Basic statements about astrology
An expanded version of a submission to the Discussion Forum on Basic Statements about Astrology planned for Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik in 2005. Reproduced here with permission of its editor. Includes a short postscript covering developments 2005-2013.
Abstract -- In 1983, Peter Niehenke, then president of the DAV (Union of German Astrologers), obtained agreement among the various German astrology groups on seven basic statements about astrology. In 2004 the German journal Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik invited forty leading astrologers and a dozen critical researchers to update these seven statements. What changes should be made? The aim was to reach a consensus. Commentators were free to make their own judgements. According to Dean, the original statements of 1983 imply that astrology has been proven true and works for reasons unknown. Today these statements are easily attacked by critics. They do not resolve the disagreements that exist everywhere in astrology, nor do they resolve the dependance on ancient beliefs that are not sufficiently valid. They are also not necessary for the acceptance of astrology by astrologers. All of these problems can be avoided by rewriting the seven original statements as six new statements that can be summarised as follows: The historical importance of astrology cannot be denied. But hundreds of studies suggests that the chart is merely a cloud in which astrologers see faces and pronounce it miraculous. Astrology may therefore be seen as a useful fiction whose benefit to the client lies in the quality of the astrologer as a wise and caring person.
Niehenke's basic statements about astrology
1. Astrology says the heavens at birth are meaningful.
Niehenke's statements are among several attempts to obtain consensus among astrologers, for example AFAN in 1988, NGPA on 1992, and my four Key Topics in 1994-1999, see Notes 1,2,3. In each case the outcome depends largely on the attention given to scientific research.
Memo to reader: Notes need not be referred to as they occur. They can be read more conveniently, and without loss of relevance, as a whole at your leisure once the main text has been read.
Do Niehenke's statements need revising?
Statement 2 (on meaning) might be better as "astrologers claim to understand the heavens." The claim that astrologers can read the whole chart seems incompatible with human cognitive skills. Note 4
Statement 3 (proven by science) was reasonable in 1983 when research findings seemed to support some astrological claims. But today, with improved research techniques, the findings have been found not to support astrology to the extent required. Note 5
Statement 4 (mechanism is unknown) might still apply if we could show that astrology provides benefits beyond those due to non-astrological factors. But studies have generally failed to show this. When non-astrological factors are prevented, astrology seems not to work. Note 6 In which case the mechanism is not unknown, it is actually well known, albeit not to most astrologers.
Statement 6 (tropical better than sidereal) might be the experience of most Western astrologers but it does not seem to be the experience of most Eastern astrologers.
Statement 7 (potential not actual) says nothing that isn't also true of tea leaves. By definition, no potential can be shown to be wrong, and even faces in clouds could be a guide to life. The dependence on symbolism is both a weakness and a strength. Note 7
In summary, the original statements of 1983 imply that astrology has been proven true and works for reasons unknown. Today such claims are easily disputed by critics. Note 8 Also, the original statements do not resolve issues such as the endless disagreements and contradictions within astrology Note 9, the discrepancy between astrological claims and empirical outcomes Note 10, and the neglect of astrology by scientists and philosophers. Note 11 Nor do the original statements seem necessary for the acceptance of astrology by astrologers. Note 12
The original statements were meant for astrologers only. But I think this focus must be changed. Unless the statements are meant for critics as well, the divide will remain, and nothing will be achieved. We need new statements that accommodate the above issues and other issues such as what kinds of astrology to include.
Suggested new statements
1. Astrologers claim that the heavens at birth are meaningful, and that they can tell from the birth chart what the heavens mean. But critics are not convinced; to them the evidence from hundreds of studies suggests the chart is merely a cloud in which astrologers see faces and pronounce it miraculous.
2. Whatever our view of astrology, its historical importance cannot be denied. For two thousand years its ideas were compatible with the best knowledge of the world then available. But by 1700 the scientific revolution had destroyed the world view on which astrology depended. Today, modern works of science or philosophy rarely mention astrology, largely because it has been unfruitful in guiding enquiry. Which is not to say that, like poetry and music, astrology cannot provide personal and spiritual meaning.
3. Disagreements and contradictions abound. Astrologers disagree on what a birth chart should contain, how it should be interpreted, and what it should reveal. They feel it is meaningful to describe isolated factors but meaningless to test them; that sun signs are valid but a five-minute error in birth time can make all the difference. They claim success for techniques that cannot possibly be mutually true. And they have made accurate readings using wrong charts. Here are possible clues to the true nature of astrology.
