Scholars versus Scribblers

 By Dennis Elwell

1. Introduction

The best advice, when you are in a hole, is to stop digging. On the other hand you can send out for a bigger shovel and sandwiches. I did not think a coherent reply to my critique was possible, and have not changed that opinion. My regret is that they should have produced more of the same. 

There are many points raised in the sceptics' diatribe that call for correction or comment, but their number presents a problem. Because they have introduced so much "new matter", as the lawyers say, mainly as challenges to myself, my list of topics went off the page. To cover everything properly would be tantamount to writing a book, so I shall confine this piece to specimen charges. There are doubtless further topics which, should the "researchers" so wish (and provided the webmaster has the patience), could be the subject of further debate. 

Replies are apt to become tedious because there is an inverse law operating. If I declare that in the antipodes they have everything upside down, there is no short answer to match, only 500 words of relativistic prose. 

As part of this exercise it is opportune, because its authorship and content overlap, to include comments on the critique of modern astrology posted by Ivan Kelly, with help from his friends, on . In effect this compilation shows how easy it is to take your pet aversion for a walk and let it bark at everything that moves. No, astrology is not a "finished" science, not all its problems have been solved, and yes there are anomalies and internal disagreements. Is it different anywhere else?

2. For the record

In my observations on those chapters in Year Zero which purported to represent the scientific view, I alleged that the "researchers" contribution was not all it seemed. They sought to convey the impression that astrology had been put under the lens of impartial scrutiny and had been found wanting, but such evidence as they cited (1) on inspection lacked the authority claimed for it, and (2) involved suppressing better documented evidence which would have supported astrology. Their reply indicates that they are still in the business of impressionism. 

On the question of the negative evidence connected with earthquakes, I am again dismayed to find the scholars fudging their reply in order to be able to conclude triumphantly: "So much for Elwell's statement." It is sheer hokum, as will be seen if I unpick it.

The research was carried out into a specific claim not made by astrologers at all, but by a fellow scientist, who claimed that the passing of Uranus over the local meridian (a twice a day event) could trigger earthquakes. Of course astrologers down the centuries have been interested in earthquakes, as in everything else, and built up a picture of their cosmic correlations, in which the main player was eclipses, in combination with a number of planets. I cited the observations of the astrologer A J Pearce, pointing out that he made only incidental reference to Uranus. 

There then comes a ploy which, if this were a conjuring performance, would be called misdirection. The scholars quote Pearce's affirmation that planetary aspects do indeed excite earthquakes (which might have been inferred from his having written a chapter about it) and counted the pages of the chapter so we shall be in no doubt about the thoroughness of our author nor their own meticulous approach. And lo, Uranus is indeed mentioned as well! 

The ploy is to take what your opponent says, dress it up a bit, and serve it back as if you had introduced it yourself. And since you are introducing it, then in must support your case, mustn't it? Highly recommended!  

The scholars then quote six words from the celebrated Alan Leo, namely that "severe afflictions to Herschel ... cause earthquakes." One might be curious to know what was omitted from this sentence. Since Leo calls Uranus ‘Herschel’ it must be from his earlier writings, but I have not attempted to track it down. However Alan Leo's Astrological Manual on Mundane or National Astrology, written by H S Green, has several pages on earthquakes, and Uranus is not mentioned once. 

All this to justify the innuendo that astrology falls down even on a phenomenon as big as earthquakes. Why, oh why, do they have to labour it to seem to be scoring a point. More pertinently, where is the scientific detachment which might have led to them conceding the point?   

As a long-time student of predictive techniques, I was interested to read that when Smit tested them in cases of accidental death the results were negative, so I asked where I might be able to examine this obviously important research. He replied that the work had not been published. Since he was originator of the research I assumed he would know, and made my comments on that basis.  

But then Dean pitches in with his ringing "Wrong", and castigates me for having forgotten ("a remarkably convenient lapse of memory") that Smit's results had been mentioned at a conference he and I attended in 1987. Presumably Smit's own lapse of memory was proving inconvenient.  

I exhumed the papers relating to that conference and saw that Dean had indeed been allocated a 15-minute slot for a presentation on "Primary Directions and Violent Death". It cannot have been that memorable, because the pad on which I was making notes was blank save for the heading. I must have switched off, because I knew that primary directions contain a number of unresolved problems.  

These problems are sufficient to disqualify their use as ammunition against astrology in general. One is that no consensus exists on how they should be calculated. Theoretically there are some half a dozen different equations, and indeed three are mentioned by Dean in his own Recent Advances (p 189). Now that produces an amusing Catch 22. If you are going to apply primary directions to a fresh set of data you must presumably have already decided, on the basis of past experience, which is the most reliable method. But that would be simultaneously to endorse the connection between the planets and events, so that the failure of your new data can hardly be used to bolster the anti-astrology argument.  

Smit made his choice from the selection, and one must conclude that it was on the basis of past experiments. If not that, then what? 

How would you establish the most reliable method? Ideally with charts for which the hour and minute are not in doubt, because in this system four minutes inaccuracy on the clock can throw your indications out by a full year. This means you should first rehearse your act with charts from the "mundane" sector of astrology, for example like the 1801 chart used for the United Kingdom, where the time is certain.  

