How Astrology Works: an exclusive preview by James Lynn Page

How Astrology Works: an exclusive preview by James Lynn Page

How Astrology Works is the title of my forthcoming book (to be published by Perrault in October). I’m pleased to present here an exclusive preview for Healthy Tree Frog:

How would we react if a newspaper published a daily column that read something like this:

“Germans: It is in your nature to be hard-working and methodical, which should serve you well at work today. In your personal relationships, especially this evening, you will need to curb your natural tendency to obey orders. Chinese: Inscrutability has many advantages, but it may be your undoing today. British: Your stiff upper lip may serve you well in business dealings, but try to relax and let yourself go in your social life.”

– Richard Dawkins

To fans of popular science the above is a fitting dismissal of how astrology works but to those in the know, it’s an ignorant, misrepresentation rant. So very typical of the sceptic, in fact, part and parcel of an entire methodology that is, propaganda. The very ways and means by which vested interests try to discredit you. It is the same anywhere an established orthodoxy (a government, financial institution, scientific or religious ‘community) contends with an opponent. When researching a book on the historical Jesus (and whether he really existed), it became clear to me that the ‘orthodoxy’ (the Church and its theologians) would not tolerate even slightly heterodox views about Jesus – even if they were well founded arguments made by academics. I followed the work of the late Professor G.A. Wells, whose thesis posited that there was no reason to believe in a historical Jesus, given what we know of New Testament ‘evidence’ – the rise of Christianity could be explained another way. In one of his books, 1 Wells outlines the kinds of tactics (some subtle, some not so) employed by his opponents. One of these is to almost totally misrepresent your opponents’ views to the extent that they sound ridiculous, whether or not you’ve taken the time to study what you are arguing against. In the case of astrology’s opponents, most of them have not, as we will now see.

In a BBC studio in the early 1990’s, Richard Dawkins is part of a two man panel of academics making disparaging remarks about astrology. For Dawkins it is ‘demeaning and cheapening’ if one must get one’s fun from ‘this kind of thing’. We can see straight away that Dawkins thinks (perhaps along with many others) that astrology is nothing more than vapid, meaningless character descriptions (a con perpetrated by unscrupulous or self-deluding individuals). On the other hand, he thinks astronomy is ‘beautiful’ and therefore ‘takes it very seriously’, and so doesn’t like it being cheapened. One gets the impression that even pornography would rank a little higher than astrology when it comes to worthwhile pursuits.

The late sun-sign columnist Jonathan Cainer is on hand in the BBC studio that day, by satellite link-up, to deal with the presenter’s questions as to why we should take astrology seriously. He answers: ‘because astrology offers understanding … because it offers a way of looking at the Universe … which can broaden our perspective of the role we play in everyday life in society.’ He goes on to deny the birth chart can determine our fate, and speaks of a ‘symbolic relationship’ and how it would be pretty strange if we had this ‘amazing timekeeping system’ with its ‘phenomenal potential within this great cosmic clock’, if there was no purpose to it all. The other panelist, Jerome Ravetz, a history Professor, snorts derisively at such fatuous comments, calling them ‘an apology for poetry but not for something that calls itself a science’.

Here, at least, Ravetz gets it quite wrong. Astrology is most certainly not a science, at least not in the commonly understood meaning of the word. As Robert Hand put it:

“Up until now, astrology has not been a science at all—not even an erroneous one. It has been a craft or technology, which is quite different … The important thing is that pure knowledge is the object of science—there is no immediate interest in applying it to the manipulation of the universe—and this knowledge is gathered in a systematic way. Crafts and technologies, on the other hand, apply knowledge to practical problems, and their knowledge is not necessarily gathered systematically. Craftsmen [traditionally]got their knowledge from a simple “cut and try” approach, which made no theoretical statements. These people were not interested, except secondarily, in why something worked—they only wanted to know that it did … Now astrology, too, is in at least one sense an empirically derived craft, devised for practical ends.”3

Jonathan Cainer agreed and has said about astrology’s role as a science:

“Of course it isn’t and it can’t be, and it’s ludicrous and preposterous that anyone ever claimed that astrology was scientific.”4

So, at least, Richard Dawkins needn’t worry that the astrologer is cheapening the more ‘beautiful’ and respectable science of astronomy. There was no need to become visibly angry with Cainer’s cheery explanations of how the ‘symbolism of astrology’ reflects what is happening in the life of an individual at any one time. ‘How can heavenly bodies possibly have a symbolic influence on human life?,’ asked Dawkins, his teeth seemingly on edge.

