AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID COCHRAN
Copyright © 2006 All Rights Reserved
by Garry Phillipson
Q: Your Kepler software program now includes Avalon College, a course in astrological chart interpretation. I guess this will form the foundation for many people's involvement with astrology, so I'd like to begin by asking, how did you decide what to include in the course? What do you think people really need to take on board at the beginning of their involvement with astrology?
How would you characterise what you teach (for instance, is it medieval or modern astrology)? Why have you chosen this particular approach?
To answer this question, I need to give a quick history of how Kepler evolved: The first version of Kepler came out in 1982. In the 1980's Kepler provided only modern western methods like cosmobiology, harmonics, Uranian, as well as the usual techniques of secondary progressions, solar arc directions, composite charts, etc. We found out back then that many astrologers were not sufficiently familiar with cosmobiology and other modern techniques to know how to use them but they wanted to learn more. We referred customers to books and schools, and then we added the Avalon lessons to Kepler. We found that our customers learned astrology very quickly with these lessons for two reasons:
Customers reported that their learning of astrology accelerated rapidly, and a few customers told us that they were at the head of the classes that they were attending because they had the help of their "secret weapon", Kepler. I was delighted to discover that astrological software had become not just a tool to grind out numbers but also to learn and experience astrology.
The very positive response from customers to the Avalon lessons confirmed that this is a very important feature. Now that Kepler also provides Vedic and classical western calculations, we have plans to expand the Avalon lessons in Kepler into these areas as well. There is an explosion of interest among our customers in ancient western and eastern methods as well as in harmonics, cosmobiology, and other innovations of the 20th century.
In summary and finally to answer your question directly: the Kepler lessons currently focus mostly on modern techniques because the explosion of interest in classical western and Vedic astrology got into full swing in the 1990's. Kepler is written to meet the needs of our customers and is not based primarily on my own preferences. Now we have expanded the range of techniques in many areas and the lessons will be expanded as well.
The wonderful thing about astrology software is that it just keeps getting more comprehensive, more useful, more practical, and easier to use. Astrology is an extraordinarily vast field and it will continue to take many more years of intense development to provide the information that astrologers, researchers, and students of astrology need. The explosion of interest in a wider range of techniques, along with new translations and exposure to ideas mostly ignored in the past adds more requests for features so there is still much more work in both advancing the calculation power of Kepler as well as the lessons in Kepler. People need a grounding in a wide spectrum of astrological methods, including classical western, Vedic, and modern western methods. One cannot fully appreciate a school of astrology if one has not actually worked with it.
Q: Having touched on the issue of there being different schools within astrology - why, do you think, have astrologers not arrived at one consolidated, consensual, "best" technique?
Garry, that's a very big and important question, and I have a definite point of view on this and I suspect that my view may not be the most popular view among astrologers. My view is that the astrological techniques employed by astrologers are grossly simplistic compared to the complexity of the subject being studied. Even if astrology does not work via any kind of energy but instead works via some divinatory process or other mechanism, let's imagine for a moment that astrology analyzes energy patterns that flow through etheric energy centers (chakras). If astrology did work via some kind of energetic process, then I am certain that the energy patterns involved are extremely intricate, like an exquisite tapestry that is woven over a person's lifetime and affected by environmental and genetic factors as well as decisions and values developed by the person.
Unravelling how astrology operates is more complex than unravelling the human genome. Many of the various astrological techniques have validity, but we have hardly begun the work of understanding the interrelationship of these factors. In astrology we are working with an enormous number of variables substantiated primarily by anecdotal evidence. It is as if we are studying the night sky but our eyes are capable of seeing only one tiny part of the sky at one time.
I suspect that a thousand years from now astrologers will look back at us as rather quaint and simple people who had a very naïve idea of what is required to advance astrology to a new level. Just to clarify, I am not stating that I believe astrology works by energy streams, but rather that the mechanisms by which astrology operate are very complex, far more complex than astrologers seem to be willing to acknowledge.
In my own astrological analysis, I use aspects up to the 180th harmonic, without which I feel like I am almost completely unable to see anything in the chart. This is an example of advancement to more sophisticated interpretive techniques and of course I am just scratching the surface at this relatively early stage in astrological theoretical development. We will reach a more consolidated view of how astrology works when more sophisticated techniques are used in astrological research, and these sophisticated methods can, I believe, achieve statistical significance and replicability of research results, and this will form the basis of a body of literature and knowledge upon which virtually all astrologers agree.
Lastly, I want to add that my own personal view is that astrology is simultaneously divinatory, psychological, and energetic. There are interrelationships between different methodologies that go completely unnoticed. For example, in recent articles I have written I have pointed out the mathematical basis of Arabic parts and the use of sect for calculating the part of fortune and part of spirit, and I have written articles on pilot studies that use analysis of harmonic patterns. I conducted two studies in which I stated a hypothesis, gathered the data, analyzed the data, and the hypothesis was confirmed. These are very small initial steps towards developing a unified vision of how astrology works and what works best.
