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Why astrology is not a pseudoscience
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waybread



Joined: 05 Mar 2009
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Posted: Mon Dec 14, 2015 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the links, Therese.

While I might quibble just slightly with Kollerstrom's history of the constellations, he makes a really valid point that the constellations didn't get completely codified as to (a) what they depicted and (b) whether a given star was in or out of a zodiacal constellation until Hellenistic horoscopic astrology was already underway.

I think it's fair to say that sidereally, the spring equinox was at somewhere approximately around 0 degrees Aries in the 2nd century CE when Ptolemy wrote Tetrabiblos. Effectively, a tropical and sidereal zodiac would have matched up reasonably well, allowing for some margin of error. Subsequently their vernal equinox points diverged.

Since Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century CE, is one of our earliest textual sources, I thought it would be interesting to see if he said anything about precession or the vernal equinox. Manilius describes both Hellenistic horoscopic astrology as well as the old tradition of linking rising fixed stars to people's fates, which seems more sidereal.

Translator Goold in the Loeb Classical Library edition, discusses precession pp. lxxxii-iii, and gives the known degrees of the vernal equinox in the sign of Aries listed by classical authors. Different ancient Greek and Latin authors used 15, 8, or 0 degrees Aries-- but the years elapsed between the authors' biographical dates are insufficient to explain the discrepancies with precession. Otto Neugebauer suggested that 8 degrees Aries may refer to the vernal degree in one of the older Babylonian lunar systems, which could have given it more cultural authority.

Then Goold makes the startling suggestion that Hipparchus (ca. 190-120 BCE,) who favoured the 0 degree of Aries point, actually redrafted the older outlines of the constellations, in order to fix the spring equinox at 0 Aries and the solstices at 0 Cancer and Capricorn! The prior zodiacal constellations had to be stretched or cramped to fit the cardinal signs system. And this would make some sense only in a sidereal system linked, however loosely, to the constellations.

Goold wrote (lxxxiii):

"Awkward as precession is for the astronomer, for the astrologer it is fatal. Or so one would have supposed. If in the time of Hipparchus the vernal equinox occurred at the first point of Aries... then in the time of Ptolemy it must have occurred at about [Pisces] 26 [degrees].... Oddly enough, it is Ptolemy who has saved the day for the astrologer: in Tetrabiblos 1:22 [Ptolemy] says that for astronomical purposes he will define the first point of Aries as the vernal equinox: if that moves, then the whole zodiac will just have to move with it: for astrological purposes men had better look to this movable, artificial zodiac. And so it has come to pass."

A suggested timeline:

190-120 BCE. Hipparchus transmits Babylonian astronomical information to the Hellenistic world, and re-jigs the constellations to fit a 0-degree cardinal sign paradigm for equinoxes and solstices.

150 CE. Early Aries/late Pisces would be crudely the vernal equinox in both systems. Aware of precession as a big problem, Ptolemy fixes the spring equinox at 0 Aries, the start of the "first" cardinal sign.

After ca. 50 CE, Christianity emerges as a new religion, partaking of both the Platonic and Judaic love of a fixed and unchanging cosmos. (More on this later.)

Late 1st century CE. Book of Revelation fixes the tropical zodiac with the vernal equinox in Aries. (More on this later.)

ca. 230 CE. Origen (church father) notes precession has decoupled constellations and signs thus furthering the ongoing debate in the ancient world about astrology's validity.

380 CE. Christianity becomes the state religion of the entire Roman empire

On Christianity as a solar (vs. sidereal) religion, an interesting book is:

David Fideler, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, Theosophical Publishing House, 1993. (And that's "Sun", not "Son." on-line as a Google book)
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Deb
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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 12:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This thread is going way off track, and anyone who is writing at length about something that is not connected to the issue that the thread was opened to discuss ought to start a new thread to explore the unrelated issues.
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Michael Sternbach



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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 12:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Deb,

I think, what we are trying to explore here is in fact whether astrology has scientific foundations or not. The OP is actively involved in this, and it is an interesting and good thread.

Just my opinion. Smile
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Mark
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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 12:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael Sternbach wrote:
Quote:
Hi Deb,

I think, what we are trying to explore here is in fact whether astrology has scientific foundations or not. The OP is actively involved in this, and it is an interesting and good thread.

