“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”
– Werner Heisenberg
Is astrology a science? The short and simple answer is, No. (Sounds of people rushing for the door.)
Is anybody still here? Okay, let’s chat.
The slightly longer, slightly more inclusive answer, goes something like this:
Science is able to map part of the order of the Universe. It is not sufficient to map all of it. There are other forms of valid order besides the scientific. Another way of stating that – the current scientific model is too small to contain all of the Universe, which includes ALL of human experience. The scientific model has its limitations and its problems, and a model that makes sense of astrology can address some of those problems.
Let me underscore that point – the current scientific model does not include all of human experience, and some of the most important dimensions are left out.
Astrology works, it is valid, and I think it is demonstrable to anyone with a reasonably open mind. Astrology works, but it does not work the same way that Science does. It is pointing at a different kind of order that is bigger, weirder, stranger.
I’m going to paraphrase the quote by the scientist Werner Heisenberg that I used to start this piece.
Not only is Astrology stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.
There are far more dimensions to this question of astrology as a science than you might think at first glance – the question carries a lot of baggage. I want to think out loud about some of that baggage here in this meditation.
There are two main works that I am aware of, which argue that astrology is a science. Both of these are excellent and well worth reading.
First, there is a well-known essay by Robert Hand, titled, “Astrology as a Revolutionary Science“. The following quote is close to the core of the argument that Hand is making.
“But the main reason why we need a true science of astrology is that such a science would transform not only the other sciences but the very basis of our culture’s attitude towards Man, God and Nature. If the fundamental assumptions of astrology at any level are validated then the metaphysical foundations of the sciences and of our culture are wrong! And it is the metaphysical assumptions of modern science and their broader cultural counterparts, not the intrinsic nature of scientific inquiry, that are threatening the world we live in.”
I think that Hand is making a critical mistake by labeling the current scientific model ‘wrong’. It is a model, and nothing more. It has its strengths and its weaknesses, the things it includes and the things it leaves out. I think he is right to point out that the scientific model has some serious problems, but it is going too far to flat-out label it as wrong.
Hand’s essay is a call for a new definition of science, a new model, since he argues that a lot of the problems in our world today come out of the limitations of the scientific worldview, & that we need a worldview that acknowledges the Universe as alive and intelligent. I think he has a very good and valid point there.
This means that Hand’s definition of what a science of astrology would be, is not the same as the current definition of science used by scientists.
The astrologer Dennis Elwell is making a similar argument in his fine book, “Cosmic Loom: The New Science of Astrology“. He makes a very strong case for presenting astrology as valid, and meaningful, and useful – yet, like Hand, he is using the term ‘science’ in a way that scientists would not recognize, acknowledge or accept.
In a nutshell, I think that both Elwell and Hand are arguing along these lines – Astrology works so it must be a science. Modern scientists do not recognize the validity of astrology as a science. Therefore we have to re-define the word science to make it include astrology.
In other words – astrology is not a science in any sense that a modern practicing scientist would recognize. In order to describe astrology as a science, we need to re-define the word.
Let me emphasize that, since it is a critical point.
To have astrology recognized as a science, we have to re-define the meaning of the word “Science”.
I really do not think that is a good way to foster communication.
If we mean something different by the word science then why are we using the same word?
I want to stop here, and consider what is behind that question, Why is it so important to reclaim the word science?
At least part of the answer is, for credibility and respect.
Like most astrologers I am very tired of being blown off as a new age airhead as soon as I reveal that I am an astrologer. I am also tired of astrology being blown off by condescending remarks whenever it is mentioned in the news media. (And please, no more Chinese restaurant placemat jokes.)
To give you an example from the media – recently (mid October 2016, the weekend of the ISAR convention), on the MPR news show All Things Considered, the newscaster Scott Simon had a little tag piece at the end about astrologers at the ISAR convention having a panel to predict the US election results using astrology. I was pleased to hear that they were referring to an astrology convention… until I listened to what he was saying.
Scott Simon was careful to point out that he did not “believe” in astrology, and concluded the short and condescending piece by saying something like, while astrologers just go outside an look up at the sky, us real news broadcasters have to do some actual work.
To me it is obvious he was being ignorant and prejudiced – ignorant, since he knew precisely nothing about astrology, and prejudiced, since he felt qualified to blow it off as worthless nonsense. That hurt.
I sighed, got up and turned off the radio.
So how does that news incident fit in our consideration of whether astrology is a science?
The newscaster was making an assumption here that is very common, and is an error – if a subject is scientific it must be true, and conversely if it is not scientific it must be false. I think it is this same assumption that drives many astrologers to conclude that we must defend it as a science.
The modern astrologer David Cochrane argues along these lines when he talks about how important it is to defend astrology precisely as a science. (Please note that I have a lot of respect for David Cochrane, I have read his books and viewed many of his instructional videos, and I think he is doing some very important work.)