Q: Are some people more naturally talented at astrological interpretation than other people? If 'yes', what are the relevant qualities? In your experience, what is the best way to develop these qualities?
Yes. Some people are more naturally talented at basketball, at painting, at nearly anything. There are many kinds of interpretations given. An astrologer who writes a computerized interpretation needs to have accurate techniques, good writing skills, and the ability to address issues that interest people. A consultant may be able to succeed based on excellent communication skills and very good intuition. Astrology is utilized in many different ways and people with different skills can use those skills in different ways from other people and apply those skills in ways that are best suited to their abilities.
Q: Were you inclined to believe that astrology would work as soon as you heard of it?
At first I was neither a sceptic nor a believer. Astrology seemed like an enigma: how could astrology be completely fallacious when used by intelligent people for thousands of years, and how could it be valid when the basis of it seemed absurd and the scientific evidence to support it was nearly non-existent? Having these thoughts, I had no strong opinion either way. Astrology seemed like an enigma, and to some extent, still does.
Q: Q: At what point did you become convinced that there was 'something in it '?
Within about a month of starting my studies. I started studying astrology with an obsessive interest, nearly every waking minute, in October, 1972. I quickly learned how to calculate a chart with an ephemeris and table of houses and I was looking up interpretations and studying charts of just about everyone I encountered who had a recorded time of birth. The coincidences were uncanny. I soon found that people were thanking me for helping them, even while I was just trying to learn astrology by looking at their charts. By 1973 I was being paid for the consultations and began teaching classes. By the mid 1970's I was using mostly harmonics and cosmobiology in the interpretations and I had worked out my own views of what the astrological meanings of the signs, houses, and aspects are, some of which are significantly different from the widely accepted meanings.
Q: Were there any experiences which convinced you, or made you doubt astrology?
As I continued reading astrology books and seeing clients, I became increasingly convinced that astrology provides useful and accurate information, but not all rules of interpretation that I found in the books were correct. I started developing some of my own ideas on the astrological meanings of planets and houses that drew upon ideas from various other astrologers and arguably most strongly from the consultations. Once the validity of astrology became apparent, I never doubted that astrology is valid, but I have had many doubts about the accuracy of some specific astrological theories and concepts.
Q: If you experienced doubt at some point, how (if at all) was the doubt resolved?
As mentioned above, my doubts were not about the validity of astrology in general, but from the very beginning of my studies it became clear that some astrological techniques simply do not work as stated in the books, and some do. My doubt is about trying to figure out what actually works and what does not work.
In the 1970's I would talk to a client for about 2 hours, telling the client what I saw in the chart, and the client told me if the information was helpful or useful. I would try everything that I read about in the books: Sabian symbols, cosmobiology, interpretations of Alan Leo, Llewellyn George, Alice Bailey material, Vedic astrology, etc. etc. I did not charge the clients much and sometimes not at all, so they did not seem to mind these investigations. I also learned a great deal while training students to become astrologers. I resolved my doubts about what techniques work and which don't work primarily through a vast amount of anecdotal evidence, i.e. talking to people with the charts in hand. I also developed astrology software on an IBM mainframe at a local college so I could have zillions of calculations to work with. I saw about two clients per day for about 7 years. When home computers came out, I transferred the software to these computers and around 1980 I dropped my practice to devote myself to astrological software development.
Since 1980 I have refined my understanding of what methods seem to work and how they work as I program the methods and use astrology in my daily life to make decisions and in learning new astrological methods in order to program them.
Q: What is your attitude towards doubt now?
Doubt is good. There is no completely satisfying validation of astrology to date. I respect all points of view, as long as they are based on an intelligent and reasonable analysis. I do not doubt that astrology has some validity but I have doubts about how and when objective validation of astrology can be achieved.
RESEARCH AND SKEPTICS'
The term 'skeptics' is used in the sense it has in the astrological community, i.e. people who argue (usually by reference to science) that astrology does not and/or cannot work.
Q: Can you understand the viewpoint of (some of) the skeptics?
Yes, I understand it. About a half year ago I emailed skeptic Rudolf Smit about my theory that astrology operates via complex mechanisms, as described above, and I included a link to a pilot study I did on identifying physicists astrologically, and he emailed back and said that this was interesting and he would notify his fellow sceptics of this. No doubt Smit and company are very sceptical of the work I did but I think they respect my work and I have no problem with their doubt; I think we speak a similar language even though we have drawn completely different conclusions and I am a firm believer in astrology and they are confirmed unbelievers.
Q: Q: What do you make of the argument that whenever astrology appears to work, this can be explained either by 'cold reading', or by reasoning errors?
These results are not surprising to me, and I doubt that astrology will be validated any time in the near future through the analysis given by astrologers. Validation is more likely in a study that correlates birth chart data with some behaviour rather than in the performance of astrologers. Also, I believe that validation of astrology will occur only when more sophisticated tools are used. I conducted two pilot studies in the past 5 years and both pilot studies validated the hypothesis that I stated. I did state the hypothesis first, gather the data, and analyze the data, so these studies did follow the most fundamental prerequisites of scientific studies. They were just small pilot studies and may have flaws and certainly do not prove anything. They do, however, show a promising approach to validating astrology.
