14.1.19

The problem with astrology


This is the final post about astrological techniques on the Dubbhism blog. In the future there will be occasional bits and pieces of interpretation for entertainment, but right now it's time to return to the core business: dubb music. Here are some concluding thoughts after four years of astrological research. Rant-mode is switched on.

So what is the problem with astrology? There are quite a few.

Accuracy
Astrology is about the interpretation of a complex, timeless body of symbols. By its nature, this kind of interpretation is less accurate than exact science. Astrologers can only hope to be as precise as ~ say ~ psychologists or economists, which isn't very encouraging. Prediction of the future based on astrological interpretation alone seems really hard. Looking back in time is usually more interesting. For quick and dirty divination try the I Ching or the Tarot first.

Let's throw away the data
Astrological interpretation involves lots of different variables (stars, planets, asteroids, aspects, sensitive points, zodiacs, coordinate systems, house systems, hypothetical objects, deep space objects etc.). While some variables are certainly more useful than others, many important ones are simply neglected by the average or mainstream astrologer. Not really for reasons of quality, but mainly because of some old tradition, or because handling and integrating lots of variables is more challenging intellectually. Since a lot of the available symbolic material is usually thrown away, (avoidable) mistakes and sloppy interpretations are to be expected.

Sufficiently vague
Most astrological variables represent not just one simple meaning, but a fairly complex range of possible meanings (see for example the broad spectrum covered by the planet Saturn). To make matters worse, many astrological variables have similar and/or overlapping meanings. For most astrologers this is terribly confusing. Is it Venus? Or is it Aphrodite? Who knows. But instead of tackling the problem by interpreting the available symbolism systematically and without emotional attachment, the average astrologer might simply project whatever they feel like on a handful of favorite symbols. If you want to, or have to, you can always make a sufficiently vague reference to Saturn. The tropical vs. sidereal zodiac-debate illustrates the huge potential for chaos and embarrasment.

Discordia
Astrology has been around for millenia. Many techniques developed in the distant past (Egypt, Sumeria) are still valid today, which is awesome. But too often we see competitive discussion among astrologer-tribes about which method is the best (my astrology is better than yours) and discussion based on the idea that only one method or symbol can be true or real. Anybody engaging in this kind of narrowmindedness disqualifies as an interpreter of astrological data, as symbols take on a wide variety of shapes by their nature.

Also, you can't have only a little bit of astrology. It's all or nothing. If it works it works. That's not a matter of opinion but of research, data collection, theoretical trial and error and so on. Unfortunately, most astrologers don't 'believe' in scientific validation of astrological phenomena, although with the aid of AI and Big Data this job has already been done ~ and very satisfactory. It's the kind of obscurantism we should expect: too many New Agers, conspiracy thinkers, pseudo-skeptics and airheads like to call themselves astrologers. Most self-proclaimed astrowizards are not fully qualified.

Oldskool software
Astrological software and user interface design haven't met yet. Programs are usually poorly designed and often overpriced. Expect to pay 300 or more for a Windows 95 look and feel and loads of bugs. Luckily, most software relies on a high quality 3rd party ephemeris.

The good news: Cosmos and Psyche
Richard Tarnas' book Cosmos and Psyche (2006) is the best thing contemporary astrology has to offer. Tarnas is the only author worthy of the highest level of academic praise. This doesn't mean that he has a solution for all problems mentioned above. The next step forward will come from a new generation of astrologers who systematically and comprehensively integrate all available methods and data. This requires dedication, knowledge of ancient cultures and symbolism, high level programming skills and dealing with a whole lot of narrowmindedness, provincialism and pseudo-skepticism. Good luck!


Coda: Nature behaves symbolically correct
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the astrological world view is the suggestion that somehow, the quantitative and the qualitative are equally important, intertwining aspects of Nature. Critical examination of astrological theory ~ and the supporting data ~ suggests that in some sense Nature behaves symbolically correct (not necessarily in the sense of high precision). If this sounds strange, have a look at astronomer~astrologer Theodor Landscheidt's explanation of the role of rational~irrational numbers in stabilizing planetary orbits physically~metaphysically. Somehow, John Wheeler's 'It from bit' and George Lakoff's embodied cognition come to mind. Fifteen years after his death, Landscheidt's amazing work is all but forgotten by the astrological community. Another sign of its narrowmindedness and the strong obscurantist tendencies.

Symbolic correctness can be seen with the naked eye in world history and in the lives of individuals. It's present on the broadest collective levels and in every smallest part. In dead matter and in living beings. It's omnipresent and immanent. Altho we can't really understand every game Nature likes to play, certain riddles involving time, free will and causality can be solved much easier by adding astrological insight to the equation. Maestro, if you please..