4. The majority view among astrologers is that astrology operates at a non-mechanistic level. The birth chart provides personal meaning, not concrete meaning. So the reading can never be captured by rules, and the impersonal mechanistic approach of science will always fail. But critics disagree. They claim there is nothing mechanistic about testing whether a chart fits its owner, and in any case astrologers do it all the time (how else could they know whether astrology works?). Anything less must surely reduce astrology to absurdity because no conceivable outcome could prove it wrong, and no conceivable outcome could prove it right either.
5. Since 1975 advances in relevant areas (astronomy, psychology, statistics, research design) and a decisive technology (home computers) have put astrology under the microscope as never before. The results to date suggest that the benefit of astrology to a client may lie solely in the quality of the astrologer as a wise and caring person. The birth chart and the astrology itself, of whatever kind or cultural background, seem to provide merely a focus with no apparent benefits beyond those due to non-astrological factors. Thus astrology "works" without needing to be true, and what works best is whatever the astrologer likes best.
6. Astrology may therefore be seen as a useful fiction, personally satisfying but not objectively true. If astrology encourages people to explore life's problems and to express spiritual values, and if it provides a bridge between a person of wisdom and a person in need, then these qualities deserve study as much as any objective claim would.
Postscript added August 2013: Research since 2005 has confirmed that astrology provides no benefits beyond those due to non-astrological factors. There is now no hope that the picture might improve, but astrologers continue to avoid its challenges by retreating into fantasy and nonfalsifiability. Details are in this website's 2013 book, see bottom of home page.
Note 1. In 1988 the Association For Astrological Networking AFAN published a lengthy position paper on astrology in North America. It was drafted by Michael Munkasey assisted by myself and others, and was rewritten by Noel Tyl. It covered history, popularity, legal and religious issues, training, misconceptions, and scientific studies (mainly Gauquelin). It noted that such studies tended to support astrology whereas scientists still opposed astrology, therefore "astrologers seriously question whether the problem lies with astrology as a discipline or with science itself in defining what it will or will not allow as an expansion of knowledge." It also noted that in the USA "under the First Amendment [protection of free speech] there is no such thing as a false idea."
Note 2. In 1992 the Dutch Society of Practising Astrologers NGPA surveyed 19 of its members. The views they agreed on were as follows: there is an ordering principle in life; its influence can be assessed by astrology; the birth chart shows a person's inner life, dispositions and future tendencies but not abilities, morals or IQ; the indications can be overruled by free will (Van Assem et al 1993).
Note 3. During 1994-1999 the astrological research journal Correlation published a series of articles under my direction in which a total of 30 astrologers (out of more than 100 invited) and 10 scientists attempted to reach consensus on key topics. The topics included an introduction in volume 12(2), the relevance of the scientific approach in 13(1), conceptual problems of astrology in 14(2), theories of astrology in 15(1), non-astrological factors in 17(2), and totalled more than 120,000 words and 200 references. The outcomes have been incorporated in the present work.
Note 4. Astrologers claim that isolated chart factors are meaningless because everything influences everything else; only the whole chart will do, and it must be judged holistically. Ruscio (2003) points out that holistic judgment is generally not possible because human cognitive skills are not up to it. This view is supported by a huge literature. He notes that holistic judgment "constitutes an approach to professional practice that is unnecessarily and unattainably complex, often misguided, and potentially unethical."
Note 5. For example a claimed correlation between planetary positions and radio propagation quality (Nelson 1951) was due to the close but unequal spacing of planet days, which meant that the positions were bound to occur close to disturbed radio days (Meeus 1982, Martens and Trachet 1998:174-179). Apparent support for astrology in the birth charts of married couples (Jung 1960) arose because the charts had come from the files of an astrologer, whose advice to the couples had nudged the sample into conformity; the effect did not replicate with artifact-free data (Dean 1996). Claimed success in matching charts to case histories (Clark 1961) was consistent with the use of tiny samples, typically 10 birth charts, whose disproportionately huge sampling variations were mistaken for genuine effects (Eysenck and Nias 1982:86-87), a point confirmed by later studies and meta-analysis (Dean 1986). An apparent correlation between sun signs and extraversion (Mayo, White & Eysenck 1978, Smithers & Cooper 1978) disappeared in later studies when the subjects had no prior knowledge of astrology, which showed that prior knowledge can shift a person's self-image in the direction of astrology (Eysenck & Nias 1982:50-60, van Rooij 1999). A tiny but consistent surplus or deficit of rising or culminating planets at the birth of eminent professional people in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Gauquelin 1983) was consistent with parents adjusting birth data to suit popular beliefs, which in those days could easily be done without detection (Dean 2002). For a review of the progress of research into astrology since 1975, including meta-analyses of astrology versus other techniques, see Dean & Kelly (2001).
