Part I - Science, Astrology and the Gauquelin Planetary Effects

by Kenneth Irving     

I AM VERY interested in the general question of the relation between science and astrology. The main raison d’etre of a monthly column I write, and of several lectures and workshops I have given in the last two years, is to explore the possibility of using the scientific work on planets, professions and personality begun by Michel Gauquelin in astrological interpretation. Gauquelin himself (and to a lesser extent, Françoise Gauquelin) tried to do this, but his efforts were largely ignored, perhaps in part because his presentation of the psychological natures of the planets tended to be static, though also because astrologers as a group seem to have strong resistance to the idea that “science” can tell them anything they don’t already know.

In part to address this habitual response to science by astrologers, the editor of Correlation, astrology’s only research journal that adheres to academic standards, envisioned a series of “key topics” to discuss basic questions about the relationship between science and astrology. The first question in the series (covered in Volume 13, No. 1, Northern Summer 1994, pages 11-53) was whether science is even relevant to astrology. The answers provided from both sides of the question were interesting, inasmuch as Editor Rudolf Smit and discussion leaders Geoffrey Dean and Arthur Mather managed to draw together a diverse group that included astrologers, independent researchers, and even several skeptical scientists.

No doubt some astrologers will wonder why that latter group was included at all, since most in the astrological community are highly sensitive about giving space in their publications to those hostile to astrology. That viewpoint is understandable, but I feel it is better to attempt a full dialogue than to purposely exclude people from the discussion. In the end, skeptics will probably remain skeptical and astrologers will remain astrologers, but if a dialogue is opened, each side might find that the other’s ideas are not as one-dimensional as previously thought.

As a contributor to the discussion in that first topic, I do have to say, however, that overall each group said what one would expect them to say: the scientists tended to criticize astrologers as too fuzzy in their thinking; the astrologers tended to criticize the scientists as being too narrow-minded. Though Dean and Mather seemed bent on resolving the conflict (and indeed, this was one of the stated purposes of the discussions), I see little immediate likelihood of that on the basis of what appeared here. In fact, as I pointed out in my own contribution, the main conflict between scientists in general and astrologers as a group will probably only resolve itself in the way other such sticky questions have resolved themselves in the past. If evidence supportive of astrology is found (and in my opinion it has been, in the work started by Gauquelin), this at best provides a basis for lessening the conflict, not resolving it.

How will the conflict be lessened? Not through discussion, even though this does have value. The reason for this is a very simple, human one, which is that people tend to invest their personal credibility in obdurate points of view. The scientist who pooh-poohs astrology in no uncertain terms is put in a difficult position by the findings of Gauquelin, Ertel or Müller linking the planets at birth to later success in professions. Those findings must be wrong, and, if not wrong, they must not be “astrology,” as otherwise the skeptical scientist would have to admit that his own world-view has major problems. When faced with the Gauquelin results, the astrologer who says science, with its reductionist methods, can not possibly address the rich tapestry of astrology has the problem of reconciling something that seems to support traditional astrology on the one hand (the planetary natures) while denying it on the other (the strongest points falling in the cadent, rather than the angular, houses).

In each case, one side or the other has a personal stake in the outcome of an experiment that denies the truth of its position. Where science is concerned, the resolution of what is essentially a human problem generally comes only when a scientist who has not committed himself or herself on the issue considers the question of what supportive results really mean. With astrologers, the problem is somewhat the same, but there is also the additional difficulty that most astrologers are practitioners so that until some relatively powerful practical application can be found for the results of scientific inquiry, those results essentially have no meaning. In other words, while the problem of science is resolved by those who are opposed to the Gauquelin results retiring or dying, where astrologers in general are concerned, a change of generation will make little difference unless the results are useful.

Clarification, Not Resolution

In the meantime, an effort such as the key topics can serve to clarify conflict more than to resolve it. Consider, for example, an exchange between researchers Dean and Mather on the one hand and astrologer Nick Campion on the other, over a very fundamental objection often raised by astrologers about the relevance of the scientific process to astrology. Most astrologers feel that a birth chart is more than the sum of its parts, that the interpretive schema and the interaction with clients produces something that can not be studied in the way science generally studies things, by reducing the object of scrutiny to bits and fragments that are weighed, measured and analyzed.

One example of this conflict between “holistic” and “fragmentary” thinking is the whole range of scientific studies on various aspects of the relationship of Sun signs to occupation, personality and many other aspects of human endeavor. Quite frankly, astrologers tend to have it both ways with such studies, praising the positive results and falling back on comments about the limitations of science when the negative results arrive. Still, the objection that one can not study bits and pieces of a chart is raised again and again when astrologers comment on such studies, so it bears a closer look and some effort at a definitive answer.

