any theoretical explanation of what is actually taking place that allows these correspondences to be interpreted. Because this is so, the investigator must define the problem in tractable terms, and does so by defining the focus of interest here (the astrological effect) as a mechanism that can be understood in some terms.
Parenthetically, I urge the reader to refrain from leaping to the conclusion that I am urging a mechanistic view of the universe where cause and effect rules absolutely, for I am not. The mechanism may well not entail cause and effect relationships. We just don't know, and that is the proper stance. We call it a mechanism because we believe that something is going on that can be understood, whatever it is; the alternative asserts something like "there are some things that mankind was never meant to know". As far as I'm concerned, this is unacceptable.
The next step is for the investigator to assess the scope of the problem and sketch out a schematic of what must/might be involved in the mechanism. The 'must' is the essential least case, and the 'might' is the possible most complex case. This is subject to revision on an ongoing basis. From this schematic, the investigator can identify areas of expertise and bodies of knowledge that can be assumed to bear on the mechanism.
Then, and only then, the investigator turns to these various disciplines for such that might be possibly offered therefrom. Usually, this involves the assistance of some one or more who holds a certified competency in these disciplines, for they bring part of the preparation process with them. In this case, an old problem rears its head: the assistant must be able to bring the power of the discipline to bear with no bias or predisposition, and that may be harder than it seems. In any case, it would remain an issue to be monitored continuously. How this might be done is a tactical matter and not relevant here.
At some point, then, the investigator has formed a group that will address the problem from as many points of view as are relevant. The nature and composition of that group will be expected to change as new disciplines are discovered to be relevant, and old ones perhaps only in a limited manner. This, then, is what we would expect if science were not somehow proscribed from the investigation of astrology. In fact, before the demise of astrology's repute, exactly this sort of endeavor existed on a continuing basis, although the history of its existence and function has been largely erased and so much must be inferred;
nevertheless, enough evidence directly indicates that his was the case that we know they existed, if not much more than that.
Now, science has asserted its supremacy in the world, and the religion and cultural constructs it has fostered: scientism and technocracy, have served to bolster if not cement that position. It must be expected in this case that science would be eager to investigate this mechanism, but it is not. I ask: why? A compelling body of anecdotal evidence (fully permissible in the first stage of investigation) supports the existence of a mechanism of incredible power for the benefit of mankind. Why is it that science has not responded?
The answers to these questions are probably pretty well understood, both by scientists and astrologers. They are, however, not specifically relevant to the thrust of this post, and I've held forth thereon more than a few times already. Suffice it to say that science is done by people just like ourselves, and they are subject to the same pressures to conform in order to survive as are we in astrology. Their response is different: they have reputations to uphold, and when the powers that be dictate that an area shall be forbidden, the deep pockets of those powers win; science requires funding to go forth, and scientists have to be paid to work in order to make a living.
Now, there are further considerations that must be actively addressed to make this essay fair and evenhanded. Until quite recently, the last few decades, that is, there was some real substance to science's contention that there was no possible explanation for the astrological effect, and no perceivable means for the existence of the astrological mechanism. We must clearly acknowledge that this is the case. The consequences of this are interesting.
Science has traditionally been a supporter of the assertion that astrology can have no basis in fact, and that support was by and large well founded in practice. Although theoretically, the proper stance of science was to assert that astrology lay beyond the scope of any known competency and so nothing could be said at all, the actual response was that since no known mechanism (same usage) existed to produce the astrological effect, it could not exist. This is pretty shaky ground for science, and one that it has suffered rather badly within this century. One would expect knowledgeable scientists to treat the unknown with some caution, and probably many have done so; nevertheless, 174 scientists whose principal asset was a reputation signed on to a published travesty of scientific opinion, one which could never have been countenanced in any other situation. To be fair, we can only assume that they did so because they were unaware of any valid findings that supported astrology.
The fact is that this was not actually the case. Gauquelin published a few rather interesting findings that were obviously applicable to the investigation of the astrological effect, and his books had been rather high profile prior to that unfortunate manifesto. That these have not been followed up (to my knowledge) is a further indication that scientists have an agenda which is, in my view, damning to the integrity of science itself. I guess I would really be interested in any indication that any of these have been followed up...
As it stands, then, the notion that it is astrology itself that will produce the most effective results of investigation is here demonstrated to be at least contestable. I suggest that if the work already done to "prove/disprove" the validity of astrology from within the current practice remains inconclusive, we should at least contemplate the larger picture. There is more, I submit, to be done than the scope of current astrological practice can provide, and I suggest that astrologers are well served by recognizing this and at least being disposed to support the sort of investigation I briefly outlined. To do so, I suspect, would be to play a superior hand at science's own table...