Note 6. Non-astrological factors can persuade astrologers and clients to see truth and validity where none exist. These hidden persuaders include the Barnum effect (reading specifics into generalities), cognitive dissonance (seeing what you believe), cold reading (let body language be your guide), nonfalsifiability (nothing can count against your idea), the placebo effect (it does you good if you think it does), illusory correlation (finding meaning where none exists), selective memory (remembering hits and forgetting misses), operant conditioning (heads you win, tails is irrelevant), and the Dr Fox effect (blinding you with jargon as in this sentence). A total of 34 hidden persuaders relevant to astrology are listed by Dean & Kelly (2001:199), and also elsewhere on this website, see Index. Each creates the illusion that astrology works, and none require that astrology be true. In technical terms hidden persuaders can be described as "statistical artifacts and inferential biases."
Astrologers invariably teach astrology without reference to hidden persuaders, which is like teaching arithmetic without reference to multiplication. Hidden persuaders explain why tens of thousands of Western tropical astrologers can say that in their experience Scorpios really are intense, while hundreds of thousands of Eastern sidereal astrologers can look at the same piece of sky, which they call Libra, and agree that in their experience it is not intense but relaxed. And what goes for signs goes for all the other factor over which there is disagreement, which is most of them. For more on hidden persuaders and how to avoid them, see Dean, Kelly & Mather (2002), and Gambrill (1990).
When hidden persuaders are prevented, astrology generally fails to work, as for an American astrologer who publicly challenged skeptics to test his predictions of appearance (Ianna & Tolbert 1985), a French astrologer who claimed to diagnose medical conditions (Gauquelin 1987), and when guessing sun signs was found to depend on cue leakage (Dean 1983). Offering cash prizes made no difference. For example the $US5000 superprize was offered for "convincing evidence that the accuracy of chart interpretations cannot be explained by non-astrological factors"; of 34 entries from 7 countries only one was successful, but this was a fake entry entered to test the allegation that the prize was unwinnable (Dean & Mather 1985; Dean, Mather & Kelly 1996:71). In 1927 thousands of US astrologers attempted to win $US1000 (then roughly the average annual wage) by correctly describing three people from their birth data, but the result was conspicuous disagreement -- "they not only contradicted themselves, they were unanimously unsuccessful in describing the three people" (Miller 2002). More examples are given later in note 10.
Note 7. In medieval times people believed that events occurred not by cause and effect (which was a notion unknown before the 17th century) but by mysterious forces and invisible beings, notably God and Satan, including planets "the great visible gods." Nothing was morally neutral, and nothing was actually explained except in religious terms. Thus famine and pestilence had no explanation except as punishment for sin. But people also believed that everything in the cosmos was joined by a process called correspondence, so that things could be understood by looking at whatever corresponded to them. Thus man was just a smaller copy or microcosm, of the larger universe or macrocosm, and for every part of the human body there was a matching item in the macrocosm. For example the four humours were matched by the four elements, and in cases of ill health (thought to be caused by an imbalance of humours), it was normal for the physician to consult the heavens for guidance.
The same symbolism underlies astrology today. Thus Mars the red planet indicates blood, anger and war, and by extension anything vaguely red, hot, or aggressive. This has the advantage of flexibility, of being easily adjusted to fit the facts. On the other hand we have no way of knowing where to stop. Is Mars unfortunate because blood = war/death or fortunate because blood = life? Furthermore this kind of reasoning is now known to be fallacious. No longer do we believe, as Aristotle did, that death can occur only at low tide. No longer do midwives open the door to ease a painful labour. As noted by former astrologer Terry Dwyer (1986:98) "Symbols are ten a penny; reality is harder to come by." For example the Water element might manifest as ambergris, breasts, crabs, fluctuation, gardens, ink, insecurity, the Moon, music, navigation, Neptune, pearls, poetry, pumpkins, sensitivity, tridents and turquoise, to mention only a few, all to do with the watery principle. Can an educated person really believe this?
