ASTROLOGY, SCIENCE & CAUSALITY
Copyright © 2005 All Rights Reserved
by David Cochrane
In a consideration of the relationship of astrology to science, one must first have a clear sense of what science is and what science is not. Ironically, although we are surrounded by the fruits of science in our lives, from light bulbs and computers to modern medical treatments, etc., our intuitive sense of what astrology is may be more accurate than our intuitive sense of what science is.
WHAT IS SCIENCE?
We think of science as an approach to understanding that is precise, rigorous, and down-to-earth. This impression of science is generally accurate. We may then also think that science is based on theories and the importance of cause-and-effect relationships; this, however, is true in only certain areas of science, and the areas in which this is not true is not limited to the study of sub-atomic particles.
Many well-educated people are aware that in the study of the vast reaches of space, Einstein's theory of relativity is critically important, and Einstein's theories defy common sense and causal relationships appear to break down.
According to modern physics, mass (which we can think of very roughly and technically inaccurately as weight) and speed are connected, as are time and space, and these relationships, among others, defy common sense and our natural inclination to believe that there are tangible causal relationships between physical things. The educated non-scientist may also be very familiar with general concepts in quantum theory that in the study of the sub-atomic world defy common sense.
There are also popular books that clearly explain how physicists like David Bohm describe the universe as an integrated whole with an implicate order. Bell's Theorem is a kind of capstone in the theoretical edifice of physics that establishes that the human tendency to seek tangible and clear causal relationships is, in fact, not the way that the universe exists in reality; this need is a limitation of the finite capacities of the human mind and not the nature of reality. Note that the theory of relativity, quantum theory, and Bell's Theorem are not "just" theories; they are accepted by physicists and have huge amounts of data to support them.
NON-CAUSALITY IN PHYSICS THAT WE EXPERIENCE:
What may go unnoticed is that even in the explanation of common everyday phenomena, physics is unable to develop simple causal mechanisms to explain phenomena! Scientists and non-scientists alike have been guilty of perpetuating a myth that all science is based on hard-nosed, common sense linear thinking, with a possible exception here and there from a frame of reference that is either too large (the vast expanses of outer space) or too small (subatomic particles) to be of any practical or immediate concern for us. As we shall see, the emporer has no clothes; physics and mathematics often dwell in the mysterious, illusive, and mystical, even in describing visible and tangible phenomena.
Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion:
Kepler's laws of planetary motion are not a statement of causality; they are a statement of the application of mathematics to the physical world. Kepler's laws of planetary motion state that physical reality conform to mathematical principles. A reason why the planets should move according to these laws is not provided. Kepler's breakthrough and this monumental breakthrough to modern science is founded principally on the application of abstract mathematical models to physical reality.
Newton's Law of Gravity:
The huge problem with Newton's law of gravity is that it involves the dreaded "action at a distance", a concept that many physicists, like most people, find difficult to accept. Gravitation occurs instantaneously between objects that are separated from each other. How can the earth pull objects to itself without sending out some kind of force to pull the objects in and this force would require time to reach the objects?
Newton's law of gravity just does not make common sense and does not involve a cause-and-effect mechanism. This bothered Newton but he was unable to develop a theory to explain why his formula works. His formula works and it works extremely well, but it does not involve causality.
Causality is Missing In These Basic Scientific Concepts:
In many ways the evolution of science has been a dismal failure in applying the principle of cause-and-effect. In other areas of science, however, causality and common sense have been wonderfully validated. There are areas where common sense and causality remain supreme and other areas where they appear to irrelevant.
Quantification, measurement and abstract mathematics:
Despite the fact that quantification and measurement are not necessarily related to a linear, materialistic view of the world, many scientists and non-scientists continue to perpetuate the myth that any form of quantification involves a materialistic frame of reference, a "Newtonian" view, as it is often called. The term "Newtonian" in this context is ironic because Newton's law of gravity has no causal basis and is therefore rather mystical and baffling. Newton himself was a bit eccentric, inclined to a vegetarian diet, alchemy, never married or traveled, did not share with the world his monumental discovery of calculus, and in his later years spent time studying religious literature.
