17 January 2011

Responses to the Science/Astrology dialogue

After my last blog post, I received a number of comments, most of which I published. Some were simple attacks on astrology, quite full of invective, and not really worth passing on. The purpose of this blog is not to defend astrology, but to present and elucidate elements of astrology that were developed before the Enlightenment. In doing so, I hope to show how they are superior in most ways to what passes for modern, psychological astrology. When commenters address specific items that actually appear in the blog posts, I'm happy to engage, at least in a limited way, in a conversation about those facts, even if we disagree (as long as everyone is respectful).

One particular commenter made a few extended comments, so rather than try to jam them all into a comments box, I've decided to publish them, along with my responses, as a new post. The following comments are from Eric.

[Eric] It looks like there is a word limit, and I'm a little too long - so I am breaking this into two parts:

Part I: 
Thanks for not moderating me out of existence (on another -completely unrelated- board, I was moderated out of existence for a question that didn't even deny their basic ideas, but those were right-wing politics people...)
Again, when commenters, even those who disagree, are 1. respectful, and 2. discuss the actual content of the posts and other comments, I'm happy to engage in the conversation.
[Eric] So - you say that, "scientists who are making the claim to which I refer in the blog post have made no investigation of astrology at all, yet are seeking to influence it", but I think you are mistaken - scientists in general have no interest in 'influencing' the practice of astrology.

I believe that scientists DO have an interest in influencing astrology - that is, to influence it right out of existence.
[Eric] The article seemed more interested in pointing out the inconsistency of current astrological practice with astronomical facts about the actual locations of the sun, planets, etc. in the sky. Thus pointing out that (modern, at least) astrology has no basis in any kind of fact.
I disagree that this "finding" points out that astrology (modern or otherwise) has no basis in fact. Astrology has always been a symbolic system, though based on a few specific astronomical realities. The fact that tropical astrology is based on is the alignment of the Earth and the Sun at the Spring Equinox. From there, much of it is symbolic, and always has been.

[Eric] I respond to some more of your comments below (yours are prefixed with your initials and in quotes).

[CL] "In order to predict well, one must approach astrology from a world view that allows for it."

[Eric] So - if I do not accept astrology in advance, you cannot make any predictions for me? Why should my belief in astrology affect *your* predictions? Or am I misunderstanding you.
I think that you are misunderstanding. I am not referring to the potential client's belief. I'm referring to the practice of the astrologer. Astrology is based on a neo-platonic principle that Spirit gives rise to Consciousness, which gives rise to Matter. The modern scientific world view is nearly the opposite: that Matter gives rise to Consciousness. The neo-platonic philosophy allows for the reality that material occurrences may be caused by non-material (spiritual or consciousness) causes. The modern scientific view rejects that possibility. If an astrologer also rejects that possibility, then he or she may do fine as a psychological astrologer (modern type), but will ultimately fail at any type of prediction.

[Eric] It seems that belief shouldn't play a role - it either works or it doesn't. I don't need to believe in the scientific method to use the physics equations derived via the scientific method to predict physical behavior. It works whether I believe in it or not.
Right. And I have seen astrology work well, when done correctly, according to the traditional rules that predate its modern marriage with psychology.

[CL]"The deeper issue is that not everything in life is or should be subject to the "scientific method". True, if one is going to predict, one should have a certain level of accuracy and consistency (though it seems that we allow well-paid meteorologists to be consistently wrong with no major consequences)."

[Eric] Why not? Why should some knowledge be accepted 'because you say so', and other knowledge be susceptible to testing? How do you tell the difference between one type of knowledge and the other? Again - the process of the scientific method is used to separate out what is true from what isn't. Why should any truths not be subject to that level of scrutiny?
Well, there are all sorts of things that are not subject to scientific scrutiny that many people accept as true. The existence of some deity, values such as loyalty and love, emotions, and so forth. There is the sociological maxim that What is perceived as real has real consequences. So something that may not even be "real" in a material sense may in fact affect material reality. This is not something that is testable in terms of the scientific method.
My point here is that just because we can't always point to the mechanism by which something physical occurs and say "aha! there it is!", that doesn't mean that it isn't real or true.

