The Rise and Fall of Eminence
in Semantic Space

by Graham Douglas

Abstract: Ertel’s discovery that the Gauquelin effect shows first a rise and then a fall with increasing eminence is analyzed in the light of recent work suggesting that the Gauquelin planets must be seen as a coherent whole. Such a view is shown to provide a plausible explanation for the observations of Ertel, as well as leading to further interesting questions and suggestions for research.

IN ERTEL’S ground-breaking paper, “Puzzling Eminence Effects might make Good Sense” (Ertel, 1993), he synthesized the results of several studies on the Gauquelin effect in relation to the degree of eminence of the subjects in varidous professions. For Mars, Jupiter and Saturn he was able to demonstrate that as eminence increased each planetary effect showed first a rise and then a fall as measured by the percentage of the sample with the respective planet in one of Gauquelin’s plus-zones, (G+%). Far from being the anomaly he first thought, Ertel realized that this was the typical pattern, the error being in previously assuming that only a monotonic increase was possible. In adopting this view he seems to have been following an earlier remark by Müller (1992: 257), although in fact Müller was inclined to reject the Gauquelin effect altogether since he did not believe a curvilinear graph was possible. The interpretation of why this might be an expected phenomenon he left open. Bauer (1993) then suggested that the curvilinear correlation was to be expected because the initial increase was what defines the eminence effect in the first place, and the fall would occur because very talented people would have high levels of general intelligence enabling them to succeed in many different professions. The choice of career for these people would then result from opportunity or other external factors, not primarily from the need to use and explore a single talent, (Bauer, 1993: 448). Without commenting on this suggestion I would like to argue that there is enough material in Ertel’s findings themselves to suggest this type of pattern, if they are viewed as a coherent whole. On the other hand if the planetary eminence graphs are taken simply as being analogous curvilinear relations it is necessary to find a second factor which is antagonistic as eminence increases.

I would like to begin from Irving’s observation that Ertel’s tree diagram, which he proposed to describe the inter-relations among the professions, from cluster analysis of the planetary profiles, (Ertel, 1990: 4) can be redrawn as a two-dimensional figure (Irving, 1993: 51). This is shown below in Figure 1. Figure 1

I have added the five Gauquelin planets (in red) in the regions where they are strongest, including Venus also, even though its correlation with painters is weak. This diagram has the same planetary structure as one derived from the Gauquelin data by other methods, (Douglas, 1995), and the same conclusion has been reached independently by Irving using the astrology of Ramon Lull, (Irving, 1994). This is incorporated into Figure 2 which is however rotated relative to Figure 1 in its upper part due to the different derivation, but the order of the planets is retained. Similar patterns were observed by Müller (1992), using factor analysis so they can be taken to be a well-established phenomenon.

It remains to specify the effect of moving round the diurnal circle on the intensity of the Gauquelin effect, and hence on its correlation with eminence. To begin with it seems reasonable to imagine each planetary area as having a central point of maximum intensity as measured by G+%, surrounded by contours of progressively decreasing strength, rather like the magnetic field around a wire carrying an electric current. Each planetary zone in Figure 1 could be represented by these contour maps as in Figure 2 below, in which four such planetary zones are shown, in different areas of what I have called elsewhere “semantic space,” (Douglas, 1995). Semantic space is a term used to describe the perceived distances between the meanings of words or the experiences of colors,sounds etc. Its study was pioneered by Osgood’s group (Osgood et. al., 1957), who discovered that in many different cultures such connotative meanings are structured mainly along three dimensions: Evaluation (Good-Bad); Potency (Strong-Weak); Directed Activity (Fast-Slow).

