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Skyscript Astrology Forum

Why astrology is not a pseudoscience
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waybread



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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Therese, Paul, and Deb for your recent replies.

Could anyone explain what is the problem with classifying astrology amongst the humanities?

This doesn't mean that astrologers cannot be consumers of scientific information. It does mean that we do not categorize ourselves amongst geophysicists or biochemists. Understandably the professional scientists are the first to claim that we do not practice science. If we don't identify ourselves as belonging to some other division of knowledge, what else is there to call us?

Aligning astrology with the humanities doesn't mean neglecting astrology's roots in natural philosophy (aka science) as it was understood in the past.

As I noted above, the historiography of science has undergone a recent shift, where researchers are decreasingly inclined to prune away those roots that do not feed directly into modern contemporary understandings of today's scientific precepts. Rather, scholars of astrology/astronomy like Francesca Rochberg stress the need to understand a field of knowledge as its practitioners understood it in their day, not ours. If the Babylonians understood planetary motion through a magical worldview, then let's get down to learning what that magical worldview was-- not simply ignoring or denigrating it.

Robbins could confidently call astrology a pseudoscience because he published his edition of Tetrabiblos in 1940. We also find his contemporaries, Otto Neugebauer and his co-authors, doing path-breaking research on ancient astrology, while hastily assuring their critical readers that they themselves actually don't believe in the stuff. Maybe astrologers today could get on-side with some really fine historians and philologists who find the pseudoscience label to be beside the point.

Of course portions of astrology have commonalities with
science (as it is understood in anglophone laboratories, field stations, and clinical trials.) But these commonalities are not restricted to science. :

Quote:
logic
reason
observation
empirical
methodical
theoretical
numerical
predictive
data


As Michael noted, astrology does all of these things. And so do some other fields that are not sciences.

Extricating astrology from the pejorative science vs. pseudoscience binary would further align us with really fine scholarship by historians of astronomy, mathematics and cultural practices; scholars of English and other literature, classicists, archaeologists, and others I've probably forgotten. These people are not doing pseudoscience, they are doing history, literature, the classics, and archaeology.

I might shout-out here Stephan Heilen's, "Some metrical fragments from Nechepsos and Petosiris," (reference available upon request.) I believe he is a philologist-- a highly important field in the translation and interpretation of ancient texts.

I just googled the definition of pseudo, and up came: "bogus, sham, phony, artificial, mock, ersatz, quasi-, fake, false, spurious, deceptive, misleading, assumed, contrived, affected, insincere."

Is this really what anyone here thinks about astrology?

"Metaphysical philosophy" I can live with. And we understand what grouping of subjects it belongs to.

If people here are good with being called pseudoscientists, it is not for me to urge them to feel miserable about it. But I personally don't get it, given an alternative that is credible and inclusive. And that might just attract more researchers to probe astrological topics that I would love to learn in more depth.
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Deb
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Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2015 8:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Thanks, Therese, Paul, and Deb for your recent replies.

Could anyone explain what is the problem with classifying astrology amongst the humanities?


I don't have a problem with that, and I can't speak for them but wouldn't have imagined any of the others you name above would have a problem with it either. But we're not the ones classifying astrology as a pseudoscience and I don't see how anyone here has given the impression they feel good about that label, so I'm not exactly sure what your point is.
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waybread



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Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deb, you've raised two issues that I have discussed:

1. How do we feel about astrology labeled as a pseudoscience?

2. Are the humanities a better way to conceptualize astrology's niche than the science/pseudoscience (no-win) oppositional relationship?

Although I could go back and quote excerpts that could be interpreted as the poster being OK with the pseudoscience label, I have limited interest in turning this thread into a he said/she said debate, rather than a focus on the main themes of the OP. If I've misunderstood what you and Paul wrote, I'll accept that assessment and leave it at that.

If we're good with astrology as a metaphysical philosophy, that looks promising to me.
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Paul
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Posted: Fri Dec 18, 2015 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

waybread wrote:
Thanks, Therese, Paul, and Deb for your recent replies.

Could anyone explain what is the problem with classifying astrology amongst the humanities?


Well I don't mind that, but, as Deb says, we're not the ones labelling it a pseudoscience. As it happens, I actually am okay with astrology being spoken of as a pseudoscience provided it's not done to mock, ridicule or debase it. In other words, if we define a pseudoscience as something which is, or may have been considered, a science, but today has been recognised as not having a firm scientific foundation etc., then I am okay if astrology is spoken of in those terms. It's when the label "pseudoscience" is said to mean "fake charlatanism", which is the implication on wikipedia and elsewhere, that I would find such a classification unhelpful. Really, speaking only for myself, I wanted to focus on why wikipedia may not be the best place to try for change.

