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The Sceptical Attack of Dean et al on Astrology
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Pocket Dragon



Joined: 08 Oct 2004
Posts: 48

Posted: Mon Feb 07, 2005 11:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't read the article completely yet, nor have I read through all of the posts on this thread. But it does bother me that James Brockbank doesn't appear to have answered the question "There is no theory to explain why astrology works." I don't know the answer to this myself. All I know is that astrology works. I have first hand experience of that. But I was recently locked in a debate about astrology with a bunch of sceptics on another forum. I answered all of their questions, many of them more than once, but was unable to answer the question of how astrology works. And because I couldn't answer this, they all sat back and said "There you go. That PROVES astrology doesn't work." So all the valid arguments I put to them were wasted, simply because I couldn't answer this one question. Mad I'd really like to know the answer to that one.

Ok, so there is the question of do we really need to prove ourselves to these morons? But I think it's a matter of choice. As an astrologer I believe I have a responsibility to speak up if it is misrepresented. And it constantly is, by scientists. These are people who know diddly squat about astrology, yet because they are scientists, the general public believe everything they say. Confused All of the people I spoke to on that forum had no knowledge of astrology other than what they had seen in sun sign columns. No matter how many times I told them that this was not real astrology, they still threw this argument back at me. They cited all the common 'scientific' tests on sun sign astrology that (not surprisingly) didn't work. I explained why, but it fell on deaf ears. There were a couple of people who I was able to have an adult conversation with, and I will be speaking to these people again. Some of their arguments were intelligent and worthy of further discussion. Although they haven't changed their opinions on astrology, they did take on board what I said and have said they learned something in the process.

But if anyone does know the answer to the first question, or can point me in the direction of some literature on it, I would be really grateful as I know I'm going to get asked this again at some point.
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Deb
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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 4130
Location: England

Posted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The reason they were clinging to that argument is this - even if astrologers were able to provide conclusive and indisputable evidence in a statistical setting that astrology works, it still wouldn’t be accepted within the scientific community because there is no scientifically-accepted mechanism to explain why it works. Within science it isn’t so much the results that matter as the theory (the mechanism) that supports it. Within the science of mathematics, for example, it isn’t the fact that 3 times 3 can be reliably demonstrated to equal 9; it’s the establishment of a principle, or a fundamental law that means that this is not only demonstrably consistent, but can never be anything but consistent. Science is established by building one demonstrated and proven principle on top of another, so it can accept very grand suppositions that can never be verified outside of theory, but places no value on something that appears to prove itself in practice but isn’t constrained by an established law.

We don’t have a mechanism to support astrology – what we have is a philosophy, mainly that all ‘individual’ life is really an interconnected part of a greater being, the universe (the whole), the collective influence of which drives us in the same way that an atom of water is driven by the tides of the sea. Astrology also assumes that individuals have a subconscious recognition of ‘universal will’ which allows us to recognise its signature in the natural world through fundamental principles such as shape, form, colour, luminosity, etc. Many great scientific advances have been made by astronomers and philosophers who worked with those principles to originate new laws accepted by science. In fact the philosophy of astrology has spawned too many thousands of scientific advances to be counted by mortal man, but it will never be a science in its own right because too much of it has to be approached symbolically and symbols yield themselves to circumstances and therefore reject the “this has to equal this” demands of science.

Astrology, as a philosophy, works in a contra-direction to science. Science develops knowledge from the smallest principle up, but the unyielding principle of astrology is the assumption of universal consistency (all life is connected, all movement has meaning, purpose governs all) and then filters this knowledge down into subject areas where it is capable of distortion, so judgement is needed to extract its meaning. Because of the conflict in the way that the acquisition of knowledge is attained, it’s hardly surprising that scientists and astrologers can feel so averse to each other when claiming to possess it! I think the world needs both approaches and the real conflict arises when astrologers attempt to gain scientific credulity whilst refusing to recognise how judicial their knowledge is, and vice-versa when scientists try to impose themselves on ridiculing the central tenets of astrology. I know quite a few ‘hard-nosed’ scientists who reject astrology out of hand, but then when you ask them if they reasonably believe that the planets in our solar system including the Sun and Moon have no influence upon us or connection with life on earth, they become stuck – because they know, of course, that they do, but they don’t know how deep the connection goes or how to effectively measure it. Most will accept that there is ‘something’ in astrology, but with no mechanism to support its methods, they just don’t know what to make of it.
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Ben