Kepler, Newton, and Einstein utilized careful, exacting, critical thinking skills, sophisticated mathematics, an extraordinary imagination and vision. They have a belief in a grand order and design, and a profound genius that somehow seems to transcend what humans are normally capable of. These geniuses utilized the best of several modalities of thinking.
LINEAR, MATERIALISTIC SCIENCE
A Lineage of Thought that Affects Psychology:
Experimental psychology had noble beginnings in the work and philosophy of Fechner, Wundt, and Helmholtz in which the physiological basis of sense perception and other psychological phenomena were studied. The experimental approach reached a crescendo in Skinner's behaviorism, which attempted to apply the experimental procedure to a domain outside the range of which experimental methods can fully succeed. Nevertheless, some basic principles of conditioning are, in fact, vitally important, relevant and important in understanding human behavior. There are times when we humans behave in ways that are reminiscent of Pavlov's dogs. Behaviorism has born some good fruits for psychology but behaviorists are a dying breed and for good reason: there are many other perspectives in psychology that are valid and useful.
Because of the strangling effect of behaviorism and linear materialistic thinking in psychology, psychologists have utilized many alternative paradigms to free itself of the limitations of Skinner's approach. Psychologists, like many other people, can easily see science as the materialistic ogre that strangles the life from their work. Astrologers who employ psychological principles, are especially inclined to feel an urgent need to free astrology and psychology from the stranglehold of a scientific paradigm that they perceive as inadequate for both astrology and psychology.
Note this statement by Professor Glenn Perry, a psychological astrologer, in the ISAR International Astorloger Journal (Vol XXXIII, Number 3, Summer, 2005, page 42): "It cannot be overstated that quatitative (experimental/statistical) research is rooted in the mechanistic paradigm of modern science, why by definition excludes the possibility of any type of causality other than physical causality. Linear, material causality is based on a billiard ball conception of the Universe in which one thing smashes into another thing and causes it to move."
If one interprets "rooted" as meaning based in modern psychological research, then Professor Perry's statement is correct. However, there is a dangerous conclusion that one can draw from this statement: you might be disinclined to any kind of quantitative study because you might believe that quantitative studies necessarily incline you to this philosophical premise.
For someone such as myself who is steeped in the traditions of physics and mathematical thinking, as well as psychological thinking, quantitative analysis and linear, material thinking are closely allied only in the minds of modern day psychologists, but are not allied in reality! It is an unfortunate historical fact that the application of quantitative methods to psychological principles had its roots in thinkers who followed the stream of thought from the ancient Greek Stoics to the Positivists like Auguste Comte and to Skinner and Watson.
Quantitative Analysis and Linear Thinking Are Not Necessarily Related:
Quantification does not necessarily strangle the life and magic of a subject; ironically, it often reveals it! The laws of planetary motion, gravity, quantum theory, relativity, and mathematical laws like the Fibonacci series, group theory, and the study of geometry reveal a magic and wonder in the universe that demonstrate how our simple, finite minds can never grasp the entirety of reality while at the same time we can catch glimpses into the magical universe we inhabit. Quantification for me is spiritually liberating, as each discover reveals greater magic and wonder and raises more questions that it raises. Astrologers should read the book "The Golden Ratio" and "Symmetry" by Mario Livio if they would like to become liberated from a view of science and quantification as areas that are materialistic and linear. Skinner, Watson, and Comte were linear and materialistic in their thinking. Quantification is not linear (except in the minds of people like Skinner, Watson, and Comte).
Professor Perry and I work from different lineages of knowledge. In the early 70's, before finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology, my interests had already began shifting from psychology and sociology to mathematics and physics, as backdrops to the study of astrology. The epistemological efforts in the field of psychology do not interest me as much as the epistemological efforts of scientists. Ironically, the approach of some physicists and mathematicians is, I have found, more mystical and wondrous while simultaneously more exacting and precise, than that of many psychologists. The field of psychology can get mired in discussions of the validity of quantitative versus qualitative research while from the point of view of Platonic mathematics and physics, both are part of an indivisible reality that have appropriate uses and functions when used properly.