Personally I'd be more interested in trying to see how astrologers themselves classify their own craft though. Because there are a whole wide range of things which are not a science, or even classified under humanities, but which provides us benefit. I can understand why there is a need to put astrology in terms of an academic discipline, and I agree with you that great scholarly work can be done (and is done) in the field of astrology and its history, something I think which probably greatly interests a vast majority of skyscript members. But at the same time we don't need to classify it as anything in order to recognise its value or its social and cultural impact through history to the present day.

For me the distinction between astrology and science may be likened to the difference between technology and science. Technology is not a science, but it harnesses a variety of things, science included, to offer a practical solution or benefit. For me, that's what astrology is, it has a repertoire of things like philosophy and science at its disposal but is neither of them alone - it's greater than the sum of its parts.

If we wish to place astrology back in an academic discipline, then of course I can understand why these labels or classification can be immensely important. But much like a technologist, we don't need technology itself to be an academic discipline, but we can leverage the results of other academic disciplines to further our own.
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waybread



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Posted: Sat Dec 19, 2015 12:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Paul-- you may have answered Deb's question about whether I misinterpreted anyone about being OK with labeling astrology as a pseudoscience.

Here is what a quick Google definition of pseudoscience turned up:

http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html "A pseudoscience is a belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. The most important of its defects is usually the lack of the carefully controlled and thoughtfully interpreted experiments which provide the foundation of the natural sciences and which contribute to their advancement."

There's worse to get to: I posted the definition of "pseudo" above:
"synonyms: bogus, sham, phony, artificial, mock, ersatz, quasi-, fake, false, spurious, deceptive, misleading, assumed, contrived, affected, insincere."

If astrologers stopped calling their field a science-- as scientists understand science-- just possibly there would be no grounds for labeling astrology in such a pejorative way.

I don't expect this situation to change anytime soon. But one has to start somewhere.

I have been at pains to demonstrate that it isn't necessary to conceptualize astrology in academic terms in order to defang the science-pseudoscience labeling. I gave the example of cake-baking as an activity that is not taught in universities but in culinary schools or apprenticeships, and is free from the science-pseudoscience binary.

However, I also mentioned some really top-drawer research on astrology published by academics who mostly come from a humanities discipline. There is a Yiddish term, "to schlep nachas," meaning to take vicarious pride in someone else's achievements. I am so pleased to see the serious study of astrology gain credibility through their work. Metaphysical philosophy fits here nicely.

Of course, astrologers are not the ones labeling astrology a pseudoscience. That goes without saying. It would be nice if nobody else would, either, because they would recognize that the term pseudoscience is inapt for a field without scientific pretentions-- as science is defined today by professional scientists.

It also goes without saying that astrology has scientific roots. Today astrology is not and is no longer a science, however. Neither is alchemy, despite it being a type of proto-chemistry.

Some sorts of technology would be too routine and applied to be defined as science, although we might recognize the science that went into their concepts and manufacture. Nobody calls their local rent-a-geek a pseudoscientist.

The engineers that I knew, however, very much considered themselves like scientists. Research in engineering is conducted according to the scientific method, so far as I know. The saying is, "There is science, and science applied." One distinction may be that there is more curiosity-drive research in the natural and physical sciences, and more of an applied orientation in engineering. But the same hypothesizing and testing goes on in the research of both types of disciplines.

Also, as I was at pains to explain in a previous post, there are other important cross-disciplinary subjects, notably the different "studies" fields, and some of them bridge the sciences, social science, and humanities. Some of them have significant applied components. Poverty law, natural hazards mitigation, regional planning, environmental studies, physical therapy, and sports psychology come to mind.

Astrology has long made an exceptionalist argument for itself. But if it wishes to retain its exceptionalism, claiming to be a science while engaging in divination, isn't helping.
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Mark
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Posted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 3:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this article by Martien Hermes entitled: Why Don’t Astrologers Listen to Scientists?
may be of interest regarding the topic of this thread.

https://internationsocietyofclassicalastrologers.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/why-dont-astrologers-listen-to-scientists-2/

Also this piece by Garry Phillipson entitled: Modern Science, Epistemology and Astrology

http://www.astrozero.co.uk/articles/modern_science.pdf

Mark
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waybread



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Posted: Sun Dec 20, 2015 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark, thanks so much for sending these links.

