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Cosmos and Psyche
The well-travelled road to disaster

Geoffrey Dean

The original review, of which this is a much-expanded version, appeared as "Saving a disenchanted world with astrology" in Skeptical Inquirer 30(4), July/August 2006.

Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View
By Richard Tarnas. Penguin Viking, 2006.
ISBN 0-670-03292-1. 569 pp. Hardcover, $29.95.

Abstract -- Richard Tarnas is a professor of philosophy and depth psychology in San Francisco. He is convinced that astrology works, and that it promises an escape from the disenchanting scientific world view. His claim is based on thirty years of research with birth charts and historical events, examples of which fill the major part of this thick book. The examples are drawn from philosophical, religious, literary and scientific sources and involve two kinds of comparisons, namely historical events versus aspects between the outer planets Jupiter through Pluto, and prominent people versus their birth charts. In each case he explains what the particular archetype means, and then shows how it can be discerned in the events or births that are coincident with it. But his approach has fatal defects. Mostly he looks at isolated factors, often with very wide orbs, and not the whole chart. Birth data and birth charts are rarely given. No controls are used despite being essential. Similar work by other astrologers is generally ignored and scientific studies are dismissed -- even Gauquelin rates only a passing mention. Despite his erudition, Tarnas seems incapable of writing concisely or vigorously, or of organising his material coherently. Once the noise is removed the flaws become obvious and the case falls apart. Unless you see the combination of paralysing unreadability, inferential incompetence, and unfounded conclusions as a virtue, give this book a miss.

Thanks largely to science, argues Tarnas, we live in a meaningless disenchanted world. But we can be saved by astrology, which offers "a royal road across the threshold of the disenchanted universe into a living cosmos of profound unfolding meaning and purpose." He says his claim is based on thirty years of research, examples of which fill the major part of this thick book.

Passion of the Western Mind
Anyone familiar with astrological writings will have heard such claims before. This time the difference is that Swiss-born (of American parents) Tarnas is a professor of philosophy and depth psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. His 1991 best-seller The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World View has been adopted as a text by many American universities. His views would therefore seem to deserve attention.

According to the Institute's website, the Institute is an accredited university "that connects the spiritual and practical dimensions of intellectual life." It has about 60 faculty, and about 1000 students typically aged around 30, of whom 75% are female. Tarnas teaches courses in archetypal studies, astrology and esoteric studies, history of Western thought and culture, philosophy, and depth psychology (approaches based on the unconscious and on Freudian psychoanalysis).

In an interview in The Mountain Astrologer (Dec 2005/Jan 2006, 45-51), with a preamble from which the above royal-road quote is taken (p.43), Tarnas says Passion started out as a history of astrological ideas and ended up as a history of Western world views. Passion divides world views broadly into (1) Greek, from 500 BC, where everything reflects fundamentals such as the Good and the Beautiful, and opposites such as light/dark, many personified as gods. (2) Christian, peaking in the Middle Ages around 500-1500, where the church and holy scriptures have absolute authority, and to love Christ is better than all knowledge. (3) Scientific, roughly 1700 onwards, where all effects have causes that can be discovered by proper investigation, and man, not God, is in charge. Passion then hints at a coming world view based on "the emergence of a dialectically integrated, participatory consciousness reconnected to the universal" (p.440), but gives no further explanation.

However, in an article in Astrological Journal 33(4), 226-232, July/August 1991, the year Passion was published, Tarnas gives an explanation. We are peripheral (Copernicus) to a universe that is impersonal (Descartes), and unknowable (Kant), so we feel alienated. But astrologically we are one with the universe and are thus not alienated at all. So astrology provides "a cosmic avenue to a new world view." Indeed, "Only astrology so totally threatens the Bastille of the old regime. It is testable. And every one of us can test it in our own lives -- and, if the evidence proves persuasive, every one of us can glimpse a new universe" (p.232). Remember that statement, for we shall return to it.

Cosmos and Psyche
In his new book Tarnas slowly confirms that Passion was hinting at astrology. He sees the modern world as disenchanted, "voided of any spiritual, symbolic, or expressive dimension" (p.20). He believes "that the disenchantment of the modern universe is the direct result of a simplistic epistemology and moral posture spectacularly inadequate to the depths, complexity, and grandeur of the cosmos" (p.40).

Such a world view serves Tarnas's purpose in promoting astrology as an escape from disenchantment. But it is not the world described by people such as Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, where science provides the very enchantment that Tarnas wishes to deny. To quote Sagan:

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true." (From The Burden of Skepticism, in Basil R (ed), Not Necessarily the New Age: Critical Essays, Prometheus 1988, pp.361-371)

Nor is it the world described by many secular philosophers who argue that all the meaning we need in life can be found in the way we lead our lives. Even religiously oriented philosophers such as John Cottingham have provided alternatives that avoid Tarnas's assumptions about disenchantment. Indeed, modern journals such as Science & Spirit address these very issues, as does Michael Shermer in his recent booklet The Soul of Science (see Shermer is a former born-again Christian and now an agnostic (one who sees God-related issues as insoluble). He is also co-founder in 1992 of the Skeptics Society and publisher of their Skeptic magazine. In his booklet he asks "Can we find spiritual meaning and purpose in a scientific worldview?" He defines spirituality in the same way as Tarnas does, as a way of being in the world, a sense of one's place in the cosmos, a link with something that extends beyond ourselves. His answer is Yes. He points out that there are many sources of spirituality. Religion may be the most common but it is not the only one. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this very well.

