This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A landmark debate: Modern vs. Traditional Astrology

Recently there was a debate between Chris Brennan and Eric Meyers on the topic of "Modern vs. Traditional Astrology" that has been making waves in the astrological community. This is a big deal.  You will want to listen to this if you care about astrology.

I'm posting my comments on the debate here.

The first thing I need to say is that I'm not a professional astrologer, and am not trained in any kind of advanced techniques for analyzing an astrological chart.  I know some basics, and am interested in the field, so I cannot comment on the efficacy or usefulness of any particular technique mentioned in the show. My comments are mainly philosophical.

Unfortunately, I'm mostly going to have to pick on Meyers in this post.  He did a lot of interrupting and steam-rolling, and Brennan wasn't able to get a lot of words in edgewise, so there's more to pick on.

The first and overarching fallacy Meyers engaged in was appealing to quantum theory as a way of trying to prove his spiritual beliefs as objectively true.  This is common in New Age circles. They watch the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know Anyway?, and maybe read a few articles about some basic principles of quantum physics, and they jump to conclusions about the applications of this science, namely, the conclusions that Quantum Theory proves their spiritual beliefs.

"Quantum Gravity Photon Race" image by
NASA/Sonoma State University/Aurore Simonnet, Flickr

I have two friends who are actually familiar with the field of QT--one, Charles S., is a brilliant computer scientist and pianist, the other, Eric F.-L., is a math professor at Benedictine College.  Neither of them are likely to be into astrology, but I asked them a bit about Quantum Theory, and one thing they made sure to emphasize is that there's a difference between the scientific theory, proper, and the varying interpretations of the theory.  With their permission, I'm copying part of our conversation (emphases mine):

C:  Actually, quantum mechanics is one of the most solid theories out there as far as the math goes. It has a staggering amount of evidence backing it up, and as far as the math goes, it's one of the best theories out there in terms of predictive power, and it has plenty of solid conclusions.
The problem with quantum mechanics is that it's weird, and doesn't seem to make intuitive sense. It's extremely accurate, and if you do the math, you get the right results, but very few people completely understand it, which allows other people to abuse it to justify whatever pseudoscientific beliefs they like and generally get away with it.

Me: Pretty sure you can't use quantum theory to "prove" that there is no objective reality, and we are all creating the illusion of the universe as we go along, as the New Agers are trying to say?

E: That's right -- you can't use quantum theory to prove there is no objective reality. As Charles said, the math is solid, but as for the interpretation, there are many competing ideas. The idea that sentient observers create their own reality is certainly not a necessary part of quantum theory (in fact, you'd be hard pressed to come up with an interpretation that consistently includes the idea of creating your own reality, since everyone's realities have to agree).

C: That kind of thing would fall under the umbrella of the pseudoscientific beliefs that I was referring to. Well, there's the MWI, in which there are many different realities that don't necessarily all agree with each other. That still doesn't mean you create your own reality, though, especially since in MWI, it's hard to figure out what "you" would even mean. Also, MWI, like most interpretations of QM, is hard to call scientific, since so far no one's thought of any way to test it other than the quantum suicide experiment, which would only produce valid results for the person who was doing it.

E: yeah, many worlds was the only one I could think of where a "create your own realities" philosophy might be possible, but as you said, even that would be pretty shady.

In other words, Quantum Theory can be used for scientific purposes, but it cannot teach us about spiritual truths.  Unfortunately, we still have to rely on revelation for that.  And, equally unfortunately, without hard proof we may still have to disagree about which spiritual revelations are actually true.

Meyers' spiritual culture teaches him that all of life is a dream, and we are all projecting our own beliefs and realities into the dream scape, and attracting situations, people, and events to our lives that will teach us spiritual lessons.

My spiritual beliefs do not align with his.  I disagree with him, quite strongly, on some points.  But I can't use quantum physics or any other scientific theory to prove him wrong; likewise, he cannot use quantum physics or any other scientific theory to prove me wrong.