This will be more than you or anybody else probably wants to read about my responses to them, but as a snowbound retiree who has to stay off a foot today, I am apt to indulge-- so thanks for giving me an afternoon's entertainment.

Martien Hermes makes some very thoughtful points, although I don't think he and I are working off the same definition of science.

As I read Hermes's critique of scientists, really it is a critique of anyone, scientist or not, who makes an argument from logic and evidence against astrology. Hermes argues that astrology either matches these criteria, or that the criteria are applied to astrology in incorrect ways.

As I've posted repeatedly on this thread, many disciplines that do not match an Anglophone scientist's definition of science are indeed rational and based upon evidence. Examples would be history and philology. Thankfully we have another respected and venerable tradition in which to locate them: the humanities.

I just think it really muddies the waters for astrologers to insist upon the dictionary definition of science that essentially means any body of knowledge (and worse yet, that it makes astrology a science); when it is the source of so much misunderstanding. Cannot we just define science the way card-carrying scientists define it?

(The systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment; the operation of general laws, theories, and hypotheses as obtained and tested through the scientific method.)

Hermes, indeed, is really critical of studies that apply the scientific method to astrology. I've read a number of academic studies of astrology's truth claims that used the scientific method. And while the results are dismal for astrology, I would have to say that some of the researchers had too little knowledge of astrology to conduct meaningful tests.

We also need to distinguish between science as a practice and scientists as individuals. As individuals, scientists may speak publically about topics outside of their area of expertise, just as your plumber may tell you how to invest in commodities futures. Then there is scientism, the belief that the scientific method will ultimately answer all our questions and that science constitutes the only correct world view, over and above any other type of perspective.

To draw a finer point on it, Richard Dawkins is a really good evolutionary geneticist . As an individual scientist, he often speaks and writes about both his area of expertise, and other areas, as well. He appears to subscribe to scientism in his criticism of religion (and astrology,) but not all scientists do.

A post-modernist might agree with Hermes that:

Quote:
it’s the individual who ultimately makes a choice in what he or she considers to be logical, ‘rational’ or decisive which, in the case of first-order evidence, depends on direct personal experience (which is horoscopy for astrologers, statistics for scientists); and in case of second-order evidence (i.e. does the astrologer believe the conclusions and reasoning of the scientist, or vice versa?) this always depends on the authority one grants to the person or method and/or its status (‘science’; ‘statistics’; ‘astrology’; ‘horoscopy’).


Everett's "Subjective rationality" (by whatever name, and there are several,) is a worthwhile theory, but it only goes so far.

Why? Because most of us spend only a portion of our time in our own little worlds, where, Humpty Dumpty-like, we get to define words and realities. (In this case, logic, rationality, statistics.) If Hermes were correct, just try out his thesis on the traffic cop the next time you get a speeding ticket. Or tell your supervisor at work that you will ignore her assignments because you've stopped granting her "authority."

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't get the impression that Hermes has a strong grounding in science, let alone in the statistics he criticizes. Statistics are basically a way (to the initiated) of seeing trends and probabilities in large data sets. An improperly constructed study may yield false positives or false negatives, so the issue isn't the data-in-statistics-out so much as it is how a study was conceptualized and data gathered (i. e., methodology) in the first place.

When I read astrologers' generic criticisms of scientists, I wonder whether they actually know any research scientists and have talked with them about their work. It would be well worth astrologers' while to phone up a professor in the nearest chemistry or astronomy department, and buy her coffee or lunch in exchange for a tour of her lab/observatory experiments, and her description in lay person's terms, for what it is that the scientist does.

Having bashed scientists, Hermes moves on to bash modern astrologers, which I find really, really unhelpful. Both modern and traditional astrology contain examples of both good and bad work. Indeed, my favourite modern astrology books are probably the early textbooks by Robert Hand. Despite some minor nods to modern psychological astrology, his books have very little psychological material in them.

So far as my OP goes, I think the links between astrology and the humanities are stronger than the links between astrology and psychology (aka behavioural science.) One reason is that Jungian psychology is hardly taught at all in North American university psychology departments today (I can't speak for elsewhere,) precisely because Jungian methods seem more impressionistic than experimental or clinical. Of the social sciences, psychology is probably closest in its approach to the natural and medical sciences, and most distant from the humanities. A perusal of the curriculum of any comprehensive university's psychology department will reveal just how different it is from modern psychological astrology.

I note that when Liz Greene was awarded her Ph. D. in 2010 by Bristol University, it was not in psychology, but in history.

Hermes, moreover, seems unaware of work on harmonics and midpoints in modern astrology, which more successfully explained Adolph Hitler's horoscope than either his radix chart or more conventional modern techniques of analysis. (See Harding and Harvey, Working with Astrology.)