To try to solve the puzzles of primary directions from birth charts is inadvisable, because even if there is confidence in the time on the clock, there may be doubt as to what the moment of "birth" actually is, cosmically speaking. Practically, the stated time might be the first time those attending the birth think to look at the clock. Astrology is not always the first thing on everybody's mind at such moments. 

No wonder experienced astrologers are hesitant to rely on the stated time of birth until they have been able to confirm it by life-events. This process of "rectification" becomes the basis of an attack on the astrologer Alexander Marr, who emphasised its necessity. Our scholars sniff: "In other words, this astrologer found it completely allowable to work towards a desired result. Any scientist following such procedures would immediately and forever be disqualified." 

Before Marr is cast into the outer darkness, let me protest that they have clumsily misrepresented his position. Marr was not saying that in studying the astrological indications at death it would be permissible to massage the charts, under the guise of "rectification", in the direction of the result you hope and expect. Quite the reverse. He is insisting that before you can place reliance on the indications formed at a person's death, the chart you use must have been first authenticated by reference to preceding dates such as marriage, removals, accidents, and so forth. Of course it would have been damaging to Smit's study to have admitted it could be based on unconfirmed data, so he naturally rejected it. Yet when you look closely you realise that it was Smit who unwittingly might have been working towards an unavoidably negative result, by his confidence in unsubstantiated data. 

A few e-mails later, Smit remembered that his conclusions had also appeared in Australia, in the four-page Astrologers' Forum, a non-profit monthly sheet produced for the last 20 years by the dedicated Dymock Brose. To leave us in no doubt about the importance of this event, the Forum is rather grandly described as "internationally distributed", meaning that anybody anywhere can pay the annual subscription. I have been unable to discover how many copies were posted. 

Do we detect an inconsistency here? Dean's conference presentation involved 62 cases of violent death, but the Year Zero cases were described as accidental death ("nothing ambiguous here") [p.126], and the Astrologers' Forum study was of 62 cases of suicide. Are we being careful? 

Questions over Smit's research might have been resolvable had the raw data been available. His own remarks on this are pertinent. He wrote to me to say the raw data were not included simply because the Forum is a four-page publication, and as it was his contribution had to be spread over two issues. 

Allowing these physical limitations, he could still have made the information available in some form. But his reluctance to do so may be judged from the following: "The normal rule in science is that every serious researcher will be made available the raw data is they wish to have them. But nobody asked. But besides, I would not give it to them for the simple reason that I was not yet finished with the project; which is in line with another rule in science: do not make available the data as long as the pertaining project is not finished. Another thing that worried me (and still worries me): many astrologers tend to be extremely good at working towards a desired result. Such astrologers will always find something; but that is not how true research works. 

"Therefore, I would only make these data available to astrologers who will work with a precisely defined research design, which includes proper hypothesis, as well as statistical analysis, and the willingness to have their results re-analysed in the most rigorous manner." 

Who will be the judge in that decision is not explained. It should be added that the data he used were not collected by himself, but received  from elsewhere, so proprietary rights were not an issue. 

Smit's elaborate precautions invite comparison with Carter's The Astrology of Accidents, a book which does include his raw data. Of that data, Carter notes: "No cases are quoted unless I have reason to suppose that the time of birth is at least approximately accurate. It will be clear that it would be impossible to rectify a large number of maps, of which many are of persons whose lives, except as stated in this book, are unknown to me" (p.7). 

In calculating directions to the date of the accidents Carter used his favourite "symbolic" measures, and suggested that those astrologers who were loyal to other systems should compare their results with his. Whatever the virtues or otherwise of this little book, and however its contents will ultimately be judged, one detects here the spirit of scientific openness. 

The question I raised in my critique was why Smit's negative results were quoted in preference to Carter's positive results.  What gave them special merit, except that they supported the thesis that astrology is worthless? The scholars answer that by rubbishing Carter, as of course they must, and in so doing enter the realm of what Churchill called terminological inexactitude. In his book Carter explains that he was using four directional measures: four-sevenths of a degree, a quarter of a degree, an eighth of a degree, but in the main the simple one-degree per year taken along the zodiac (p.42).    

And so he was. Yet I am accused of keeping quiet about the "multiplicity" of Carter's time keys, and I quote: "... not only 1 degree for a year as the basic arc (in either longitude or right ascension, and with or without latitude) but also fractional keys obtained by dividing by 2, 4, 8, or if this is insufficient then by 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and so on. No wonder that Carter gets positive results. How can one take such fiddling seriously?" 

The scholars have mixed up this book with two of Carter's other books, in which he advances experimentally the possibility of such "fractional" methods (The Zodiac and the Soul, and Symbolic Directions in Modern Astrology). 

One might have supposed that Smit, having drawn a blank with his primary directions, would have tested Carter's measures on his own data, to see if he too could obtain positive results. But no. The only sequel, we are told, was that he discovered "to his amazement" that his negative results were simply not accepted in astrology circles.   