Depending on the chosen contours and the intensities of the effects there will be areas where the contours of one planet overlap those of another. This will be more likely between adjacent planets than opposing ones, in the same way as the Elements are said to differ in their degrees of compatibility. The elements are indicated according to the Qualities of the planets in Ptolemaic tradition, (Gettings, 1985: 243 ). Figure 2

Now what does it mean to move round the diurnal circle from a Gauquelin plus-zone to a minus-zone, in terms of Figure 2? Gauquelin’s character-trait hypothesis (CTH) suggests that it means taking a trajectory along a diagonal line as shown in Figure 2 because minus-zone traits tend to include many of the semantically opposite planet, (F. Gauquelin, 1982): 58-59). Addey analyzed the distribution of trait words for each planet through the diurnal circle and suggested that each quarter of the fourth harmonic cycle should be colored by the four Elements as they occur around the zodiac: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The sequence here is different, (Addey, 1981b: 18) but Addey’s suggestion would correspond to a circular path around Figure 2. Ertel has concluded that CTH is not valid, but there is still the awkward fact which Müller has referred to (Müller, 1992: 255), that the professions are still seen in terms of stereotype clusters of traits by people in general, so there must be some kind of involvement of traits; An experiment by Stevens confirmed this (Douglas, 1995: 12). I shall discuss this point again later.

In terms of the CTH hypothesis, it seems reasonable to suggest that there is a “typical” trait cluster for each profession, near the centers of each set of contours shown in Figure 2. My hypothesis is now that as the contours are crossed moving away from the centers the path moves into areas occupied by two types of less typical members: those who are more eminent than the typical and those who are less eminent. The typical member is not of course the most numerous but the one whose position in semantic space is closest to the stereotype for that profession. Thus it would be a person in the median range of eminence, around 3 on Ertel’s scale, (Ertel, 1993). The less and the more eminent may or may not be on different sides of the contour center, but this does not affect the prediction: as the scale of eminence is traversed so the trajectory is first towards the contour center and then away from it. This may be towards the planet which is its semantic opposite or one of the neighboring ones, such as Jupiter or Saturn in the case of Mars. It seems that if CTH is valid then the trajectory described will correlate with a rise in G+% on the inward journey and a fall on the way out from the center.

The fact that Ertel has found just such a result might therefore be construed to mean that he has also been a bit hasty in rejecting CTH. However it has to be admitted that CTH is not necessary to support the argument developed here, because there may still be other parameters in play which are analogous to those in Figure 2. For example these two dimensions seem quite similar to two which have been used in describing work environments, (Quinn and Rohrbaugh, 1983). In this case they use Structure, which varies from controlled to flexible thus resembling the Tight- Loose polarity of Figure 2; and Focus running from Internal to External, which seems to imply some similarity to the opposition of Unassertive to Assertive in Figure 2. The correspondence between the personal and the social is integral to the approach of these authors who discuss their results in the light of Parsons’ Theory of Action, (Parsons and Smelser, 1956). There is an extensive literature on the theory of organizations, and two-dimensional schemes of analysis of this type frequently occur, (Handy, 1976), in one case referring explicitly to Jungian concepts, (Nutt, 1990).

It is interesting that Ertel has referred to this interplay of social and individual and also to communication and symbolism in his few remarks about what might replace CTH as a theory of the Gauquelin effect, (Ertel, 1990: 17-18), because while the first is clearly a concern of the theories just mentioned, so communication and information processing have been used in other studies of organizational cultures, (Taggart and Valenzi, 1990; Herrmann, 1989; Lynch, 1985). These latter also have in common an interest in human brain function specialization, and have come up with sets of functions which in the last two cases can be related directly to the four Elements or the planets in Figure 2 above; as I have tried to show elsewhere, (Douglas, 1995a, 1995b, 1996). Accepting the structural coherence of the planets as a system may be seen as another stage in reforming both astrology and astrological research in the light of the Gauquelin results. Already the concept of Angularity has turned out to be not quite what tradition would tell us, and so far there is not evidence for zodiac signs despite continuing study, (van Rooij, 1995). Now it seems clear that the Gauquelin planets should be seen as structurally related in a way reminiscent of the pattern of the four Elements; but only if we return to seeing Jupiter as Airy rather than Sagittarian, Venus as Watery rather than Libran or Taurean, and at least entertain the possibility that the cyclic sequence of the Elements may be Fire, Earth, Water, Air instead of Fire, Earth, Air , Water. In spite of the valid arguments that can be made about interpretation of symbols in context not being amenable to empirical research, I still feel that astrology requires an empirical base of some kind, but in order to reach it there will be much stubborn wrestling with Müller’s “erratic block on the road of science,” (Müller, 1990), and on the Old Straight Tracks of astrology too we might add.