There were several opportunities for this in the discussion on the first key topic, most of which were missed. One prime example is seen in that above-mentioned exchange between Campion, Dean and Mather. Before getting into the details, I should note that the format of the key topic required Dean and Mather to write an initial statement of the problem and their own suggestions about how it might be resolved. Following that were commentaries by a variety of authors, with some directly taking issue with points in the key topic statement itself and others simply addressing the central issues. Following some of these comments were brief statements of “clarification” by Dean and Mather, and at the end of the commentaries was an overview by Dean and Mather and two sets of “rejoinders” to particular comments - one set apparently jointly written and an additional set by Mather alone.

In my opinion, while some attempt at overview was necessary, the reader should have been spared most of the clarifications and both of the rejoinders, as at these points the discussion tended to get off track, and a great deal of space was wasted allowing Dean and Mather to score what seemed to be mainly personal points. The exchange with Campion illustrates this, especially since one can sense in his remarks hostility toward Dean and Mather, who are controversial figures in astrology, since they approach the subject scientifically and do not hesitate to criticize either cherished astrological ideas or astrologers themselves. If only for that reason alone, it would have been best to let someone else (or no one else) have the last word, as with this format the discussion became one-sided. However, I am grateful for what Dean, Mather and Smit did in organizing this discussioin, despite any criticisms I make.

Testable Claims

The point of Campion’s that interests me was addressed to a list of astrological statements given by Dean and Mather as examples of testable claims made by astrologers (see the table on the previous page). The source of each is referenced, with most coming from well-known writers on astrology.

  “Testable Claims” Listed by Dean and Mather

- An accurate birth chart is essential.
- Aquarians are gregarious and enjoy social interactions.
- Leos have yellow bushy hair, Aquarians are never short.
- Positive signs are characterized by extraversion.
- Planets mostly below the horizon indicate introversion.
- Saturn rising indiciates an inhibited personality.
- Neptune in fourth house is artistic and musical.
- Easy Mercury-Mars aspects have good eyesight and hearing.
- Hard Moon-Uranus aspects incline men to divorce.
- Adverse Mars transits incline to accidents and injuries.
- Bucket patterns inspire or teach or become an agitator.
- Progressed Sun-Venus contacts usually indicate marriage.

Campion protests the above list in the following way, however:

“...I am slightly concerned about the misrepresentation of astrology. Nowhere in the discussion of the list of testable factors given in #9 is it stated that each factor can be negated by other factors. For example ‘Aquarians are gregarious and enjoy social interactions.’ Dean and Mather must know that according to the rules of astrology, a person both with the Sun in Aquarius conjunct Saturn and Neptune in the twelfth house would most certainly not be gregarious and would hate social interactions. However, if the Moon was conjunct Jupiter in Sagittarius, the individual would most probably appear to be gregarious, while frequently withdrawing into solitude. Dean and Mather are perfectly familiar with these subtleties as are most astrologers. But Dean and Mather’s scientific readership will not [sic]. They will, ironically, accept Dean and Mather’s authority. They will not know that ‘cookbook’ interpretations are not intended to stand alone, but are to be synthesized into a final interpretation. See Hone for this basic approach to interpretation....”

Precisely the same point is made later on by Dr. Glen Perry, who says:

“Note that in #9.3 the authors cite what they consider numerous testable claims in astrology. Yet each of these assertions needs to be considered as a part of a whole system. Granted the ‘reputable authors’ who allegedly wrote these assertions might not have sufficiently emphasized that every unit in the chart ‘is constrained by, conditioned by, and dependent upon the state of the other units,’ but this most assuredly is so as any reputable astrologer will agree. Accordingly, these statements are not testable in the conventional sense since to subject them to experimental design requires isolating each statement from the chart to which it belongs.”

Perry then follows this with suggestions about how so-called testable claims such as those listed by Dean and Mather might be handled in a more holistic fashion, “holistic” here being my term and not his. The common point made by Campion and Perry is that it is impossible to isolate the basic elements of interpretation - individual signs, planets, houses, etc. - from the interpretation itself. Thus, to study gregariousness in relation to Aquarius by having a group of people of that sign submit to a psychological test would be useless, since Sun in Aquarius will play a different role in each chart, and the group’s gregariousness will not necessarily be related to “Aquariusness” as such.

Dean and Mather offer rejoinders to both Campion and Perry, but only in the case of Campion do they offer a specific response to the question of testing isolated elements. Unfortunately for readers who might want to hear a reasonable answer to this oft-stated objection, most of what they offer is polemic, ridiculing Campion by offering a list of Sun-sign columns he writes, as well as Sun-sign forecasts offered via telephone. While this may be useful rhetorically in putting down Campion, it sidesteps the question, for the simple reason that such forecasts are, in fact, interpretations, and even statements about the nature of the signs in such forecasts are made within the context of current planetary activity. Thus to say that “Sagittarians have a lack of concern with any unified design concept,” as Dean and Mather quote Campion, is to say that this trait is being emphasized by current aspects or transits.