Some people are easily amazed. Kelly (section 3) makes much of the astrological community's attitude towards negative evidence, quoting Robert Hand and John Anthony West, whom Dean accuses of irresponsibility because of the "deliberate suppression" of such evidence in The Case for Astrology. This is tommyrot. While negative evidence may have a marginal academic value, those who are searching for gold do not want to have to wade through libraries filled with details of where you failed to find it. Especially if its quality compares with the evidence touched on above. 

The critics confuse negative evidence with contrary evidence, as does Kelly in his summary. The difference need not be laboured. Those astronomers scanning the skies for signs of alien contact have come up with negative results to date. When you draw a blank you don't demolish your radio telescopes, and least of all do you get hysterical because today's patient but unrewarded efforts have failed to be given the recognition you think they deserve.  

One other matter should perhaps be corrected in passing. I deprecated Dean's falsification of his own birth data in order to deceive astrologers. I am wondering if he has lost track of the bogus charts he has put into circulation, because he denies the existence of a chart which gave him an Australian birth. The Lois Rodden collection included a chart, ranked as "A" status, for a birth on Christmas Day (a nice touch) 1944, in Perth, W. Australia. This was the data given to Mark Pottenger, and which was also circulated by the British data collector, David Fisher.  

Of course it is defensible to expose the truth in such circumstances, even if Dean whinges about his privacy being invaded, and that "an important test of astrology" might have been compromised (!). I am not the culprit, incidentally, since his correct data were published by Charles Harvey in Polarity (January 1991). But he has only himself to blame. When he reported to his "Skeptical" friends that he had given out a chart purporting to be his own to astrologers, and that their interpretation fitted him, it became very relevant to be able to compare his genuine chart with the bogus chart, to ascertain whether they were really so different, and why the astrologers might have been misled. His genuine chart and the bogus chart just mentioned both have the Sun in Capricorn, for instance, and his astrologer victims might pardonably have taken that as their starting point. 

The exposure of any facts is sure to be unwelcome to somebody. The scholars sneer at journalism, and indeed "make it up" might apply to the tabloid prints. It was gratuitous to impute that I was ever that sort of journalist. Early in my career I decided, like many others, that the truth should stand on its own feet, and I have an instinctive aversion to those who would compromise it, for whatever reason. Bear in mind that the first step in a totalitarian regime is to shackle the media. 

Further, it is impertinent for Dean to try to justify his deviousness on scientific grounds. There are limited circumstances, as in testing drugs or therapies, where the placebo effect has to be ruled out, and the only way is to withhold information. Even so, the ethics of the placebo make many scientists uneasy. Unlike new vaccines, astrology can be exhaustively investigated in straightforward ways, but what Dean does is not test astrology so much as try to expose the stupidity of those who believe in it. He is no Jonas Salk. 

The third killer argument advanced by the scholars in Year Zero concerned Dean's "reversed charts" experiment. Rejecting what still seem to me to be valid objections, Dean points out that, in any case, I wasn't there. Indeed. So was anybody else there to scrutinise? How would these closeted goings-on in some Australian suburb rate on the Randi credibility scale?  

My contention throughout has been that the claims of the sceptics ought to be examined with the same rigorous attention to detail they marshal to demolish astrology. Can anybody seriously argue that the scholars should be in a privileged position in this respect? 


3. Research, and its methods 

Either the astrological is everywhere, or it is nowhere. The question has been asked, if it is everywhere, why is it so difficult to test? It depends what tests you think are appropriate. There is the test of experience, somewhat informal certainly, but supported by many thinkers from John Locke onwards. Speaking personally, hardly a day goes by without some confirmation of the presence of the astrological. A news addict, I habitually check events for their astrological credentials. Unless astrology had repeatedly confirmed itself in this way I should have abandoned it long ago. It has never been my livelihood. 

Obviously such results can be shared with anyone interested, who will  judge whether astrological rules have been observed, and whether what should happen is indeed happening. You step back from the microscope and say "Come and look". 

This research needs to be done on a case study basis, because situations never repeat themselves exactly, just as the heavens will never be the same twice. Thus the early months of 2001 saw the brutal slaughter of cattle in the UK, in response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Sickening pictures of the pyres and burial pits were flashed round the world. The astrological indicators were in precise conformity with the situation, as the critics can confirm for themselves.  

In this research it is vital not to place too much reliance on isolated correlations, which might have arisen by chance, but examine how they relate to other events, at different times, different places, and also perhaps to the individuals or institutions involved. You are thus assembling a jigsaw of interdependent items, and the jigsaw can be as big as you care to make it. But the fit is generally so knife-edge tight that chance becomes the least likely explanation. 

Thus in this case one was obliged to check for similarities and differences with the previous UK outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 1967, and similar events involving "mad cow disease". Here too the bovine sign of Taurus made its appearance in ways that would occasion alarm. In the reality we occupy everything is connected with everything else, a truth which astrology persistently confirms, so it follows that one could go on tracing connections ad infinitum. The cosmos was first with its World Wide Web, and (all unsuspected) is constantly downloading information, along with endless links and hypertexts. To describe the implications as vast is to understate.  