Shermer further illustrates how science can be a source of spirituality in his book How we believe: The search for God in an age of science (Freeman, New York 2000), which among other things is based on a survey of 1650 members of the Skeptics Society and a random sample of 960 ordinary Americans. His concluding words are:

"But for me, and not just for me, a world without monsters, ghosts, demons, and gods unfetters the mind to soar to new heights, to think unthinkable thoughts, to imagine the unimaginable, to contemplate infinity and eternity knowing that no one is looking back. ... To share in the sublimity of knowledge generated by other human minds, and perhaps even to make a tiny contribution toward that body of knowledge that will be passed down through the ages -- part of the cumulative wisdom of a single species on a tiny planet orbiting an ordinary star on the remote edge of a not-so-unusual galaxy, itself a member of a cluster of galaxies billions of light years from nowhere, is sublime beyond words. ... Skeptics and scientists cannot experience the numinous? Nonsense. You do not need a spiritual power to experience the spiritual. You do not need to be mystical to appreciate the mystery. Standing beneath a canopy of galaxies, atop a pillar of reworked stone, or inside a transept of holy light, my unencumbered soul was free to love without constraint, free to use my senses to enjoy all the pleasures and endure all the pains that come with such freedom. I was enfranchised for life, emancipated from the bonds of restricting tradition, and unyoked from the rules written for another time in another place for another people. I was now free to try to live up to that exalted moniker -- Homo sapiens -- wise man." (pp.237-238)

Unfortunately contrary views such as these are not discussed by Tarnas, so readers are immediately led astray. Instead, both here and in Passion, Tarnas argues that science has failed us due to the rise of pollution, social alienation, and so on. Greek slaves and heretics being burned at the stake might not agree.

Jung and synchronicity
Tarnas then proceeds by way of depth psychology, Jung, and synchronicity to astrology, a word not mentioned until page 61. Nor does it appear on the jacket. The mention of Jung and synchronicity seems to be obligatory in any astrology book wishing to appear respectable, but Tarnas (like every other such author) fails to identify the problems that emerge on a careful inspection of Jung's Collected Works (the relevant volume is volume 8, 1960) and Letters (volume 2, 1976).

For example, Jung defines synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence inexplicable by chance, but he gives no probability calculations to support this view. In fact the probability of experiencing a meaningful coincidence is quite high. Suppose two people compare their cars, jobs, etc. If each theme, eg make of car or type of job, has N categories, eg 10 makes of car and 10 types of job, only 0.35N themes are needed for a 50% chance of at least one coincidence, and 1.5N themes for a 95% chance. Because categories can be multiplied almost indefinitely (car colour, make, age, number of seats, place of purchase, and so on), as can themes, striking coincidences of one kind or another are almost inevitable.

See Diaconis P and Mosteller R (1989). Methods for studying coincidence, Journal of the American Statistical Association 84, 853-861.

So there is no reason to suppose that synchronicity has anything to do with it. Furthermore, we never have time to explain every coincidence, so inevitably some will seem mysterious. Indeed, an important part of our world view lies in knowing what not to bother explaining. Thus we may worry about why our teeth ache but not about why people wear hats. And how coincident is coincident? Jung initially says synchronicity must be simultaneous (1960:850), but later says it can be "more or less simultaneous" or even "not yet existent ... distant in time" (1960:984). Furthermore it depends on the observer having intense emotions during archetypal (ie universal) situations such as birth, marriage, illness, and death.

Jung argues that, because archetypes are not bound by time and space (people dead or unborn can be Great Mothers or Wise Old Men), they are responsible for synchronicity, and "for the most part" there can be no synchronicity without archetypes. He stresses that synchronistic phenomena cannot be evoked on demand (1976:541): "They occur spontaneously ... In the same way, the archetype is not evoked by a conscious act of will; experience shows it is activated, independently of the will, in a psychic situation that needs compensating by an archetype." Such archetypal situations tend to be emergencies and crises (illness, danger to life) so overwhelming that victims "find themselves compelled by fear to utter a fervent prayer: the archetype ... is constellated by their submission and may eventually intervene." In effect this says that archetypes tend to cause noncausality -- an ironic difficulty which caused Jung to retreat into obscurity. As might be expected, synchronicity "is a relatively rare phenomenon" (1960:938n).