Many other problems, contradictions and anomalies of astrological symbolism have been identified by Kelly (1997), who concludes that astrology lacks the conceptual resources needed to deal with them. Instead it proceeds by "rhetoric, hyperbole, and bluff", becoming a kind of psychological chewing gum, satisfying but ultimately without real substance. For example former astrologer Charles Strohmer (1988) notes that when astrologers talk about planets they are actually talking about planetary gods; so the principles of astrology have "nothing to do with planets but with superstitions and imaginings relating to mythical deities... The imaginary-ness of what is behind what is being said is overlooked. It is covered up." A sort of Astrology-gate.
Astrologers respond to such criticisms in two main ways. (1) They argue that astrology need not rely on symbolism. That is, the planets could work directly via geomagentic effects or pineal effects or Bertalanffy's systems theory or Bohm's implicate order or Pribam's holographic order or Sheldrake's morphic resonance or Tiller's higher dimensions (and so on). Which is like arguing that levitation could explain why airplanes fly. Until the steps in the argument are spelled out and validated empirically, it remains circular -- astrology is made possible by the kind of thing that, if it existed, would make astrology possible. Also, how could direct influences work when the subject is a company or a country or a question? Indeed astrologer Robert Hand (1988) argues that an astrology based on direct influences would no longer be astrology.
(2) They argue that such criticisms miss the point; what matters are the images conjured up by astrological symbolism, which can then be used to help the client. So imaginary-ness and even contradictions are of no consequence. Thus Koch (2002) argues that contradictions such as Mars = life or death lead to new images, something not previously there, which (he says) is useful.
Similarly Niehenke (2002) points out that, unlike Eastern astrologers, most Western astrologers see the chart not as a schedule of fate but as a guide to becoming oneself. It shows not the facts but what they mean to that person; not money but what money means (is it security, material possessions, social position?); not where the person is but where they should be going. Reconcile a person with their nature and harmony will replace distress. But what if reconciliation means moral dangers? What if harmony for an afflicted 12th house means hurting others? The answer, says Niehenke, is to adjust the reading to avoid such things. Adjustment is not difficult because chart symbolism is always flexible, especially when contradictions are present. But to be effective the astrologer will need empathy, wisdom and experience.
Most astrologers would agree with Niehenke. Cornelius et al (1995:93) say "Use whatever you know about the person as the context to flesh out the symbolism." Noel Tyl (1975:1) says "it is the human being who makes astrology work and not the planets or their symbols." You can forget about technique because "a question to the client [about what the chart means] will provide the answer. Time and time again, individuals ... will reach beyond even the wildest established orb to create a supportive aspect between two symbolic energy dimensions, to make things happen in a specific way at a specific time" (pp.132-133). Jacques Halbronn (1995) puts it even more directly: "You must understand that astrology is a means of communication, not a source of knowledge ... You must scramble the tracks, note the contradictions, play the subtle planetary mixtures, and choose whatever best fits the client ... [For] the birth chart cannot tell you about a client. At best, it merely provides a focus that allows therapy by conversation to proceed ... Without imposing morals on your client, you are there to reconcile him with the world of men, not to reconcile him with the stars. In fact you should here ignore astrology altogether." In such a situation, as pointed out by Niehenke (1989), the astrologer needs empathy, wisdom, and experience of life.
In effect the client makes the chart work by choosing hits from unrestricted guesses and general ambiguity, which hits are then put to good use by the astrologer. Put that way, the process seems ludicrous. But it succeeds because an essential feature of astrology is ignorance about what is really happening. All we need for success is to know the symbolism in advance (which is what learning astrology is all about), and to remain resolutely ignorant of hidden persuaders (ditto). Or as Terry Dwyer (1986:99) puts it: "Clients are incredibly gullible (almost as gullible as astrologers) and will accept anything provided we deliver it as if we knew what we were doing. Several astrologers (myself included) have conducted experiments where the interpretation of a completely wrong chart has been accepted willingly as a true description. ... It is well-known that ingenious astrologers can read anything they want from any chart, indeed you have only to read the Astrological Journal or Transit for a few issues to see them doing it." In other words (to summarise a rather long note), astrology does not need to be true. This point is recognised by some astrologers, for example Rudhyar (1979), and is followed up in the next note.