Of course astrology is not alone in being a science whose meaning lies in multiple combinations. They reach wondrous complexity in chemistry. Interestingly, I believe Dean trained in this field, but as an analytical chemist, which I take to mean he was isolating rather than connecting. This has been his approach in astrology also, and explains why he and others have been barking up the wrong tree for 25 years.  

I dare say the approach to validation that is congenial both to astrology and "nature" itself may be more loose-jointed than a mechanistic view of reality would like. But there are different standards of proof - we could call them laboratory proof and courtroom proof. In both, mistakes are possible, although in general they serve well enough. Both involve judgment, even more so in the laboratory, where apart from any results that emerge, judgment has to be exercised over what to test, and how.  

We gain an insight into Dean's cerebral processes when he implies that he had to consult the "huge literature" on the subject before he could arrive at the staggering realisation that people sometimes get it wrong (8.3). I accept that Dean and judgment are strangers to each other. If evidence were needed of the absence of any restraining judgment over his speculations it is his theory of parental tampering, as the reason for the Gauquelin findings. Mature judgment finds obstacles to accepting his conclusions, and I have explained mine to his adversary in this scholarly spat, Suitbert Ertel. 

On the question of evidence it needs to be pointed out that Dean, especially, is excessive in his zeal to straitjacket the phenomena, and unrealistic in his standards of evidence. To overstress the virtues of "carefulness" disguises the fact that progress in science depends more on leaps of imagination, or even chance discoveries, than the hobbled steps which excessive safeguards would allow.  

Some years ago Dean was instrumental in producing a paper offering guidance on how to do research, a formula so rigorous that had one believed him research might have stopped altogether. As it was, the method he advocated would produce only evidence consonant with his own position. This document drew some observations from a bemused Hans Eysenck, himself no stranger to the field. Eysenck damned it with faint praise, commenting: "If you read it and follow it, no doubt you may do better than without it."  (Refs to Eysenck here and in what follows are to duplicated sheets sent out with Dean’s 'Panres' material.) 

Eysenck would not have endorsed the repeated assertion by the "experts" that in general astrologers are not equipped to do proper research. He is refreshingly more relaxed than Dean in his approach to statistics, and in particular questions the insistent demand for random controls, which "for most purposes are irrelevant". 

Quite so. In my Cosmic Loom I present a few brief case studies which struck me as suggestive, while not being proof of anything, but Dean deplores that there is no mention of controls. He says: "It is easy to fool ourselves, which is why we have to use controls, and why controls receive so much attention in textbooks of research design. Elwell's failure to recognise this elementary point says it all." 

Well, on the failure to recognise this elementary point Eysenck advises: "If a referee rejects your article because you don't have a random sample, ask him: 'Why do I need a random sample?' Most probably he will have no answer. He simply assumes that everybody has a random sample, so you should have one. This isn't true at all."  

It is agreeable to be on the same side as Eysenck, who is nothing if not reassuring towards us amateurs. He writes: "You can do very simple experiments in astrology, which are adequate for proving or disproving whatever you are interested in. They need the minimum of statistics and a minimum of application. They don't need a computer or a whole hoard of computers. They can be done without much training in anything. If you ask the right question, you are likely to get the right answer, however ignorant you might be of advanced statistics. And if you ask the wrong question, then all the advanced statistics and all the computer facilities in the world will not help you to get the right answer." 

Despite having mentored some 200 PhD students during his career, Eysenck is not sure research can be taught at all. "What you can teach is how to avoid pretty obvious errors. But even that is not necessarily taught in courses of statistics. If you look at the published articles in psychological journals, a high proportion includes quite elementary statistical errors, which were not identified by the referees nor by the editor." 

In my remarks on "Why the impasse?" I pointed out that it all depends where you are coming from. You might say it depends on the questions you ask. It seems to me that I and others have been asking one set of questions, and researchers like Dean have been asking another set. It is a common mistake to imagine that asking questions is easy, and answering them difficult, rather than the other way about, but everything hinges on teasing out the right questions. Nor is it helpful for one researcher to insist that his questions are the only ones permissible. 

Eysenck writes: "How can you ask the right kind of question? I have no answer to that. I don't think I was able to teach my students that skill. Some of them had from the beginning that kind of mentality. They instinctively knew what question to ask. The others, who didn't, I don't think I managed to teach them. I wouldn't know how to specify how to ask the right questions." 

It seems to me that persistently asking the wrong questions, without knowing it, is how Dean and his fellow critics have misspent their time.  

By the way, talking of statistical errors, are we now to understand that some of the computations presented with such confidence in Recent Advances have become suspect with the passing of the years? Myself, I have always had reservations about statistics, especially when they contradict common sense. The allegation that they can be made to prove anything does have a modicum of truth, and how to lie with figures is a skill all economists and politicians acquire. Therefore it is a sound idea, when being browbeaten by statistics, to focus on the concrete reality behind them.  

For instance the birthdays of army officers were investigated, to discover whether they are more commonly born with the Sun in a sign like Aries - which they are not. The trouble with tests such as this - and it applies to most I have seen - is that they do not start from far enough back. First of all, and astrology apart, it would be necessary to determine how far careers are an expression of personality, or how far they may be influenced by other factors. At one time the sons of upper class families had to choose between the Army and the Church, regardless of their birthdays. Moreover there was often a family tradition towards one or the other. Mind you, having been dragooned into the Army the Sun-sign might contribute to what kind of officer they became.  

