Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Carl Sagan against astrology

In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan bemoans the shallowness of the media that presents pseudoscience, in which he includes astrology, as being credible.
"The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."
To his credit, Carl Sagan refused to sign the infamous 1975 "Objections to Astrology" article signed by 186 scientists on the basis that the signers relied on their collective authoritarian tone instead of arguing whether astrological principles are faulty. Yet Sagan ignored his own criticism when he later condemned astrology in the Cosmos TV series and in The Demon-Haunted World. Sagan had a less than rudimentary understanding of astrological principles and practices and he never engaged in what he himself declared was the only credible argument.

Hypocritically, Sagan attacked newspaper horoscopes (the 30-second sound bite he was critical of) and the most superficial aspects of astrology as if that were all that astrology offers. Sagan's public trivializing of astrology was in fact a striking example of his own considerable contribution to the "slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media". It was nothing less than a defiant celebration of ignorance.

In hindsight, it almost seems as if someone influential in Sagan's life correctly warned him not to sign the Objections article but was not around to stop him from making the same rational blunder at other times.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Astrology and modernity

In France, astrology has not had the same revival of traditional astrology as in many other parts of the community. Alain de Chivré, president of the Fédération d'Astrologues Francophones has argued against this trend in order to distinguish astrology from fortune telling. He has suggested the alignment of astrology with the humanities and concepts of Modernity by advocating the following five requirements.

1) To avoid any association of astrology with tarot reading, clairvoyance, and mediumship.
2) To prohibit the astrological prediction of specific events, such as the outcomes of presidential elections or of football matches, and all predictions concerning individuals.
3) To apply astrology as a practice concerning nature and nurture rather than as a practice that applies techniques.
4) To exercise great caution in forecasting, limited to general forecasts only.
5) To refocus on the useful function of astrology, which is the development of human potential.
Full text:

One cannot blame de Chivré and the FDAF for trying to protect astrology from attacks. Astrologers have not fared well in the prediction of specific events and it should be recognized, as de Chivré suggests, that it is better to interpret probabilities and general tendencies instead. This is what most of mainstream science does today in a much more disciplined way. Psi is not part of the astrological corpus and formally making the distinction ends guilt by association.

However, I don’t completely agree with de Chivré’s avoidance of emphasis on technique because I see diversity of techniques as a strength rather than a weakness. This is provided there is an active discourse that places the development of human potential first, as de Chivré states, and separates the more promising concepts from weaker concepts. This important critical discourse needs to be strengthened not only in France but throughout the astrological community.

In my view, it is a mistake for astrology to embrace Modernity. Modernity in the name of progress or enterprise leads to unrealistic pressures to conform to work roles and the compulsive duty to dismiss doubt and always follow orders. It results in the abhorrence of divergence and the rapid extinction of diversity. These pressures are what astrologers need to move away from even if it raises criticism from skeptics that astrologers do not agree on everything among themselves. The proper rejection of Modernity is not “Postmodernism,” which is little more than Modernity with the same agenda but repackaged and branded for the sake of consumerism. The proper response is rather the greatly misunderstood and maligned New Age that combines an emerging sense of ecological awareness with the intelligent understanding of ancient knowledge and practices.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Is astrology authoritarian? Is science?

Since Galileo and Francis Bacon, science has been disruptive and anti-authoritarian. Astrology is too, but many scientists mistakenly believe astrology to be authoritarian and that is why they fight against it. Science is a method skeptical of claims. It replaces authority and dogmatic laws with evidence and statements of deductions and probable conclusions—its theory. Generally, scientists do not recognize astrological theory because it appears to be simply a black box of accumulated traditions. They do not want to look inside the box to see how the theory is structured and how the structures might provide evidence.

To claim that astrology is pseudoscience is an authoritarian and unscientific position. If scientists do not know of any evidence that supports astrology, they should declare astrology to be probably pseudoscience (equivalent to "all swans are probably white"). But there actually is strong evidence of astrological effects (black swans). The evidence is widely suppressed, most publicly in Wikipedia, the popular, crowdsourced encyclopedia. The intent of those who actively suppress the evidence is to maintain that astrology is authoritarian. Yet this can only be accomplished by the enforcement of authoritarian-based rules and dogma. The end result is faulty logic that uses the very argument it rejects.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review of Bernadette Brady's "Astrology and Research"

The complete title of the paper, published in June 2003, is "Astrology and Research: Astrologers’ attitudes to research methodologies and the implications of these attitudes for the contemporary communities of astrologers." In the paper, Brady voices strong opinions in support of qualitative research in astrology.

The article was written during a particularly pessimistic period when it seemed normal to characterize quantitative research in astrology as an obsession with legitimacy, almost in the sense of a psychological disorder that needed a cure. Looking back at the research in the late 20th century, I would not regard the research of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin or of Suitbert Ertel, and others as particularly concerned with legitimizing astrology but rather with exploring unknowns and making interesting discoveries. In itself, obsession is irrelevant to science, provided there is method, review, and replication.