Finally, I suppose I'm on the hook to produce some supporting documentation, but I think my argument stands on rather well-known assessments about the reality of human nature and the consequent state of the human condition. Anyone can look up Gauquelin's work (I hope), but if there are questions about my citations, please email me privately.
The essence of my argument rests on what I believe I understand about the scientific process, and the reader will note that in no case did that understanding have to be detailed or specialized. Unless I am terribly wrong in that understanding, I submit that the logic of this presentation prevails. If I am wrong, please enlighten me!
Further, I wish to make it very clear that I intend no disparagement in any sense. People do what they have to do for reasons that are compelling to them whether or not we know and understand those reasons. I am not interested in castigating the behavior of individuals, even those of the 174. As I indicated, they must have had their reasons for doing what they did, and I will grant that survival outweighs ideals if that survival includes others than themselves. I can easily suspect this is the case in the sort of situation that well-known scientists can find themselves.
I think we can do better than we have done on behalf of our profession, and I have briefly described some of the issues involved and sketched some parts of a feasible solution. There may well be astrologers out there who actually hold the competency I suggested described the requisite "young Turk". If they hear my voice, I invite them to at least seriously consider what I have said. I assert that if nothing else results from such consideration, at least I will have planted seeds that could shake up the status quo, and in the last analysis, maybe that's enough.
Much discussion of statistical techniques, methodology of studies, etc, inevitably arises when an investigation of astrology is seriously discussed. There is, as well, a representative protestation that astrology cannot be usefully investigated, only experienced. So the discussion continues.
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. 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.
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. 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. For instance, Gauquelin, if his work can be trusted, showed that some aspects of traditional astrology are valid. It did not show why they were so.
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 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.
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!
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.
Lest we fail to understand my use of the term "mechanism", let me say that I use this in its conceptual sense. Here, mechanism is the fundamental process itself, the "what", leaving out the "who", "where", "when", or "why". Investigation of that process (the mechanism) allows us to discern the "how". The rest, in this case, is of subsequent interest, I suggest. I want it explicitly understood that I am not advocating a mechanistic approach to astrology; I seek to know why astrology exists in the first place.
Now, it's probably relevant to think about how we might discover that phenomenon, and the form in which it might present itself. We still don't know much more about the electromagnetic force than the set of equations formulated by Maxwell, but they tell us enough about that force to be able to use it exceedingly well, and they give us a sense of the parameters of that force as it is one of the four known forces in physics. What we will discover about the e-m force eventually is a matter of fascinating speculation, but what we know now thanks to Maxwell gives us enough deep understanding to satisfy the intent of science to that extent.
It may be that at some point the phenomenon astrology reflects will become visible as a set of equations... in fact, that's the likeliest probability, I think. Unfortunately, we will be too busy looking in the mirror to have the ability and inclination to look at the reality when that time comes.
Looking at all this from another point of view, Rog (Roger Satterly) expresses an interesting insight into astrology. His stance, apparently, is that astrology is primarily to be experienced; the modeling and structuring is a useful intellectual exercise but does not address the essence itself. I accept that his view is, for him, fully valid. It does not, however, conflict with mine.
That we are a part of the astrological mechanism, in that the phenomenon functionally includes us, is a matter of apparency; I think we can accept that as a basic assumption. If this is true, then I would suggest that it is reasonable to expect that some people are directly aware of that function, as they are a part of it. It could well be that a close study of that awareness might yield some insights, and so I would recommend it as one avenue of investigation. We are not dealing with astrology here, we are dealing with a sensibility of the function of the mechanism itself; it is fortuitous that some of those who are sensible also possess the ability to use the astrological construct.
If we think about sensibility of the phenomenon itself as a function susceptible to internal experience, then we can easily imagine a range of sensitivity, bounded on one end by a virtual lack of any sensitivity and on the other to some degree of complete and detailed consciousness. We can imagine that range having a Gaussian distribution, such that the bounds are probably not represented at all. This would leave most of us with some sensitivity, more or less. And so all of us then can facilitate the astrological phenomenon as a part of the function thereof.
Interestingly enough, this might also serve to explain something of the popular views of astrology. We might postulate that there is some degree of sensitivity that serves to define the nature of any given sensibility. As the sensitivity increases, so then does awareness in some form. Below that line of demarcation, sensibility is a negative experience, because it isn't strong enough to supply any useful value.
The stronger the sensitivity, however, the stronger the negative response, because the more conscious the awareness. Above that line of demarcation, we might suppose that the sensibility is a positive experience, because it is found to supply some useful value. Actually that line is probably a zone of some size, within which those levels of sensitivity are found to produce discernible angst about the subject in general. So we can conclude that the most vehemently negative views about astrology might actually be held by people whose level of sensitivity is only slightly below the levels of those who have reason to hold positive views. Speculation, of course, but interesting, I think.
