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Re: Astrology: Answers to Common Objections

Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2012 6:01 pm
by Mersenne
For the Attention of the Forum.

An interesting negative study of astrology is "A Scientific Inquiry Into the Validity of Astrology" by JH McGrew and RM McFall (Journal of Scientific Exploration. Vol. 4, No. I, pp. 75-83, 1990). Briefly, Six expert astrologers were each given 23 birth charts and asked to math them against life histories and conventional psychological assessments of 23 natives. Statistically, the six managed results no better than chance, and failed to agree with each other's predictions. It can be found at ... mcgrew.pdf

This interesting study is not unassailable on astrological grounds. In particular McGrew and McFall make much of the different life-histories of the case studies. But consider the planetary influences we might expect from these horoscopes: any one is greatly influenced by the motivation behind the career choice. Among the participants were;

A former prostitute. Was this person's motivation the feeding of an addiction? Then Moon/Neptune is involved. Rebellion against a strict upbringing? Mars/Uranus. Psychological illness (nymphomania)? Venus/Pluto. Was she a victim forced into the trade? Saturn/Pluto. Had she romantized it, "Pretty Woman" style? Venus/Neptune.

A lawyer. Love of justice? Jupiter. Love of traditional values? Saturn. Desire to "stick it to the man"? Uranus. Money/prestige? Sun.

A never-do-well politician's son. Drop-out? Pluto. Rebel? Uranus. Peer pressure? Mars. Married beneath his station in the view of an unsympathetic family? Venus.

... and so on; I won't trouble the forum with the other participants.

Then, there are the quantitative results of the psychological assessments, especially the "Strong-Campbell Vocational Interest" test. Useful for telling us the kind of job one could do, it again says little about motivation; there is not much "why" here, only "what and how".

But still, wouldn't we expect there to be a better result? The result certainly cannot be discounted out of hand, but there are more general reasons to treat the results as inconclusive. To understand these, we must consider the studies that we can reasonably take as supporting astrology.

First, Gauquelin. His study matched individual planets with careers, but those careers were unusually successful of their kind. The planets involved were particularly strong; the universe was, as it were, putting all its weight on the individuals in question. That isn't the case with the individuals in this study.

Second, Jung. The factor tested here (marrriage) was simple, clear-cut and examined over a large sample (incidentally something it has in common with Gauquelin's). So the planets involved were easily identified, and the large numbers allowed the trends to become apparent. While the study we're discussing had a sample of reasonable size, the distinguishing factors weren't clear cut and there just wasn't enough of them for a trend to be found. Given (say) a hundred journalists and a hundred entertainers, we could indeed expect an astrologer to sort them into groups in which a bias becomes evident- even 60/40 splits Sun/Mercury would be enough to demonstrate a significant astrological effect.

What does this imply for astrology? That a client must be famous to get anything from a consultation? Of course not- an astrologial consultation is a dialogue. No MD will rely only on the life history of the patient; no lawyer on the record of his client, no psychologist on the form the patient filled in (and no occupational consultant on the results of the Strong-Campbell!) Similarly no astrologer relies solely on the chart. Moreover, even if the client is "cagey" and not forthcoming with information, the astrologer has a personal connection with that client which allows a "gift" to be brought into the mix; not to imply a psychic factor, merely intuition and experience. I need hardly point out that there was no personal engagement in this study.

I must also take this opportunity to state that the objections raised to the study by the Indiana Federation of Astrologers, which participated, were frankly rather thin. " many cases, the correct answer contained the attributes we had chosen, but in a different position. . . . one big mistake was in agreeing to use young subjects. This was the Saturn/Neptune conjunction group, of course, which produced many 'lost souls' . . . " With respect, this group took part in a quantitative assessment of a qualitative art, and had no right to expect positive results.

Re: Astrology: Answers to Common Objections

Posted: Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:02 pm
by admin
Yes, certainly this a very limited view “...Six expert astrologers and... 23 astrological birth charts”? Oh and yes, I noted: “...4 males and 19 female volunteers...”, (which in itself says much of course). And exactly how are the ‘statistics’ taken re the statement: “... Nearly one-third of the population in Western countries believes in astrology; another third cares enough to attend to astrological predictions at least some of the time (?) (Eysenck, 1982)”. Again in that article, and as noted, “...the small sample sizes, along with potentially ‘subtle biases’ gives little support to this”.