While I can appreciate the promotion of good ideas in qualitative research, I don't think the problem is an over-emphasis on quantitative research. In my view, where the quantitative astrological research effort fails is in the critical review of its findings and claims, that is, in drawing greater attention to the flaws and to the promise of its individual studies.

The growing interest in astrology as a form of symbolic divination has a place but would be very worrisome if it were to become the predominant philosophy. Both qualitative research and divination astrology tend to throw out the basic principles and the best sources of criticism without trying to better understand them. They are just not astrological enough. They rely too much on the moment and on the rituals of practice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Misreprentation of the temperaments in the EPI

From what I understand, Empedocles (c. 450 BCE) postulated that the universe is built out of fire, earth, air, and water. He was a nilist and did not assign any values to these elements. His predecessors had been Thales (c. late 6th century BCE) who believed the essential ingredient was water, and later Anaximenes who argued that the fundamental substance was air. Later, Democritus (c. 400 BCE) argued for materialism and that the world consists of nothing but imortal atoms and empty space, and even the soul was composed of atoms.

Soon after Empedocles, Hippocrates (460-370 BCE) incorporated the four temperaments or humours into his medical theories: sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and quiet), and phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful). These may have their origins in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. I don't know how these ideas were conflated and incorporated into astrology.

As you can tell, none of these early descriptions of temperaments represents a disturbance, and as such they can be considered as stable dimensions of personality. What I think Eysenck and later psychologists did was interpret these dimensions in such a manner that suggested disturbances or unstable psychological states. The difference, I believe, is that in astrology the personality dimensions may be disturbed into such states but recovery is expected because psychological states are not permanent as dimensions are. Eysenck and others seem to take certain psychological states as being permanent and I think this has no place in astrology.

Thus in Eysenck's Personality Inventory (EPI) test, we have E (extraversion - sociability) and N (neuroticism - emotional stability) each with continuums between + and -. E+ is sociable and outgoing, E- is quiet and reserved, N+ is emotional and easily upset, N- is calm and not easily upset. Now, how often do you encounter people, for example, in the E+N+ quadrant (outgoing and easily upset emotionally)? Are these people in your everyday world? Is this really a personality dimension or a psychological state? You may encounter someone from this quadrant like Mayor Rob Ford, but such people are unstable and definitely need professional help. It is not a true personality dimension.

The beauty of astrology is that it describes both personality dimensions and psychological states but the states are assumed to be under the control of the native, whereas the dimensions are not. That is why astrology cannot predict with certainty what the state might be at any given time. This is a different paradigm than the E and N theories, which I now believe to be a corruption.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The jetpack scientist

In view of the corporate manipulation of science funding and research programs in the pursuit of higher profits in the name of progress and growth, and the corresponding decline of scientific authority and credibility, here's a link to an insightful blog post with a "modest proposal." The author, that science potentially could once again be supported by astrology, in the way that Ptolemy, Galileo, and Kepler practiced astrology to support their scientific efforts. Science institutions could offer astrological services to the public as a means of supporting their research programs that are now underfunded because there are no foreseeable profits to be made from them for corporate gains. This is meant to be somewhat satirical, though it touches upon interesting discussion points. Apparently, skeptics ought not attack astrology because astrology might just be the means that at some time in the near future could once again support the best innovation in science.

It seems to me as if science has been suffering a slow but steady decline. There are a growing number of history of science shows on television and they seem almost nostalgic. Science has become the stuff of storytelling and legend. Scientists today are not the impressive figures of authority and respect that they once were. Scientists nowadays are just ordinary people who collect a large amount of data for statistical evaluation or who isolate pieces of genetic code for Monsanto products and the profit motive. Some of the best known scientists are turning to skepticism as a career, trying to blame the "decline of science literacy" on what they perceive as "growing superstition" and "irrationality." In reality however, the current decline may have much more to do with a growing public awareness of a lack of ethical choices and global responsibility related to corporate control of science for profit.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Here the existential astrologer

If we have been taught doctrine of heliocentric world, haven't we all obligation then to conceive disembodied, floating in space, looking down at "You are here"? Where? Or would we now need declare liberty to think wherewith in reverse, abiding in our skins? Must one then invoke license, against that wisdom, to be at one with self and a whole universe a system whirling and substantiating about us? Because they who profess could not grasp this fateful objectivity which is that all share their own oneness at the multicenter of an at-once and often unique universe that encompasses within its many spiral arms an intimate feasible embrace.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does astrology violate physical laws?

It is sometimes said that astrology defies the laws of physics. But what laws are these? Do we need to choose between gravity and thermodynamics? Anyone who makes this assertion should state exactly what those laws are and exactly how astrology ignores, denies, or goes counter to them. What I think you'd probably find would be an attempt to change the subject to astrology's "claims" of "influence" and "effects" and some interesting and revealing assumptions. Astrological "claims" are not so specific as to be law-like, but are complex postulations that are rather more like theories than claims.