What Hermes has done, in attempting to dismantle the old science-pseudoscience binary, is to reinforce it, which I find really unproductive. If we can stop thinking of science as either who we are or who our opponent is, we might get somewhere more constructive.
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waybread



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Posted: Mon Dec 21, 2015 4:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi, Mark-- Thanks for article #2! I liked this one a lot. The following comments are by way of elaborating upon and interacting with some of Phillipson's arguments.

The article starts with excerpts by Elwell, Marshall, and Addey, to the effect that since physical science appears to becoming more holistic, that it is only a matter of time before it embraces astrology. A big non sequitur! (And one that Phillipson thankfully does not support.)

The problem is that merely because some branches of science are becoming more holistic, this isn't to argue that Venus combust in Scorpio in the 11th house means what astrologers say that it means.

The Gauquelin studies are a whole other kettle of fish-- deserving of a separate thread. Suffice it to say that transferring their methods beyond distinguished French athletes to research on other populations would need to be conducted before it can be accepted as having broad explanatory power. As you know, the Gauequelins did not use the methods of either modern or traditional western astrology, so even if we accept their methodological premises (which have been questioned,) their research does not specifically validate our methods.

Phillipson wrote,
Quote:
Although it is generally taken for granted that,
if modern science did help to make sense of astrology, it would do so on
science’s terms, I will be suggesting that this is not the case and that it
actually supports a case for astrology as something which is not a science,
and not capable of being understood in terms of the scientific method.


Yay! Big applause from me here.

The idea that there is no single objective standard for objective truth is a basic tenet of postmodernism. There are also academic fields called the "philosophy of science" and "science studies" that may interest anyone wishing to pursue the epistemological foundations of science. These very much examine the role of scientists in the type of science they produce. (Cf. "the observer effect" of both psychology and physics.)

Moreover, just because the hard sciences may not be everything that scientists claim them to be is not an ipso facto argument in support of astrology.

Phillipson discusses the distinction between the objective and the subjective. The middle ground here would be called "situated knowledge", "bounded rationality", or simply the acknowledgement that knowledge is always partial and influenced by the observer's circumstances.

While scientists, I think, would normally describe their research as objective, the results and conclusions of a scientific study depend upon the researchers' assumptions, frame of reference (literature consulted,) and methods. (Known colloquially as the "garbage in, garbage out" problem.) A bias in step 2 can result in erroneous conclusions in step 10. It has been said that science does not explain reality, it explains the consequences of testing its hypotheses. However, a hallmark of a scientific study is its duplicability, and the academic literature and conferences as places where dubious conclusions can be tested and debated. Eventually (one hopes) faulty assumptions or paradigms get sifted out.

As Phillipson notes, the triumph of science isn't because it is the only legitimate way of knowing something, but because on a pragmatic level, science has proved incredibly, powerfully useful.

While he and Geoffrey Dean (whom he cites extensively) seem to agree (for different reasons)that astrology is "scientifically" untestable, I think it is testable-- but with very different methodologies than I have seen to date. A lot of social science research today is conducted using qualitative methods, with little or no quantitative input. Again, probably a topic for a different thread.

I think most astrologers would see divination as at least a component of astrology, and recognize that divination is not science. And this does not make astrology a pseudoscience, any more than the Unitarians at prayer practice pseudoscience.

Aquarian that I am, at some level I balk at classification schemes. When, as I student, I was asked to memorize the 3 principles of this, or the 5 key themes of that, I always wondered who developed these categories, because they seemed so artificial. Once we get beyond the laws of physical science, reality seems so much more messy and fluid. But categories nevertheless are a big part of how we humans explain our world. Consequently, we might at least consider taking astrology out of the wrong category and moving it over to a category with a lot more compatibility.
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Mark
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Posted: Thu Jan 07, 2016 2:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Waybread wrote:
Quote:
Hi, Mark-- Thanks for article #2! I liked this one a lot. The following comments are by way of elaborating upon and interacting with some of Phillipson's arguments.


I dont know if you are aware but Garry was the moderator on this part of the forum for several years.

I assume you have read his book Astrology in the Year Zero?

Along with the Geoffrey Cornelius book 'The Moment of Astrology' it is a fundamental book which has contributed to a modern reevaluation of astrology.

Mark
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waybread



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Posted: Thu Jan 07, 2016 2:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Mark. I didn't know Garry had been a moderator, but I own and have read Astrology in the Year Zero. It's a fascinating book.
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