In short, discussions of how to validate astrology have so far proved fruitless, and any attempt to understand astrology in its own terms will almost certainly also prove futile. Astrology, as we practice it, perhaps as it has always been practiced, is not real; it is an illusion, a reflection. It is a virtual image. I submit we are better advised to see how to seek the reality it reflects: the real image.
1) There is an astrological "mechanism", a function, if you will, by which celestial configurations are linked to terrestrial phenomena. Although it would be easy to assume that this function is of a cause-effect nature, it seems prudent to avoid doing so. The reason we know that the function exists is because it is necessary to use an ephemeris to practice astrology, which means that a knowledge of the celestial configurations is primary to the process. If this were not true, then a random sort placement of the planets, etc. would serve dependably, and if the tradition of astrology has any validity at all, this is not the case.
2) As a part of the terrestrial sphere, we ourselves are part of that function, at least to the extent that we can be aware of the influence of the effect, and especially if we magnify that effect in any way by our behavior, etc. Even if there is no awareness, it must be assumed that we are affected, and so should be able to discern, somehow, something of the experience thereof. Of most relevance to the bulk of the astrological community of practitioners is the probability that such awareness not only does exist, but can be enhanced and cultivated by astrological practice. The result is that, for very many people, it is the experience of the astrological effect that is the essence of astrology. Such an assumption appears to be a commonly held article of faith, and apparently not without solid basis.
2a) It seems that most practitioners are satisfied to limit themselves to the astrological investigation of the human experience of the astrological effect, leaving it at least tacitly, if not explicitly, understood that they are not interested in pursuing more fundamental astrological issues. We are left with the impression that most practitioners, therefore, are content that astrology remain, at least in most common usage, a subset of psychology.
3) It is still not clear whether or not the presence of sentience (life?) is required for the astrological mechanism to function.
Historically, astrology has yielded to science in the effort to discover what the astrological mechanism(s) might be. The function of the Moon in the affairs of earth are well understood in large part, primarily as a result of the discernment of the existence of the gravitational effect. The function of the Sun is understood as well, primarily as a result of both gravity and EM (radiation=heat). As these discoveries occur, they are wrested from the realm of astrology and placed within the body of science; the reasons for this are of central concern to astrology and astrologers. Although I might suggest that a rigorous interpretation of the word "astrology" mandates the inclusion of all such effects, whether or not they are understood by science, the fact is that astronomy concerns itself only with the stars (and planets) in their own right, their measure and the laws that express their processes; so far, astronomy, and thus science in general, is uninterested in how they affect the earth. This, then, remains the primary, if not the sole, concern of astrology.
I suggest that the question I have put is at or close to the center of this issue, and as such, should be of a nature that can be addressed by science on behalf of astrology. If it can be determined that the astrological construct can derive significance concerning phenomena involving non organic matter on earth, we can begin to suppose that astrology has objective existence apart from the empowerment we tender the astrological construct itself; we can contemplate the proposition that we did not invent astrology (and the mechanisms thereof) but did in fact discover it's existence and develop a means of gaining insight into its significance in our lives.
If this can be done, then we can begin to use good science in the investigation of the nature of astrology. We can use data the can be demonstrated repeatedly as matters of fact to search for insights that can yield testable hypotheses, and at that point, we can argue on solid ground that we must be accepted as appropriate for scientific consideration. When we can do that, we can look the rest of the world in the eye and say: "Yeah, we don't know, but we are working on it!" And we can command the respect of the general public as a result.
And, of course, there's one other thing that, as far as I'm concerned, is of profound importance: we may finally begin to have some sense of when we do and when we do not know what the hell we're talking about!!!
So again I ask: does astrology require life (indeed, does it require human life), or can it be discerned in the absence thereof? Mary Downing (an original contributor to this thread) has asserted that it does not. Most others either disagree or consider the question of little concern. Is there anyone out there who is willing to step forward and look at this with me. Is there anyone who can see why the question has value?
Are we to allow astrology as a fundamental concept to disappear, absorbed by a recently developed subdiscipline of medicine? Are we ready to acknowledge that astrology has no inherent and objective validity in its own right, that it is totally subsumed in a particular usage? It would seem so!! If this is the case, then why don't we rename this practice astropsychology, or some such?
We define astrological prediction as extending the astrological tradition of interpretation into the future. We can do so because we have very precise information on the appropriate celestial configurations that will occur in the future. On the face of it, this would seem to be a reasonable exercise. It is certainly true that astrological prediction is traditionally the principal reason for the existence of astrology in the first place. Of this, there is no question; the history is clear and compelling. All questions about prediction, therefore, do not involve the fact that it has alway been considered an appropriate astrological usage.
