Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ASTROLOGY, SCIENCE, RATIONALITY AND EVOLUTION

One of the things I like about astrology is that while it demands a lot of use of the rational faculty, there is no rational explanation (as far as I can see) for why astrology should work. The furthest I can get in explaining how astrology works is to say that somehow there is a connection between symbolic reality and experiential reality.

Enduring symbols emerge from the depths of the mind, a level of consciousness where we are no longer separate from the rest of the cosmos. In this way symbols, and hence astrology, connect our everyday experiences to the deeper purposes of the cosmos.

Well, that makes sense to me, anyhow, but I’ve switched over into a non-rational explanation. On a purely rational level, I don’t think astrology can be explained. But because astrologers need to have a developed rational faculty, I think the practice of astrology gives us a gradually deepening insight into the limitations of rationality. Rationality, at any rate, as understood in our culture, which tends to be scientific and ‘objective’. So I think that the practice of astrology is a very good antidote to the mindset that says that knowledge has to be rational and scientific to be real. It is an informed antidote, not a blind one, because astrologers need a good rational faculty.

Even on a non-rational level, I don’t think astrology can be adequately explained. Rather, it gives us a sense of wonder at how mysterious and incomprehensible yet connected and purposeful the universe is.

So scientists see themselves as ‘objective’. In a sense they can be right. They do this by excluding personal emotional response as a valid source of knowledge, as well as by having a rigorous methodology and theoretical framework which can yield some stunning results. It is well-known, however, that scientists can be irrationally resistant to theories that challenge the accepted canon of knowledge. Their capacity for ‘objectivity’ goes out of the window. Or if something happens for which there seems to be no possibility of a scientific explanation. Such as Lynn’s example of putting a bar of soap under your bedsheets to relieve pain. Or the evolutionary theory of “the inheritance of acquired characteristics”, for which there is increasing evidence, but which has been a no-no for 100 years, because no scientific mechanism can be thought of.

What this closed-mindedness demonstrates is a strong attachment to a particular way of seeing the world. This is a strongly emotional characteristic, there is nothing rational or reasonable about it. I refuse to accept that scientists are any more rational than the rest of us. You could argue that because they do not take emotion seriously in their methodology as a way of knowing, they are more likely to be victims of unconscious emotion. I personally do not see rationality as an exclusively logical function. I think that a rational person also has a sense of whether or not their feelings are appropriate to the situation, and whether or not to be guided by them. There is rational and irrational emotion. And I think that scientists are being highly unreasonable human beings when they dismiss outright astrology, homeopathy, bars of soap, or unconventional scientific theories because they don’t ‘understand’ them. It’s like the natives who couldn’t see the sailing ships because they’d never seen anything like it before. But worse, because it’s more wilful.

At the other end of the scale, and I may be wrong, but I think the whole ‘dark matter’ theory is a desperate attempt to hang on to an outdated way of seeing the universe. Apparently, gravity as it is understood is not strong enough by a long way to hold galaxies together. Therefore, it is said, there must be another source of gravity, so called ‘dark matter’, which constitutes 90% of the universe, which we cannot see or detect and have no evidence for. They may be right, but I suspect it is more akin to the ‘ether’ that matter was supposed to reside in, but for which there was no evidence, until Einstein came along and said no, what you can see is all that is there, it’s just that you need to look at it differently.

I was very pleased to see a programme on Lamarckian inheritance about a year ago. This is the theory that, for example, if a giraffe has to stretch its neck to get leaves off trees, its offspring will tend to be born with longer necks than they would otherwise. This is the “inheritance of acquired characteristics” that I mentioned earlier. Without something like this, evolution seems to me to be not only incredibly slow, but random: it is purely a matter of chance if you have advantageous characteristics. Whereas I think there is some sort of direction going on, some sort of participation by consciousness.