In my opinion astrology as practiced today is a complex conglomeration of different things: intuition and ESP capabilities, rationalization, gullibility of clients, divination, and accurate and valid astrological techniques. The probability of the accurate and valid astrological techniques outweighing the other factors at work is, I think, extremely unlikely.
Q: What is your attitude to statistical research into astrology - what do you see as its strengths and limitations?
The strength of statistical research is that statistics can eventually validate astrological principles. I know that this statement is considered myopic scientism, a vestige of the mechanistic, Newtonian past by a growing number of astrologers, but I do not see correlational results as being mutually exclusive with divination. Astrology is even more complex than this, and encompasses even more than divination. The study that I did on physicists demonstrates an example of how this can be done. A summary of this study is at: Towards a Proof of Astrology. I also conducted a pilot study on places where people live that produced results that confirmed the hypothesis; this study is given in the book AstroLocality Magic.
There seems to be increasing scepticism among astrologers that astrology can function as a science, and believers in the value of statistics are sometimes regarded as believers in an old mechanistic, Newtonian view of the world. This characterization is undoubtedly true for some of the believers in the use of statistics in astrology, but certainly not all. An article that I've written that explains my views of the relationship of astrology to science in more detail is at this website address: http://astrosoftware.com/Astrology.htm The limitations of astrological research with statistics is that statistics cannot capture the ways in which astrology is most helpful and useful in guiding people to make better decisions and come to greater understanding, clarity, and sense of purpose in their lives.
Q: What do you consider to be the most significant evidence to emerge from research into astrology?
At the present time, I am not aware of any very impressive support of astrology from astrological research. The Mars Effect of the Gauquelin studies is so small that it requires a large sample size and is very difficult to duplicate, and even a very small confounding variable could account for the results. Astrological studies that utilize one or two very simple astrological factors are doomed to have very limited success, if any. Simply combining a massive number of factors may not work either. The most significant evidence to emerge from research into astrology is the accumulated results of many studies that demonstrate that simple astrological factors such as sun signs cannot be used to predict human behaviour. On the positive side, I think that the pilot studies I conducted show an approach to astrological research that can produce statistically significant results. Hopefully a decade or two from now your question can be answered more definitively by citing a particular study that uses these more sophisticated and alternative methods to validate astrology.
Q: If you were able, right now, to deploy a team of suitably skilled researchers into astrology, what kind of research would you get them to pursue?
One of my favorite candidates for astrological research is a study of accidents. An accident is a "pure type" behavior in that it is extremely rare and is well defined. A person might have one or two major accidents every 50 years and the accident occurs typically at a given instant of time. For any kind of research we want extreme and well defined behavior. Regardless of what the research results show, the results will be valuable. I do not think that research has been conducted yet which is sufficiently thorough to throw out the possibility of a validation of astrology.
In Geoffrey Cornelius's brilliant and extremely important book "The Moment of Astrology" he points out the exhaustive study done under the leadership of Nona Press for the New York City chapter of NCGR, and its failure to find any astrological indicator for suicides despite the exhaustive nature of the study. I agree with Geoffrey that this research study demonstrates that astrology, as we currently know it, simply is not capable of giving the factual information and correlations that astrology supposedly is capable of. However, I do not agree that we are now ready to abandon the scientific aspect of astrology. Like accidents, suicides are extreme, well-defined, and rare events but a suicide is the result of a complex interaction of environmental situations, values, etc. and consequently is not likely to be easily identifiable in the astrological chart. Because even our most sophisticated methods of analysis hardly touch upon the pattern analysis needed for astrological validation, combined with the complexity of factors that lead to suicide, positive results in the suicide study were not achieved.
Discrimination of talents based on birth charts also shows promise, as indicated in the study I conducted on physicists. There may be other astrological techniques besides the pattern analysis which I use as the basis of chart interpretation, which can provide positive results in research, but I have not gained sufficient expertise with these techniques to experience their reliability.
There is one huge limiting factor for any kind of astrological research: a lack of data. For example, I conducted some research on alcholics for the simple reason that I happened to have some data on alcoholics. I used the data gathered by Mark Urban-Lurain and Anne Parker, which are already included in Kepler. My research on physicists involved a study of a few dozen physicists because this was all the data that I could find in Kepler and the AstroDatabank program. If we had a database of hundreds of thousands of charts, or even millions of charts, then most likely there would be hundreds of physicists. If we wanted to study a medical or psychological problem, then we would very likely have hundreds of cases to analyze.