Note 8. Claims of truth and unknown mechanisms in astrology are easily disputed by reference to the hidden persuaders discussed in note 5. Testimonials that "astrology works" are of no avail, as can be seen if we look at phrenology (predicting from head shape), which in the 19th century was more popular than astrology is today. Like astrology it encourages you to assess yourself via its principles to achieve harmony with the world. Like astrology it attracted people of intelligence and a vast literature wherein every criticism was furiously attacked. Like astrology it flourished because practitioners and clients saw that it worked. Many thousands of testimonials based on experience attested to its accuracy and value as in the following examples:
"35,000 testimonials" says a large sign in the window of a London phrenologist (pictured in Parker & Parker 1988). "I never knew I had an inventive talent until phrenology told me. I was a stranger to myself until then" said Thomas Edison, inventor of the telegraph, phonograph, incandescent lamp, and many devices for distributing electricity. "The phrenologist has shown that he is able to read character like an open book, and to lay bare the hidden springs of conduct with an accuracy that the most intimate friends cannot approach" said Alfred Russel Wallace FRS, one of the most eminent scientists of his time and co-founder with Charles Darwin in 1858 of the Theory of Evolution. "Not to know yourself phrenologically is sure to keep you standing on the Bridge of Sighs all your life" said Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and creator of the Carnegie Peace Fund. (All quoted by Severn 1913).
Few testimonials for astrology have reached this level. Yet we now know that the claims of phrenology are wrong, and that a certain head shape cannot mean what it is supposed to mean. So the above testimonials say nothing about truth and everything about hidden persuaders. The implications for astrology should be obvious. As noted by Dean & Mather (1985): "Astrologers are like phrenologists: their systems cover the same ground, they apply them to the same kinds of people, they turn the same blind eye to the same lack of experimental evidence, and they are convinced for precisely the same reasons that everything works. But the phrenologists were wrong. So why shouldn't critics conclude for precisely the same reasons that astrologers are wrong?" That was twenty years ago. To date there has been no response from astrologers, which to most critics will speak for itself. The common claim that astrology is unassailable (because it is experience-based) is mistaken -- its supposed strength is actually its weakness.
Note 9. Astrologers themselves have noted how "In astrology there are many grandiose claims, endless arguments between astrologers, but little testing. Which is understandable -- astrologers can make more money telling fortunes than doing research, and they make no enemies by adopting the view that all techniques are equally valid" (Conrad 1997). Speculations are "accepted uncritically without question" (Nolle 1980). Even in horary astrology experience-based opinions tend to disagree, so "something is wrong with the way most astrologers draw conclusions from experiences" (Van de moortel 2002). Even after twenty centuries of practice, astrologers still cannot agree on what a birth chart should contain and how it should be interpreted. They do not even agree on what a birth chart is supposed to indicate. Fifty years ago they tended to settle for minds, feelings, physique, health, wealth, vocation, relationships, events, destiny, or mostly everything. "There is no area of human existence to which astrology cannot be applied" say Derek and Julia Parker in their astrology bible The Compleat Astrologer (1975:60). Today the astrologer seems to have retreated in the face of research, settling instead for hidden potentials and other unobservables that are more secure from disproof. But the problems don't end there.
In 1973 the US astrologer Zip Dobyns noted that "astrology is almost as confused as the earthly chaos it is supposed to clarify" (Dobyns & Roof 1973). In 1986 nineteen well-known US astrologers concluded that US astrology was in a sorry state, plagued by bickering, and ignorant of relevant disciplines; the main need was for thorough testing and scientific research (Astro*Talk, May/June 1986). The confusion is made worse by glaring contradictions: Astrologers have claimed that it is meaningful to describe isolated factors but meaningless to test them; and that newspaper horoscopes are valid but a five-minute error in birth time can make all the difference. They cite Gauquelin but never his conclusion that "the majority of the elements in a horoscope seem not to posses any of the influences which have been attributed to them" (Gauquelin 1991). Indeed, "techniques that cannot possibly be simultaneously true will do equally good jobs of interpreting the chart" (Hand 1988). And "some of the best readings have been with wrong charts" (Phillipson 2000), a point confirmed by Dwyer (see end of note 7).