Joined: 02 Aug 2004
Posts: 167
Location: Minneapolis, MN USA

Posted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi,

Deb makes some good points. Part of the problem, I believe, is that only certain questions and answers count in a given discipline, so conversations across disciplines can easily break down unless you have people conversant in both. This is especially so when dealing with questions of metaphysics. Suppose I go to the symphony, and you ask me later what it was like. You are asking me a value-question, an aesthetics question. But if I say, "Well, there were many vibrations of such-and-such frequency," what I'm saying is technically true but it's clear I have not answered the question because I didn't really understand what it was about. My understanding of what music or art "is" is attuned to physical explanations.

The same goes for astrology and its skeptics in science. It would be great if we could come up with an explanation for astrology, but it would probably have to rely on complicated Neoplatonic metaphysics (which is how some ancients and medievals explained it). But we would then have to talk about cosmic intelligences and levels of being that would probably sound crazier to the skeptics than claims that the planets have some gravitational effects on us. So unless there is some vocabulary and conceptual base that each side shares, we can say "but it works!" until we're blue in the face, because what something "is" and what it means for something to "work" in scientific explanations have criteria and concepts peculiar to them.

What is frustrating, of course, is that art, politics, ethics, logic, and a whole host of other realities involve types of being and levels of explanation that the natural sciences don't address -- and questions about them have not been settled -- but astrology skeptics don't deny their existence.

Ben
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Piper



Joined: 27 Mar 2005
Posts: 55
Location: Canada

Posted: Mon Mar 28, 2005 6:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Pocket Dragon and all,

"I answered all of their questions, many of them more than once, but was unable to answer the question of how astrology works."

It might seem strange, but astrology does have a mechanism. The mechanism is the chart. The chart is a mathematical construct that provides a means of consistent observation for astrology's practical rsearch. The chart is really not so different than the mathematical constructs used to study gravity. Gravity obeys the inverse square law and the relativistic curvature of space, and these are not physical mechanisms but mathematical ones.

Ask yourself. Why is gravity regarded as a force? How is gravity mediated, what is the physical mechanism? There is no medium that conducts its force, hence no physical mechanism. Gravity acts equally through solid matter or empty space, in apparent defiance of cause and effect. Gravity is said to bend light by curving space. How? Gravity is a mathematical model, just like astrology. If one were to rule out the chart as the mathematical mechanism of astrology, then one would also have to rule out the mathamatical frameworks of gravity. How does gravity work?

KennethM
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###



Joined: 08 Jul 2004
Posts: 1380

Posted: Mon Mar 28, 2005 12:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I tried coming up with a reply for you, but not being of a scientific nature and not knowing exactly what you are saying I only managed a short answer: Give gravity symbolic and metaphoric meaning; then you are on common ground with astrology. Gravity as scientifically explained keeps me here on Earth, but astrology tells me which direction I may be inclined to go in, why I may choose that direction, and in what manner I would likely proceed. But it doesn't say that I surely will go in that direction and in that manner.

Here is something I wrote way back in July when I was a fresh, young forum poster. I have aged since then (he says as he shakes his fist at transiting Saturn).

Quote:
Instead of screaming out the window at the scientists in the building across the way, our time may be better spent becoming acquainted with the art and literature professors who are a few doors down the same hall.


It’s all in the art, you know.

Quote:
Ask yourself. Why is gravity regarded as a force?


Finally you give me an easy one: Because they tell me it is.
Translation: Scientific explanations and mathematical formulas are detached explanations for the mind. Few of us have been actively involved in studies of gravity and must rely (with faith) on the judgment of others more knowlegable than us. Astrology concerns personal, subjective experience and perception. That's where the art comes in.
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granny_skot



Joined: 20 May 2004
Posts: 1634
Location: California, USA

Posted: Mon Mar 28, 2005 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

funny you should mention gravity, while sitting with no less than three of the finest physicists I know, at lunch just Friday we were discussing how Gravity is magic, because it's not explainable via physics. There probably is a scientific explanation, but it doesn't exist yet that we know of, and considering where we work, we're pretty sure we'd know about it. Even though we use 9.8 meters per second squared as the speed of gravity on earth and we have a mean speed of gravity for objects in space as well, we have no description of how it really works.

