Tuesday 25 October 2016


A thoughtful piece on this topic from the always-worth-reading William Wildblood:


Like most scientists, I used to regard Astology as utterly ridiculous; but having discovered more about the real medieval context (from reading CS Lewis, especially The Discarded Image); and then finding the subject treated by authors I respect such as William Arkle and William Wildblood himself - I tend to think that there 'must be something in it', although it isn't a thing I am personally attracted to.

Anyway, William W. and I had an email exchange last weekend, during which he very generously offered to do my personal 'character' horoscope based on the exact time and place of birth (but not a full interpretation - which would have taken a very long time).

The result was something like a detailed personality evaluation. I then spent a day brooding over it, and discussing it with my wife - and the conclusion was that it was more right than wrong by a comfortable ratio of about 2:1.

So, 'something in it', it seems. 


Nicholas Fulford said...

I'll give Jung his due with alchemical symbols, that they can be keys into aspects of the unconscious, but that is about as far as I am willing to take it. The problem is that it is far too easy to project into it, and selection biases mean that people are far more likely to pay attention to correlations with which they agree while discarding those pieces that don't fit. (We are narrative generators after all, and will often fill in gaps of memory with fiction to create a cohesive narrative. Most of the time this is not intensional, but more than a few times I have left a fictious part of a story stand rather than correct the record.)

The other thing I will grant is that people can vest importance into symbols - sacralizing them and turning them into talismans. This provides a thing into which a person can project unconscious associations, and reflect them back upon the conscious mind to probe and consider. Whether and to what degree they are actually archetypical and hence common between people is difficult to say. I think some types of geometry - in the form of mandalas and fractals - express the alchemical maxim, "as above, so below”, or perhaps in a more modern context, "as without, so within". One of the more interesting correlations is indicated when looking at the similarity between the structure of the universe as generated by a very sophisticated computer model and a picture of the neuronal structure in a mouse's brain. Again, there may be an element of selection bias, but it has the "oh wow-ness" factor that makes my hairs stand up and sends a chill down my spine. Subjective though the reaction is, it invites a person into an ecstatic state of awe and wonder. And that for me is really what such things are about. Do they resonate on some level such that my state in experiencing them changes? If that happens, then I consider the symbol personally - and perhaps collectively - important.

see - http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_HsN0oPi5hU4/TLhX4WFU_TI/AAAAAAAABl8/XhBBFyzp00Q/s1600/0815-sci-webSCIILLO.jpg

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nick - Well, yes - but that applies to almost everything, and astrology is only interesting if there is something objective about it.

Astrology was, after all, the original science - and acceptable to some of the greatest ever human minds - so our assumption (prior hypothesis) should *not* be to reject it utterly.

'Something objective about it' therefore seems likely to me - what is in dispute for me is how much actual humans understand about the specifics of astrology - and the answer seems to be that *some* people understand *something* about it.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The 2:1 ratio of right to wrong is meaningless because of the Forer effect. Perhaps just about anyone, reading the same horoscope and believing it was made specially for them, would find it just as accurate as you did.

Here's a better way to go about discovering whether or not there's "something in" astrology: Three different people give an astrologer their birth details, and he casts a horoscope for each of them and prepares three corresponding personality profiles. (The profiles should include no explicit astrological references -- just personality descriptions, with no mention of planets and houses and signs.) Each participant then receives all three profiles, without being told whose is whose, spends some time thinking about them, and decides which one he thinks fits him best. If all three participants selected their own profile as fitting them best, that would be a statistically significant result.

(For added validity, the three participants should all have the same sun sign. Most people know their own sun sign, and know something about what personality is supposed to be associated with it, which could contaminate the results.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - No, it is not 'meaningless' - it is how human being have always made up their minds about things, including the greatest scientists.

You are making the same big fallacy that 'explains' the results of all non randomised studies as plagued by teh pacebo effect - when such studies made all the significant discoveries in medicine.

The serious scientist takes into account his own self-deceptions - that is built into judgment; but nothing is better than human judgement.

I'm not telling you to 'believe in' astrology, I am simply describing my own experience with the subject - including this recent personal experience.

Statistics is not ever an explanation of anything - at best it is just a summary or condensation, assisting clarification, of what is going on - but the judgment is always a consequence of human decision (of course humans can build the judgment into statistics and then forget they have done so- as when a p value of > 0.05 is assumed to be 'significant').

William Wildblood said...

I should add that I would barely even qualify as an amateur astrologer. A proper astrologer could have done a much better job of Bruce's chart.

Junnies said...

an interesting way to think about astrology is to imagine how it was first conceived.

in my imagination, there had to be certain wise men/women who looked at the stars and after repeated observation, intuited that there was some correlation between celestial objects and trends/patterns in reality which could then be further extended to human personality characteristics. The sort of people who would be interested in looking at stars and theorizing about their effects would likely be intelligent-creative-geniuses, and not the simple-minded superstitious irrational stereotypes people ascribe to modern astrology-believers.

it is also interesting to note that in many cultures, the wisest people holding the most important positions (imperial china, the hindu culture, who also created their own systems of astrology) were deep believers in astrology. this does not necessarily mean that astrology is true and correct, but it indicates that surely *something in astrology had to be obviously, powerfully true for so many wise men to believe in the validity of it for so long. the disdain for astrology is largely isolated in western culture, and then there is the quote attributed to JP Morgan "“Millionaires don't use Astrology, billionaires do.”

Bruce Charlton said...

@legod - As for any mainstream type of science, I think it is important to add that there must be a large place for something on the lines of intuition, inspiration or imagination.

In other words, I believe that much or most of astrology *must* have come from some kind of inspired or imaginative source - and the empirical observational evidence was probably more in the nature of 'checking' the usefulness of already-existing theories.

@William - "A proper astrologer could have done a much better job of Bruce's chart." Perhaps - but I would not have trusted an unknown professional (unless maybe you had recommended him, from experience).

William Wildblood said...

I just meant that if even I whose knowledge of the art is fair but not profound could do an interpretation that seemed reasonably good
someone of greater knowledge and expertise could do better justice to astrology.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

What I mean is that, while I'm not disputing your judgment of how well the horoscope matches you, you can't know whether it fits you better than someone else's horoscope would unless you actually make that comparison. (The same idea lies behind Dunne's dream experiments. You don't know how much apparent precognition to expect by chance, so you need something to compare it to, namely the amount of apparent retrospection.)

Incidentally, I just finished reading the excellent Passion of the Western Mind by the highly intelligent Richard Tarnas, and, looking up the author afterwards, was a bit taken aback to discover that he takes astrology very seriously and has written a few books on it. Also, I recently happened to pick up Lewis's Discarded Image in a used bookstore, though I haven't started reading it yet. So, a bit of astrology-related synchronicity going on.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - My point is that such a comparison would not, in real life, settle anything at all - how could it, why should it? (Not that anything has been 'settled' anyway.) Chance can never be ruled out by such practices.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Of course nothing can ever be "settled" empirically, but it would at least be evidence, better than nothing.

Donna Lynn Brown said...

Instead of saying "derived from a sampling of Hinduism and Buddhism", I think you need to say, "derived from post-modern distortions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Hinduism and Buddhism see the current life as tremendously important for the same reason Christianity does: because it will have a big impact on one's future. Do it well: good future. Do it badly: various hells. Mortal life is the opposite of trivial and meaningless in these religions.