Just my opinion


I disagree I'm afraid. In any case Deb has spoken! And like the Queen of Hearts her word is final here!

I accept some partial responsibility for this thread going off in a tangent in deciding to pick up Graham's issue about the order of the zodiac earlier in the thread. But I hadn't anticipated this topic would swamp the whole thread the way it has.

I would like to get back directly to Waybread's original point. I think Graham has an interesting question but I think it really requires its own thread. I would happy to contribute further in that way.

Mark

PS I hadn't noticed the discussion here had got even deeper into the zodiac issue since I last looked! Deb's intervention makes even more sense having looked at the recent posts here.
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Michael Sternbach



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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
Michael Sternbach wrote:
Quote:
Hi Deb,

I think, what we are trying to explore here is in fact whether astrology has scientific foundations or not. The OP is actively involved in this, and it is an interesting and good thread.

Just my opinion


I disagree I'm afraid. In any case Deb has spoken! And like the Queen of Hearts her word is final here!


The approach seems to work. I'm speechless...

Quote:
I accept some partial responsibility for this thread going off in a tangent in deciding to pick up Graham's issue about the order of the zodiac earlier in the thread. But I hadn't anticipated this topic would swamp the whole thread the way it has.

I would like to get back directly to Waybread's original point. I think Graham has an interesting question but I think it really requires its own thread. I would happy to contribute further in that way.

Mark


Nobody's stopping you.
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waybread



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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 2:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd be happy to get this thread back on track.

With just the note that in a discussion about whether astrology is a science, pseudoscience, or something else, there is an "argument from history" or "appeal to tradition."

I don't think anyone would dispute the parts of ancient astrologies that were mathematical or scientific, but clearly much of ancient astrology was based upon other considerations-- such as religion and philosophy-- that equally give astrology a berth in the humanities today. Through this thread's considerable digressions, I hope we've demonstrated that.
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Graham F



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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 11:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As Mark says, this has taken over the whole thread. I won't start a new one, as it really takes too long, and I'm not really managing to make myself understood very well. It would be so much easier in a live conversation, just to save someone a long explanation by saying, "yes, I know that, but that's not what I mean...", and diagrams would be useful. Mark, feel free to delete or move posts around if necessary.

So just to sign off as best I can on this question:

Paul wrote
Quote:
isn't it a bit leading to talk about equinoxes and solstices and then introduce the rulership scheme? Aren't we leading them to a conclusion? After all, maybe the rulership has nothing to do with the equinox and solstice.

Yes, I agree that that about sums it up. I personally think it obviously "should" be introduced and associated, the analogy is too strong (in the tropical zodiac, of course). And I think the tropical zodiac + rulerships might well seem to work better if we had that rethink.

I don't mind what the first tropical sign is called, or whether the spring or autumn equinox, or on of the solstices, is chosen as the start of the year, but I would have "liked" the rulership scheme not to be skewed with respect to the solstice/equinox cross. It's not "which sign is first" that interests me, but how the rulerships are assigned in relation to the reality of the tropical year. I agree, Paul, that I should not have talked of "putting the solstices somewhere in the rulership scheme, but rather of "putting" the rulership scheme on the solstice/equinox framework (it has to go somewhere, in that reality).

The tropical year IS essentially the solstice/equinox cross; as you say, we might not want to impose a rulership scheme (or a 12-fold division) on it at all, but most astrologers do, and they use one that LOOKS as if it was designed for an epoch when the VP was in Taurus (or between Tau and Ar).

I think there is a clear analogy which COULD be respected between the movement "up" to the summer solstice and "down" to the winter (I.e. the antiscial axis) on the one had, and the rulership scheme in which the sun (firstly, as defining the ecliptic) goes "up" to the frontier Cancer/Leo (the so-called lunar half), and "down" to the frontier Capricorn/Aquarius (the solar half), on the other.

Paul: in a recent thread on straight and crooked signs, to which you contributed a lot, it was hard not to be tempted to wonder why the two sorts of signs, straight from summer solstice to winter and crooked from winter to summer don't fit better into the rulership scheme. I quote Curtis Mainwaring:
Quote:
The upright signs approximate the solar half of the zodiac (Cap being the exception) and the lunar half the other side.