The experimental group in a research study needs to be very homogeneous. A study of people who have a particular kind of cancer, such as throat cancer or pancreatic cancer is far more homogenous than a group that has any kind of cancer. Having dozens or hundreds of cases of people with a very specific medical problem such as throat cancer would be much more likely to produce statistically significant results than a study of a less homogeneous group. In short, we need a huge amount of data to make solid progress in astrological research. In the two pilot studies that I did, I was fortunate to find at least a handful of charts of people who shared a particular characteristic, but to do follow-up studies we need more data.
The Gauquelin research on a broad behavior like "sports champion" encompasses such a vast number of possibilities that it is almost useless for astrological research. Gauquelin also correlated this behavior with only one astrological variable, diurnal position of the planets. That his research might have any validity at all is astounding. Studying broadly defined behavior is not a good idea and correlating with one variable is also not a good idea.
If I had sufficient resources, I would conduct studies that build upon the approach that I used in the two pilot studies and apply them to other behaviors such as accidents, for example. I recently created a simple AstroSignature for accidents based on transiting midpoints and applied it to the tragic deaths of Princess Diana and John Lennon. In both cases the dates of their sudden deaths appeared in a graph of accident-proneness and violence as one of the highest scoring dates. This is another pilot study that shows promise of producing positive results in a complete study. I presented the results of this study at the 2006 Balkan Conference in Belgrade. Correlating sophisticated harmonic patterns and midpoints with specific behaviors is, I think, eventually going to validate astrology.
I would also like to continue Theodor Landscheidt's research on the effect of the center of mass of the solar system on sunspots and weather patterns. Another intriguing area for further research is Kolisko's work on metals. Kolisko obtained promising but inconsistent results, and I suspect that including the influence of planetary patterns in the way that I did in my pilot studies might resolve some of the inconsistencies.
Q: Do you think you could 'prove' that astrology works to someone?
If by "prove" we mean scientific validation, the answer is no because I am not willing to devote the time and energy required for this enterprise. Even if I spent all of my time dedicated to this goal, I am not certain I can fully achieve it in this lifetime. This goal will, I believe, be achieved, but not easily.
I am dedicated to astrology software development and other projects associated with this endeavour, such as astrological education. If by "proof" is meant that the person feels deeply that astrology must be valid so we are not referring to "proof" in the objective and scientific sense, then the answer is yes. Several times people have attended an all-day seminar that I have given where I've analyzed charts of attendees, and a sceptical spouse of one of the attendees informs me after the seminar that they came in as a skeptic and are leaving as a believer. This fact in itself does virtually nothing to prove that astrology works and would not impress the sceptics (unless they attended the seminar themselves, which I think they would find quite impressive as well). However, it does show that I, and other astrologers, do "convert" people from sceptics to believers even though that is not the purpose of the seminars that I give.
Q: If so - could you do this (a) if they were undecided, (b) if they were antagonistic? If antagonism would be a barrier, why? What would you do to 'prove' astrology?
It is much easier to convince someone of the validity of astrology if they are undecided rather than antagonistic. I can remember only one case where a person was very strongly antagonistic to astrology and then became inclined to believe in astrology after I had given an astrological presentation (in this case, the interpretation of her boyfriend's chart). Having people who attend a seminar that I give who are indifferent or mildly skeptical of astrology and leaving as believers is a very common experience. Any "proof" of astrology that I do through interpretation is not a proof in the scientific sense because there are many dozens of possible alternative explanations for the results, even if some of these alternative explanations are a bit far-fetched. Because there are alternative explanations for the interpretations that I give (such as psychic, for example), and a hardened skeptic may resist believing in astrology for some reason, some sceptics would not become believers after attending a seminar that I give.<
Q: Overlapping with the previous question - Do you think it is possible for an astrologer to win James Randi's $1 million prize for demonstrations of the paranormal? (Details of Randi's 'challenge' are on www.randi.org.)
I think that it is possible through research of data, but I doubt it can be done through a demonstration of the competency of a particular astrologer. In other words, I doubt that any astrologer can provide consistently accurate results in actual chart readings that will meet Randi's challenge and be sufficiently free of confounding variables, but eventually astrology can be validated in a manner similar to the manner in which I conducted the study on physicists. However, a great amount of research work is needed before this is possible. Scientific validation requires replication of the studies and is not easily achieved even when conducted by well funded research institutes and universities.
CONSULTATIONS/OTHER ASTRO WORK:
Q: Do you feel more comfortable studying and thinking about astrology, or actually reading charts? Why?
No. I am comfortable with both. I am interested in astrological theory, the history of astrology, the relationship of astrology to science, etc. as well as the actual application of astrology in chart interpretation. I am not extremely confident in forecasting but I am confident in natal chart interpretation and compatibility analysis. I was invited by OPA (Organization of Professional Astrologers) to give a live reading of a person I never met before on stage in front of hundreds of professional astrologers and I did it. I enjoy doing this because it shows how astrology really does work and how astrology can be helpful to people.
THE ROLE OF MIND
Q: "The more holy thou art, and more neer to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give" (William Lilly) - do you believe that there is some mental or spiritual quality (which Lilly calls being 'holy' and 'neer to God') which, over and above technical competence, affects the success of an astrologer's work? If so, how would you describe it? Why is this quality relevant?
