Science Demands Objective Truth
Astrology Yields Subjective Truth
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The Mixed Blessing of Eclecticism
As a pathway to validation of astrology, qualitative research is not quite as promising as its proponents seem to imply. (I explained why this is so in the previous post in this series.) Assuming for a moment, however, that it is possible to validate astrology through qualitative research, the obvious next question is, “Which astrology are we talking about? Do we mean Western Tropical or Western Sidereal or Vedic or Hellenistic or Uranian or Cosmobiology or Mesoamerican or Chinese or Tibetan or Evolutionary or Shamanic or Experiential Astrology, or what exactly do we mean? Whose astrology are we talking about?” Is there such a thing as Astrology? Or are there many possible astrologies, some that have already been explored and others that have yet to be conceived?
Most astrologers I know greatly value our eclecticism. I know I do. But if we are going to call ourselves a science, it is important to understand that science is a quest for objective truth – that is to say, a truth that rests not upon eclectic variety, but upon consensus. This is true, regardless of whether we use quantitative or qualitative methods to do our research. Although qualitative research allows for flexibility in the collection and analysis of data, the goal – according to the scientific method – is still generalized agreement within a given field of inquiry (1). This is why science demands replicable experiments as validation of its hypotheses. It is not enough for one scientist to conduct an experiment and find something to be true. Other scientists must be able to conduct the same experiment and come to the same conclusion. In this way, after rigorous testing, science becomes reasonably sure that its conclusions are objective.
If we translate this requirement to a scientific approach to astrology, then the expectation is that two astrologers looking at the same birthchart will draw the same conclusions. Does this ever happen? At least 28 scientific studies so far have shown that astrologers given the same birthchart fail to come to any kind of meaningful consensus of interpretation. In fact, an aggregate analysis of these studies showed that agreement among astrologers was only 54.9% versus 50% by chance (2).
Science’s own studies have shown that the observer affects what is observed. But rather than take this into account, science attempts to negate the impact of the observer through double blind studies, and other techniques that cancel out observer bias. Most practicing astrologers would go into cardiac arrest if they were told that as observers of the birthchart, they should not bring their own subjective experience, philosophy of life, or personal wisdom to the consultation. If we value the role of the individual astrologer in the reading of a birthchart, and value our eclecticism as a strength rather than a weakness, then we can’t call ourselves scientists, because science demands objective consensus and uniformity of results.
The Subjective Nature of Astrological Truth
Just for a moment, let’s imagine that after extensive research, we all agree on a standardized procedure for interpreting a birthchart, and set definitions for everything that an astrologer looks at – that through some monumental collective effort we are able to compile a master astrological cookbook that becomes the Bible of our field. Supposing that once and for all, we have agreed to use the same house system, the same zodiac, the same planets, the same orbs, and the same interpretation for each symbol in the astrological lexicon. Would this make us more objective than we are now? Would it make us objective enough to meet the standard required by science. I would answer this question, “No.”
Why? Because astrological information is context-dependent. This means that it will mean one thing in one situation and something else in another. Consider the birthchart above.
In order to interpret this chart, we would have to know something about its subject. Is it a person? Is it the chart for a country, the launching of a business venture, or a polar bear? Is it the chart for an event, or a horary question? What exactly is the question? Unless we know who or what a chart refers to, and we have a specific question in mind, then we cannot offer a meaningful interpretation. At the very least, we would look rather foolish interpreting the chart of a polar bear as though it were the chart for a horary question about lost keys.
Supposing I told you – if you have not already recognized it – that this is the chart for the bombing of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 (3), and that we are looking at this chart now in order to gain insight into how such a thing could have happened. Now that we know the subject of this chart, and have a context for our inquiry into its meaning, an interpretation of the chart becomes possible.
Most practicing astrologers know the subject of a birthchart and the context in which it is being approached for information, before they even enter the raw birth data into their computers. Thus it is easy to take this preliminary knowledge of subject and context for granted. Yet without it, interpretation of a birthchart is not possible. Consider the possibility that this exact same chart could also describe the birth of a child, the beginning of a baseball game, a wedding ceremony, or a hospital admission. In each case, you would interpret the chart differently, even though the raw data – the chart itself – is exactly the same.
How can we explain this to a scientist? We can’t, because for a scientist, the same set of facts must refer consistently to the same truth. From the scientific perspective, the birthchart represents a set of facts, and the expectation is that it ought to yield consistent information no matter who is reading it, and no matter what the circumstances of the reading. Astrologers do not read the same chart in the same way, and we can’t read a chart at all if we don’t know something about the subject of the chart.
If we must know something about the subject of the chart before we can draw relevant conclusions about the chart, then the chart – and the astrology practiced to interpret it – yield a subjective truth. Science demands objective truth; astrology – especially psychological astrology – yields subjective truth. This is a fundamental principle on which astrology and science are a mismatch.
(1) “Scientific Method: Confirmation” Wikipedia. 4 November 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method#Confirmation
(2) Smit, Rudolf. “Effect Sizes: How Astrology Compares With Other Approaches.” Astrology and Science. 4 November 2009. http://www.rudolfhsmit.nl/d-effe2.htm
(3) 8:47 AM EDT, September 11, 2001, New York, NY. National Transportation Safety Board Flight Path Study, February 19, 2002. 4 November 2009. http://www.ntsb.gov/info/Flight_%20Path_%20Study_AA11.pdf
The next post in this series is Astrological Symbols Vary in Meaning with Context and Consciousness
To read more blog posts, go here.