I can’t remember too much about the programme now, but one finding was that a people who had gone through famine 100 or so years ago were more likely, several generations later, to have certain physical characteristics associated with famine. A crucial time for the passing on of acquired characteristics was if the famine – or whatever else – occurred at the time the individual’s reproductive capacity was forming. For women, this is at a certain point when they are in the womb, when all the eggs are formed. For men, this is at puberty. So now they are doing an experiment with a number of women who were pregnant in the vicinity of 9/11, and seeing if that anxiety is in any way passed on to their children, and presumably to their daughter’s children, if their eggs were being formed at that time in the womb. (They kind of have a mechanism for all this, in terms of genes being switched on and off).

Something else I was pleased to read a couple of months ago was an experiment that had recently been done with lizards. Some were introduced to a neighbouring island, where there was a larger, predatory lizard. Within 6 months, the descendants of the new lizards had generally longer legs, so that they could outrun the predatory lizard. Within another 6 months, their legs had shortened again, and they had become climbing lizards, another way of avoiding the predatory lizards.

This suggests that evolution can happen incredibly quickly, which I’ve thought might be the case for some time. Given that evolution has produced incredible structures like the brain, I don’t think it’s asking too much for there to be some sort of feedback system between the demands placed on the body and the reproductive organs.


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought that Percy Seymour had sorted out the whys and hows in his book " ASTROLOGY" THE EVIDENCE OF SCIENCE.1988. All about Magnetism. Probably out of print now, but am happy to LEND you mine when I get to Glastonbury for that Master class. Annabel

Mama said...

I often hear people claim that there is research that proves that astrology is a bunch of nonsense, but I have never actually had anyone quote specific research articles. It would be interesting to see what type of research and in what area of astrology these papers supposedly examine. If anyone can point to specific research (other than Gauquelin) I would love to read it.

By the way, sorry but um, homeopahty IS hogwash.

Nighty night!

TwelfthHarmonic said...

Astrology to me resembles music - another way of generating (creating?) meaningful links between events, of perceiving a meaningful and 'living' flow to life - its not a question of 'is it true?' but rather 'do you want to dance to it?' - and, like Yeats (?) said in a poem - is it possible to separate the dancer from the dance?

Kuhn wrote about how paradigm changes cannot be explained by any rational process (that is, any rational process which is subject to the rules of rationality within that given paradigm) and even Hume showed how inductive reasoning is itself irrational (i.e. cannot be logically justified). I agree, conventional notions of scientific rationality are too simplistic and narrow to be able to coherently and honestly accommodate alternative worldviews such as that of astrology.

Re Lamarckian evolution and sudden evolutionary change - do you think this may be related to Sheldrake and his ideas of morphic resonance? Crossword puzzles are easier to solve the day after they are published because more people have alread solved them and the solution is 'resonating' in the morphic field? Fascinating idea.

12th H

ASTROTABLETALK said...

OK, so astrology isn't hogwash but homeopathy is. Presumably this is based on empirical observation. Have you also done research on other stuff e.g. palmistry, crystal healing, tarot, flower esences, cabbala? Perhaps you could also say which of them are for real and which are nonsense?

ASTROTABLETALK said...

12thHarmonic: Yes, I reckon Lamarckian evolution and Sheldrake's morphic fields probably resonate somewhere.

What I reckon is that there is the outer, material, scientific explanation to things, and an 'inner' one involving consciousness and subjectivity. They are parallel, and can't be separated, and resonate with each other, but work very differently.

So that, for example, certain aspects of our behaviour may be completely explained by chemical pathways in the brain. You don't need consciousness or anything else. And I think it's the same with evolution. There probably is a full explanation on the material level, that we don't know yet. But that doesn't mean there isn't also a consciousness-based, morphic field type explanation that is also true and more philosophically satisfying but which is not amenable to the scientific method. The inner, subjective side of things - what it is like to have an experience - is, I think, outside the remit of science. It can only approach things from the outside. But the 2 approaches can resonate, and need to.

Matthew The Astrologer said...

1) As for homeopathy, please refer to the article "13 Things That Don't Make Sense" on the New Scientist web site. I don't know homeopathy that well... but whatever it is, there IS something to it.
2) Science didn't isolate the mechanism of how aspirin works until the 1990s. Does that mean it only cured headaches because it was a placebo BEFORE then?