Again, Cattell decided that an objective evaluation of "greatness" could be made by solemnly measuring the space devoted to each candidate in encyclopedias (Cattell, Study of Eminent Men). Among the first hundred eminent persons in world history there was only one woman, and you might instantly wonder if she was Catherine the Great, or Cleopatra, or the Virgin Queen, or Joan of Arc. In fact she was Mary, the sad Queen of Scots.  

The reason for Mary's undeserved promotion was that her history was so multifaceted that she was written up at some length in the encyclopedias of different countries and languages. Of course those who value statistical artifacts over good sense would ask how else would you do it. To which the reply would have to be, why do it at all? 

Statistics are useful for handling data that naturally lend themselves to quantification, but the qualitative distinctions that belong to astrology, and other fields besides, can be distorted by being forced to conform to a strictly quantitative evaluation. 

[Note - cf Interview with Researchers EQQ3.6 - GP]


4. The art of facile objections 

One has to smile at the self-satisfaction with which the scholars presume to teach astrologers their business. Objections raised on the basis that they know better are apt to be their downfall. 

Kelly is only into paragraph two of his Introduction when the discussion passes from the cosmic to the comic. Consider this: "... The planet Venus is associated with aesthetics, love, and an individual's sense of internal harmony. However, we have discovered over the last century, that Venus is more like Hades, with its blistering high temperatures, lava-covered landscape, and sulphuric acid clouds." 

This is the sort of statement you give a double take. Is it serious, or is it spoof? The scholars seem to have an uneasy familiarity with the nether world, because Dean (Recent Advances, p 4) refutes symbolism with: "Pluto is the coldest planet yet is named after the god of the fiery infernal regions."  

Let us overlook that Venusians find their climate rather languid, or that hell is as cold as it is dark. Let us overlook that even on humble planet earth there are microorganisms that excrete sulphuric acid (the archaea), and that the extreme thermophiles live in water close to boiling point, as in fumaroles. Setting those technicalities aside, this immaculate logic leads to the conclusion that scientists are crazy to assert that the sun sustains life on earth, because as we clever ones know, the sun cannot support life, being even hotter than Venus.  

But when have astrologers said the surface conditions of planets must determine their astrological significance? Where are the arguments that lunar people must have acne? Yet Kelly keeps doggedly on with: "The point is that most of the symbolism modern astrologers use was created in times when the then astronomer/astrologers had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the planets." If they had no idea whatever about the physical characteristics of the planets (and there is no evidence that they even cared) then the symbolism must have arrived by another route. So what is the point of this objection, except to create the impression that Science Knows Best? 

The sceptics have a lot of trouble with symbolism, and mix up several different things. Symbols need to be distinguished from what are termed correspondences. For example a gold ring corresponds to the Sun in its material, and Saturn in its shape, but as a symbol of marriage it might be related to Venus. There are also what might be termed organic unities. Mars is the red planet, yes, and we now know that the reason is a surface rich in iron. Before that fact was discovered, the astrologers had already connected Mars with iron, again by a different route. And blood is red, yes, precisely because it contains iron. If it lacks iron you are unable to express your Mars qualities! As part of this organic unity is the role of iron in man's mastery of nature, his ability to fashion machines and weapons. 

All the computer experts in the world gathered round the biggest computer in the world, which was about to deliver its long-awaited answer to the question: "What is the meaning of everything?" At last the printer stirred into action: "Let me tell you a story... "  

Stories, parables, symbols, images, the truth beyond the facts. It is the language best fitted to survive translation from one age to another, from one culture to another, and it does reach a high degree of sophistication in astrology. But you are no more born with the faculty for symbolic cognition than you are born with numeracy, and perhaps the congenitally literal-minded should leave it alone.  

It would be strange if symbolism were not deeply embedded in astrology, because symbolism is inseparable from human consciousness. The "things" surrounding us serve as symbols for something else. Even the car we drive says something about us. I believe Ivan Kelly to be the same Ivan Kelly of Saskatoon renowned for his collection of World War II German helmets.   

Long past their usefulness, helmets might be treasured because they symbolise something. If these are the same man, one would expect to find an unambiguous signature of the helmets in his birth chart. However, he good-humouredly declined to divulge his data. (Why is it, if the birth chart is meaningless, that critics are reluctant to disclose this useless information?) But without revealing his data to the waiting world, and assuming he has enough hands-on familiarity with astrology (if not why is he writing about it) perhaps he could tell us what features astrologers might seize on, in this meaningless diagram.  

Better yet, why not have 20 astrologers play hunt the helmets (remember, I have not seen the chart so I don't know what likely candidates there might be among its configurations) to see how many arrive at the same conclusion, with their reasons. It would be significant if all or most of them were found to agree in the same falsehood. Such unambiguous, highly focused, tests might go further towards confirming astrology than any tried to date. 

