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The Mountain Astrologer

Why Astrology Doesn't Work

by Douglas C. Egan

Hillary chartThe 2016 election has left more than one person searching for answers, including astrologers, the majority of whom picked Hillary Clinton to be the occupant of the Oval Office in 2017. In seminars and in print, she was the odds-on favorite for the current confluence of stellar and planetary objects. (We are ignoring the controversy of popular vs. electoral vote.) Hand-wringing has continued. What was missing from the algorithms? What asteroid or aspect did we fail to take into account? More importantly, what does this say about astrological prediction in general? What does it say about astrology?

Rest easy, fellow star-gazers. Life goes on. Astrology does work. We wouldn’t be reading this magazine if it didn’t. But this recent episode accents an ongoing question in astrology: How well does it work, and more specifically, how well is it able to predict? This is not the first event that astrology has missed. There were very few astrologers making noise from the watchtowers when World War II began, or in 2007–08 during the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression. In the latter case, there was much talk of what the upcoming outer planets’ squares and oppositions might mean, but the event itself largely caught most people by surprise. Why is that?

It’s no wonder that many people are skeptical about astrology. To call these sorts of episodes “failures” is entirely inaccurate, as we will see; however, such episodes can certainly be embarrassing and can overshadow some of the more amazing correct predictions that have also occurred, though these happen more often on a personal level than on a mundane one. Physicist Niels Bohr, in a rare Yogi Berra moment, is said to have observed: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” That seems to be nearly as frequently true for those in the business of predicting the future (astrologers) as for the average person. But why is that?

Astrology has been a valuable companion to many, many people’s lives. In fact, the more that we study it, the more valuable it becomes. The secrets of the universe really are encoded within our beloved discipline. And yet, there are … issues. Astrology is maddening. The secrets seem to be right there, and yet the closer we approach and the more we try to pin them down, the more irritatingly they appear to slip away at times. An invisible cosmic jokester seems to be pulling the strings. We “knew” that our Saturn return was going to do this or that, and yet … pfft. On the other hand, in regard to perhaps another transit: Wow, we certainly didn’t see that one coming! So, that’s what that aspect meant!

Human beings love certainty. It has often been said by philosophers that death is the prototype for existential angst, but if we were certain what death would bring, then that anxiety would fade. (Religions have traditionally stepped in to play a role here.) It’s the uncertainty that creates the angst. That is also a big part, but by no means all, of the appeal of astrology: Certainty will be ours. Humans want to know where they stand, what’s going to happen, what the outcome will be. It’s in our nature. But what is certainty? Does it even exist as any sort of real “thing”?

UncertaintyNeurologist Dr. Robert Burton, who wrote On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, posits that certainty is finally nothing more than a feeling or mental sensation, with no assured relation at all to reality itself. And ultimately, what can we know for sure? What can we count on? An old wisdom parable regarding a Taoist farmer puts this into perspective:

A farmer had only one horse left after many years, and one day the horse ran away from his field. All of his neighbors came by the house to console him over what a terrible loss this was. The farmer himself simply looked thoughtful and said, “Maybe.” A month later, to everyone’s surprise, the horse came trotting back home, this time bringing along with it two beautiful wild horses into the farmer’s corral. The neighbors again gathered around, excited this time at the farmer’s good fortune. What a fortuitous turn of events! The farmer smiled and said, “Maybe.” Not a month after that, the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses while trying to tame it, and his leg was broken. Predictably, all of the neighbors gathered around, very distressed. What misfortune! The farmer again said, “Maybe.” Shortly thereafter, however, a war came to the land, and every able-bodied man was drafted and sent to the battle. But the farmer’s son, because of his broken leg, was able to remain at home. The neighbors once more came by to congratulate the farmer. What a lucky way that things had ultimately turned out! The farmer said … “Maybe.”

So, certainty, or the knowledge of how things will turn out, or even the knowledge of whether that may be tallied to the beneficial or malefic side of the ledger, is ultimately an illusion. It’s an illusion in life, and it’s an illusion in astrology. But we are not satisfied with that. We are burning up to know: Are there no shortcuts? Might there be secret knowledge, magical incantations, occult algorithms that would let us get around that limitation? Are there hidden techniques that would allow us to be certain, to predict the future with confidence? Let’s return to physicist Niels Bohr. Within physics, he and his cohorts did quite a bit of exploration into the subjects of certainty and prediction. The lines of discovery and thought that they pursued have had huge implications to this day, no less so for astrology than for science and philosophy.

Astrology’s relationship with science in the modern world occupies an odd and uncomfortable place. But here’s the thing: Ultimately, there is no reason that astrology can’t be compatible with science. Science at any particular moment represents only a slice of an ever-evolving human understanding of the world. Science has absorbed many strange and non-intuitive lines of thought throughout its history. In fact, paradoxically, as new information and paradigms continue to appear and evolve in science, science itself may come to a place where astrology is once again brought into consideration (although that may admittedly take a while). But science simply hasn’t yet progressed to a place or an understanding where it makes sense for it to do that.