I do agree with this statement but I don't think it is necessary to couch this statement in religious terms. A person who is relatively free of personal insecurities, fears, and the tendency to project or repress issues, and who is not inclined to anger and hostility, is free of addictions and whose interest and motivation is to benefit the client is more effective and helpful than a person who is more afflicted with these problems or limitations. In some countries a psychological consultant is required to first undergo a great amount of therapy before becoming a licensed psychologist. These kinds of precautions and training are a good idea. A person who is very healthy psychologically and very sensitive and intuitive, is more likely to engage the client in a healthy and helpful dialogue. Every person is psychologically complex and it is impossible to measure these inner qualities, but they are nevertheless important for any consultant. I am a very religious and spiritually oriented person, but I do not think that this is a requirement for an astrologer to be very good, and many people are "neer to God" without realizing it, and some believe they are much closer to the divine than they actually are, and any attempt to measure this attribute is impossible.
Q: What can an astrologer do, in order to maximise the chances of a chart reading being of good quality? (If you think the client can affect the quality of a reading too, please feel at liberty to write about them too.)
I think that better education and better software tools are critically important. I believe that astrology does not completely fall into the same category as tarot cards and the I Ching, which rely almost exclusively on intuition, wisdom, and the "magic" of divination. I believe that advancement in astrology is possible only if astrology evolves out of simplistic analytical methods to more sophisticated analytical methods.
I also believe that there is some validity to some areas of cosmobiology, Vedic astrology, classical horary, and harmonic astrology, to name a few, and a lack of understanding and exposure to these methods and the failure of many astrologers to use software that enables the astrologer to utilize these tools in the most effective manner puts an unnecessary limitation on the competency of the astrologer. In the coming years astrological techniques will become increasingly more sophisticated and astrology will become increasingly more computer dependent.
While many astrologers scream "keep it simple sweetheart (KISS)", each astrologer uses a different set of simple rules, and each of these small subsets leaves out powerful methods that are valid. Of course no astrologer can use all methods and only those methods that are fully understood can be applied, but every astrologer can expand his/her set of tools gradually over time to improve accuracy and usefulness of the information provided.
Q: When an astrological reading gives inaccurate or irrelevant information, do you think this is always due to a failing on the part of the astrologer? (For instance the astrologer overlooks something in the chart, or their astrological technique is flawed, or they have not fully mastered their technique.) Or do you think that, no matter how good the astrologer and their technique, there will always be times when accurate information cannot be obtained through astrology?
"Always" is a strong term and I am reluctant to use this word to apply to anything, but I do believe that the methods that we astrologers currently use are very crude and inaccurate as compared to the methods that will be developed in coming centuries. It is not unusual for an interpretation to be incorrect because of the limitations of the astrological techniques that we use. This is why intuition is often very helpful. Astrology typically has limited accuracy and the astrologer uses intuition to pick up where the astrology leaves off, so to speak.
Q: If you have any experiences which might help to illuminate your thoughts on the last question, I would be particularly interested to hear them.
This past week in a class I am teaching at Avalon we looked at the chart of a student who has a very tight Sun conjunct Mars aspect, and both Sun and Mars are opposition the Uranus/Pluto midpoint with a small orb. According to cosmobiology, this person is a walking explosion ready to erupt to erupt at the slightest provocation. However, the planets are also aspected in biseptile and triseptile aspects which, I believe, constrains and disciplines the power in this configuration. He said that he is athletic and I said that he could have a great golf swing, even though I did not intuitively sense that he could be a good golfer. A gold swing is a perfect example of the controlled power of this astrological configuration. This person responded that someone once offered to sponsor him if he wanted to pursue professional golf. The point of this story is that the biseptile and triseptile aspects changed the quality of the astrological configuration and the rules of cosmobiology are accurate but would appear to be incorrect without incorporating the additional astrological influence of the biseptile and triseptile aspects.
Many astrologers may feel that I am floundering in an unnecessarily complex and far-fetched system of astrological analysis, but I find that this approach to astrological interpretation is actually simpler because there is less ambiguity in the steps to interpret the astrological influences and in determining the meaning of the astrological influences in a given chart. Generally speaking, inaccuracies in chart readings are the result of a crude system of chart interpretation, and this is not completely the fault of the astrologer but more the state of the art of astrology at this point in history. Some astrologers may feel that a very sophisticated astrological analysis is fine for me, a computer programmer, but this kind of analysis is not suited to their highly psychological or intuitive approach to astrology. However, I feel that we cannot dumb down astrology because we don't like sophisticated systems. If that is our attitude, then we can try to dumb down other arts and sciences too, but then we won't have airplanes or even cars and we won 't have computers nor will we have Mozart or Renoir.
Q: How would you describe your beliefs about the world and how it works - with particular reference to astrology?