He should perhaps have added, for clarity, "Cancer being the exception on the lunar side". It's these sort of "exceptions" that we are forced to make that make me wonder if we haven't got it wrong: if we moved the rulership scheme back 30° to the antiscial axis , the exceptions dissappear.

Waybread, I was not suggesting that places like Carnac or Machu Pichu were involved with horoscopic astrology, but possibly with the establishment of a division of the horizon according to when the Sun rose over it, and hence, perhaps, with a association of different equal segments of the horizon, and by extension of the ecliptic rising over them, with various planetary gods - i.e. a POSSIBLE distant source for premonitions of the rulership scheme later used in astrology. Surely a schem dreived this way would be symmetric (same planet or god) on the way up as on the way down the horizon.

But I agree that I have no documentary evidence to support my suggestions, and that horoscopic astrology seems to have become established in the early Aries period, so maybe the 30° skew just has to be accepted. It certainly does if we want to practice tropical astrology and share ideas with others!
Graham
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waybread



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Posted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 9:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Graham-- I started a new thread on the origins of the tropical zodiac. I hope you will join it. http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?p=97057#97057

More generally it is great that you are questioning these things, as astrology can do with sufficient scepticism for us to ask, "Why do we do things this way?" And not to settle for received wisdom that begs the question or could even be incorrect.


Michael, just to respond to the parts of your recent post to me that relate to the OP, the following qualities may be hallmarks of science (as it is understood in anglophone laboratories, field stations, and clinical trials,) but they are not restricted to science.

logic
reason
observation
empirical
methodical
theoretical
numerical
predictive
data

Good history is reasonable and empirical. Economics uses numerical data for predictive purposes. Philosophers invented the concepts of logic and reason.

You probably know that in Aristotle's day, his work was not even called science, but was a branch of philosophy called natural philosophy. The English word science as a division of knowledge practiced by professional scientists came into use only during the 19th century.

If we can stick to the definition of science as it is understood by professional scientists in the English speaking world today, my hope is that we can move beyond the unproductive science/pseudoscience binary that has plagued astrology for too long.
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Michael Sternbach



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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 1:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

waybread wrote:
Michael, just to respond to the parts of your recent post to me that relate to the OP, the following qualities may be hallmarks of science (as it is understood in anglophone laboratories, field stations, and clinical trials,) but they are not restricted to science.

logic
reason
observation
empirical
methodical
theoretical
numerical
predictive
data

Good history is reasonable and empirical. Economics uses numerical data for predictive purposes. Philosophers invented the concepts of logic and reason.


All of these are qualities astrology also has.

Quote:
You probably know that in Aristotle's day, his work was not even called science, but was a branch of philosophy called natural philosophy. The English word science as a division of knowledge practiced by professional scientists came into use only during the 19th century.

If we can stick to the definition of science as it is understood by professional scientists in the English speaking world today, my hope is that we can move beyond the unproductive science/pseudoscience binary that has plagued astrology for too long.


Perhaps we should talk of a new natural philosophy, which astrology is part of...
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Deb
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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 2:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In terms of the Wikipedia definitions, the problems (as I see them) are:

1) Astrologers do not have a universally agreed definition of what astrology is - a philosophy, a science, an art, a system of divination, etc ?- partly because it is a unique study that embraces all of these without being one of them exclusively. As someone that has been part of attempts to get a recognised definition of what astrology is (so that we don't have to accept the definitions forced upon the subject by its critics), I can tell you that it is a fruitless task - too many differences of personal opinion. Astrologers, like astrology, are not uniform and don't like uniform definitions of what they do.