But it may be, sadly, that having to concentrate on the "factuality" of the chart would puzzle today's astrologers. Kelly is absolutely right when he says (section 2) that modern astrology has veered away from the specific and testable towards behavioural dispositions, traits, and personality. The evidence he cites is shaky, since most contemporary astrologers would cheerfully sign up to Carter's 1925 statement, but modern students do not understand the confidence of an earlier generation of astrologers in the ability of their science to produce concrete information.  

Expectations of the quality of the information to be extracted from a chart have declined, which is why there can be objections on the score of the wrong chart serving just as well for interpretation as the right chart, or people not recognising their own chart interpretation. If the expected quality is non-specific a vast area opens up for fudging and nudging.  

Student courses today seem mostly to be psychological in tone, and client orientated. (I often think, what a pity the Faculty of Astrological Studies got to Dean first.) The shift from the concrete to the psychological is exemplified in a study presented by that Faculty luminary Margaret Hone in her Applied Astrology. A client had a problem, a conflict between love and duty. My own students would have had to stand in the corner had they not instantly spotted that in his natal chart the planet of love, Venus, was quarrelling with the planet of duty, Saturn. Instead of recognising this “factual” key, and squeezing out its implications, Hone launches into pages of psychological waffle, in which the existence of the Venus-Saturn square is barely acknowledged. 

Attention to specifics facilitates the development of a practical astrology. If you can identify the signature of your hobby or other interests in your chart you have a useful marker, to provide hints about your unfolding relationship with it. When Dean's true chart was published, there was speculation about what it might imply for his personality. But moving from the contentious to the concrete I am struck that he has spent almost a decade working on the theory that families have cheated by mis-recording or intervening in the birth of their children, and that this is the real explanation for the Gauquelin results. 

One might ask how the various elements in that theory translate into astrological language, and here I would expect Dean to recognise the relevance of his Moon opposition Neptune across the meridian, an axis itself associated with the parents. Such obvious and concrete correlations are commonplace, and consistently serve to strengthen belief in the ubiquity of the astrological. If I have been wrong about this all these years I genuinely want to know. For the sceptics, needless to say, such observations are worthless unless they measure up to some artificial test situation of their own devising, and I am curious what that would be. 

For myself, the identification of such personal icons in the chart enables them to be used as markers to test predictive equations like progressions. Thus I have no hesitation with Hitler's chart in relating his Venus-Mars conjunction to the suicide by gunshot of his beloved niece, and the shooting of his bride before his own suicide. I would expect those dates to be confirmed by progressions etc., which at the same time would be confirmation of their own validity.  

Having found the marker for Dean’s theory in his chart, we must expect key stages in its development to be indicated by progressions and so forth to it, thus confirming the attribution. Thus his presentation of it seems to have coincided with progressed Sun conjunct natal Moon, solar return aspects and so forth, but perhaps he should discover this for himself, as he casts around for ammunition to refute what I say! 

Another penalty of the plunge into psychology which Kelly noted, is that the sense of the suprapersonal nature of the astrological has almost been lost. Nowadays astrologers find it hard to consider (say) the sign Aries in its own right, without reference to its expression in human nature. Since astrology embraces many things, its language is bigger than human psychology. In dynamic terms, for instance, Aries represents a self-starting, urgent, forward-directed push, which disturbs the settled equilibrium (Libra works to restore it); while the following sign Taurus represents relative inertia (Taurus is the immovable object and Aries the irresistible force), and the preceding sign Pisces represents pendulum-style reversals of energy.  

Kelly (Section 2) quotes a somewhat self-evident statement from a Dutch psychologist to the effect that if you take 100 Aries people, they should have something in common, and this commonalty should be different from 100 Taureans. Yes indeed. The problem is how to demonstrate it, and to whose satisfaction. The suggestion seems to be that the demonstration will be statistical, but against this I would expect to be able to detect the Aries dynamic in every single one of the 100, provided they were of reasonably mature years and circumstances had allowed their personality to flower to some degree. 

It is important to understand that Aries is more than the "traits" incidentally precipitated from it. What then is the true common denominator? I expect to find in this type people who are strongly motivated in a forwards direction, able to start things, given always to moving on rather than resting on their laurels, with a capacity to put past troubles and failures behind them, who function best with goals and challenges, who benefit from being associated with a single forceful idea, who tend to brush obstacles and contrary opinions unceremoniously aside, and egocentrically avoid being distracted by the concerns of others.  

That is a clear picture, a style you recognise when you see it - which however may not be on first acquaintance. But how would you measure it? What if your psychology is couched in trait words? Take "assertive", what does that mean? You meet Aries people who would not be described as assertive, because their conduct is the reverse of pushy, yet all the time they are ineluctably carving out a path for themselves.  

On the other hand what could be described as assertiveness can be present in people born in all the signs, because there are plenty of ways it can arise. The Moon or ascendant could be in Aries, or a group of planets there, or Mars might be especially prominent. Even Pisces, being somewhat impressionable, can surpass all others for assertiveness if it is in a macho milieu, and so can Libra if it is bouncing off a strong enough opposition. 

