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Environmental Cosmology
Astrology as usual (ie confused and contradictory)

Geoffrey Dean

Environmental Cosmology: Principles and Theory of Natal Astrology. By Kenneth D McRitchie. Cognizance Books, Toronto, 2004. 140 pages. Paper.

Abstract -- The book aims to provide academics with a theory to explain why astrology works. But all it provides is speculation and passing the burden of proof, which are precisely not the things that academics need. Environmental astrology is no more credible than any other astrology.

The blurb on the back cover describes McRitchie as "an award-winning technical writer and human performance technologist who has devoted nearly thirty years of study to astrology". It promises that "This book will lead you to an astrology like you have never seen before" and quotes astrologer Richard Nolle's view that it is "An essential primer for astrological critics and proponents alike ... has some of the most intriguing astrological thoughts available anywhere today."

During his astrological career McRitchie had noticed how astrology could attract hostile criticism. "It quickly became apparent to me that this attitude against astrology prevailed at all major North American universities" (p.11).

He had also noticed how one of the problems seen by academics was the lack of a theory to explain why astrology worked. He thought about this, and after several years the result was this book, which "is intended to explore only the principles and theory of astrology without hypotheses or testing, which anyone who has appreciated this book and wishes to conduct research is invited to do".

Here "without hypotheses or testing" means that McRitchie has produced just another book on astrology full of the usual credulous speculations and passing the burden of proof. Precisely the things guaranteed not to satisfy academic demands for a theory. Indeed, the book says nothing about how astrology works other than by what the author sees as "five organizing principles" (p.38), which he describes as:

"neither theory nor hypothesis but are heuristic descriptions that provide a basis for developing the astrological frames of reference and taxonomy. They are neither true nor false but are paradigmatic presuppositions about the underlying characteristics of nature. They are the starting points for the astrological theories presented later in this book" (p.39)

His five organizing principles reduce to the idea that each individual is the centre of their own cosmic environment, which is natural, cyclic, with specific propensities and associated with specific meanings.

In other words his idea equates to as above so below, ie his "paradigmatic presuppositions about the underlying characteristivs of nature", which allows him to presuppose what he claims to demonstrate -- which, as noted by Bertrand Russell, gives the same advantages as theft over honest toil. The "theories" (for which as above so below is the starting point) then emerge as ideas along the lines of "Factor X signifies Y".

To convert this to "a theory of astrology", McRitchie (1) identifies concepts such as "values", "skills", "urges", and "development", (2) casts around for a classification whose numbers are a convenient match to astrology, for example he classifies urges in ten ways that match the ten planets, and (3) proceeds from there. Yes, we have heard it all before. It merely adds to an already overflowing heap of untested ideas. Check any astrology book.

McRitchie's first chapter is entitled "Critical Thinking" and consists of rebutting the various arguments against astrology, generally by ignoring the first rule of critical thinking (assemble the evidence for and against), and then making contrary statements that might be credible if they were true (but they aren't). Here are some examples of statements that are demonstrably untrue:

"Thanks to the efforts of Gauquelin [who in at least two places he refers to as Michele] and others who have tested and confirmed the [planetary-effect] correlations, astrological consultants can now more confidently advise people on specific areas of life where their efforts are more likely to meet with success" (p.20). Not when artifacts are controlled, see Social effects on this website under Tests.

"Few [matching] tests have been conducted" (p.28). But by 2013 nearly 70 had been conducted.

"Most of the astrological testing to date has been done by non-astrologers ... They have done their research based only on Sun
signs" (p.31). In fact about half has been done by astrologers using the whole chart.

"Very little astrological research has been done using accurate charts" (p.31). See previous item.

"personality is not well understood today as a science" (p.32) McRitchie seems not to have read any recent textbook of psychology.

Then there is scientific name-dropping, which name is then applied to astrology regardless of logic, as in McRitchie's reference to fractals (a fractal image is on the book's cover) to illustrate as above so below, implying that symbolism provides the same detail regardless of magnification, and in his reference to chaos theory, as in the following statement:

"signs, houses, aspects, and planets, are analogous to the structures known as "attractors" in chaos theory ... Because of the sensitive dependency on initial conditions ... a specific interpretation of any of these symbols can potentially spring from a very minute niche within a cluster of meanings ... Without this slight ambiguity of symbolic meanings and the chaotic coherence of the language of astrology, there would be no latitude for the exercise of free will and fate would be predestined" (p.53)

Note the problems: (1) McRitchie is referring to assumed properties of astrology, not observed properties, so how can he know these things? A point made worse by his work being "without hypotheses or testing" (p.14), which means that the tiresome business of validation is conveniently unloaded on to others. (2) Chaos theory is still deterministic, so McRitchie seems to be arguing that astrology is also deterministic, which immediately conflicts with inclining and not compelling. Furthermore, if astrology really were chaotic, then prediction of the kind claimed by astrologers would seem to demand a complete knowledge of initial conditions, requiring among other things impossibly precise birth times, and matters of free will would be irrelevant.

But why invoke chaos when chance would explain multiple outcomes just as well? Whatever happened to McRitchie's earlier claim that "Ockham's logic has worked to make astrology, and many other models of reality, as true as they can possibly be" (p.35). Perhaps he is confusing Ockham's logic with confirmation bias or with natural selection.

Worse, there are more contradictions between McRitchie's "critical thinking" when he needs to attack criticism of astrology, and his "critical thinking" when he needs to justify claims for astrology. For example he dismisses matching tests because:

"astrology is concerned with tendencies only, and thus it is not possible to reliably make such specific matches as the astrologers were asked to do. Astrologers should know this and should never agree to participate in such tests" (p.29) (On the other hand, by the same token, should astrologers never agree to read charts for money?)

But his dismissal conflicts with later statements such as:

"Houses indicate the individual's calling or vocations" (p.71)

"The Gauquelin findings and my own observations tell me that these old astrology texts [where cadent = weak] are simply wrong" (p.74)

"Characteristic urges, feelings and drives can be mapped ... from the collective identities of the planet to the individual" (p.87)

"events ... are timed by the ongoing movements of the planets" (p.102)

If, as McRitchie claims, it is not possible to make specific matches as in matching tests, it should also not be possible to make specific statements like any of the above.

In summary, the book promises "an astrology like you have never seen before" but delivers an astrology that is no more credible than any other. On the production side, the book is well laid out with frequent clear headings. There is a bibliography of 51 titles, and a 14-page index in which embarrassing-for-astrology words like artifact, Barnum, confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and meta-analysis do not appear.

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