The world is a complex tapestry of energies woven into a mysteriously complex and beautiful fabric. Most likely we have all had many past lives and influences from these lives, our experiences in this life, and genetic influences are woven into a beautiful and delicate system that comprises our lives. Astrology is a lens to view some of the influences at work in this magically integrated tapestry. Also, Bell's Theorem validates the view of Marcilio Ficino and others that we live in a universe that has an essential oneness, like one great organism, and yet analytical methods like calculus and physics can pierce this mystery to produce airplanes, rockets, and electrical wiring of the world, the Internet, and ubiquitous computers, and so, astrology, too, will eventually be able to provide practical, reliable, and useful measurable results which can be applied in our lives.
Science does not kill magic, except in the minds of uninspired people. Science captures glimpses into a fascinating universe. Science is the friend of astrology, not its enemy. Art and mysticism are also allies of astrology. Everything that humans pursue produces results that are spectacular. From Renoir to Michelangelo to daVinci to Einstein and Max Planck, genius abounds and astounds us. Art, music, and science have evolved to staggering levels of elegance and grace. Astrology will not always be fettered to the limitations it is currently constrained by, and eventually will amaze and dazzle us as much as an artistic masterpiece or scientific discovery.
Q: When you practise astrology:
Magical and paranormal abilities are, I believe, quite normal (pardon the oxymoron). From where did Lennon and McCartney compose their songs? Nearly everyone at times writes poetry or music, or is inspired to call someone at just the right time, and how is it that children learn to speak without being given clear rules? We all dream at night and have aspirations. From where do these aspirations come? The view that paranormal abilities are a peculiar and different phenomenon from what most people experience is, I believe, illusory. Thought is channelled through our brain cells but I doubt it is generated from the brain cells. Thought and emotion are elusive and non-material.
All people are intuitive and magical, and even cold logic is a form of "magic" in that it is awesome and amazing. Whether one feels that one's inspirations come from a spirit guide or muse is not important. Yes, I do draw upon the magical and the divine but that is only because I am human and nearly every human draws upon the magical and divine. People in mundane work such as carpenters and plumbers, often also draw upon the magical and divine without knowing it. I meditate regularly and frequently experience a great sense of universal love in meditation. I am a religious person. I am grateful for this and it is helpful to me, but I do not think that this is the most important attribute of an astrologer. Good communication skills are more important, and a course in counselling skills and ethics may be even more important than the intuitive, religious, or mystical proclivities of the astrologer. Also, although someone may not consciously experience the mystical, this is not an indication of lesser spiritual or even intuitive, inner development.
The human psyche is complex and people's gifts and talents manifest differently. I do think it is important for astrologers and other consultants to try to live as healthy and constructive a life as possible and to avoid addictions and behaviours that can impair their abilities because they have a responsibility and a calling to be the best possible people that they can be for the benefit of the people they serve.
Q: Is there any essential difference between astrology on one hand, and the tarot, or the I Ching, or tea-leaf reading on the other?
Yes, astrology has the ability to evolve into a system that can predict measurable results without the involvement of the practitioner. Astrology some day will, I believe, be able to predict human behaviour or perhaps weather, fluctuations in the stock market, or other measurable behaviour based on a formula rather than the intuition of a practitioner. Tarot and I Ching require the participation of the reader who does the reading.
Astrology as practiced today very often operates in a manner similar to the I Ching and Tarot in that the magic of the moment and the planet positions may act as tools in a similar manner to the tarot cards. Divination is a part of the practice of astrology and for some astrologers is the larger part of astrology. However, astrology is capable some day also of operating as an objective tool independent of the practicing astrologer. For example, computer software will one day be able to predict behaviour with statistical significance. This advancement in astrology also unfortunately may undermine the important function of astrology as a tool for divination and wisdom.
Q: We have seen a chess computer beat a human grandmaster; do you think the day will come when a computer program will reliably deliver more accurate information than the best human astrologer?
For some specific situations that day has already come. For example, one of the interpretive reports in Kepler is the Major Life Themes Report. This is a very short interpretive report, only about 1 to 2 pages long. It can also be listened to in what we call the Live Mini Reading; the computer "talks to you" by playing sound files and while you view images that reflect what is being described. This particular report uses a sophisticated analysis of harmonic and midpoint patterns that would take a person days to calculate without a computer. I have witnessed people watch the Live Mini Reading of their own chart and feel stunned by the accuracy of the information.
For some people the delivery of information from a computer, knowing that the information was not adjusted for them based on their physical appearance, or other cues, is more powerful. I have seen this be especially effective for people who are sceptical or doubtful of the validity of astrology, although still willing to consider astrological advice as a possible help to them. There is a difference between the analogy of chess with a computer, and human interpretation versus computer interpretation.