Astrology aside, taking 100 members of the general population how would go about scaling them for assertiveness? And having scaled them, how would you prove that you were right? The tests used to define personality can be circular, in the sense that a trait may be used to explain behaviour which itself served as the basis for the concept in the first place. My favourite illustration: "Brenda likes talking to others because she is high on the scale of sociability, and we know this is a valid dimension because we can record how many hours she spends in conversation." 

We may have to concede that what Aries people have in common, while visible enough when you know where to look, is probably impossible to quantify on a traits basis. The best approach is perhaps individual case studies, a method recommended by Allport in his classic on personality (Gordon W Allport, Personality: A Psychological Interpretation – 1937).   

The image of the Ram, that specialist in the head-butt, is an eloquent testimony to the power of the forward thrust embodied in this sign. Kelly and company want to give the impression that astrology is a quaking bog of uncertainty because it embraces symbolism, but there are symbols whose usefulness as shorthand has been endorsed by time. 

The scholars are intent on describing astrology as split on a number of unbridgeable issues, a ploy which fools nobody except innocent bystanders. Internal differences on concepts and techniques (which exist in every field of endeavour) are deliberately exaggerated. The truth is the exact opposite: there exists a remarkable unanimity among astrologers. Compared with what? Well, psychology for one thing: at the last count how many different theories of personality were there? If you rejected every discipline because not everybody sees eye-to-eye there would be no disciplines left. 

Now observe this. If you skim through astrological textbooks and magazines you will see the same monotonous chart format again and again, a circle divided into 12 segments with some 10 or 11 astronomically accredited objects scattered around it. This really is remarkable, because according to the scholars astrologers are supposed to be in bitter disagreement about what their charts should contain.  

How they arrived at that conclusion is a saga beyond belief. Astrologers have often pointed out that you cannot justifiably isolate for study factors which are glued to other factors. Rather than isolate, say, the Sun sign, and magnify its importance, they insist that the whole chart should be considered. Scenting blood, the sceptics demanded to know what was meant by the "whole" chart. The clever ones had noticed, you see, that some charts include factors which others don't. Sometimes quite a few more. 

What follows should be explained gently. When astrologers draw a chart they are mapping the heavens, albeit in a very simple way. Compare the process with mapping the earth. You can make a crude outline map of the continents or countries, and put in a few dots for cities. At the other extreme your maps can become very detailed, as you include more and more information, right down to the street where you live. And you can make different kinds of maps, geological maps, population maps, political maps, tourist maps - lots of maps, same territory. Nobody is there to ridicule you for including this set of features, or excluding that. The map simply records the information you want it to record.  

It's the same with the horoscope. If individual astrologers want to include items they have found useful, why not? The same discretion about what information to include, what to exclude, is exercised in many activities, not least in writing a piece like this. 

This is where it gets absurd. Kelly tells us (Section 4.3): "There are an incredibly large, but finite, number of possible celestial patterns from which astrologers have arbitrarily excluded certain components. For example, they may have chosen to ignore the moons of Jupiter... " Quick, send back your map of Europe, or Australia, or wherever you are, because it has arbitrarily excluded a certain component, namely downtown Saskatoon. Astrologers will not lose any sleep over leaving the moons of Jupiter to the astrologers of Jupiter, nor for that matter will the weathermen heed the complaint that they have arbitrarily excluded the storms of Jupiter's red spot from their calculations.  

Casual readers may wonder if they have strayed with Alice into Blunderland. They should realise that the cynics will take hold of any stick to beat astrologers. The reason is that there is more at stake than whether astrology works or not. What is at stake is the view of reality described by rationalism and scientism, versus the more liberal view to which most other people subscribe.  

The danger for the scholars is that by always scrabbling around for some new blunt instrument they could discredit their legitimate and more surgical objections. Dean and his colleagues succeeded in showing what astrology is not – it is not a science easily susceptible to reductionist investigation. It may be that the opposite of "reductionist" is "holistic", but that word does not quite measure up to the phenomena we encounter, and maybe a new term is needed.  I could argue the case for astrology as "macroscience", by which I mean that every phenomenon and every item of data is referred to something larger and more inclusive, whereas the tendency to isolate is exclusive. The critics' overall interaction with astrology through the years has been positive, in the way a laxative is positive, forcing astrologers to shed notions which had never properly been thought through.  Dean's appearance on the scene was timely, and I once told him that if he did not exist he would have to be invented. 

Talking of maps, the knowing ones have noted that there are different ways to divide the astrological chart into 12 houses. No agreement there then! Well, my atlas contains maps drawn according to a dozen different projections, which means there is no exclusively correct way to do it. Nobody suggests that cartography is any the less credible because of that. It is perfectly feasible for the astrologer to work with several house systems, and I routinely consult three or four - you get different information from each, but different does not mean contradictory.  

An especially knowing one has pointed out that a popular method of dividing the astrological chart (Placidus houses) breaks down in the polar regions. On this score Charles Carter once retorted that he could not subscribe to the logic that for something to work somewhere it had to work everywhere. And have you seen what happens to latitude and longitude at the poles? 

