The Shape of our Thinking

Straight Lines and Cycles

One of the most wonderful ways we can learn from astrology is to study the worldview of the civilization where astrology was created. Astrology is a way of looking at the world, and it has a very different kind of perspective and shape than does our usual modern culture. We stand to a learn a lot about the weaknesses and blind spots of our modern world – and the results of those blind spots are becoming increasingly evident in the world around us.

Here I want to talk about how the world of astrology has a different shape than our modern world.

Briefly, astrology looks at the world in terms of cycles, ascending and descending waves, and complementary opposites. Cyclical, circular, wave shaped.

By contrast, our modern world thinks of reality in single direction straight lines.

Much of the world around us behaves in ways that match the shape of astrology – cycles of growth and decay, waves. Meanwhile we’re thinking in terms of straight lines.

And here’s the kicker – when the shape of our thinking mismatches the shape of the world around us we get ourselves in trouble.

I want to let some pictures do the talking here.

First, this is a graph of a sine wave.

Sine waveI want to use this as a metaphor for the cycles of growth and change that characterize so much of astrology. This could be a graph of the four seasons, with the equinoxes being where the graph cuts the center line, and the solstices being the peak or valley of each curve. It could also be a graph of the Sun’s distance above or below the equator during its yearly journey.

For a single organism, birth would be the point at the left, and death would be where the curve crosses the center line moving downward. For systems that have daily and yearly cycles, this time below the line is the winter, lying fallow and dead, heading towards a new birth at the next spring when the curve crosses the center line moving up.

This cyclical sort of shape matches many, many things – the cycle of the seasons, or the daily day/night cycle – the cycle of a living organism’s life span – birth, growth, flourishing, decline, decay, death – or any sort of collective organism – a family, a business, a city, a country, a church, an economy, a civilization – or other sorts of processes like a career.

Now on this next illustration we take that same sine wave, and map a straight red line on top of it.

Sine wave with straight lineThe blue line is the cyclical astrology view of the world, and the red straight line is our modern model.

Here’s the deal – and it is pretty obvious once you look at the picture – the straight line model of the world works just fine where the straight line overlaps the sine wave – ie when things really are on the up curve. It works great while you’re young, you’re growing, you’re prosperous – when things are “looking up”. However, as the two graphs get increasingly out of sync, the straight line model of the world becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

That increasing mismatch between the wave reality, and the straight line perception of it, is what I am calling the Reality Gap.

In a straight line model of the world we have no good way of thinking about that peak and decline part of the sine wave, so we don’t recognize it when we reach it, we don’t know how to deal with it, and we tend to take actions to keep the line going straight and up – but, the further out of sync the two lines become, the more we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophic correction of some sort to re-align them.

Actually, what is getting re-aligned is our perception of reality.

If we can’t think about something then we have no way to deal with it. It is off our radar.

I think that explains a lot of the political rhetoric here in America in an election year. We all believe in Progress, in moving perpetually forward and upward, always growing, always becoming more prosperous and powerful. In that map of the world, if we are not growing, becoming more prosperous etc – or, worse yet, if we seem to be getting less prosperous, more unstable and so on – then something must be wrong, so we need to find a way to “straighten things out” so we can get on with the Business As Usual of perpetual prosperity and growth. Meanwhile, the actions we take to keep that “straight line” illusion going become increasingly unrealistic and dysfunctional.

To paraphrase one of the candidates,

“Let’s make America straight again.”

Let’s get back to our straight line, always improving, positive reality.

When you have no concept of cycles of growth and decline, then you have no way to recognize and deal with the decline part of a cycle.

If you can’t conceive of decline then you won’t recognize the signs of it – until catastrophic events shoved in your face force you to deal with it.

Consider those diagrams, and look around you…


I think I have demonstrated that we stand to learn a lot from using astrology’s map of cycles of growth and decay as a way to understand what is going on around us.

In my next post, I want to talk about part of that “straight line thinking” that causes serious problems with how we use the tools of astrology, and how we conduct our lives. It is a way of thinking that has some serious dangers and limitations, and in our culture it often goes under a different name.

It’s called, Positive Thinking.


Comments

The Shape of our Thinking — 8 Comments

  1. Cycles moving around straight lines, I thought.

    Like planets in solar system are orbiting the Sun and the whole sun system is moving forward or around other galaxy。

  2. Well said. Good basic perspective of most everything as it changes over time. Yet, most times this culture thinks in straight lines, except for financial astrologers like Ray Merriman, and the financial adviser Harry Dent who pays attention to patters and cycles.

  3. That is also why we learn astrology. It’s not about making things right or trying to avoid any bad things from happening. It’s about to live with the cycle, the flow of life.

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  6. I really enjoyed this article. It is a unique way to conceptualize a pattern we see all around us all the time. That red line going straight up reminds me of frenzied rise in housing prices (CA, FL, CO, NV, etc.) before the housing bust; likewise, the financial crash of late 2007. The Roaring Twenties before the Great Depression. Also, teach a beginners astrology class and arriving at Jupiter and then Saturn (the planets I call the mediators between luminaries and personals and the collective planets). It’s a perfect metaphor for the Jupiter-Saturn relationship.

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