One of the problems we are seeing is that astrological prediction is very much more difficult than it appears, as many astrologers have had reason to discover. We can show that there are literally too many configurations that have psychological interpretive significance than can be useful in prediction: there is, so we are told, always one or more configurations in power. It follows that, at least apparently, one can expect some of these to be in sufficient conflict to render a determination impossible.
And we can show predictions that are made on very sound principles that turn out to have been not even in the same town, much less the same ballpark! Supporting this is the common experience of astrologers of having given a very sound "reading", that is, demonstrably applicable, from a horoscope that is wrongly erected, or erected for a time/place other than of given interest. Wrong year; wrong time standard; wrong time of day; wrong place, etc. On this account, there are those who have actually given up astrology because it seems impossible to establish any reasonable criterion for performance; indeed, any real reason to suppose that astrology per se has any validity at all.
On the other hand, some of us have had the good(?!) fortune to have witnessed predictions of the sort of precision and accuracy legendarily attributed to astrologers of old. And then what of horary astrology? What of those who can do this with consistent accuracy and demonstrate that their system of interpretation does work. Some will simply refuse to acknowledge that any of this actually occurs or exists. It's easier that way, I suppose. Nevertheless, there are some astrologers that get phenomenal results. Lest you respond thus, I give no presently living examples. But I will cite William Lilly and Elias Ashmole; perhaps even Nicholas Culpepper, who knows. These gentlemen were highly regarded in their time, and if they had not produced the results as advertized, it is very highly unlikely that we would have ever heard of them.
What, then, do we make of this? What is the difference between those who can and those who cannot predict dependably and accurately?
We recognize that there are always a number of patterns (configuration threads) taking place for any given horoscope. We observe them from several technical points of view: progressions, directions, transits, returns, etc., etc.. We create artificial entities from horoscopic data, and observe the patterns they create. And so forth. How do we choose between all (any..some..) of these? It seems that this is the secret to prediction: having the ability to discern which line of development to follow. A reading of William Lilly makes that fairly clear, especially in the examples that he gives. As I understand it, this has been supported by those who are currently (or recently) successful in prediction.
If this is so, then we have some insight into the nature of the successful process. The astrologer has a knack for choosing the valid or meaningful thread(s) to follow. We can now easily suppose that it is intuition that supports or provides that knack. But it is not fruitful to presume that we have solved this matter by assuming that those who can, have intuition, and those that can't, do not. It leaves us believing that it is a matter of simple inherent ability or some such that makes one astrologer able to do this and another unable to so do.
Elsewhere I have posited that there is, in fact, an internal sensibility to the astrological mechanism as it functions within us, or through us, as the case may be. I have suggested that there may well be a smaller difference in sensitivity between those who accept the reality of that function, and those who passionately repudiate it. Further, I suggested that, in fact, many astrologers do use psychic or intuitive abilities when they interpret a horoscope, because they are actually using the chart as a mandala upon which to overlay their own direct perceptions. As a result, we can conclude that there are, perhaps, two types of astrologers: the technical and the intuitive. Whatever else the merits, I would suggest that they both are valid ways of operating, as they are both soundly based.
The point here is the same as that which has been made before. If these observations are valid, and the insights into the astrological process are true, then we can at least imagine that we can actually develop these abilities. As far as I am concerned, I have assumed that this is so for the entirety of my astrological practice. I have always made it clear to clients that the horoscope is their own and they can themselves come to be able to benefit by the insights it can provide; the process, of course, would be the development of their own astrological sensibility and the enhancement of whatever sensitivity already exists.
In this case, the point would be that, for the astrologer, it seems reasonable to assume that this specialized sort of intuition can be developed. The nature of that intuition is approximately the ability to perceive what flows of all that are potential are actually manifest and functional. Accordingly, we might assume that all these potentially conflicting, mutually diverse, supplementing, complimenting, chaos creating configuration threads are to be regarded as potential. Some (one...many..) may be manifest at any given point in the process, and it might be that the ability to recognize this allows the astrologer to be able to develop the ability to predict accurately and dependably.
I hasten to add that I do recognize the implications of these ideas. Clearly, if they are valid, the astrologer has the ability and the fulcrum upon which to use it to change a person's life: what is recognized and re-enforced becomes more powerful and therefore more likely to prevail over other potentials. It is not my purpose to debate the ethics of these matters, but to try to illuminate a way to strive to understand them.
So, intuition does obviously play an important part in astrological practice, but it is not a substitute for the technical aspects of astrological prediction. It does not establish the existence of what is potential (from the astrological point of view) but it does allow one to recognize what is already or is likely to become manifest. Intuition is an important aspect of astrological practice, but it is not primary. If it were, the practice would not be astrology. And it is astrology that we are attempting to investigate in this forum.
All rights reserved © 1998-1999 William D. Tallman