Thus, it does no good to criticize Campion as practicing something that contradicts what he says, since it most assuredly does not. Astrologers can and do criticize the basis for Sun-sign astrology, which treats each sign, the whole sign, as if it were the Ascendant and generally (though not always) ignores other elements of the natal chart. But, that basis having been accepted, the rest of what follows involves the same kind of “holistic” interpretation that is used with a complete birth chart.

As Dean and Mather point out, they do try to address this objection in the original discussion, but I feel they do not get to the central issue. In order to do this, it might help to try to state the Campion-Perry objection in simpler terms. To say that there is no way to study the characteristics of Aquarius in isolation from other chart factors is to contend that the various elements of a chart can only, in effect, be combined with each other through complex interpretation. In other words, these factors are not independent of each other and one cannot add their individual effects together in a linear fashion.

Random Variables...Structured Results

A statistician would say that Campion and Perry deny that the elements of chart interpretation can be treated as “random variables,” whose effects are independent and additive. Most familiar statistical tests, and particularly those of the sort objected to by Campion and Perry, require this assumption. For example, if an astrologer says that Mars should be emphasized in the charts of soldiers and surgeons, we would be justified in assuming that if we gathered together a great many charts of soldiers or surgeons (particularly the most successful ones), then as a group they would tend to show this Martian emphasis in some way, as other factors would tend to cancel each other out.

In Margaret Hone’s Modern Textbook of Astrology, cited by both Dean and Mather and by Campion, she does indeed list “active soldier” and “surgeon” under “Matters and occupations under Aries and of which Mars is the significator,” and in the Gauquelin professional studies, eminent soldiers and physicians do show a Martian emphasis, thus indicating that it is possible to add individual factors across a group of charts.

In this case, even though the results for Mars with physicians and sports champions are not precisely what astrologers would expect, a Martian emphasis is in fact there. The failure of, say, Aries to show similar results could be taken as indicating that signs might be exempt from the “independent and additive” requirement while planets are not. However, in another place in Hone’s textbook she specifically instructs the student to add up sign factors in just the way both Campion and Perry (and many other astrologers) deny they can be added, indicating that there are no such exceptions.

In Chapter 8, where Hone discusses the preliminaries of completing a chart form prior to interpretation, under the heading “Triplicities,” she instructs the student to: “Count the planets in each Element and list them. Whichever Element is predominant will be strongly represented in the life.”; under “Positive and Negative,” “Add number of elements in Fire and Air for the Positive category. Add those in Earth and Water for the Negative category.”; under “Quadruplicities,” she says, “Count and list planets as found. Predominance of any one quality will be shown in the life.” Here Hone explicitly treats the triplicities, quadruplicities and polar opposites as additive - the more of any category that shows in a person’s chart, the more the person can be described by its general characteristics. Later, in Chapter 9, she notes specifically that “The entire nature of the person will be strongly as described for the sign in Chapter 4....,” essentially identifying the Sun sign as an influence of such priority that it can be considered separately from all others in the chart.

All of these instances strongly imply the possibility of testing at least some individual chart elements in the way they are usually tested, thus supporting, at least in general, Dean and Mather’s list of testable claims and denying to some extent the contention of Campion and Perry.

Let us take this a step further, however, to point out something which is rarely considered in answering the objection about the impossibility of singling out individual elements. This is that the ultimate aim of the kind of scientific inquiry that begins with the isolation of chart factors is not (or at least should not be) simply to test “claims.” Rather, through a series of individual experiments, we should be able to discern a pattern in the results, an underlying structure that can be used to place those individual experiments in a larger context. This possibility is often lost sight of in the back-and-forth between astrologers and scientists about claims-testing.

To return to the example of Gauquelin’s work, after his initial findings in exploratory studies on planets and professions, Michel Gauquelin undertook to examine a set of occupations which had “a direct relationship with the great poles of attraction for the mind,” thus carefully choosing the range of professions for further study. While one can argue whether this or that result confirmed or disconfirmed some facet of astrology, there is a structure to those results as a whole that very definitely reflects something astrological, and this too argues against the idea that individual elements of the horoscope can not be studied one at a time.

Before going into what that “something astrological” is, I want the reader to understand that I am saying that testing of individual chart elements is perfectly permissible based on statements that astrologers themselves make, but that in testing these individual bits and pieces of the chart, the point is to discern underlying patterns through which those individual elements work together. Just how this should be done, I will leave for Part II.

On to Part II
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