Let us also separate 'weathermen' from 'meteorologists'. In general, I find the NOAA weather website to be very accurate, especially over short periods of time. Modern mathematical theory explains the impossibility of predicting the weather with any accuracy more than a few days into the future (although large-scale trends may be fairly accurately predicted up to about 18 months in advance). Within the limits of measurement and predictive models, weather prediction falls well within the error it should have from the mathematical models used.
And I know astrologers who specialize in weather prediction who can get pretty accurate years in advance, since we can cast the charts well in advance.

But each of these is a specific kind of astrology too: natal, weather, mundane, horary questions, and so forth, and not all astrologers do all these kinds of astrology. Modern psychological astrologers who try to do predictive astrology without having studied it as such are sort of like modern psychotherapists trying to do calculus without any special preparation.

(Note: to date, I have not received Part II that was indicated; so it's lack of appearance is not due to my not posting it.)

13 January 2011

When Modern Scientists Get Hold of Astrology

I just read a short article on how your zodiac sign may have changed because scientists at a planetarium in Minnesota have "recalculate[d] the dates that correspond to each sign to accommodate millennia of subtle shifts in the Earth's axis." What they are referring to here is the Precession of the Equinoxes. Let me explain.

Where does the Zodiac Begin?
Since the beginning of horoscopic astrology in the Middle East, the beginning of the zodiac was considered 0 degrees Aries. There are two definitions of "0 degrees Aries." One is that it pinpoints the Alpha star (first brightest) in the constellation of Aries. The other is that it assigns 0 Aries to wherever the Sun is on the day of the northern Spring Equinox; this also means that the Sun enters Cancer at the Summer Solstice, Libra at the Fall Equinox, and Capricorn at the Winter Solstice. When astrology was developed about 2,000 years ago, these two points coincided. That is, at the northern Spring Equinox, the Sun happened to be right about at the Alpha star in the constellation of Aries. However, the Sun moves against the background of the stars at the rate of about 1 degree every 72 years, and it does so backwards against what we consider the normal order of the zodiac constellations. So a few hundred years after astrology was developed, the Sun would have been in the late degrees of Pisces on the day of the Spring Equinox. And it will continue to appear in that sign at the Equinox for a couple thousand years. This is what we call our current age the Age of Pisces. At some point in the next few hundred years, the Sun will be against the background of the constellation of Aquarius at the Spring Equinox, which will begin the Age of Aquarius (no, it has not yet begun, sorry to all you Age of Aquarius enthusiasts out there).

This linking of the zodiac to our seasons on Earth has become known as Tropical astrology, or using the Tropical Zodiac. As the Earth goes around the Sun each year at its 23.5 degree angle, the Sun appears to move between the Tropic of Cancer at the northern Summer Solstice, south to the Tropic of Capricorn at the northern Winter Solstice. At the Equinoxes, the Sun appears to be right over the Equator. ("Tropical" comes from the Greek and refers to the "turning" as in the turning of the Sun at the Solstices. Oxford English Dictionary Online)

The linking of the zodiac to the star at Alpha Aries has become known as the Sidereal Zodiac (siderum = star, Latin) and has continued to be used pretty much only in India among Hindu (Vedic) astrologers. Some in the West also now practice Hindu astrology for a variety of reasons, usually stemming from a false idea that Hindu astrology includes predictive and spiritual elements not found in the West. While it is true that these elements are not found in modern Western astrology, it is not true at all that they are not still there; one need dig only a bit below the modern superficial/psychological use of astrology to find them.