Note the problems for astrology: (1) Synchronicity does not require simultaneity whereas astrology does. (2) Synchronicity is facilitated if the chart reader is in the grip of intense crisis-type emotions, but even then it may not appear. (3) Synchronicity arises from the reader, not the chart, so it obviates the need for a correct chart. In other words synchronicity has nothing to do with the supposed relationship as above, so below and therefore cannot be relevant to astrology. If it was then every hit in a chart reading would be accompanied by the relevant archetype, requiring the reader to experience intense fear, anger, joy, sorrow, love, hatred, or whatever. No reader or client could stand it.

Noticing astrology
Tarnas tells us that "Like most products of a modern education [he graduated from Harvard], I myself long viewed any form of astrology with automatic skepticism" (p.62). Which argument needs to be seen in the light of surveys that have consistently found this automatic skepticism to be a minority product of American education. Tarnas then noticed that many famous people in history (eg Plato, Aquinas) had supported astrology, apparently without also noticing that many famous people (eg Cicero, Augustine) had rejected it. He also noticed that many new ideas such as "the multidimensional nature of reality", whatever that means, were "not inherently incompatible with the astrological perspective" (p.63), apparently without also noticing that many other new ideas such as those uncovered by research into astrology (see later) were not compatible with it.

But the clincher came when he started looking at the birth charts of himself and others, and at historical events. Like everyone else who does this without controls, he was "deeply impressed by the range and complex precision of the empirical correspondences" (p.65), even though much was "vague, overspecific, or quaintly irrelevant" (p.66). He adds:

"Certainly much astrological theory and practice entirely lacked critical rigor. It seemed to me that considerable waste, misdirection, and even harm occurred as a result of many astrological teachings and consultations. Nevertheless, a certain core of the astrological tradition -- above all, the planetary correspondences with specific archetypal principles, and the importance of major geometrical alignments between the planets -- appeared to have a substantial empirical basis. ... The coincidence between planetary positions and appropriate biographical and psychological phenomena was in general so precise and consistent as to make it altogether impossible for me to regard the intricate patterning as merely the product of chance." (p.66)

Like Jung, Tarnas gives no probability calculations to support his views. Nor does he consider other ways by which apparent coincidences can arise such as biassed inference, neglect of hidden persuaders, nonfalsifiability, and retro-fitting after the event. More later on the consequences of this.

The nature of astrology
Tarnas describes his observed correspondences as follows:

"A key to this emerging perspective, I came to realize, was the concept of archetype as developed by Jung ... Only as I more fully appreciated the multidimensional and multivalent nature of archetypes -- their formal coherence and consistency that could give rise to a plurality of meaning and possible manifestation -- did I begin to discern the precise nature of astrological correlations. ... Compared with, for example, the aims and modus operandi of various forms of intuitive divination and clairvoyance, with which astrology in earlier eras was often systematically conjoined, the essential structure of this emerging astrological paradigm appeared to be focused not on the prediction of specific concrete outcomes but rather on the precise discernment of archetypal dynamics and their complex unfolding in time." (p.67)

Finally, after thirty years of looking at charts:

"I have become convinced, after the most painstaking investigation and critical assessment of which I am capable, that there does in fact exist a highly significant -- indeed a pervasive -- correspondence between planetary movements and human affairs, and that the modern assumption to the contrary has been erroneous." (pp.68-69)

As above so below = a new world view
Tarnas dismisses the idea that planets could have physical causes such as those due to radiation or gravitation. Instead he favours the idea of as above so below where the universe is: "a fundamentally and irreducibly interconnected whole, informed by creative intelligence and pervaded by patterns of meaning and order that extend through every level, and that are expressed through a constant correspondence between astronomical events and human events." (p.77)

In such a view the planets do not cause anything, they merely indicate, just as a clock indicates time but does not cause it: "It seems that a fundamental new kind of causality must be posited to account for the observed phenomena. ... an archetypal causality that in crucial respects possesses Platonic and Aristotelian characteristics, yet is far more complex, fluid, multivalent, and co-creatively participatory than previous conceptual models -- whether from physics, philosophy, or astrology -- have been able to accommodate." (p.78)

The result was his firm belief that astrology promises "the emergence of a new, genuinely integral world view," one that "can reunite the human and the cosmic, and restore transcendent meaning to both" (p.490).

The archetypes that Tarnas claims to have validated are essentially the principles behind each planetary god as given with minor variations in astrology textbooks, for example Jupiter expansion, Saturn limitation, Uranus change, Neptune intangibles, Pluto intensity. Unfortunately Tarnas fails to point out some of the problems inherent in the idea of archetypes:

One problem with an archetype is that it cannot be examined directly, only its image, which varies between cultures and between people in the same culture, even though the underlying archetype remains the same. This looseness makes it possible to fit any archetype to almost any image, which is seen by proponents as a strength. For example Marie-Louise von Franz, one of Jung's co-workers, says "If one knows enough mythology one can make a completely consistent web from every great archetype to every other great archetype" (On Divination and Synchonicity, Inner City Books, Toronto 1980, p.63). But this is precisely the problem, for if every archetype somehow merges with every other archetype (even opposites such as Jupiter and Saturn merge by virtue of being meaningless without each other, just as day is meaningless unless there is also night), then almost anything can be proven, making the doctrine impossible to falsify.