2) Even if we had an agreed definition, which every astrologer and astrological association in the world accepted and used, Wikipedia would simply ignore that and throw emphasis instead on the fact that some writers have defined it as a pseudo-science and so a pseudo-science it is. Note the number of references they use to support that point. It is well known that Wikipedia is patrolled by committed groups of pseudo-skeptics whose mission it is to make sure that 'alternative' topics like astrology have no chance of being reported in a way that does not suggest that only an idiot would take it seriously. They are supported by a Wikipedia policy that subjects which are not embraced by mainstream science may not be treated with neutrality and balance (because that would suggest they are allowed the same level of credence as mainstream science). Believe me, Wikipedia is certainly NOT an encyclopedia that anyone can edit providing they have good knowledge of their subject and can report the information as given in reliable sources. If you want to understand the problem of Wikipedia's bias against astrology don't bother reading the article pages - read the long twisted arguments that are built up on the talk pages. Or open an account and try to make a sensible improvement to one of the controversial topic pages like 'Astrology' - we'll see you again three years later, when nothing has changed content-wise but you will have learned to hate the world Smile

I think a better approach is to note how widely Wikipedia applies the term 'pseudo-science'. Hypnotism, psychoanalysis, reflexology, (every form of alternative medicine), numerology, Marxism - did you know that 'laundry balls' are a pseudo-science too ?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_topics_characterized_as_pseudoscience

Nearly everything that people such as you and I might find interesting is a pseudo-science. I've come to a comfortable acceptance that most of what I study is a pseudo-science and I am probably a pseudo-science myself, at least according to the pseudo-encyclopaedia that is Wikipedia.

Bottom line: it doesn't matter if you argue that astrology is not a science but a natural philosophy, because to Wikipedia editors, natural philosophy would be .. erm .. a pseudo-science. Confused
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waybread



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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 4:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb, I greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness and depth of knowledge of your post.

In interacting with some of your points, I hope you understand that I come from a position of love for astrology, not critical debunking. Also, I will write some things you already know, in the hopes that additional participants on this thread will better understand my points.

From the "journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" perspective.....

1. I am aware of major entrenched differences of opinion as to what astrology is. My particular point on this thread is that astrology is not a science-- as science is defined and practiced by professional scientists. I am aware that some astrologers believe that astrology is a science, but I think this belief comes from either (a) a highly inclusive dictionary definition of science basically to mean any systematic body of knowledge, or (b) a true misunderstanding of the practice of the natural and physical sciences today.

Definition of science (a) truly muddies the waters, and I do not find it helpful, because if we take science to mean "a body of knowledge" when professional scientists plus much of the public means "knowledge obtained through the scientific method," we are talking at cross-purposes that generally reflect poorly on astrology. If I say, "She's a scientist," I mean something far more specialized than saying, "She is knowledgeable."

Point (b) above bothers me greatly, because it implies either a failure of science education in the Anglophone world, or an unwillingness by some astrologers to educate themselves about one of the major influences in our lives today. Worse yet, some mistaken attitudes about science by astrologers result in really uninformed and unhelpful science-bashing.

If astrologers could just stop calling astrology a science, that would be some help. A field that is "not science" can nevertheless be valued. For example: music, teacher-training, or book-keeping. Nobody accuses these fields of being pseudosciences, because they have no pretentions to being sciences.

2. I posted on December 7 that I was not out to edit or correct Wikipedia. I mentioned it merely because their astrology entry caught my attention. Even if we could cut off one head of the Pseudoscience Police, this hydra regenerates in many different outlets. The irony, of course, is that their own debunking cases are not conducted according to the hallmarks of scientific research.

3. Astrology is making academic headway in the humanities disciplines. There is a growing body of scholarship on astrology by historians of astronomy and cultural practices. Historians of science increasing recognize that science in past societies has to be understood as its practitioners understood it, not as some direct lineage from past to today's accepted truths. Literary and religious studies scholars are also engaged in studying astrology in their texts. If any professional historians have a real problem with the top-drawer research of Nicholas Campion, Alexander Jones, Daryn Lehoux, or Francesca Rochberg, I would like to see it.

In some ways, astrology has a lot in common with other eclectic synthesizing fields like the various "studies" programs (American studies, medieval studies, &c; ) the classics (which include language, history, archaeology, and literature;) geography (human, physical, mapping, GIS; ) regional planning; and human ecology; to name a few.

Astrology isn't the only field to work at the human-cosmos interface: we might even classify it within the interdisciplinary field of cultural astronomy-- as is done at a few universities. I prefer the term cultural astronomy to natural philosophy as being less, well, dated.