A similar thing occurred in Dawkins’ Channel 4 series Enemies of Reason when he interviewed the astrologer Neil Spencer. Dr. Dawkins seemed more concerned that there was something deeply ‘undignified’ and ‘demeaning’ (that word again) about ‘predicting who is going to win a horse race or something’. For him, astrology is all about ‘trite, mundane, day to day forecasts.’ But Spencer holds his own, citing the mysterious, energy-based science of quantum physics, and its new paradigm: we cannot observe the Universe without changing it – thus some strange reciprocal effect between ‘in here’ and ‘out there’ exists. In particular, Spencer refers to physicist David Bohm’s Implicate Order theory, a transcendental, abstract realm out of which both matter and consciousness arise. This, says Spencer, is ‘useful for understanding how astrology works’ – and I agree entirely.

But Dawkins seems unconcerned with  how astrology works, only that it uses ‘arcane’ methods, moreover, that ‘people are gullible and quite ready to be fooled’ by this kind of thing. I can only comment here that the good zoologist has a rather poor opinion of human nature, and that only arrogance can have contributed to such a view. (I personally have never found my clients ‘ready to be fooled’ – on the contrary, they are ready to catch me out if I make any nonsense pronouncements in my work as an astrologer.) In an article in The Independent from 1995, ‘The real romance in the stars’, Dawkins firmly sets out his distaste for both the subject and astrologers in general:

“We should take astrology seriously. No, I don’t mean we should believe in it. I am talking about fighting it seriously instead of humouring it as a piece of harmless fun. Frivolous tolerance, probably the dominant stance towards astrology among educated people who don’t actually believe in it, ran right through a recent article in the Independent … As the headline writer put it, “Astrology has never been so popular, or such big business. But when the late, great Patric Walker (Libra) died, it wasn’t just his billion readers … that attracted his aspirant successors; it was his reputation as the Henry James of horoscope writers, as the man who’d made the trade respectable.” Hardly respectable, but surely something must be going on when even the Independent on Sunday can devote two pages plus a double picture spread to the question of who would inherit the mantle of a dead charlatan.”5

Of course, Dawkins is hardly alone in his militant dismissals. Latterly, we have the say-so of BBC TV favourite Professor Brian Cox, another apparent ‘expert’ on astrology. In March 2015, The Independent reported on the row between Cox and the Conservative MP, David Tredinnick, a believer in astrology who had said:

“I do believe that astrology and complementary medicine would help take the huge pressure off doctors … Cox, in a BBC documentary Wonders of the Solar System had described astrology as a load of rubbish. ‘People such as Professor Brian Cox, who called astrology rubbish, have simply not studied the subject.” 6

Cox answered that Tredinnick was an “outlier on the spectrum of reason.” But this smart-ass reply is something we should expect from most scientists, and certainly the modern media. According to the Guardian hack Martin Robbins:

“astrology is a pseudoscience with no real basis in evidence that was already being ridiculed in the Dark Ages, and noted that after thousands of years astrologers still can’t produce statistically meaningful results. It would observe that any apparent successes of astrology probably owe more to the use of cold-reading techniques, convenient vagueness, and the exploitation of psychological quirks like confirmation bias or the Forer effect, and express amazement at the continued ability of the astrological industry to lift hundreds of millions of euros, pounds and dollars out of the pockets of customers each year.” 7

Again, we are back to erroneous claims that ‘astrology is a pseudoscience’. What seems to be behind such hardened, ignorant comments is the belief that, to quote one anti-sceptic commentator:

“the only reliable way to know about anything is through the scientific method … [though] this is an absolutist statement since there is not just one single way to know everything. Other ways of knowing things include direct observation, personal experience … if Acupuncture or some alternative medicine technique works for me, then I know that it works for me regardless of whether it’s proven by the scientific method or not … The scientific method is a tool for testing hypothesis and finding out things, not for defending one’s own paradigms.”8

However, when top scientists and Guardian journalists are castigating astrology so badly then what are we to do about it? Perhaps the real problem (even the burden of proof) lies with the sceptic. When they become so blatantly militant in their desire to wipe astrology off the face of the earth, clearly they are getting a trifle obsessed. The phenomenon of taking others to task because of their strange beliefs usually indicates a hidden agenda on the part of the sceptic. We can see this plainly in the quote earlier by Richard Dawkins: “astrology is to be ‘fought seriously’ and it is up to people like him to disabuse people of their ridiculous ideas. (And science is the only reliable method.)” Rationalists and sceptics are often so vocal in their denunciations of astrology, you would think it some insidious mental disease that must be stamped out. (Which is probably how Richard Dawkins sees it.)