Another problem is Jung's justification for archetypes in the first place. He writes of patients who, with no obvious knowledge of other cultures, nevertheless had dreams showing striking parallels with myths from other cultures. He concludes that the dreams arose from sources outside of their personal experience, hence the need for archetypes and a collective unconscious. But people may disown their inner happenings (eg "I don't have the brains for that idea") because the happenings can arrive subconsciously and therefore seem (incorrectly) to have an independent existence. So archetypes are not needed to explain the dreams of Jung's patients. Nor are they needed to explain similarities between myths. All cultures face the same basic problems of finding food and shelter, avoiding enemies, raising children, and so on, which means that similarities in their myths are inescapable. Especially when loose imagery is part of the deal.

The practical outcome of these problems will be familiar to any reader of astrology books, and of Cosmos and Psyche: Being an archetype requires that its meaning be blurred to cover all possible outcomes until it reads like a entry in Roget's thesaurus. Take Jupiter expansion for example. Here is Tarnas's "brief summary" of the Jupiter archetype:

"Jupiter: the principle of expansion, magnitude, growth, elevation, superiority; the capacity and impulse to enlarge and grow, to ascend and progress, to improve and magnify, to incorporate that which is external, to make greater wholes, to inflate; to experience success, honor, advancement, plenitude, abundance, prodigality, excess, surfeit; the capacity or inclination for magnanimity, optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, joy, joviality, liberality, breadth of experience, philosophical and cultural aspiration, comprehensiveness and largeness of vision, pride, arrogance, aggrandizement, extravagance; fecundity, fortune, and providence; Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods." (pp.90-91)

Ironically his brief summary for Saturn limitation is more than twice as long. Indeed, when pairs or triplets of planets are involved, the resulting collective archetype requires many pages to even briefly describe the possible outcomes. More later on the consequences of this.

The way in which these archetypes work is illustrated by a massively erudite array of examples that with notes occupy more than 400 pages. The examples are drawn from philosophical, religious, literary and scientific sources and involve two kinds of comparisons, namely historical events versus aspects between the outer planets Jupiter through Pluto, and prominent people versus their birth charts. In each case Tarnas explains what the particular archetype means, and then shows how it can be discerned in the events or births that are coincident with it.

Tarnas does not mention that his approach was established in his monograph Prometheus the Awakener, written in 1979, where he notes that the accepted principle behind Uranus is more like the mythical Prometheus (who promotes change) than the mythical Ouranos (who resists change). When he looked at charts and events where Uranus was involved, in the same way as he now does in Cosmos and Psyche (which includes this early work), he found strong confirmation of the Prometheus archetype. A later version of this monograph work appears in Astrological Journal 1989, 31(4) 187-196 and 31(5), 243-250,

Archetypes in historical events
As an example: In Uranus-Pluto cycles the archetype is Pluto intensity intensifying Uranus change, or alternatively Uranus change liberating Pluto intensity, indicating radical social change and rebellion against authority. Like any other planetary pair it manifests when the planets are in major aspect to each other, especially the conjunction, square, and opposition. Conjunctions occurred in 1845-1856 (upheavals throughout Europe, women's suffrage, radical socialism, travel breakthroughs eg railroads), and 1960-1972 (women's lib, black civil rights, Mao's Little Red Book, space exploration). Oppositions occurred in 1787-1798 (French Revolution, abolition of slavery, start of feminist movement, continuation of Industrial Revolution), and 1896-1907 (upheavals in America, Boxer rebellion in China, suffragettes in England). It was the close fit and precise timing of these astrological events that seemed to require "a fresh assessment of the ancient astrological vision of the universe, far beyond what conventional modern explanations could provide" (p.204).

Similarly for Saturn-Pluto, where the archetype is Pluto intensity intensifying Saturn limitation, or alternatively Saturn limitation restricting Pluto intensity, indicating widespread conservatism and repression. A conjunction occurred in 1913-1916 (World War 1), a square in 1939-1941 (World War 2) and 1954-1957 (Suez crisis), and an opposition in 2000-2004 (New York 9/11). It can manifest as "genocide, ethnocide, and mass killings" (p.217), and as "resolve to reestablish traditional values" (p.227), so you can have it both ways.

Next come Jupiter-Uranus (radical change and creativity), Uranus-Neptune (spiritual change as in 1913 when Steiner founded anthroposophy), and Saturn-Neptune (materialistic Saturn conflicts with spiritual Neptune) indicating either the enlightening of materialism or the dimming of spirituality, so again you can have it both ways. A Saturn-Neptune conjunction occurred in 2005 (Asian tsunami, New Orleans flooding), or given the traditional connection of Neptune with the sea, "death caused by water" (p.471).