Another great divide is supposed to exist between the tropical zodiac, used mostly in the West, and the sidereal zodiac, used mainly in India. (In fact I also take note of a third zodiac, said to be the oldest of them all, the draconic, measured from the moon's node.) What can this seeming confusion mean? Merely that it is possible for different frames of reference to coexist, a situation accepted without embarrassment in other disciplines, but if course fatal to astrology.  

In truth, the existence of only one frame of reference would be highly suspicious. Human nature is not a one-dimensional cardboard cutout: there are complexities and contradictions, and ironically astrology can be of unparalleled assistance in their unravelling. We operate simultaneously on different levels, conscious or unconscious, and might even be said to possess different selves. This can be seen with celebrities, where the private face may contrast sharply with the public face. Again, how we see ourselves is certainly different from how others see us, and how we actually are might be different from both.  

Kelly (Section 3) makes sport of the "time twins", Freud, a pioneer in his field, and Peary, credited with blazing the trail to the north pole. The popular image of Freud is as an intellectual, but he himself emphasised his affinity with men of boldness and courage. Not unlike Peary-type men! He told a friend: "I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador, an adventurer, if you wish to translate this term - with all the inquisitiveness, daring, and tenacity characteristic of such a man."  

For the benefit of non-astrologers it should be said that whichever zodiac is used the main determinants of the horoscope, namely the patterns of the planets, remains the same, with the zodiac merely adding a special colouration. In fact you can do astrology without a zodiac.  

On this tropical/sidereal question, we may not realise that we exist simultaneously but quite comfortably in two kinds of space. You will appreciate the distinction if you visit Foucault's famous pendulum. Suspended from high in the ceiling, the pendulum swings always in the same plane, but as it does the earth can be seen to be turning under it. As you stand there reflect that the pendulum is swinging in a different space, which has been called absolute space, or star space, to distinguish it from the space relative to the earth. The twelvefold division of the one gives rise to the sidereal zodiac, of the other the tropical zodiac. 

Kelly's flip assertion that you can be an Aries in America but a Pisces in India implies that an exact equation exists between the zodiacs, or in other words that their spaces are identical. Regardless of whether you are in America or India, you can be a tropical Aries and a sidereal Pisces, but which version of you appears to predominate at any one time depends on a number of factors.  

The familiar tropical zodiac, which in psychological terms has been developed to a far greater degree than the sidereal, seems to be more indicative of innate qualities, and closer to the everyday you, from which you may never stray very far. It is homocentric (which usually means egocentric as well) whereas the star-self could be described as a cosmocentric version of you, your remit within a wider scheme of things.  

One wonders if the West feels more at ease with the tropical zodiac because it has developed a more personal consciousness, with individuals living more unto themselves. In India the caste system seems to indicate that self-awareness is inseparable from a larger not-self. Differences in ego-awareness may not only be geographical, there may have been an historical evolution in the growth of individuality too, explaining why, over time, the tropical zodiac has become dominant. Speculation, okay, but interesting. 

On this reading, Freud and Peary would derive from tropical Taurus personal attributes like stubbornness (or tenacity as Freud calls it), while sidereal Aries would be their "go forth and conquer" mode. In the draconic zodiac the Sun also falls in Aries. Incidentally, sidereal Aries can lay claim to Hitler, Cromwell, Mahomet, Charlemagne, Marx, Lenin, Salazar, Robespierre, the Duke of Wellington, Tito, Catherine II of Russia, and assorted other shakers and movers. 

Rather than confound astrology, the existence of more than one zodiac confounds the attempts by statisticians to use signs simplistically.  


5. It's those bumps again 

Think of some mistaken belief, now discarded. It could be medical, or even scientific. There are plenty to choose from. You then draw parallels between this vanished superstition and astrology, and declare that astrology must eventually likewise go into the dustbin of history. Dean has settled on phrenology to show how foolish people can be, before the immaculate truth of science dawns. 

Trouble is, phrenology did not last long, whereas astrology has been around for centuries, and is still gaining strength. Thus Dean's argument can be stood on its head. If phrenology demonstrates that an unsupported belief is liable to disappear, astrology's survival requires a more plausible explanation than Dean has so far offered. The obvious answer must be that something is sustaining it which failed to sustain phrenology. 

Moreover astrology is more vulnerable than phrenology ever was. To read your bumps I need your physical presence, and the transaction is strictly between to you and me. Nobody can check my findings at a distance, or consult the record. And nothing could make me more vulnerable than risking predictions, which fell right outside the phrenologist's diagnosis of propensities. 

The case of phrenology is instructive, but not for the reason Dean thinks. For one thing, it shows there are always different ways to say it. "Those phrenologists must be idiots to imagine that different areas of the brain are specialised for different functions!" Ironically it was the claims of phrenology that stimulated the early neurophysiological discoveries, such as Broca's identification of the speech centres in the brain. 

Similarly you can ask scientists if they believe the planets exert the influence astrologers claim, and there will be a resounding "No!" But if you ask whether it is plausible to propose a universe of multiple interconnections, then at least the theoretical physicists might not be so dismissive.  

It all boils down to this: In the end people will believe what they want to believe, and the reason may lie less in the facts than in their own personality.

 © Dennis Elwell, 2001