So then, moving on: “...the studies have been vulnerable to the criticism that the test was a flawed or unfair representation of standard astrological practice...” and: “...To counter these potential criticisms, it has been suggested that the best procedure for testing claims about astrology would be a cooperative one, in which astrologers and scientists jointly designed a test of the hypotheses”. I doubt that the Carlson ‘view’ – 1985 – and CPI profile of test subjects, could possibly have examined this matter appropriately, which is stated. (Talk to anyone in astrological terminology who has no knowledge of astrology, and inevitably they have no idea what you are talking about ie. no understanding of the references to each matter referred to such as: ‘non-astrological difficulty’.

Inevitably in this experiment, the astrologer was not ‘asking the relevant questions’ ? “...61 questions that covered an extremely broad range of information...” This is understandable and agree that such should be required. And “...Also, the astrologers asked that the subjects be restricted to age 30 or older, because they believed that younger subjects would not have manifested the mature personality characteristics reflected in the horoscope”. (Will mention that I’m not a member of the IFA, nor want to be so as when a ‘Federation’ is created, inevitably ‘politics’ can tend to ‘take over’).

Re: “At the very least, if astrology constitutes a coherent system of analysis and prediction, its practitioners should be able to apply the system in a reliable and convergent manner. In other words, even though the predictions by the six astrologers in this study were incorrect, these predictions still should show a pattern of internal consistency or interastrologer agreement.” How would or could the range of 6 astrologers possibly show or convey 'a reliable and convergent manner' ?

Re: J. H. McGrew and R. M. McFall “...One final point should be mentioned. The experimental task probably was presumably, easier to perform accurately, than the task that astrologers attempt in their counseling practices. That is, without a priori information, because each individual is unique, in practice an astrologer must use the birth information to "select" the one correct interpretation that uniquely matches that individual from nearly countless possibilities, not
just from 23 possibilities”.
This is surely the crux of the matter ?

And in the ‘Summary’:...” . . . in many cases, the correct answer contained the attributes we had chosen, but in
a different [astrological] position. . . . one big mistake was in agreeing to use young Astrology subjects. This was the SaturnINeptune conjunction group, of course, which produced many 'lost souls' . . . Like medicine, the law, and theology, astrology may not always give quantifiable results-but it works, nonetheless. (Mull, 1986)”.

Well, that says it all !? Astrology isn’t ‘precise’ – not least our ‘Western’ view of it which is based on the ‘Seasons’, and looks at this matter from a ‘psychological’ point of view, rather than the actual astronomical positions. (I wonder if they had asked these same questions of ‘Vedic’ Astrologers, what answers they would have received).


Re: Three more objections

Posted: Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:50 pm
by Allan53
Mersenne wrote: 8. The light from the stars cannot reach a baby born indoors, and the gravity of a planet is insignificant compared to that of the other people present at the birth.

Well, what of it? No astrologer contends that light or gravity is the mechanism of the sky's influence, or even that the concept of a mechanism or causal connection is appropriate. It's easy to knock down a target you've set up yourself.
I suppose that raises the question of what IS the mechanism of the influence? (As usual, I ask to further my own understanding, not to criticise.)

Re: Astrology: Answers to Common Objections

Posted: Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:23 pm
by Mersenne
Hi Allan53,

Thanks for your post.

I don't believe there is a physical mechanism involved. That is, neither of the long-range forces (gravity, electromagnetism) mediate the influence of the planets.

For me, the top contenders are;
1. Synchronicity (see the first objection)
2. Some quantum effect akin to entanglement, but not entanglement, and related to identity of information content between phenomena
3. Some identity between the two.

Re: Astrology: Answers to Common Objections

Posted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 8:34 pm
by Mersenne
In the Jan 2014 BBC Focus, P.31, we are told by Robert Matthews (usually a most excellent columnist) that Astrology is "bunkum" because, and I quote, its “predictions consistently suck... Scientific studies have repeatedly shown these natal charts to be no better than guesswork.” He doesn’t bother to name the studies, but of course we’ve looked at a few.

It’s about time we addressed this. A statistical test requires that a horoscope or set of horoscopes be submitted to an astrologer without background information on the subject. But such a horoscope could be for the time and place of anything; it needn’t even be that of a person. Mundane astrology permits horoscopes for countries, businesses and organisations, the opening of shops, and so on. In any horoscope for which the subject is not known, Saturn conjunct Venus (say) could be a person with a severe aesthetic, a broken pelvic bone, a copper statue, the breakdown of a charabanc, or any number of things. You can cast a horoscope for a vacant location at sea, in which case Saturn conjunct Venus will be a particular pattern of light on the waves.