Archetypes in birth charts
Everyone has transitting Uranus opposition their natal Uranus around ages 40-44, indicating sudden changes or bursts of creativity, for example Descartes published his Discourse on Method, Newton published his Principia, and Freud began writing his The Interpretation of Dreams (p.112). Similarly everyone has transitting Saturn conjunct their natal Saturn around ages 28-30, indicating a more practical turn of events such as a major career appointment (Kepler appointed Imperial Mathematician), a first major achievement (Marie Curie discovers radium), entering one's mature calling (Mark Twain publishes his first work), meeting a mentor (Jung begins correspondence with Freud), or simply moving house (Leonardo moves to Milan) (pp.120-121).

Tarnas considers the possibility that such events might be expected anyway at such ages. But the exactness of the timing, and the correspondence with the planet transitted (thus Uranus transitting natal Venus differs from Uranus transitting natal Mars), leads him to discount that possibility (p.114). He adds "I have seldom researched a biography for which I had sufficiently detailed records of the major inner and outer events in a person's life where I did not find the above patterning readily visible" (p.125). Which seems unremarkable given the diversity of archetypes and of admissable events.

Archetypes are also shown by aspects between planets in the birth chart. People with Sun conjunct Uranus (eg the freedom-loving poet Shelley) tended to show archetypal Uranus traits and those with Sun conjunct Saturn (eg the pessimistic philosopher Schopenhauer) tended to show archetypal Saturn traits. However, Tarnas stresses that "any given archetypal complex ... could be embodied in an extraordinary diversity of ways ... Not every person with a Sun-Uranus conjunction precisely resembles Shelley, nor are all those born with Sun-Saturn conjunctions just like Schopenhauer" (p.128).

Nevertheless, despite this diversity, Tarnas could always recognise the underlying archetype. For example a Sun-Uranus aspect might describe a "leading feminist pioneer or a free-wandering irresponsible missing parent, a major scientific innovator or a harmless eccentric, a celebrated cultural liberator or a lifelong juvenile delinquent" (p.128), while a Sun-Saturn aspect might describe a "person noted for maturity of judgment, discipline, self-reliance, and comfort with solitude, or in a person prone to depression, loneliness, and rigidity" (p.128). Astrology showed the archetypes but not the specific way they would manifest. Therefore "the expression of a specific archetypal complex in a virtually limitless variety of forms is, I believe, not only characteristic of all astrological correspondence but essential to it" (p.128). In other words it is like being sure of seeing faces in clouds, but never which face nor which cloud. (In case you wondered, the closest aspect in Tarnas's own chart is Sun trine Uranus.)

Salvation by astrology
Tarnas is confident that his findings are valid, and that astrology provides "a comprehensive conceptual structure that makes intelligible the complexities of human experience in a manner unmatched by any other approach I have encountered" (p.133). Astrology "can play a crucial role in the positive unfolding of our collective future" (p.489). It saves us from disenchantment and promises "the emergence of a new, genuinely integral world view", one that "can reunite the human and the cosmic, and restore transcendent meaning to both" (p.490).

Tarnas dismisses skeptical views. For example he notes that astrology's bad press is due to numerous factors including newspaper horoscopes, fatalistic implications, and skeptics "who do not deeply examine what they zealously reject" (p.138). Astrology's acceptance requires "a flexible combination of critical questioning, freedom from a predisposition of closed skepticism, and patience" (p.459), especially as "The fundamental skepticism of the modern and postmodern mind ... has become a permanently confining end in itself, an armored state of intellectual constraint and spiritual unfulfillment" (p.486). He is dismayed that skeptics "assume the entire universe is ultimately a soulless void" (p.40) when astrology so clearly indicates the opposite.

Two comments here. First, by definition no true skeptic assumes anything in advance. If they do view the universe as a soulless void, it is the consequence of empirical tests subject to disconfirmation by further tests or by critical philosophical review. Second, the implication that an open mind and proper investigation will automatically support Tarnas's views is demonstrably wrong.

Proper investigation
In 1974 it was precisely with this attitude that Arthur Mather and I, with the help of over fifty relevant experts, began a critical review of the astrological and related literature. Like Tarnas we had observed striking correspondences with birth charts and were convinced that it deserved scientific investigation. Eventually we managed to summarise material from 310 astrology books (out of over 1000 consulted), 410 astrology journal articles, and 300 scientific works. The result was Recent Advances in Natal Astrology: A Critical Review 1900-1976, a book of 608 pages and 1020 references published in 1978 and now long out of print (and just as well because it dated very quickly, look up Origins in the Index on this website).

We concluded: "The picture emerging suggests that astrology works, but seldom in the way or to the extent that it is said to work" (p.7). We uncovered many reasons such as the Barnum effect for thinking we might be fooling ourselves into seeing validity where none existed. Even events (which are about as straighforward as you can get because they either happen or don't happen) proved problematic. For example Chester Kemp, an astrologer renowned for precise working, compared the chart of a fictitious person (CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower) with more than 30 fictitious major events, all of which fitted with precision and striking symbolism. Nevertheless we noted that "charts are often so exactly right in such unlikely ways that coincidence or gullibility would seem to be ruled out" (p.25). There were also a number of seemingly positive findings such as those of Vernon Clark (matching tests), John Nelson (radio quality), John Addey (harmonics), and Michel Gauquelin (planetary effects) that warranted further investigation. Much was uncertain but the door on astrology was far from being closed.