More contradictions are discussed by Kelly (1997), who notes how most astrologers ignore the confusion, defend their beliefs to the point of silliness, and show no interest in research. The same view is held by US researcher T Patrick Davis (1997), who introduced Astro Sleuthing Contests aimed at reaching consensus on what works best in astrology. Each contest was based on a case similar to those commonly encountered, had clear-cut outcome, and had birth data of the highest quality. Six contests held during 1992-94 confirmed that astrological methods were in a state of "total confusion." Astrologers whose methods clearly failed continued to use them, while superior methods were ignored. Further contests had to be abandoned due to lack of interest. As Davis noted, "this is no way to run a 'profession'."
Note 10. Meta-analysis of more than fifty controlled studies suggests that astrologers are unable to perform usefully better than chance even on the more basic tasks such as predicting extraversion. Those who claim to use psychic ability perform no better than those who do not. The results are no better when astrologers design the tests. Meta-analysis of twenty-eight studies suggests that astrologers do not usefully agree when interpreting the same charts. See Case for and against astrology on this website. A test of 2101 persons born less than 5 minutes apart found no hint of the similarities predicted by astrology (Dean & Kelly 2003). Astrologers typically counter such findings by misreporting them, often to an absurd extent, for examples see Dean & Kelly (2004); or by arguing that chart interpretation is not a one-way process (A means B) but a two-way system where person and interpretation interact (A may not mean B after all) so nothing is definite enough to be tested, which cannot be true because it would stop astrologers knowing anything about astrology; in psychology the problems of interaction have not hindered testing, eg see Buss (1977). Equally implausible are appeals to the difficulty of research, which cannot be true when astrologers are so easily convinced that astrology works.
Astrologers also claim that researchers get negative results because they are ignorant or hostile. But when Niehenke (1984) gave 3150 German subjects a 500-item questionnaire designed to test astrological claims, the results were completely negative even though he was a professional astrologer and president of the DAV (Union of German Astrologers). For example subjects with four Saturn aspects (which are supposed to indicate heavy responsibility and depression) felt no more depressed than those with no Saturn aspects. To claim that Niehenke's astrology stopped working just because he changed hats clearly won't do; a much more plausible explanation is provided by hidden persuaders. Niehenke (1996:55) notes that "The only support left for our conviction that astrology works is our success in the counselling situation ... As long as the processes characterizing this counselling situation are not fully understood, research in astrology will continue to stagnate." This is precisely where hidden persuaders come in. Until astrologers themselves address hidden persuaders, their 2000-year-old quarrels (about how astrology works, whether other realities apply, why critics are always wrong, and so on) would seem to be premature. Like invoking the end of the world to explain a power cut.
Note 11. Astrologers see astrology as a better model of reality than alternative models, and attribute its neglect by scientists and philosophers to prejudice and vested interests. In fact astrology is neglected largely because it has been spectacularly unfruitful in guiding enquiry, and because astrologers never say precisely what their model predicts, the criteria by which it could be tested, and the evidence they would accept as showing it had failed. As will be apparent from the preceding notes, findings in the relevant areas of astronomy, biology and psychology seem to deny that astrology could work in the way claimed by astrologers; the findings also suggest plausible non-astrological reasons for supposed astrological effects; and they provide competing theories that have more explanatory power and are more consistent with other areas of science. The renowned biologist Edward Wilson (1998), in a sensitive wide-ranging and beautifully-written book, shows how the explanations most likely to survive in art, science, and religion are those that are consistent with each other. In his view astrology is a pseudoscience built on faith in sympathetic magic, personally satisfying but with neither the ideas nor the means to contribute anything to a genuine unity of knowledge. The philosopher Bernulf Kanitscheider (1991) notes that criticism of astrology is pointless because "astrology fills an emotional human need ... the motivating force behind astrology has always been a person's need to deal with life."
Note 12. In principle astrology can provide benefit in two separate ways: (1) Because it is meaningful; its ideas have beauty and depth that provide spiritual support in a chaotic world, just as they did in medieval times. (2) Because it is true; people with X in their charts really are more X-ish than those without X. Astrologers tend to argue that, because astrology is meaningful (item 1), astrology is also true (item 2). But (1) and (2) are not related. In their day bloodletting and biorhythms and phrenology were seen as meaningful even though (as we now know) they were untrue. To be meaningful they did not need to be true. The same applies to astrology. By keeping (1) separate from (2) we can avoid the problems due to invalid beliefs, disagreement, and so on, simply because they are no longer relevant. Just as we accept that myth, poetry and fiction can enrich our lives without needing to be true, the same with astrology. This view is supported by Weidner (2002), who argues that astrology should be accepted as a useful fiction.