Assume we know the horoscope to be, at least, a person. We still can’t properly interpret any given feature. There’s no astrological means of telling man from woman, let alone of identifying the culture in which the subject was raised. In the horoscope of an Amish man, our Saturn conjunct Venus could indicate a love of the book of Ruth, whereas the same configuration in a woman raised as an atheist is very unlikely to mean the same. Could a medical doctor interpret even a thorough list of symptoms without a case history? Of course not. Still less could a psychiatrist do so.

How then can a horoscope ever be a datum in a statistical procedure? General statistical studies, and especially double-blind studies of horoscopes must always have negative results because of this huge range of applicability of the horoscopes. Von Frantz (Synchronicity and Divination) was right to disparage statistical studies in this sense- they don’t address the real issues of "mantic" procedures such as astrology.

If we severely limit the scope of the survey, it is indeed possible to get useful responses from a statistical test. Jung managed this in Synchronicity by addressing the traditional signifiers of marriage: Gauquelin, success in one's chosen career. Sticking with the medical comparison, this is like examining the importance of single symptoms; more often than not, a headache means stress, regardless of medical history. The result has the diagnostic power of a home medical book- it tells us something, but it doesn't make us MDs. Nor can applying Jung's or Gauquelin's results alone make us astrologers.

An astrologer dealing with a client one-on-one can address all these issues, and give valuable advice. The process of interaction addresses the “case history” and allows the many possible interpretations to be narrowed down to a most likely set. But the 1-1 relationship is not repeatable- it is unique, and so cannot be part of a scientific procedure. Science demands that conditions be repeatable and outcomes consistently observable. This fact has always bedevilled the scientific status of both psychology and psychiatry (which are much closer examples to astrology than is the medical profession). Attempts to ignore the personal and unique nature of psychiatric consultation led to the aberration of “behaviourism”, a psychology whose "scientific" status reduced it to experiments on rats, and which thus which helped no actual human patient.

As to science itself? Well, its predictions are pretty shaky on the whole. Yes, the trajectory of a ballistic missile or a planet is well served by modern physics. But consider weather forecasting, or medical prognoses, or sociological extrapolations. There are whole disciplines designed to explain the failure of scientific prediction in these senses, from deterministic chaos to quantum indeterminism. But pure science can’t even be relied on to retrodict- to tell what’s past. According to strict statistical mechanics, the current state of the universe is more likely to have been created 10 minutes ago by sheer random fluctuation of vacuum energy than it is to have been created 15 billion years ago in a Big Bang and to have evolved since.

This isn’t a quirk of the maths or an extrapolation from some absurd premise. It is an intrinsic characteristic of the scientific understanding of the way entropy increases with time. (For a good popular account, see Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe). How does cosmology get around this? By postulating that the “initial conditions” of the universe were unique and un-reproducible. Thereby making the universe an unrepeatable oddity, and therefore-if we are honest- removing the universe from the consideration of science. (Jung himself pointed out that initial conditions are both incidental and coincidental, and the playground of synchronicity.)

It's about time we made the statement that science isn't the universe, it's just one useful tool in analysing a single part of the universe- the part that depends without sensitivity on known and reproducible initial conditions. The universe itself is not "scientific"- it may be mathematical, but that's not the same thing. The universe is poetic, synchoronistic and holistic, which of course mathematics is. It's science's failure to recognise this that is behind its failure to address time and consciousness.


Re: Astrology: Answers to Common Objections

Posted: Sun Feb 09, 2020 7:41 pm
by Mersenne
A Return to Objection 2

I recently had occasion to explain the second objection:

"Why can the sex of the native not be found from the birth chart?"

to a colleague, and a further point occurred to me. Scientists and mathematicians use equations with no reference to the physical phenomena they refer to, and rightly so- because the same equation applies to a huge range of phenomena. For instance, Fourier's "heat equation" is solved to hive answers to problems in classical physics, quantum physics, chemical diffusion, financial option pricing, medicine, the spread of habits through a population, and ecology-- that I know of.

The birth chart, like the heat equation, is a lens through which many phenomena may be viewed and magnified. What phenomenon that is-- a man, a woman, a company, a city, a country, a picnic, a work of art, whatever!-- is up to to the viewer.