Thus far our views were essentially the same as Tarnas's. But they changed once we (and others) looked more closely at the ways we might be fooling ourselves. We also checked the seemingly positive findings using computers and meta-analytic techniques, none of which were available in the 1970s. This subsequent work occupied us for nearly 30 years. In effect we applied the procedures and precautions that have long been accepted in experimental psychology and which Tarnas has so far failed to apply.

Today the uncertainties about astrology have mostly disappeared and the door is much closer to being closed. The new procedures and precautions uncovered only artifacts (non-astrological effects) that we and others had mistakenly seen as astrological effects. Hundreds of rigorous tests found not a single effect size commensurate with astrological claims. As a result we had to change our previous positive view. As Rudolf Smit shows in his autobiographical My Disaster on this website, see Index, a change of view can be traumatic for believers in astrology. But the chips fall where they may. It is now easy to see huge flaws in Tarnas's book.

Huge flaws
Tarnas's thirty-year labour and familiarity with diverse sources is impressive, and his aims are clearly noble. But others in the field with equally noble aims have laboured just as long and have produced just as impressive a volume of findings (Witte, Ebertin, Barbault, Carter, Addey, Harvey, Lewis, Church of Light, to name just a few), using the same looking-at-charts approach but with conclusions that often conflict with Tarnas's. For example Charles Carter, the leading British astrologer of his time, did not agree that astrology can give only archetypal results, just as his successor John Addey did not agree that astrology is untestable by science. My point is not whether these views are right or wrong but that Tarnas's book fails to note that he is on a well-travelled path, so it gives the wrong impression that he is some sort of pioneer.

For example, Tarnas tells us that he carefully read through many astrology books including Mundane Astrology by Michael Baigent, Nick Campion and Charles Harvey (Aquarian 1984, updated 1992), but he does not tell us that this work comprehensively sets out the links he claims to have discovered, and more. The above authors also identify the real pioneer in this field, whose name and work are not mentioned by Tarnas: "the resurrection and systematic reconstruction of mundane astrology on a methodical basis is due almost entirely to the industries of one man, Andre Barbault ... [who since the 1940s] saw the absolute necessity of continuously monitoring methods and approaches by putting them to the test of published prophecy" (1984 pp.167-168). They add that an analysis of Barbault's predictions for 1965, which included the Algerian war, by Jacques Reverchon in his self-published Valeur des Jugements et Pronostics Astrologiques (1971) found them to be characterised by vague generalities, hazy language, and a level of accuracy no better than that achieved by informed guessing: "what most surely appears from this analysis is the perfect inanity of the astrological undertaking ... what was announced did not happen, what happened was not announced" (1971 p.13). As shown below, similar wrong predictions by other astrologers are not hard to find:

Wrong prediction from a 1938 Australian newspaper
Wrong prediction from the North Queensland Register of 24 December 1938. The child Prince Albert was later King George VI (1845-1952). Great War = World War I. Ralph Shirley was also editor of The Occult Review.

At the very least we deserve a survey of previous work and the reasons why we should believe Tarnas rather than contrary views.

Similarly Tarnas is not the first to categorise historical events. For example Bernard Grun's thick book The Timetables of History: A horizontal linkage of people and events 4500 BC to present (Simon & Schuster NY 1991) lists notable events for each year in seven categories -- History-Politics, Literature-Theatre, Religion-Philosophy-Learning, Visual Arts, Music, Science-Technology, and Daily Life. So almost at a glance the reader can see what is happening and when.

More distressing is Tarnas's failure to refer to the large body of research findings already mentioned, some of which (like the findings on inferential and cognitive biasses) could hardly be more relevant, see later. The nearest he gets is a brief mention of Gauquelin's planetary effects for eminent professionals (pp.75-76) with no hint of Gauquelin's repeated failure to find effects for planets beyond Saturn or for other chart factors, plus an even briefer mention on page 501 that Tarnas has consulted the astrological research journal Correlation from 1976, which is curious because it did not begin until 1981.

Interestingly, Tarnas's belief seems to receive academic support from Roy Willis and Patrick Curry in their 2004 book Astrology, Science and Culture (Curry teaches graduate astrology courses focusing on cultural astronomy at Bath Spa University College in England). Like Tarnas they argue that our disenchanted world can be saved by astrology. But contrary to Tarnas the astrology that will save us is divinatory astrology, which Tarnas sees as an "unexamined (and often problematic) conflation of ... archetypal insight and concrete prediction" (p.502), a pseudo-astrology dependent on external intuition. (See this website under Book Reviews for a review of Willis and Curry.)