Newtonian Physics In actuality, assuming that astrology is “real,” as anyone who has experienced it will testify, then astrology in fact must be compatible in some fashion with science. Here, we are particularly talking about physics, since physics may be seen to be the “root” science from which all other branches grow. For instance, psychology and astrology reference humans. Humans are products of biology, and biology comes from chemistry. Chemistry, in turn, is an expression of the physics that determines its laws. Ultimately, all parts of our world must fit together to form a whole. If some parts do not seem to fit, then the problem is not with the parts, but with the model of the whole. This has been proven over and over within science itself: The “known” and operational paradigms within science are continually changing, and sometimes drastically so. The world today is quite different from that of Newton or Aristotle. And yet it is the same world. It is only our limited understanding of it that changes and deepens as time goes on. Certainty, then, is not for humans, and yet we continually forget that and conduct ourselves as if it were. This is as true for scientists as it is for astrologers.

These larger speculations regarding the future of astrology and science are too involved to get into here, and take us away from our short meditation. We will make one other associated observation, however, because it is pertinent not only to that particular issue, but also to the issue of prediction. The thing is this: In examining astrology, science is playing by two rulebooks. On the one hand, scientists are asking astrology to “prove itself” according to models that science itself hasn’t fully used in a hundred years or so (mechanistic causation). On the other hand, one of the reasons that modern physics is so exciting (and so, by extension, are the other sciences) is that science itself is playing by a whole new and different set of rules. It is these new rules that will affect the question of whether science and astrology may eventually find some common ground for a conversation, and it is especially these new rules that currently affect the question of how astrologers could be so wrong about so many things: the question of prediction.

So, let’s simplify and get back to how current physics may impact our understanding of astrology, especially in regard to prediction.

Historically, the concept of the world as being an understandable and (somewhat) predictable place for humans had stumbled forward in a rather disorganized fashion for many centuries, until Isaac Newton appeared on the scene. An odd and reportedly at times unpleasant genius, Newton yet provided the fulcrum with which to completely change our understanding of the universe at that time. His importance was captured by Alexander Pope’s famous quip: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.” And so it was — or so it seemed. Newton helped give birth not only to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, but also to the notion that everything in the universe was subject to strict laws of cause and effect: The universe suddenly appeared to be at root a giant mechanical clockwork. If one could but know all of the variables, then one could theoretically predict anything. Does this sound familiar? It’s easy to see here that much of astrology still lingers in this mindset, although the results don’t bear it out. Why don’t they?

Newton had his day, and in fact, for much of the world we experience, his laws are perfectly operational, if we don’t dig too deep. But astrology is deep; that’s the point. Clockwork cause and effect has become a paradigm that makes such intuitive sense that it is still the default one for most people today. But by the beginning of the 20th century, cracks were starting to appear in the edifice. First, Einstein demonstrated that everything was relative (and that means everything) and that matter and energy were in fact different versions of the same thing. His equivalency formula (e=mc²) is likely the most famous equation in history, a thing of beauty in its elegance and simplicity. Nothing was fixed in stone anymore, but relative and evolving. Newton’s tidy world began to crumble at that point. But it didn’t end there.

FractalsIn the most remarkable half-century in the history of physics, Einstein was followed in very short order by the Quantum Guys. Names such as Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and others — including Wolfgang Pauli (with whom Carl Jung developed his concept of synchronicity) — quickly turned physics even further on its head. Newton as a philosophical anchor for modern physics became obsolete. His laws still held true within certain confines, but they were revealed to be no more than a mere subset of reality: The world itself was a much stranger place than the clockwork universe that it had been seen as for 200 years. Not only could one thing now affect another thing instantly and without causation, although it might be located across the universe (a phenomenon called “quantum entanglement”), but the certainty of prediction implied by Newton’s mechanics was completely torn apart. There was now nothing left but probability. Certainty, both in a physics sense and in a larger philosophical sense, was dead. (You can see where this is going.) These are but two of the amazing upheavals during that 50-year period, which culminated in the development of the atomic bomb. Much of this was born during Pluto’s lengthy stay in Gemini.

Many people over the years have challenged the findings of quantum theory (including Einstein himself), but it has withstood every test thrown at it, and your cell phone and every other modern object in your possession today depend upon its physics. Heisenberg’s equations, also elegant in their simplicity, ensure (along with Max Born’s work) that nothing may ever be predicted with certainty, that all outcomes are simply probability. And as for entanglement, Alain Aspect’s experiments in the 1980s showed that it was in fact mathematically impossible to sidestep these quantum oddities by postulating some “hidden variables” that would bring things back to a predictable, Newtonian universe. The old order had been declared officially dead, and now it remained so.