A Wholistic Approach to Astrology Accepts Varying Approaches:
Professor Trochim's views agree with my own and fit nicely with the view that a student of physics and mathematics would have: there is a mysterious and wondrous indivisible reality which we gain a greater understanding of through various means and mechanisms and different times.
To align any particular approach to astrology, whether it is quantitative research, qualitative research, the practice of psychological astrology, or divinatory and psychic astrology, with necessarily having certain philosophical limitations can simply deny the validity and usefulness of these various approaches at various times.
Einstein's famous dream as a teen inspired his discoveries of the theory of relativity. August Kekule's discovery of the benzene ring after a dreamy vision of a snake eating its tail are inspiring images for astrologers; we can utilize many different styles of understanding to reach the truth.
To raise qualitative research above quantitative research and to see quantitative research as mired in linear, mechanistic thinking is not helpful to astrology. There are many problems with quantitative research in astrology and following the linear, mechanistic thinking of the Positivists is certainly one of them.
Very often I read a quantitative study in psychology or astrology with the feeling that the researcher is trying to lasso a wild horse with a shoe string. Quantitative methods can be woefully inadequate for understanding a subject as dynamic and fluid, and removed from the physical, material, and causal as astrology. This is one of the many problems which a quantitative approach to astrology can have, and Professor Perry's brilliant writings alert us to these problems. The problems are not insurmountable and there is another very vibrant and important tradition of scientific thinking and quantitative analysis that is valid and important for astrology: quantitative research that catches glimpses of a reality that is acausal and can never be completely circumscribed by quantification and yet whose secrets are revealed by careful measurement and analysis.
Despite all of the limitations of science, we do fly in airplanes, watch television, and turn on our computers. I believe that strology will begin to fly only when all resources are utilized, including the quantitative approach. A wholistic approach to astrology that incorporates the benefits of different approaches, rather than pitting qualititative agaisnt quantitative, is healthier and more useful for astrology.
In conclusion, the ultimate foundations of astrology are almost certainly not causal and are most likely very much as Professor Perry describes them. Scientific methodologies very often, contrary to popular opinion, are not confined to causal, linear models and, ironically, can liberate astrology and accelerate the advancement of the mystical and wondrous aspects of astrology, as well as help demarcate the formula by which that astrology operates.
Differences of Opinion regarding Quantitative Research are Mostly Illusory
The differences between Professor Glenn Perry's philosophy and approach to astrology and my own is, I believe, more of an illusion than a reality. Perry is warning astrologers of the problems and limitations of following a paradigm for astrological study and research based on simple "if this, then that" rules. The sophisticated and complex tools to approach astrological research quantitatively are so new and the tools for this kind of research are just in recent years being developed, and the data for these kinds of study are still largely unavailable. Perry is addressing the realities of what astrologers typically currently face in their study and research of astrology. I am pioneering new pathways for astrology to proceed in order to unravel what I preceive as an intricate and wondrous cosmic tapestry. Perry warns the astrologer of the many treacherous problems in the journey. I am pointing the way to a fresh approach to quantitative research that is based more on the philosophy and thinking of Platonic mathematicians and physicists rather than on the materialistic, linear thinking of Skinner, Watson, and Comte.
In short, the work of Professor Perry and myself are, for the most most part, complementary and in agreement, although superficially they map appear to be contradictory. To apply quantitative methods to psychological phenomena is often like trying to lasso a wild horse with a shoe string; it simply does not work. Finding a way to utilize quantitative analysis for research of psychological phenomena at time is like the treacherous journey of Odysseus, with the threats of Scylla and Charybis threatening one's journey. Perry warns us of the dangers. My work points the way to a quantitative approach that avoids the very real dangers that Perry identifies.
