Sunday, November 28, 2010

Support for astrology from the 1985 Carlson double-blind study

The Carlson double-blind study, published in 1985 in Nature (one of the world's leading scientific publications) has long been regarded as one of the most definitive indictments against astrology. Although this study might appear to be fair to uncritical readers, it contains serious flaws, which when they are known, cast a very different light on the study. These flaws include: no disclosure of similar scientific studies, unfairly skewed design, disregard for its own stated criteria of evaluation, irrelevant groupings of data, rejection of unexpected results, and an illogical conclusion based on the null hypothesis. Yet, when the stated measurement criteria are applied and the data is evaluated according to normal social science, the two tests performed by the participating astrologers provide evidence that is consistent with astrology (p = .054 with ES = .15, and p = .037 with ES = .10). These extraordinary results give further testimony to the power of data ranking and rating methods, which have been successfully used in previous astrological experiments. A critical discussion on follow-up studies by McGrew and McFall (1990), Nanninga (1996/97), and Wyman and Vyse (2008) is also included.  Read the Full Article >>

Unasked Questions

Why would anyone not want to study astrology? Astrology is ancient. People like to study ancient things. Astrology organizes the world. People like to study things that create order out of disorder. Astrology analyzes human interactions. People care a lot about relationships. Astrology examines the meanings of the past, future, and present moments. People like to study ways of regarding different circumstances.

By all indications, people should want to study astrology.Yet few people give astrology any thought beyond an occasional glance at their sun sign horoscope, even though they know there is much more to astrology than that. Astrology is not seriously studied at universities and research in astrology is rarely done. Scholarly journals and funding are not open to astrology. Professors are not clamoring for astrology to be taught. Instead, professors are more inclined to argue against astrology as if their careers depended on their ability to discourage students.

The usual academic argument against astrology is that it is not a science, as if science has a monopoly on Greek roots: astrology = star study, horoscope = time watcher. Yet why would astrology need to be a science for researchers to study it? Science studies multitudes of things, even things that are not real. For example, it would be difficult to claim that superstring theory is a legitimate science because it does not use real world values and therefore it cannot tested. Testing is the test of science. Bird song dialects are certainly real but what is the science that studies them? Is it linguistics, ornithology, psychology, musicology, or sociology? Modern science tends not to fit the old pigeonholes.

Why should science waste the immense literature of astrology? Wouldn't it be interesting to follow up on the few tantalizing bits of astrological evidence found so far? Is there some fear that science would somehow lose integrity if it ventured into the part on the map that is marked “Here be dragons”? Is there no way to study dragons, or even if there be dragons? Why would anyone not want to go there?

Is astrology a sort of Pandora’s Box that might, or might not, contain dreadful unknown stuff, and ought not to be opened for scientific inquiry? We see astrology proscribed with such labels as pseudoscience, superstition, occult, and remnants of the dim past. Is nothing ever learned from the dim past? Maybe the box of astrology, like a cursed tomb, should just lie where it is, undisturbed.

Then again, maybe astrology doesn’t need science, because astrology is technology and has always taken care of itself. Since the beginning of civilization, technology has been successfully used to build bridges, arm armies, cure diseases, grow crops, and navigate the deserts and seas, all before the arrival of what we call science. Technology was developed from whatever worked best. 

Without the aid of science, ancient mariners read the subtle signs in their environment that let them know how to best catch the winds, currents, and tides. They learned from their experience and discipline where the channels and shoals were, how the weather would change, and how to steer from one destination to the next. They developed practical techniques, and did not need formal laws and theories. Similarly, astrology developed as a technology and continues to develop to this day, with techniques being added, abandoned, and re-examined. Does astrology need to be anything more than collection of techniques for reading subtle signs?

Why read subtle signs? Isn’t it true that paying heed to subtle signs and recording them is the most effective way to prevent problems and assure success? Is there any better means of adaptation and survival? Why ignore early warnings and wait until problems become obvious and unavoidable? 

A concept in chaos theory known as the butterfly effect suggests that the subtle flap of a butterfly’s wings in Africa can stir the wind with an effect that can accumulate the force of a hurricane when it reaches the Caribbean. Powerful effects had to begin somewhere. But why stop at the butterfly? Where did the wing flap begin? Was it due to some urgent necessity within the butterfly? Going even further, was it perhaps something that might have issued from the quantum realm? What exactly is the quantum realm, where does it begin and where does it end, and how can it possibly affect things that we experience in our everyday world?

Quantum effects can be illustrated by the famous Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. This experiment involves another sort of box that Pandora might have been tempted to open. In this experiment a cat is placed in a box with an isotope that has a known probability of decay. The decay of the isotope will be detected and this will trigger the release of a poisonous gas, which will kill the cat. Observers would need to open the box to determine whether the cat is alive or dead at any point during the experiment. Without observation, the cat is said to be in a state of superposition, also referred to as a wave function, meaning all possible states at once, with a probability calculated for each state.

This thought experiment illustrates that the quantum realm of microscopic radioactive decay, though extremely subtle, can affect the familiar macroscopic realm in which we live, and that there are limits to what science can and cannot predict. Science can predict the state of a large number of Schrödinger’s cat boxes with a high level of certainty but it cannot predict a single case with certainty. The concepts of superposition, uncertainty, and observation in this thought experiment have interesting implications for astrology.

Hello Worlds

I’ve written mainly about the development of theories that are consistent with the major features of astrology as described in its literature and applications. Most of this work is available in my book Environmental Cosmology and on my website at The theories that I have postulated in these publications can sit on the shelf waiting to be tested. Eventually they will be supported by evidence or at least they will contribute to creating better theories.

This blog will go beyond theory and delve into the more philosophical interpretations and metatheories that would be consistent with the experience of astrology. A special type of metatheory can be found in my theoretical writings, specifically the organizing principles postulated as the foundation of the astrological paradigm. These principles are the understandings that I believe everyone would need to agree to in order to study astrology as a discipline.

The workings and the experience of astrology are difficult to understand. It is fairly well accepted among astrologers that astrology is not compatible with classical (early modern) science. This view of science, which began in the seventeenth century, was grounded in belief in dualism between mind and matter, that effects had causes that preceded them in time, and that causes could be understood as physical forces acting on matter as mechanisms. These beliefs left no room for consciousness and because astrology deals with consciousness, astrology was left aside while scientists turned their attention to areas that were easier to study.

Times have changed and the tables have almost completely turned. Evolutionary science, beginning in the nineteenth century, developed theories of adaptation and selection, and this began to include the suggestion of consciousness within the disciplines of science. As statistical mathematics developed, it became possible to measure and model all sorts of observations beyond mechanisms and to discover tendencies, and this could include the influences of consciousness.

Today, quantum mechanics is phenomenally successful to the extent that it dominates research in physics. But quantum mechanics is largely a statistical science that appears to reject, despite its name, any general mechanism, and it is inextricably linked to the conscious influence of the observer. Being mindful of these momentous changes in science, it would seem reasonable to expect that astrology would more closely resemble quantum interpretations than the mechanical-causal interpretation of classical science that is devoid of consciousness.

In this blog, I shall endeavor to present and discuss in random or discursive manner with interested readers certain areas of quantum mechanics compared to astrology such as (I) the quantization of quantities and qualities, (II) wave function and collapse vs. many worlds, (III) the uncertainty principle, and (IV) quantum entanglement. My intention is not to explain quantum mechanics, but rather to review the terminology and interpretations of quantum mechanics for parallels to astrology. There are striking similarities and curious differences.