The annoying part of this philosophical discussion is that the nay sayers deny science in order to deny astrology. Science is observation. It is supposed to be definable and under experimental conditions it can be repeated under observation, but somehow Chemistry got thrown in with Physics and Biology and lord knows you can repeat chemical experiments over and over again and not get the same results. (weird set of probables is my definition of Chemistry!)

but I digress, if we agree that Gravity is observable, repeatable (check my bruises from weekend gardening), exists and is a scientific fact, then why can we not agree that astrology is observable, repeatable and a scientific fact? Because there is no proof for gravity other than its effects. Silly in my book. I really just dont argue the point anymore. (Okay, except when I'm overly irritated. LOL)

Granny

Leery
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Piper



Joined: 27 Mar 2005
Posts: 55
Location: Canada

Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2005 4:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi,

Granny makes a good observation.

"The annoying part of this philosophical discussion is that the nay sayers deny science in order to deny astrology. "

Although a case can be made that there is no mechanism to explain how some things in science (such as gravity) work or how things generally in astrology work, there is really no need to deny either science or astrology.

The point that astrologers can bring forward in their discussions with skeptics is why should science be free of the mechanistic worldview and astrology not? The skeptics who insist on a mechanism to explain astrology are thinking of two separate worldviews and trying to place astrology into a much idealized world view where they know it does not fit.

Both gravity science and astrology use mathematical frames of reference (not causal, mediated mechanisms) within which observations are made, and that is where the potential value to knowledge of each resides.

There is far too much of a sense of resignation on the part of many astrologers with regard to scientific criticism. This resignation is really unwarranted. In principle, science and astrology are actually much closer together than most people think.

I've have had some very good dialogs with skeptical astronomers I've met. I believe that astronomers are by far the best people to dialog with because they are knowledgeable and if you can meet them on a level playing field they will listen.

KennethM
www.encosm.net
Environmental Cosmology
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Coder



Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 143

Posted: Tue May 03, 2005 11:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

>> There is no theory explaining why astrology works. [Brockbank, p.1]

This statement can be read in different ways, but one reading is to replace "theory" with "explanatory mechanism". The skeptic then says that the absence of an explanatory mechanism is a conclusive reason for rejecting astrology. Let's then have a look at science itself:

Ex. 1. It is a fact that the process of xerography was discovered, refined, put into commercial use, and was churning out millions of photo-copies for many years before the underlying physics was properly understood.

Ex. 2. For many years, low-temperature physics knew of superconductivity as it related to substances in very close proximity (<10 deg K) to absolute zero. This prompted the development of several explanatory theories of superconductivity, of which the prefered candidate predicted some upper temperature limit to the phenomenon. Some years later, experimenters report superconductivity in certain rare-earth ceramic materials at temperatures far exceeding the accepted limit. Clearly the theory and its mechanism was premature.

Ex. 3. Newton was an admirer of Descartes and his mechanistic model of the universe. But as he himself recognized, his theory of gravitation doesn't fit it, because there is no requirement in it for the presence of anything to mediate gravitational attraction -- it depends only on the mass of the bodies and their distance apart. Others sought to fill the void with an "ether", but this is not a logical requirement for Newton's theory of gravitation (only a requirement for the Cartesian metaphysics of nature).

This skeptical argument against astrology is thus at once both too liberal and too conservative when applied to science itself. To claim photo-copying doesn't work when you can see the machine in action is of course absurd.

It is worth emphasizing that the Cartesian metaphysics contains the covert stipulation (held axiomatically without prooof) that the same type of consistency should apply to the explanation as pertains to the phenomena being explained. When applied to mechanistic phenomena (billiard balls, levers, solar systems, etc) it implies (actually falsely in my view) that these must have a mechanistic explanation. Because this "principle" is so recondite it has been implicitly held by many scientists long after Kant showed it was unnecessary. Are not children still taught to think of atoms (and atomic particles) either as billiard balls or solar systems?

More interestingly, while this explanatory principle was unnecessary for Newton (it did tho almost send him mad I suspect), it re-emerges in the theory of relativity. The so-called relativistic curvature of space (strictly speaking, of space-time) is an attempt to give the space between objects some property which functions equivalently in the explanatory matrix.
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