Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Response to The Kindly Ones' "Astrology and its problems: Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend"

February 15, 2011 at 15:07 (link)   

In your conclusion, you said:

“In summary, the philosophical problem for astrology is thus not that it can always explain failures (Popper) or that it does not attempt to solve problems (Kuhn) but instead that it has stagnated (Feyerabend) – assuming that this progression in criticisms is fair, of course.”

How fair are these criticisms? Does not science too always find a way to explain its failures, sometimes by alternative theories? If you read the articles Deborah has suggested, you will see that the more sensitive methods where data is ranked or rated do result in findings that support astrological claims. These methods have been applied to the Gauquelin data by Professor Suitbert Ertel. This shows not only that scientists are willing to solve astrological problems, but have explained the reasons and methods that separate its failures from its successes.

Deborah makes a critical point about why astrological research has stagnated. This is not a scientific issue so much as a social phenomenon. There is an opposition to astrology that is so overwhelming that it is a very uncomfortable area in which to do research.

I invite you to read my soon-to-be-published peer-reviewed article “The Good Science of Astrology: Separating Effects from Artifacts.”


Added: February 15, 2011 at 15:47


In case you are not familiar with them, let me just add two relevant articles:

Gauquelin’s last published article, “Is There Really a Mars Effect?” in which he describes how Ertel solved the problem he was having with the “Mars effect.”

Ertel’s published article on this was: “Raising the Hurdle for the Athletes’ Mars Effect: Association Co-varies with Eminence

Added February 15, 2011 at 19:17

Sorry Paul, but my comments did not do justice to your analysis of the criticisms as a progression from Popper to Kuhn to Feyerabend. It is difficult to argue against a certain stagnation in astrological research in that it has not captivated the imaginations of people who could develop it. I can think of a couple of contributors to stagnation.

Hellenist astrologers did not make a clean break from the constellations when they adopted the tropical zodiac. They continued to use the names of the constellations for the signs (tropes), which are more weird, arcane, freakish, mysterious, strange, supernatural, and outright creepy than they need to be. No doubt, this has contributed to millenia of confusion and hostility towards astrology. The Chinese adopted a more modern interpretation of values with their zodiac, although it is not attached to the tropical reference frame.

Astrologers also missed out in early modern science, when material things were said to have “properties” and this concept did not spread to astrology. Astrology continued to develop its system of “rulerships” where there is no reason why these studied characteristics could not be described as “astrological properties.” This also contributed to stagnation and a resentment against a sort of planetary subjugation that astrology seemed to suggest.

Modern astrologers are modern thinkers; they see through these problems and are not bothered by them. Perhaps if they were a little more reflective they would be willing to make some changes.

February 16, 2011 at 14:41 (by me)

Your description of Feyerabend’s position (from your personal email) is:

“Any system of investigation which explains away failures instead of seeking to replace itself via the pursuit of ways to solve the problems it encounters is a system which assuredly mires itself in stagnation.”

In other words, if astrologers, instead of explaining away failures, would try to solve the problems by proliferating theories, then they would not be mired in stagnation.

By “explaining away failures” we would have to mean the criticism against numerous scientific tests of astrology as “unfair” such as Rawlins has done with regard to the Gauquelin “Mars effect” studies, as Deborah has pointed out, or such as Ertel has done with regard to other “Mars effect” studies, or as Eysenck has done with regard to the Shawn Carlson double-blind study.

Rawlins, although he recognized the unfairness and explained away the results, did not try to provide alternative theories. Eysenck tried to apply his own theories of personality to astrology, which I don’t believe was successful. Ertel, however decided to use a very sensitive method of ranking and rating, and produced positive results for astrology using the gathered Mars effect data. No new theories were required.

Clearly it is possible to find flaws in scientific tests of astrology and argue the tests are “unfair,” and this cannot be judged as “explaining away failures.” Unfairness is the leading criticism of the scientific tests that fail. In some cases astrologers just don’t know what to think, in which case they do not try to explain the failures. It is an assumption that they do.

Astrologers do proliferate theories, but they are exactly what you might think. If new asteroids or planetoids are discovered, astrologers will proliferate theories and the theories are developed among the community. Theories are proliferated for the astrology of historical events. The work of Richard Tarnus comes to mind. If astrology is stagnant, then why is it attractive to so many enthusiastic people? I don’t think “stagnant” describes it.

February 18, 2011 at 02:22 by me.

Those critiques only apply to the “scientific tests of astrology”; consequently, those critiques in and of themselves produce no improvement in the astrological approach employed by astrologers.
The improvement is in the scientific methods used to test astrology. This is an improvement in science today and it is an assumption that these improvements would never lead to improvements in astrology. Otherwise, why would the astrologers themselves participate in the studies and wish to help design the tests? Again, I don’t think this is stagnation, especially if they are involved in the design of experiments.
Ertel, however decided to use a very sensitive method of ranking and rating, and produced positive results for astrology using the gathered the Mars effect data. No new theories were required.
Sorry if this was not clear. Ertel did not need new astrological theories to scientifically demonstrate a correlation between the rankings of sports champions and Mars placement. This one instance does not lead to the conclusion that astrology never needs new theories. New theories are developed in astrology, but in this instance were not needed.
If the addition of newly discovered astronomical objects has improved astrological practice, and if astrologers (for whatever reason) want to be thought of as part of the scientific research community, then maybe astrological theories can be put forth that both improve astrological practice and anticipate/predict astronomical (or physics) discoveries yet to come.
Yes, this comes close to what some astrologers want to do, except such research would not anticipate astronomical discoveries (how could it, and why should it?) as much as shed light on what astrology may be able to further discover, which is more in the nature of psychological and social understanding.

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