So the Tropical and the Sidereal Zodiacs have existed side-by-side for nearly 2,000 years. One thing is very important to note here: both zodiacs use a stylized system of 30 degrees per sign. That is, the Tropical zodiac starts 0 Aries on the Spring Equinox, and just counts 30 degrees per sign going forward from there. The Sideral zodiac starts 0 Aries whenever the Sun aligns with that star every year and also just counts 30 degrees per sign from there. In other words, the Sidereal zodiac makes no attempt to align ALL of the signs of the zodiac with ALL of the constellations that were used to originally form it. There are Sidereal astrologers out there today who claim that Sidereal astrology is "truer" or "more scientific" than Tropical astrology because it aligns with the stars or constellations; but clearly they don't recognize, or won't admit, that the Sidereal zodiac aligns only with ONE star. The constellations aren't all 30 degrees of neat packaging, so the Sidereal zodiac is just as stylized (and no more "scientific" or "true") than the Tropical zodiac.

Modern Inventions
Now this article lists the dates of the zodiac "as the ancient Babylonians intended it." The hubris of modern science! Their own list includes the now-famous (and totally modern invention) of the "13th sign" Ophiuchus, with an asterisk noting that it was "Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year." (See my blog post on this.) So on the one hand, they admit right here that they are changing what the Babylonians actually DID, while claiming that they know what the Babylonians "intended." They claim to be "restoring" the "original Babylonian zodiac." Sounds like modern scientist messing around with something that they completely and willfully misunderstand.

If you notice the list of dates on these "signs", you will see that they are not approximately 30 days each. This is because these scientists are not using the Tropical OR the Sidereal zodiac here. They are using a modern invention called the "Constellational Zodiac." See Chris Warnock's excellent page on the three zodiacs for more detail. For now, let me point out that the Constellational zodiac attempts to take all of the constellations that go into making up the zodiacal signs, inserts Ophiuchus, and then sort of stretches the length of each of these "signs" proportionally to fit the size that each constellation occupies in the sky. There are a few major problems with that. The first is that many of these constellations overlap; this is one of the things that has led to confusion about when the Age of Pisces will end and the Age of Aquarius will begin. In a hundred years or so, on the day of the northern Spring Equinox, the Sun will actually be standing in the overlap of these two signs, so there will be a cross over period for many decades before the Sun stands solely in the constellation of Aquarius at the equinox. This is because Aquarius, while standing next to Pisces, also dips in below it for a few degrees (or one could say that Pisces swims above Aquarius). The other problem with this is that with all of the signs being different sizes, it is impossible to DO anything with them. The whole point of astrology is that it represents Plato's Ideal or perfection. One way of looking at it is measuring the difference between where we really are and where our perfected self is. It is in this space that we learn about ourselves, our world, our spirituality, etc.; and it is in this space that astrology does what it was intended to do - narrate the past, present and future (predict). This is impossible to do with an odd-shaped, ill-formed, lop-sided zodiac.

Final Comments
1. Scientists should stay the hell out of astrology. And if you want to know what I REALLY think: scientists should stay the hell out of astrology!
Many modern astrologers have misunderstood traditional astrology because either they did not have the resources to investigate it (which was true for a while in general), or simply because they did not care to (which is often the case now). How much LESS will modern scientists understand classical astrology (e.g. what the Babylonians "intended") than modern astrologers? All they can do is complicate matters.
2. Why would astrologers even CARE what modern science has to say about astrology? Modern science is almost universally hostile to astrology; and modern scientists who do have some sympathy for our Art usually are trying to "help" by proving astrology on scientific grounds. Being a Spiritual Science, if you will, astrology will never be proven correct, true, or valid to the satisfaction of the modern academy, which is still held captive by the materialist/atheist world view. I'm not suggesting that astrologers ignore everything that modern scientists say about astrology (or any other field), but why would we give it such weight? Is their goal to work with us? In most cases, their goal is to debunk astrology completely. Do you think that these scientists who "corrected" the zodiac dates actually consulted with an astrologer? Of course not! If they had, they might have realized how absolutely ridiculous their "corrections" are.