by Hand Week 1
Makes Astrology Tick?
The $64,000 Question
In the days
before inflation, this kind of question was referred to as a $64 question.
Later these became $64,000 questions. But whatever the monetary value
of this particular question is, it still hasn’t been answered.
people think that the planets send rays of some kind, or perhaps transmit
force-fields and affect human life in this manner. This would make astrological
influence the result of some kind of purely natural, but as yet unknown,
interaction between humans and the cosmos. If this is the case, then astrology
is potentially a subject of science pretty much as we know it and, if
so, astrology does not really challenge modern science in any serious
is not threatened by natural phenomena that it has not yet discovered.
It is expanded. In fact, whenever science discovers something new using
its basic tools and thinking about things in its own peculiar way, it
becomes more confident and certain about its ability to answer just about
every question that could be asked.
is astrology just an undiscovered natural phenomenon of the kind that
is finally amenable to science? Some people think so. These people are
not numerous because astrology is considered a heresy by many in the sciences.
It is not politically safe in the sciences to mention any kind of correlation
between terrestrial and celestial phenomena unless it can be quickly explained
in terms of known gravitational or other force-field effects. Anyone who
does so has to move quickly to avoid being branded as a charlatan, while
making all kinds of disclaimers that what he or she is doing is not astrology.
Often even that is not enough to save an investigator’s reputation. So
whether or not we may agree with people who investigate “astrological”
phenomena from within the framework of science, as we know it, we do have
to applaud their courage.
such investigator is Percy Seymour of Great Britain. He has proposed that
the phenomena of astrology are the result of planetary influences on the
geomagnetic field of the Earth. It is not clear just how planetary motions
affect the Earth’s magnetic field, but there is evidence that there may
be such an effect.
the 1950s and 60s, the late John Nelson of RCA developed methods by which
he claimed he could forecast solar flares, sunspots and geomagnetic disturbances
well in advance using the heliocentric positions of the planets. In more recent times, Theodor Landscheidt, a
former judge of the German court system, has developed a similar system.
linkup between solar and geomagnetism and planetary positions is an intuitively
plausible one, although in some circles it has provoked the usual phobic
response to anything that looks vaguely like astrology. It seems as if
here one might find a causal mechanism for a planetary effect that would
not do violence to basic scientific paradigms. This appears to have occurred
to Seymour as well. This is the source of his quite well-reasoned effort
to explain astrological effects in terms of geomagnetism.
Theories and Philosophy
I say “the problem with the scientific approach,” I mean a scientific
approach that is reasonably consistent with science as it is currently
understood. And when I say “understood,” I refer to the philosophical
assumptions of science, not its theories as they are currently presented.
science consists of two layers of ideas. On top, so to speak, are the
theories believed to be “true” at any particular point in time. Under
these are the philosophical assumptions on which the science is based.
To give a simple example that is relevant to astrology, physics has believed
that no two objects in the universe can affect each other unless they
either 1) collide or 2) interact by means of a well defined set of known
forces. What those forces may be is the subject of theories. The philosophical
assumption is that objects cannot interact at a distance from each other
except by means of some kind for force. This assumption came into being
in the seventeenth century. It is not only not proved, it is not provable.
That is the way with most philosophical assumptions. They are adopted
because they seem useful, not because they are proved.
can see how this relates to astrology. The planets are clearly not colliding
with the Earth, so they cannot have an effect by collision. Therefore
they either affect the Earth by acting at a distance, which the assumption
rejects, or there are forces that we simply do not know or understand.
Astrology seems to be action at a distance with no intermediate forces.
This is one of the reasons why astrology fell from grace in the seventeenth
century. Seymour and others like him are trying to solve astrology’s philosophical
incompatibility with science by proposing theories that do not violate
science’s philosophical foundations.
Week: We will look at a major problem with the "scientific approach."