Deep trouble
Unfortunately Tarnas dismisses statistical studies as "methodologically inadequate for entering into the archetypal frame of reference central to the astrological tradition" (p.76), which lands him in deep trouble. Consider Tarnas's approach to historical events. He looks at the astrological interpretation or "archetypal dynamics" of major aspects between the five outer planets using an orb (permissible inexactness) of 15-20 degrees on either side (p.148), and then at concurrent historical events. And vice versa. If correspondences are found he concludes that astrology is proven.

(Interestingly. the astrologer Marjorie Orr, in her book The Astrological History of the World, Vega, London 2002, uses the same approach as Tarnas and finds the same correspondences, but considers only conjunctions with orbs of a few degrees.)

Now, unlike Tarnas, apply some arithmetic. Among five outer planets there are ten possible pairs, of which Tarnas considers six. With his orbs, and regardless of the historical event chosen from an almost unlimited supply, there will nearly always be several pairs in major aspect to compare it with. And vice versa. More specifically, it can be shown that among six pairs with an orb of 15 degrees, at least two pairs will exist 98% of the time and three pairs 90% of the time. Among ten pairs with an orb of 20 degrees, and allowing for overlap, at least five pairs will exist 99% of the time and six pairs 95% of the time. Since a whole pageful of words may be insufficient to describe the archetypal possibilities of each pair, finding a correspondence in all this mess will be even easier than finding faces in clouds, and just as meaningful. With so much going on up there, one wonders how the Dark Ages managed to be so Dark.

Similar problems arise when Tarnas looks at birth charts, where the orbs he uses (5 degrees for transits and rather more for natal aspects) would be seen by most astrologers as overly large, if only because large orbs create too many factors for synthesis. Which leads to an even worse sin: Apart from rarely giving the birth chart or even the birth data (the "trust me" syndrome), Tarnas's chart interpretations routinely break the #1 Golden Rule of Astrology, perhaps the only rule that astrologers have ever agreed on, namely no chart factor shall be judged in isolation. Only the whole chart with nothing left out can mean anything, just as we cannot extract tomato from a pizza and conclude it is tomato pie. But Tarnas rarely looks at the whole chart. Astrologers sensitive to standards in astrological writing might well reject his book out of hand.

Tarnas stresses that "astrology is not concretely predictive but, rather, archetypally predictive ... focused not on the prediction of specific concrete outcomes but rather on the precise discernment of archetypal dynamics and their complex unfolding in time" (p.67, his emphasis). (Tarnas does not let on that millions of Eastern astrologers might disagree with him.) Thus a strong Mars does not indicate bullying or trading in knives but only the "archetypal dynamics" of Mars (energy, assertiveness) whose precise nature can be seen only after the event. Since we all have to be energetic and assertive at various times just to survive, a positive match is guaranteed. Why be disenchanted when you can have nonfalsifiability?

Tarnas might of course see the above as yet more evidence for his claim that astrology "presents an epistemological challenge that transcends the competence of quantitative testing" (p.463). But recall his claim in the 1991 Astrological Journal cited above, that astrology "is testable. And every one of us can test it." Tarnas evidently wants it both ways. So let us look a little closer.

Need for controls
Recall that Tarnas considers only positive cases. But as every first-year psychology student knows, positive cases do not necessarily indicate a correspondence. The correlation between John Nelson's astrology-like forecasts of shortwave radio quality and observed quality was a negligible r = 0.01, but by counting positive cases he got an apparent hit rate of 93%, which for thirty years led him to promote the wrong conclusion. So we need to know if Tarnas's positive cases can also be found for control events and control birth charts. If so, we conclude that no correspondence exists unless more rigorous tests show otherwise. But Tarnas does not use controls or even hint at their importance in drawing conclusions, let alone weighty conclusions about world views and the future of mankind, despite being helped by "more than thirty trusted colleagues ... in shaping and refining the final text" (p.545). Such an abuse of elementary reasoning might be forgiven in a newspaper horoscope but not in a Penguin Viking book by a professor of philosophy helped by thirty trusted colleagues.

As it happens such controls have already been applied in astrology, either inadvertently, as when astrologers unknowingly use the wrong birth chart, or deliberately, in the same way that psychologist Ray Hyman famously gave reversed indications in his palmistry readings. The results show that wrong charts match people and events just as well as right charts. Which is exactly what we would predict from the ambiguity of the astrological symbolism and the cherchez-la-correspondance way in which it is applied by astrologers including Tarnas. Dozens of more rigorous tests where astrologers match birth charts to case histories including events, or where people try to pick their own chart reading, both under blind conditions, show when meta-analysed no evidence to support Tarnas's claims.

See Hyman R (1977). Cold reading: How to convince strangers that you know all about them. The Zetetic (now Skeptical Inquirer), 1(2), 18-37. For an example of reversed readings in astrology, see Dean G (1987). Does astrology need to be true? Part 2. Skeptical Inquirer 11(3), 257-273. For examples on this website of perfect fits from wrong charts see Index.