Failure to keep (1) separate from (2) creates much unnecessary dispute even between astrologers. For example in 1997 a 4400-word internet debate between Michael Erlewine (USA) and Christine Turner (Australia) can be summarised as follows. Erlewine: Techniques that work for one astrologer do not work for another because astrology is an oracle with elaborate rituals. That the rituals differ is of no consequence, it is the reading we are after. What matters is what we experience and what we learn about ourselves. Turner: A chart is like a piece of sheet music. People may play the music differently but the melody and harmonies do not change. The same applies to astrology otherwise it becomes useless. Why bother learning to play if we cannot get the melody right? Note how the debate boils down to Erlewine's quest for meaning (astrology need not be true as long as it feels good) versus Turner's quest for truth (astrology needs to be true otherwise why bother?). Similarly Willis & Curry (2004) devote many pages to abstruse attacks on scientific tests of astrology, all based on their belief that astrology is to do with meaning, not facts. But their attacks are meaningless, simply because they fail to keep (1) separate from (2).References
For scientific articles on astrology and research, and for further discussion of the problems raised here, see elsewhere on this website.
AFAN (1988). Astrology in North American Society: Position Paper. AFAN, Beverly Hills CA, 9 pp. Quotes are from pp.3,4. AFAN felt it was too long for the general media, so in 1989 it was rewritten with pictures as Astrology Now: The World of Astrology in the 1990s.
Buss AR (1977). The trait-situation controversy and the concept of interaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 3, 21-29.
Clark V (1961). Experimental Astrology. In Search Spring, 101-112.
Conrad C (1997). The Truth of Astrology. Correlation 16(2), 43.
Cornelius G, Hyde M, & Webster C (1995). Astrology for Beginners. Icon Books, Cambridge UK.
Davis TP (1997). Research for the working astrologer: Astro sleuthing contests. Correlation 16(2), 3-9.
Dean G (1983). Can Self-Attribution Explain Sun-Sign Guessing? Correlation 3(2), 22-27.
Dean G (1986). Can Astrology Predict E and N? 3: Discussion and Further Research. Correlation 6(2), 7-52. With 110 references. Includes meta-analyses of astrological studies.
Dean G (1996). A Re-Assessment of Jung's Astrological Experiment. Correlation 14(2), 12-22.
Dean G (2002). Is the Mars effect a Social Effect? Skeptical Inquirer 26(3), 33-38. See also 27(1), 57-59, 65 for a critique and rejoinder. Updated on this website, see Index.
Dean G & Mather A (1985). Superprize results. Astrological Journal 28(1), 23-30. For more on phrenology see Dean G (1998). Meaningful Coincidences: Parallels Between Phrenology and Astrology, Correlation 17(1), 9-40. With 70 references. Includes a detailed look at validity.
Dean G & Kelly IW (2001). Does astrology work? Astrology and skepticism 1975-2000. In Kurtz P (ed), Skeptical Odysseys. Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, pp.191-207. Includes meta-analyses, effect size comparisons, hidden persuaders, and other artifacts.
Dean G & Kelly IW (2003). Is Astrology relevant to consciousness and psi? Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(6-7), 175-198. With 85 references.
Dean G & Kelly IW (2004). Astrologers see stars: Predictable outrage in astrology land. Skeptical Inquirer 28(1), 7-9. A survey of responses to the previous reference.
Dean G, Mather A, & Kelly IW (1996). Astrology. In Stein G (ed), The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, pp.47-99. A comprehensive scientific survey with 15 secondary references. Includes meta-analyses, effect size comparisons, and artifacts.
Dean G, Kelly IW, & Mather A (2002). Undeceiving ourselves. In Shermer M (ed), The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara CA, pp.272-277 with 9 annotated references.
Dobyns ZP and Roof N (1973). The Astrologer's Casebook. Los Angeles: TIA Publications, p.4.
Dwyer T (1986). What's your bias? Astrological Journal 28, 97-101 (p 100 inadvertently appears on p 129) and 153-158.
Eysenck HJ & Nias DKB (1982). Astrology Science or Superstition? St Martin's Press, New York. Also a Pelican paperback 1984. With 230 references.
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