The chess game with a computer serves the same purpose as a chess game with a human: the goal is the same, namely to remove the King of the opposing team. A computerized interpretation, on the other hand, typically does not have the same objective as a human consultation. To make decisions and to obtain consultation on the meaning and possible approaches to a situation, a human consultant can never be matched by a computer. For a specific piece of information, however, the computer can be superior to a person. Another example is the experience we have had demonstrating Treasure Maps, a kind of AstroMap similar to the astro*cartography maps, but visually different and based on additional astrological influences than the astro*cartography map. Astrologers will come up to our booth at a trade show and look at the Treasure Map and instantly notice that important places for them to advance their career, to live comfortably, or to vacation, are literally highlighted for them, and they are immediately able to make better decisions about where to conduct business, vacation, relocate, etc. A report can be printed providing this same information for the non-astrologer.
Prior to the introduction of Treasure Maps, the ability of an astrologer to identify these places cannot match the ability of the Treasure Map. This assessment is based not only my anecdotal evidence but also a pilot study that I conducted that confirmed that the Friendship and Family Map can identify places that people will be happy living. Although the study is only a pilot study, this supporting evidence suggests that the AstroMap, utilizing visuals and complex calculations can produce an easily readable product that is more accurate than what astrologers can do. Of course, the professional astrologer can consult the astrologer using the AstroMap and provide even better information than the AstroMap can by itself, but the AstroMap provides the great bulk of the information.
The astrology of the future will utilize breakthrough tools like the Live Mini Reading, AstroMaps, and also AstroSignature forecasts, and other tools to clearly and quickly identify factors at work and in some cases these software tools can be utilized directly by the consumer, but more often by the astrologer who then combines counselling skills, astrological knowledge, and sensitivity combined with the computer-produced data to consult the client. This goes beyond simply producing a chart wheel or BiWheel or listing of transit-to-progressed aspects to obtain visual presentations and integration of data into a coherent picture for the astrologer and in some cases directly for the consumer of astrological information.
Q: As someone involved in the design of programs which interpret charts, trends and so on, what do you see as the strengths and the limitations of the analysis a computer can perform?
One strength is the objectivity of a computerized report. There are times when a person prefers some data on which to base a decision. Another strength is expense. The computer can produce information with less "effort" and therefore less expense to the consumer. A third strength is that the astrologer can labor over a given interpretation for many hours to create the interpretation used in an interpretive report, and finely tune the wording and give very good examples. For example, if you use midpoints, and I ask you what the Mars/Jupiter midpoint means, it is likely that you can give me a better answer if you have time to think about this midpoint and perhaps refer to some of your favourite reference works and perhaps client files, etc. Ironically, a fourth advantage of computerized interpretations is that in some cases they can integrate more information than a human astrologer is capable of integrating. A good example of this is the AstroSignature Forecast, which is not a report in words, but rather a graphic representation of a person's inclination to accidents, business success, etc. This visual combines together various astrological influences that the astrologer wishes to use (such as transits, progressions, etc.) with a formula that the astrologer can combine to give a graph for the customer. This graph presents what can take the astrologer a long time to explain and the graph does it more attractively and in a more useful manner. AstroMaps are another visual that combined with the explanation of the AstroMap (the printed report) can provide detailed information that an astrologer cannot assemble in a cost-effective fashion for the client.
The great weakness of a computerized report is the inability to incorporate non-astrological information, and even more importantly, the inability to dialogue with the client about the ways in which to deal with the astrological influences. For this very big reason, I believe that in the future most astrology will involve a real live astrologer and this astrologer will use sophisticated astrology software to provide information to assist the astrologer in the consultation. Astrologers are already computer-dependent and this dependency will increase as increasingly complex and sophisticated analytical methods are used in astrology and we move beyond the simplified astrological methods introduced by Alan Leo and other early 20th century astrologers who set the framework for astrologers in the 20th century.
Last Night, I looked at the chart of someone and I discussed with her at length what she can do to better handle her Leo rising and Jupiter in the first house in Leo trine the Sun in Aries in the 9th house. The discussion involved some philosophical discussions on how the ego can be an impediment to the aspirant on the spiritual path and how this strong Leo energy is best expressed. The decisions reached and the new perspectives developed are entirely dependent on this person's situation and a computerized interpretive report cannot take into account all of the factors that we considered in the situation nor impart the respect, concern, and other personal qualities that are part of a consultation with a human astrologers. On the other hand, some of the information that I provided for some clients would be even more effective when the general concepts are conveyed, although lacking the specifics of this situation, from a computer program.
Q: How has your approach to crafting these programs changed over the years?
We have found that reports which advise the reader of the report on what their options are and how to best deal with the influences are in great demand. If a person has Libra rising and the report tells them that relationships are very important, you tend to compromise with your partners and not stand up for yourself and make decisions for yourself, the information is not as helpful as if you give the person concrete examples of the kinds of things that they can do with these personality traits to excel and ways in which mistakes can be made. People want your perspective on a direction to take. Astrology seems to have moved beyond the "gee whiz, this really works, I am really like that" to the "so what do I do?" point of view.