If astrology is not a science then it must be superstition. Either-or. If astrology isn’t a science then you’re no better than a gypsy fortune teller or a tarot card reader.
Um, excuse me… I happen to know some very good gypsy fortune tellers, and I read cards myself – both tarot, and the Lenormand gypsy fortune telling cards. I can’t draw a hard and fast line between what I do when I read cards, and what I do when I read an astrology chart.
Do you see the condescending arrogance in that assumption? They’re the new age airheads, not me – I’m an astrologer, a scientist, and that’s respectable because it’s scientific!
That is a false dichotomy, and a false conclusion.
Science is not the only standard for what is true and what is not. It says something about how science is basically the religion of our time that we make that assumption in the first place.
If we don’t view astrology as a science then we are plunged back into the ignorance and superstition of the “pre-scientific” medieval ages – and note, fyi, that I am strongly influenced by medieval astrology, and my main teacher Ben Dykes is the foremost medieval astrology authority practicing today. I think it is wrong to assume that Medieval, Superstition and Worthless are synonyms.
That points to an aspect of arrogance to the modern scientific worldview, the underlying assumption that anything prior to the age of science is worthless superstition, and that science has a monopoly on truth. Similarly, anyone who would dare to criticize science is accused of wanting to return to pre-scientific superstition – and notice how very loaded and judgmental those words are.
Science is a worldview and a tool, and nothing more. It has its usefulness, but it also has its limitations.
Astrology deals with matters of significance, of value, of meaning. Science, and the scientific method, is value-free by definition. Therefore by definition astrology is not a science.
What David Cochrane is doing when he runs his research studies is interesting and does have value – and it includes very little of what happens when I sit down and do a chart reading session.
Astrology is all about perceiving a pattern that gives form and sense and meaning to a person’s life. That is not what science is trying to accomplish.
Astrology techniques are not simple, repeatable and verifiable in the same way as a scientific experiment.
Water will come to a boil at around 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Allowing for a predictable range of variables like altitude, barometric pressure and impurities in the water, it doesn’t matter how many times you do that experiment, every instance will follow that pattern.
If I drop a stone I am holding in my hand it will fall, and you can predict the speed and timing of the fall.
Conversely – if I have 10 astrology charts with Mars in Cancer square Saturn in Libra, that will play out in different ways in the different charts, and I maintain that those ways are not predictable in the simple factual sort of way that a scientific prediction can be made.
If you take a single person’s astrology chart with Mars in Cancer square Saturn in Libra, and sit down with them at 10 different times in their life, you will not get exactly the same meaning each time. For that matter, that single configuration may have multiple meanings during a single reading as different parts of a person’s life are considered.
As Geoffrey Cornelius points out in his landmark book, “The Moment of Astrology“, the meaning of astrology is contextual. The question is not, what does Mars square Saturn mean in all places at all times. The question is, what does Saturn square mean in this chart at this time with this person with this person’s current situation, their current needs and interests. And remember, part of that context includes the astrologer who is doing the reading.
It is the consideration of a chart with a question in mind that creates the context within which astrology makes sense. The question provides the frame, the setting.
Water boils at the same temperature whether anyone is there to watch or not. An astrology chart on a piece of paper does not have any meaning until it is looked at in the context of a question. Those are two very different kinds of operations.
Science is objective, detached, standing apart from – astrology is not.
Astrology makes more sense in a divination kind of a model where Universe is communicating with us – a matter of active and living intelligences communicating with us – and also living intelligences acting in and on the world. The belief that the Universe is alive and filled with living intelligences who communicate with us and who affect our lives, is part of that superstitious medieval worldview that scientists, and many modern astrologers, are so fond of blowing off as worthless and outmoded.
Something was gained with the advent of the scientific worldview – but maybe, just maybe, something was also lost.
Simply put, in astrology the Cosmos is alive, intelligent, active, meaningful, communicating; in science it is objective, detached and value free.
Science leaves out the most important and meaningful aspects of human experience.
I want to rephrase what Hand is getting at by saying that we need to move into a larger, post-scientific worldview that recovers a lot of dimensions of existence that science leaves out. This includes viewing the earth we live on as alive and intelligent. It also includes the subjective dimensions of experience, the value and validity of emotions and desires, and so on.
Post-scientific does not mean a return to the superstition of a so-called dark age. We need to recognize the condescending arrogance towards previous worldviews in the assumption that our modern scientific world is so much superior. We have much to learn from those pre-scientific times.
Astrology is not a science. It has its own valuable model of the world, and its own sort of meaning and truth.
In future posts I will be looking further into how astrology makes sense of the world, and examining the kinds of philosophical assumptions we make when we do that.