Theory can postulate influences and effects, and these might potentially be indirectly evaluated and inferred, like the Higgs boson, through observing statistical correlations. "Influence" is just a word that astrologers have used. Like many words in the English language, the word influence has become somewhat ambiguous by the different meanings it has acquired. Astrological influence could turn out to be something more like quantum entanglement.

From the experimentation so far, entanglement seems to have no limits. If there was a primordial Big Bang, then everything was split from everything else at the beginning and theoretically there should be plenty of entanglements evident throughout the universe. Microcosms entangled with macrocosms in the astrological sense would be normal and not against natural laws. This relationship in astrology is known as the Hermetic maxim. The nearest macrocosm that everyone on Earth shares is the local environment of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Such an explanatory theory might challenge some of our conventional beliefs but does not violate or defy the laws of physics or nature.

Scientific theory allows the freedom to provide hypothetical interpretations and allows even extraordinary concepts to be seriously discussed. For example, the extraordinary principle of nonlocality is well documented through experimental research and might eventually be used to explain macrocosmic observations beyond quantum phenomena.

The "violates or defies physical or natural laws" assertion is in conflict with scientific curiosity. This assertion as an argument should always be critically questioned because the discussion can uncover deeper beliefs and lead to a better engagement with astrology. Astrologers have learned a how to evaluate astrology fairly within scientific frameworks, and are prepared to ensure fairness if given the opportunity.

As a last point, astrologers can borrow a useful term from quantum physicist David Bohm that could help overcome typical criticisms of astrology that are redolent of late 19th century classical science. Instead of "influences," we might say that there are planetary "implications" that operate between the interplanetary macrocosm and the microcosms of individuals. This suggests Bohm's concept of a deeper implicate (enfolded) order compared to the explicate (unfolded) order of our familiar existence according to the symmetry of the Hermetic maxim. Planetary implications referred to in this manner suggest archetypes and their taxonomies, which are abstract organizational concepts that have their beginnings in astrology.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How the galactic center replaced the constellations: A competing paradigm for the Great Year and astrological ages

The lack of unanimity regarding the timing of the ages in the Great Year precessional cycle has been problematic for astrology and is a perennial source of derision emanating from the scientific community, where it is sometimes incorrectly argued that Ophiuchus should be a zodiacal sign. Despite the minimal role that the precessional ages plays in the practice of astrology, this is one of the main issues today that prevents astrology from entering into modern acceptance and the potential it would otherwise offer for research. Even after many years of effort, the precessional problem in astrology cannot be educated away to the satisfaction of critics and the time is overdue for a change of paradigm. This proposal argues that zodiac meanings are derived from observations separate from the constellations and that a more modern consideration of galactic structure will resolve the issue of the astrological ages. Read the Full Article >>

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The "scientific hypothesis" against astrology falsified?

Here's another Scientific American blog article (Oct 4, 2011), "Drawing the line between science and pseudo-science," By Janet D. Stemwedel. Denimbius has offered some constructive comments:

While the example of creationism can be informative, perhaps the greater challenge to the problem of demarcation is the example of astrology, which the author mentions but doesn't directly address. Astrology is worthy of much more scientific scrutiny than it has received, especially in light of the findings of the late Michel Gauquelin. How have the scientific claims against astrology held up under Popper's criteria?

Astrology presents many "indications" or "significations," which due to the complexity of the subject and the insistence of astrologers on a holistic approach, are notoriously difficult to test.

To address this complexity, the 1985 double-blind experiment done by magician-scientist Shawn Carlson, set out to test what he called the "scientific hypothesis." Even a holistic approach to astrology, he suggested, could not be supported by the tests he designed. The tests in his experiment, published in NATURE [Dec. 1985, (318), 419-425] and by far the most frequently cited detailed claim against astrology, asked astrologers to match natal charts with psychological (CPI) profiles.

Although Carlson concluded his experiment with the assertion that the astrologers failed, recent peer-reviewed reassessments of the study have been critical of Carlson's analysis, pointing to numerous flaws, such as not following his own protocol, irrelevant grouping of results, and not reporting results that could have clarified a curious "statistical fluctuation" in the study.

As it turns out, when correctly assessed according to Carlson's own stated protocol and the normal evaluations of the social sciences, the data from the study actually supports the astrologers performance significantly better than chance. This critical evaluation might be the first well-documented case where the "scientific hypothesis" against astrology has been falsified according to Popper's criteria of demarcation.

This falsification of the scientific claim against astrology is a crucially interesting development for science. Clearly, the experiment needs a fair replication, which incorporates the improvements and safeguards offered by the critics. Until this happens, the claim that astrology is pseudoscience is seriously questionable. With the hypothesis for this widely cited experiment now broken, how does science explain the results?

Here are the links to the original Carlson article and some of its criticism: