12.10.20

A Philosophy of Astrology #1 ~ The Intro


Let's try to think about astrology. Is it absurd? Is it meaningless? Is it the voice of the Gods? And what do we mean by astrology and by philosophy?

The basic astrological idea - that the movements of the heavens have something to say about life on earth in both a physical and a metaphysical way - was picked up by cultures all over the planet a long time ago. For example, we have millennia-old artifacts pointing to systematic observation of lunar cycles and planetary cycles.

The global transition from a nomadic life of hunting and gathering to a more static, property-based life of farming and trade must have had something to do with the (growing) interest in natural cycles and in astrology. The transition probably started some 10.000 years ago. Farmers would benefit from practical knowledge about the seasons. Kings might look for omens from Sky Gods. In many ways astrology was the first science. Systematic observation of the stars and the planets started at least 5.000 years ago.

More recently, the industrial age and the information age have been less kind to astrology altho it never really died out. Nowadays a popular opinion would be that astrology is magical thinking or unenlightened nonsense. An alternative view might be that since the Copernican revolution, a steady stream of practical and theoretical improvements in astronomy and cosmology have modernized and expanded ancient astrological concepts.



Matter or mind?
The official academic history of philosophy as taught in Western schools started roughly 2600 years ago in Greece. The Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers asked basic questions about the essential stuff the universe is made of. Some, like Thales, said that everything is basically watery while others, like Heraclitus maintained that everything is basically fiery.

This simplistic picture of the birth of Western philosophy actually points to a more relevant philosophical discussion that you may have heard of. Nowadays, philosophers quarrel about whether, basically, everything is matter-like or mind-like. Is everything, including human consciousness, ethics, dreams and so on made of stuff? Or is matter essentially a by-product of some mental activity?

If we want to think about astrology, it seems almost inevitable to assume that the universe is basically mind-like. Matter-based explanations of astrological meaning, synchronicity and so on might be possible but so far they don't seem convincing. This fundamental 'bias' sends us in a general direction. In this series of blogs i will be relying quite heavily on a modern, rigorous flavor of idealist philosophy. When appropriate, the views of computer scientist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup will be used as a starting point. Kastrup knows his mathematics, quantum theory and philosophy of mind and he formulates his ideas clearly.



Conveniently, Kastrup also knows his C.G. Jung. The Swiss psychiater's intellectual legacy is at the core of Cosmos and Psyche, a critically acclaimed book by philosopher-astrologer Richard Tarnas. In Cosmos and Psyche he analyses some of the core principles of modern astrological theory, and offers fairly solid astrological perspectives on various kinds of worldwide historical events through the ages. Tarnas is also an inspiration for this series of blogs.

Is it science?
The mind ~ matter split is related to another fundamental pair of opposites that should be examined: quantity vs. quality. Bernardo Kastrup is really good at explaining some of the assumptions we make when measuring and quantifying. We'll get into this topic later.

Contrary to popular belief, it is quite possible to 'prove' certain astrological ideas quantitatively, but quite often we don't have this luxury. Many astrological concepts must be evaluated by subjective interpretation. If we reduce science to the quantifiable, a large part of the astrological project is by definition unscientific. That's fine if we keep in mind that stuff like symbols and meanings is nontrivial.

Since i've mentioned Richard Tarnas, i should say that i'm also very appreciative of the following authors, who have shaped my thoughts about astrology:
• Bernadette Brady, for her work on visual astrology and fixed stars;
• Benjamin Adamah, for his encyclopedic work on asteroids;
• Theodor Landscheidt, for his theories about golden ratio-aspects;
• Hans-Jörg Walter and David Hamblin for work on prime harmonics;
• Alex Miller, for investigations into black holes.

In the next episode, we'll look at the complex symbolic web of astrology.