It may be a while before astrology returns to academia as an applied subject (doing vs. writing about,) but this isn't even my point. It doesn't have to do so. Cake-baking is not taught as a university subject, but nobody denigrates it as pseudo-science. It has a respected place in culinary schools and apprentice programs.

Of course, astrology today contains both the good and the bad, and we all recognize that the bad astrology out there provides plenty of red meat to the Pseudoscience Police. But nobody argues against teaching English literature simply because Harlequin romances are available.

4. On your final point, it pains me to see astrology, with its vast and fascinating traditions, to be grouped together with "laundry balls."

I am interested in many things, and when I'm not indulging in astrology, I enjoy several outdoor activities like camping that aren't defined as pseudosciences. I have a lot of interest in comparative mythology and religion, which I see as stemming from a venerable humanities tradition, not trapped in a science-pseudoscience binary.

Thanks again for your insightful post.


Last edited by waybread on Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:46 am; edited 1 time in total
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Therese Hamilton



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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb wrote:
Quote:
Astrologers do not have a universally agreed definition of what astrology is - a philosophy, a science, an art, a system of divination, etc ?- partly because it is a unique study that embraces all of these without being one of them exclusively. As someone that has been part of attempts to get a recognised definition of what astrology is (so that we don't have to accept the definitions forced upon the subject by its critics), I can tell you that it is a fruitless task - too many differences of personal opinion. Astrologers, like astrology, are not uniform and don't like uniform definitions of what they do.

Perfectly said, Deb. It seems like astrology (as it is today) is an ever changing light show with a myriad different expressions as used by astrologers. I haven't made up my mind if this is good or not, or if astrology itself should be more of a discipline.
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waybread



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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Perhaps I should underline that I have not proposed a definition of astrology. I merely propose that we stop classifying it as a science.
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Paul
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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 9:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Waybread

Whatever way we wish to classify astrology within the astrological community, I think we should recognise that expecting others, whether wikipedia or anyone else, to adopt that is probably a little optimistic as things stand now.

Continuing the pseudo science stuff argument, personally I'm quite happy to be investing my time in a pseudoscience, and notice myself in good company, with people like NASA engaging in spending time and money in researching something wikipedia defines as pseudophysics.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RF_resonant_cavity_thruster#NASA.2FJSC_Advanced_Propulsion_Physics_Laboratory_.28Eagleworks.29

Considering this device apparently breaks Newton's third law, it's defined as a pseudoscience - reading the talk section of this can be quite interesting to see how this is debated internally with the wiki editors. The focus, as it always has been, is on whether someone can put forward a theory to explain the effects, and without that theory, the likelihood of it being classified as a pseudoscience is very high. Note that in this instance the device in question has had independently verified results - though more research is needed. Actually observing the effect is not what's most important here.

Until astrology can come up with a sound theory, resting on well established existing theories recognised by the scientific community, then astrology will probably remain a pseudoscience.

I understand your argument is more probably focusing within the astrological community itself though.
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Deb
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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't mind reference to astrology as a pseudoscience, provided the reference is made rationally in an appropriate way. For example, F.E. Robbins refers to astrology as being a pseudoscience in his translation of Ptolemy's work, yet our eyes pass over it because there is no sense of implied worthlessness because of that.
I only mind when the label is attached in a somewhat forced way, like it is in Wikipedia (with a ridiculous amount of references attached to the point - there used to be 7), and where you get the feeling that the editors' purpose is to make that point as an implied warning not to take the subject seriously.

Research has shown that many members of the public assume astrology to based on scientific principles even if astrologers don't make that claim themselves - though some do, some wildy, but not always unfairly: modern science may not feel comfortable with astrology but astrology has not abandoned its interest in science. One of the best definitions of astrology, for me, is the one that Ptolemy makes when he begins the Tetrabiblos - astronomy offers the means to understand planetary movements, astrology offers the means by which "we investigate the changes which they bring about in that which they surround". Since, as Ptolemy admits, its methods include conjecture on behalf of the practitioner, it can never be thought of as a pure science. Still, astrology does and should consider what science has to offer. I prefer to think of its theory as being mainly based on metaphysical philosophy - that is out of vogue in science, at least currently, but too significant to ever be wiped away.
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