I am concerned that in the concern for the failures of linear and materialistic thinking, higher order quantitative analysis will be regarded as being in the same category as linear, materialistic thinking. I am concerned that the wonder and magic or higher order technical analysis will go unrecognized and unseen by astrologers as they turn their backs on Skinner and Watson and run towards qualitative research.
As Horacio warned Hamlet, there is more to life than is contained in our philosophy. Analysis that involves careful measurement and quantification is not necessarily myopic and dull-witted, although in practice it may suffer from exactly this problem more often than not. The problems of the quantitative approach are the problems of misapplication of a tool rather than the tool itself.
Quantitative Thinking in Astrology:
If astrologers deny the importance and relevance of quantitative analysis in astrology, they will only perpetuate the current confusion and lack of coherency in astrology because astrologers too often can be caught in a self-contradiction from which there is no escape except quantitative analysis.
Imagine hearing this statement from an astrologer:
An extraordinary coincidence of factors such as this is quite remarkable but not impossible. Now, what astrology can hear this without thinking "accident"? Over 90% of astrologers will think of accident-proneness or unexpected upsets of some kind, perhaps violence or other disturbing changes. This thought relates to a measurable phenomenon. Disturbances are measurable in various ways. None of the measurement methods is perfect; this is why scientists use statistics.To use statistics for this kind of analysis does not imply that astrology causes the accident. In Statistics 101 courses we learn that correlations do not imply causality.
A study of extreme and unusual pure type behaviors (such as an accident, which occurs very rarely and is extreme) does test the validity of the astrological analysis of astrologers. The great majority of studies that can test astrology, such as vocation or a behavior such as alcoholism which can various complex root causes, is nearly impossible to analyze astrologically. There are, however, some kinds of behaviors, such as accidents which can be effectively used to test the assumptions that astrologers use to interpret charts.
Quantitative research is difficult but not impossible
As astrologers, we cannot help say "accident prone" or "likelihood of disturbances" for the hypothetical configuration described above. We cannot help but say "lots of air" for someone with Libra rising, and Sun, Mercury and Venus in Aquarius, and Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in Gemini, and to have certain personality traits in mind when we say this. Extreme cases such as these do occur and we do refer to measurable behaviors when we describe these astrological configurations, even if we are psychological or metaphysical astrologers. There are many possible outcomes but they are definable. The Mars-Uranus aspects can incline towards violence or accidents, but they would not manifest as a relaxing, uneventful, and unexciting day at the beach. To believe that the scientific method is irrrelevant to astrology because of many possible expressions of the energy is to deny the fact that there are in many cases only certain clear kinds of behaviors and manifestations of the astrological influences that are possible. Consequently astrologers are faced with a "quantitative dilemma": we astrologers are inclined to sometimes use quantitative language even if we believe that astrology is not capable of producing quantitative results that can be verified scientifically. There are several solutions to this dilemma, and the one that I endorse is a belief that astrology is capable of producing valid and useful quantitative information.
To see any use of statistics or other quantitative measures as some great evil that strangles the life out of astrology is overly simplistic. In all likelihood, qualitative research will gain greater and greater attention in the coming years and will contribute valuable insights. In the early stages of understanding a subject, qualitative research is recommended. Qualitative research is also more widely used in social sciences than physical sciences. In our enthusiasm for qualitative research, however, we need not look down our noses at those who pursue quantitative research as materialistics who are stuck in an anachronistic linear, materialistic model of how astrology operates. As Professor Trochim points out, controversies of qualitative research versus quantitative research more often are much ado about nothing. Both are valuable and important resources for astrology.
To rely only on qualitative research would avoid facing squarely the quantitative dilemma of astrologers: we do make quantitative statements. We can remove quantitative research if we are willing to remove quantitative statements. When analyzing the extremely strong Mars-Uranus influenes in Bill's chart, avoid references to accident-prone or violence or other measurable behaviors and then astrology clearly stands outside the scope of quantitative analysis. If we are unwilling to do this, our statements are testable by quantitative methods.
AUTHOR: David Cochrane