One of the big criticisms of interpretive reports is that they are canned reports and don't integrate the various factors together. This criticism is often given by people who have not actually given the reports a fair chance by actually reading the reports. Although there is some truth to this criticism, we started attacking this problem early on, as far back as the 1980's. For example, one of our compatibility reports identifies mutual aspects (like his Venus aspects her Moon, and her Moon aspects his Venus) and highlights these influences as major factors in the relationship. This approach to a computerized interpretation works more similarly to how an astrologer actually interprets the chart by identifying influences that are very conspicuous and powerful rather than simply going through a check list of astrological influences and printing them (planets in signs, houses, and aspect typically).
Another example of integrating information in a computerized report is the "glue", as we refer to it, in the Merlin Report. If you have a Mercury-Jupiter aspect and Mercury-Saturn aspect in your chart, the Mercury-Jupiter aspect may state that you are philosophical and broad-minded but you miss details, and then the Mercury-Saturn aspect states that you have good focus but you miss the larger concepts. Even if you tell the reader at the outset that you may have contradictory traits, this is difficult for the reader to follow. The "glue" leads from the Mercury-Jupiter influence to the Mercury-Saturn influence by stating something similar to "Even though you are broad-minded and philosophical, you also have a capacity for attention to detail, as described below". These little sentences sprinkled throughout help the report flow better.
Combining text with various kinds of visuals, like AstroMaps with explanations of the AstroMap, is an area we will continue to work on as well.
The great majority of our programming attention currently is on expanding the number of calculations available and to assemble information in useful ways so that astrologers have the information they need in exactly the way that they want it. For interpretive reports, we are largely at the mercy of astrologers who decide to write reports. Most of our reports are not written by in-house astrologers. They are written by astrologers who are inspired to write a report that they think is wonderful, and we simply create the software to produce the report. Most of the control over our future reports therefore is dependent on the brilliant innovations of practicing astrologers and what they can come up with while our programming team devotes most of its attention to providing astrologers with the features that they need.
STATE OF ASTROLOGY TODAY
Q: What changes would you like to see within the astrological world?
I would like to see requirements for astrologers to have a high level of education. Every professional astrologer should have a good awareness of major techniques, from classical horary and Vedic to harmonics and counselling skills. Along with this improved education, I would like to see astrologers using sophisticated astrological software to provide more accurate and better interpretations. We are not reading tea leaves and relying just on our intuition. If you have a better grasp of more astrological theories, you will become a better astrologer.
We astrologers need to keep working hard, continuing to gather anecdotal evidence by doing charts of clients, famous people, friends, etc. and exploring different ideas and being open-minded until we are able to gradually formulate a solid body of data on which we can rely. My view may seem naïve, overly optimistic, and simplistic, but I do believe that eventually the massive number of astrological ideas will begin to stabilize and it will not just be changing fashions. Eventually we will sort out what works in astrology and there will even be some research to support some theories. My part in all this is to be part of a team of software developers to create the airplane of tomorrow. Today we are riding a bicycle and in the future we will have a much more precise, accurate, and sophisticated tool. Software is a crucial ingredient in the process and the part of the evolution of astrology that I am committed to.
The advancements in developing licensed schools of astrology and the promotion of higher professional standards by several major astrological organizations are important steps in the right direction for astrology.
Q: What changes would you like to see in astrology's place in the world
I would like to see greater awareness of the more sophisticated approaches to astrological interpretation. Although it is controversial and not all astrologers agree with me, I am generally against sun sign astrology, and I favour the presentation of astrological information that is reasonably comprehensive and realistic rather than presentation of information that time and again has failed to be validated by research, as sun sign astrology has.
I feel very optimistic that what I hope for astrology is, in fact, occurring and it is occurring at a very rapid pace. Professional and educational standards in astrology are, I believe, rising rapidly, and the current swing from the emphasis on the psychological and empirical to the divinatory in astrology is but a temporary shift that eventually will balance out with an emphasis on measurable results. I know that this vision sounds quite antiquated and boringly mechanistic to some leading astrologers, but I assure you that what I envision is not an anachronistic regression to the 19th century view of physicists that the world is a giant clock or that the soul of astrology will be squashed by statistics.
For more information on how I see a rebirth of astrology in the future by embracing valid ideas in different astrological traditions and a revolutionary insight into the ancient doctrine of arabic parts, read the article Matematical Basis of Arabic Parts. By pursuing these new insights into astrology and being brave enough to move beyond the limits of the various astrological camps (classical western vs. Vedic vs. harmonics, etc.) we will find a truth that permeates many of these seemingly disparate astrological systems, and in so doing astrology's place in the world can be transformed from one of sideline entertainment to cutting edge innovation and progress.
The fate of astrology is not, I believe, to become only a part of divination and academic studies of historical trends, but rather to re-invent itself through a new synthesis. This article on arabic parts explains one example of how this re-invention is occurring and how the astrology of the future is a synthesis of previously discovered ideas into a new formulation that embraces many influences while creating a new paradigm. Some relevant details for this seemingly grandiose claim are contained in the articles posted on the Internet that I have cited above. As astrology evolves and transforms itself, the world's view of astrology will change as well. The ball is on our side of the court.
AUTHOR: Garry Phillipson