But paradigms in physics do not stay within the confines of that discipline. The world is a whole — and interconnected. New paradigms filter out not only to other branches of science, but also to philosophy, literature, art, and other cultural touchstones. Although people in these professions may not even know how to put a name to it, the death of certainty has deeply affected every aspect of modern human understanding. Astrology has not been immune. It is probably not a coincidence that Dane Rudhyar — who grew up, thought, and wrote during the time of these physics revolutions — pioneered a more possibility-oriented astrology, which he called transpersonal or humanistic. His writing style is somewhat dense, but it would be difficult to exaggerate his influence on modern astrology.

Today we most typically have astrologers who use a more “weather report” style of predicting than the older, more fatalistic style based on a clockwork viewpoint. (There are exceptions and holdouts, such as Vedic astrology and some of the more traditional schools.) This is a direct and yet largely unrecognized and unconscious reflection of the societal gestalt that quantum physics has wrought. (One might be predicted to have a 60% chance of career change under a particular transit, for example, with a fair amount of fudge room and other possibilities.) A particularly elegant way of looking at this is Richard Tarnas’s idea that astrology is “archetypally predictive” rather than concretely predictive. This has the feeling of truth to it. Just as in an atom one may not be able to predict exactly where an electron may be found (per quantum theory), in modern astrology one may not be able to predict exactly how an event may show up; only the characteristic archetype or “feel” may be predicted.

UniverseIt must be noted here, however, that astrology in practice is likely a mixture of these quantum probabilistic forces combined with Geoffrey Cornelius’s “divination” type of ideas, as set forth in his book The Moment of Astrology. That’s why astrologers sometimes can predict exact events, although rarely, and also why this is more common with actual clients, where one can get a shared consciousness–emotional feel, rather than in a more theoretical mundane situation. Finally, quantum theory further states that there is always the possibility for wild outliers in any situation; nothing is disallowed, only less probable. The universe, then, is not only unpredictable on a basic level, but has the additional potential for even more extreme possibilities lurking out of sight. And the universe is pretty strange.

So, fear not, fellow astrologers: Astrology is not dead after the stumble of the Hillary predictions. Not only that, but there is no need to spend even more time in endless searching for the minutiae that may have improved the algorithm. We simply need to bring ourselves up to speed regarding the larger view that the universe is seen at this time as primarily probabilistic, rather than deterministic. Astrology can be no exception; the world is a Whole. We lose certainty, but gain in the accuracy of our model. We do our best, and things happen as they happen. That’s not a failure of prediction; that’s part of the system. It is the system itself that is not ultimately predictable, but only probabilistic. That’s the way the universe works.

The 2016 election was quite a ride. We are currently in the midst of an array of outer-planet configurations (spearheaded most recently by Uranus square Pluto) that have unleashed powerful forces of unrest into our world. We have seen (in America) our first black president, legal cannabis, gay marriage, and other revolutionary developments on a more global basis. In addition, we have recently had Saturn square Neptune. How could we know which would win in that tussle: idealism, or repression and fear? It’s okay. As the Taoist farmer knew, the wheel is still in spin. It only proves that the dance of the planets is real — and marvelous to behold. Astrology works. It just doesn’t always work in the way that we want it to work. It works in the way that it wants to work, in the way that it does. As astrologers, we are fortunate and blessed to be able to take part and to have the privilege of being able to see the process and understand it.

Image sources:
Hillary Clinton: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Uncertainty: CC0 Public Domain, by geralt via pixabay.com
Fractals: CC0 Public Domain, by uroburos via pixabay.com
Pendulum: CC0 Public Domain, by Unsplash via pixabay.com
Universe: CC0 Public Domain, by fill via pixabay.com

First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Jun/Jul 2017.

Author:
Douglas C. EganDoug Egan is a Denver-based astrologer, registered nurse, certified addictions counselor, and physics enthusiast. He has taught astrology, lectured astrology, practiced astrology, and is now the author of The Dance of Astrology, which was reviewed in The Mountain Astrologer, Feb./March 2017. He is especially interested in the philosophical underpinnings of our discipline and is constantly filled with wonder at its implications. Doug's website is http://www.danceofastrology.com; he may be reached at danceofastrology@outlook.com

© 2017 - Douglas C. Egan - published by The Mountain Astrologer

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Current Planets
25-Nov-2017, 00:30 UT/GMT
Sun255'28"20s44
Moon141'29"16s17
Mercury2445'27"25s45
Venus220' 6"17s21
Mars2058'28"7s11
Jupiter949'38"13s48
Saturn275'20"22s28
Uranus2510'41"r9n12
Neptune1128' 2"8s07
Pluto1738'30"21s46
TrueNode1758'20"r15n27
Chiron2422' 1"r1n15
Explanations of the symbols
Chart of the moment
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