Sir Martin Rees also denounced astrology as “absurd”, adding: “There is no place for astrology in our scientific view of the world; moreover its predictive claims cannot stand any critical scrutiny.” Professor Stephen Hawking has also said that, “astrology became impossible as soon as early scientists found that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, an idea on which astrology was founded.”

Astrologer Robert Hand once suggested that this cultural unease about ‘horoscopes’ comes from a world-view that insists that each of us are separate from the world we perceive, wrapped up in our own skin, the point where our personal universe supposedly ends. Therefore, any ‘influence’ from ‘the stars’ must be an erroneous belief. But pioneers in the new physics have come to the conclusion that this separateness, this demarcation between subject and object, is an insufficient world-view in light of certain experiments in particle physics. We interact with, or participate in it, at a very fundamental level.

Astrology, then,  and its seemingly fantastic claims are only problematic to those who insist there has to be some scientific material evidence for it. On the astrology-and-science.com website we find these patronising comments, essentially a bogus, tongue-in-cheek argument for astrology, which is:

“that it is among the most enduring of human beliefs, it connects us with the cosmos and the totality of things … In practical terms a warm and sympathetic astrologer provides low-cost non-threatening therapy that is otherwise hard to come by. You get emotional comfort, spiritual support, and interesting ideas to stimulate self-examination. And new ideas are always emerging that could raise spiritual awareness. In a dehumanised society an astrologer provides personal support at a very low price. Where else can you get this sort of thing these days?” 9

To be serious though, astrology sceptics using science as a weapon need to understand what they are attacking. How astrology works is a matter for metaphysics, for philosophy or depth psychology – it’s a language of Consciousness which simply cannot be reduced to scientific, empirical testing. What we have seen here with astrology-and-science.com is ‘scientific materialism’ – the belief that physical reality, as studied in natural sciences, is all that truly exists. It has a hyper-reductive view of causality and determinism (“everything is physical and subject to physical laws”) and sees the world as machine-like – all testable physical phenomena in the Universe is due to cause and effect. (Hence the problem with how astrology works.)

But none of this is true: Quantum Physics has demonstrated that the Universe is ultimately not physical, has proven that non-causal events readily occur and that even consciousness defies materialist understanding. In reply to astrology-and-science.com my case against scientific materialists is that:

“they are among the most enduring of narrow minded people, afraid to be connected with the cosmos and the totality of things … In practical terms, sceptical denunciations on astrology from science provide cheap reassurances of their continuing blinkered view of life, that is otherwise threatened by these strange superstitions. With further claims (not backed with any good argument) that astrology doesn’t work they get emotional comfort, smug assurances from experts. And new ‘experts’ (like Professor Brian Cox) are always emerging to reaffirm that entrenched sceptical view. In a society infected with so many crackpot beliefs, and when you can’t be bothered investigating for yourself, you need the comfort of scientific authorities to remind you of the worthlessness of astrology.”

1. Wells, The Jesus Legend, Open Court, 1996.

2. The Enemies of Reason, “Slaves to Superstition” [1.01], 13 August 2007

3. Hand, ‘On Creating a Science of Astrology’ in Essays on Astrology, Para Research, 1982.

4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/in-an-age-of-science-and-cynicism-what-does-the-future-hold-for-the-professional-astrologer-a6790846.html

5. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-real-romance-in-the-stars-1527970.html

6. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/professor-brian-cox-brands-astrology-believing-tory-mp-david-tredinnick-an-outlier-on-the-spectrum-10088421.html

7. https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/jan/24/1

8. Winston Wu: Debunking Common Skeptical Arguments Against Paranormal and Psychic Phenomena: http://www.victorzammit.com/skeptics/winston.html#4 →

9. http://www.astrology-and-science.com/U-case2.htm

 

James Lynn Page’s website is www.astro.nu

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How Astrology Works: an exclusive preview by James Lynn Page
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How Astrology Works: an exclusive preview by James Lynn Page
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How Astrology Works is the title of my forthcoming book (to be published by Perrault in October). I’m pleased to present here an exclusive preview for Healthy Tree Frog:
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