Brennan is probably not an expert in scientific fields (and I highly doubt Meyers is either), so he didn't call Meyers on this point, but if he had done so, it would have changed the entire debate.  That was the one card Meyers kept pulling, the foundation he tried to build everything else on, and it was a terribly weak foundation.

The next point I want to make is that it would be useful to distinguish between spiritual consciousness and cognition. I'm not sure if Meyers was trying to equate them when he brought up the idea of giraffe and spider charts compared to human charts, or if he was just using a metaphor.  Either way, there are problems.  

If he meant to say that the main difference between a human and a giraffe is the level of consciousness (and presumably he'd assert that human consciousness is "higher" than a giraffe's), and if he's equating consciousness with cognition, then the logical conclusion would be that with enough spiritual practice, a giraffe could eventually achieve the consciousness of a human.  Also, if he is equating consciousness and cognition, and if a lower level of consciousness means a "darker manifestation" of the chart's energies (attracting negative energies and situations,) then all animals, due to being "lower" in consciousness than humans, would consistently live in "dark" energies and manifestations.  
"Attack of a Vampire Kitty!" by tanakawho, Flickr

If he meant to use cognition as a metaphor for spiritual consciousness, then the metaphor is a poor one.  The problem is, Meyers asserts that self will is the major factor in spiritual development, but it's a fact that the development of cognition is largely out of our control.  Though there is much variation, humans (all animals, actually) go through fairly predictable stages of cognitive development, and many, of not all, of these are directly influenced by biological developments (brain, hormones, etc.)  A two year old doesn't wake up one day and decide to start talking, to control her bladder, or to explore everything she sees.  These things are natural parts of normal human development.  Free will plays a part in the process, but the bulk of cognitive development seems to be predetermined by genetics and environment.  If spiritual maturity is being compared to cognitive maturity, why would spiritual development be completely a matter of free will, when cognition is not? 

In any case, what does this have to do with astrology? I'm certain that there's no astrologer out there who will say that everything about a person's life can be explained by astrological factors. (As far as I know, a person's chart can't even reveal the gender of the native, which is obviously a huge part of a person's identity.) Brennan wasn't saying that astrology explained a 100% mechanistic and fatalistic universe, but that seemed to be the strawman that Meyers was attacking when he tried to discredit traditional astrology.

If you want to hold certain spiritual beliefs as an astrologer, that's completely fine, but you can't use your spiritual beliefs (which are, by definition, unprovable) to deny that certain astrological techniques, which can be (more or less) proven, actually work.  Actually, Meyers doesn't seem to be doing that; he's doing something worse.  He's using his spiritual beliefs as an excuse not to even investigate whether certain astrological techniques work.  As the old expression goes, the only thing preventing you from finding truth is the belief you've already found it.

This blog post is getting pretty long. Though I have so much more to say, I'll close by stating what, if I were in the audience that night, I would have asked Meyers and Brennan during the Q&A after the debate.

To Mr. Meyers: According to what you've said tonight, people "attract" situations that they judge as "negative" to them in order to learn spiritual lessons.  If a person is more spiritually enlightened, conscious, mature, or whatever the word you want to use, then they will attract less darkness and more light, and, presumably, suffer less.  Therefore, by your logic, what's been called "the 1%" in the USA, the richest people, who have considerably less suffering than the rest of us, should be the most spiritually-awakened individuals in the world.  This is known as a "just-world" viewpoint, that people get what they deserve.  Do you really want to defend this viewpoint?

To Mr. Brennan:  You mentioned that the Tradition should be adaptable to the culture it finds itself in, and techniques and such can be modified to fit the needs of new situations.  That you use Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto is one testimonial to your flexibility.  How, though, do you think traditional astrology, which is rooted in such patriarchal and somewhat rigid cultures, can be reconciled faithfully with today's increased social mobility, feminism, globalism, and other such sensibilities of today's culture?

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