In fact tests have found that astrologers do not usefully agree on what a birth chart means in the first place. Thus the mean agreement between astrologers in 28 studies involving a total of 559 astrologers reading a total of 762 birth charts was a negligible r = 0.10, whereas the minimum agreement generally accepted by psychologists for procedures applied to individuals (as astrology is) is around r = 0.80, where perfect agreement is r = 1.00. Such results are especially significant here because tests of agreement require no assumptions about validity (so the usual quibbles about birth data accuracy do not apply), and because they are ideally suited to the "archetypal frame of reference" that Tarnas claims is not possible to test. Surveys of the scientific evidence for and against astrology, and of the issues they raise, can be found elsewhere on this website, see Index.

In short, there are recognised ways of analysing Tarnas's kind of data for the correlations he claims to have found, but he ignores them in favour of ways known to give misleading results. So there is good reason to dismiss Tarnas's conclusions until such time as he adopts the proper procedures and precautions.

In his interview Tarnas says his courses and seminars in archetypal astrology "have been extraordinarily popular with the students and have influenced the rest of their studies in psychology, philosophy, or cosmology," which shows how "astrology represents an intellectually rich and rigorous mode of inquiry" (p.51). But if his courses are as unrigorous as his book, their popularity is unsurprising. You need only watch American TV to see how easily enchantment beats critical thinking.

Other reviews
From December 2005 through May 2006 a total of two editorial reviews and 23 customer reviews of Cosmos and Psyche had appeared on The editorial reviews were generally guarded: "a tough sell with the more scientifically hardheaded" (Publishers Weekly), "heavy going ... a book for those who are as intrigued by and as convinced of astrology's validity as Tarnas" (Booklist).

Of the 23 customer reviews, three were negative: "pure idiocy, boring, bailout [ie nonfalsifiable] conceptions." The rest were positive: "compellingly rational, stunning patterns of significance, very well researched, magnificent, exciting and brilliantly woven, one of the greatest books of all time, breaks new ground, many new insights, a must read, ahead of its time, changed how I see the world, exciting and amazing, a tour de force, makes compelling sense, a masterpiece, a breakthrough, surpasses all of my expectations, a scientific triumph, challenging and mind-expanding, stunning visionary history." The reviews by astrologers were especially positive, with comments like "the most important book about astrology in decades (maybe centuries)" and "has made me again proud to call myself an astrologer."

The above reviews all have two things in common. (1) They seem unfamiliar with the wealth of research into astrology that now exists, which means they are arguing from positions of ignorance. (2) They mistake Tarnas's impressive embrace of historical events as an impressive way of analysing them, when in fact (as pointed out above) the analysis is entirely wanting. No matter how impressive the data, a faulty analysis is still a faulty analysis. If Tarnas wishes to make a point then he has to analyse his data properly. It is as simple as that.

Reader unfriendliness
There is one feature of Tarnas's book that I have yet to mention, namely its unrelenting reader-unfriendliness, which is also mentioned in some of the above reviews (eg "slow to read and digest ... lots of big words"). Despite his huge erudition, Tarnas seems incapable of writing concisely or vigorously, or of organising his material coherently. His points drown in torrents of long words that induce mental paralysis and a strong disinclination to read further. Indeed, there seems to be nothing so concrete that Tarnas cannot make vague and abstract.

For example Tarnas uses nearly forty chapter headings for his planetary results without ever mentioning which planets are involved, leaving you to struggle with abstractions such as "Awakenings of the Dionysian" and "Great Heights and Shadows" (are you any the wiser?). The notes for each of his eight parts start from scratch, so there are always up to eight notes with the same number, but no differentiation appears in the notes section other than the part heading, which appears only once and never in the text headers. Since the notes occupy 41 pages of fine print, don't expect to find a particular note in a hurry. The index is equally frustrating, with for example twenty undifferentiated page references to Marx or Jung, and no entry for important items such as orbs or his tables showing dates of outer-planet aspects. There is no bibliography or list of references, only a list of sources for Tarnas's more than 200 literary quotes ordered by page number.

It needn't be like this. Books such as Dean Simonton's Psychology, Science, and History (1990) on quantifying historical events, and Frank Sulloway's Born to Rebel (1996) on creative lives, deal with much the same imponderables as Tarnas does, and with even larger databases. Yet they are highly readable (indeed hard to put down) and filled with controls and effect sizes every inch of the way. If Simonton and Sulloway can do it, we should demand nothing less of Tarnas.

So in the end what can be said about Tarnas's turgid book? According to previews on the jacket, it "shatters our cosmological assumptions ... awakens us to a living universe ... eloquent, compelling ... will still be read two hundred years from now ... is majestic, sweeping and profound." But once the noise is removed the flaws become obvious and the case falls apart. Astrology may still have a place in society as a means of helping therapy by conversation. But unless you see the combination of paralysing unreadability, inferential incompetence, and unfounded conclusions as a virtue, give this book a miss.

My thanks to Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather, and Rudolf Smit for help in preparing this review, and to Garry Phillipson for alerting me to the Tarnas interview in TMA.

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