Some Further Implications

It is important now to examine carefully some other issues for research which may arise from the current discussion of Figure 2 or be affected by it. One of the first was raised at the brief presentation of some of these ideas which I made at Kepler Day 1995 in London. This concerns the effect of conjunction or more generally of the presence of more than one plus-zone planet in a person’s natal configuration. As a first approximation we can assume that the contours in Figure 2 do not change position, but a second plus-zone planet will mean that more than one set is “occupied.” However we can still distinguish two situations, depending on whether or not the two sets of contours overlap significantly in semantic space. They are more likely to if the two planets are neighbors such as Moon and Venus or Mars and Jupiter, than if they are semantic opposites like Jupiter and Saturn. In the first case we can predict an increase in semantic strength in the overlap zone which may be sufficient to amount to a third peak of semantic strength (as measured by G+%) between the two existing peaks. In the second case this type of effect is likely to be small or nonexistent.

A long-term cyclic effect of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle on the case of birth configurations with one or both planets in plus-zones was proposed earlier, (Douglas, 1983). The essential point being that at times of conjunctions all nativities will necessarily have both planets in plus or minus zones only, but at other phases of the cycle, depending on latitude, there will be the possibility for one only to be in plus-zone. This should presumably give rise to long-term cycles in the births of eminent people in the respective professions: more pure Jupiter and Saturn types alternating with more mixed types, but no such effect has been found. It might perhaps manifest instead as a periodicity in cultural phenomena. For instance, in preference of different styles in acting if we think of Jupiter in relation to Saturn. One could imagine that an oscillation might occur between preference for improvisational approaches, (Loose style) and one based on varieties of Method acting (Tight style). Certainly there are known to be regular swings in fashion, (Richardson and Kroeber, 1942).

The criticism raised at the time of this publication (F. Gauquelin, 1983) seems less well founded now. First, it is now acknowledged that the heredity effect may be of doubtful validity at least until further tests can be made, (F. Gauquelin, 1995). If this is so then it cannot be said definitely that only one plus-zone planet is involved in triggering the birth and that any other planets are present only “by chance.” This claim is in any case only a hypothesis, as of course is the midwife planet concept itself. It was also said that the planets do not exert their influence directly on the newborn personality and therefore one or more plus-zone planets may be in a key sector by chance. Since then, however, the 32 planetary types of personality which correspond with all the possible combinations of five planets in either plus or minus zones have been described. This new approach therefore makes no mention of the “chance” effects that were considered important in 1983, (F. Gauquelin, 1992: 22-26). Finally, in the 1983 article it is said that there is “uncertainty about the really relevant planet” in cases in which two or more planets are in plus-zones (F. Gauquelin, 1983: 43). This uncertainty hardly seems adequate grounds to reject the hypothesis of long-term cycles; like other hypotheses it deserves comment and testing before it can be rejected.

Moving on, we can consider the question of the number of dimensions needed to represent the semantic space of the planets. If we confine discussion to the five planets which the Gauquelins found significant then, since they move independently, five dimensions would seem to be required, generating as mentioned already, 2 5 = 32 distinct types. It is interesting that recent personality studies tend towards a five-factor model also, (Digman and Inoue, 1986), Digman (1990), which seems to embody combinations of themes traditionally characteristic of the five planets. However it is also acknowledged that the five dimensions are not equal in strength, and generally three are enough for a realistic description. The two dimensions of Figure 2 have their “good” and “bad” versions at opposite ends of a third Evaluation scale. This is illustrated in Table 1 (positive pole) and Table 2 (negative pole) with the addition of the planetary names, (for further discussion see Douglas (1995). One way of reducing the number of dimensions so as to fit Tables 1 and 2 is to combine pairs of planetary opposites into one dimension, and to merge the two most similar planets Moon and Venus. However we should not be too keen to do this if it means removing the possibility that opposite contour centers in Figure 2 cannot be activated independently. However as long as it is simply understood as a requirement to position the semantically opposite planets diagonally opposite in semantic space this seems acceptable.

Table 1: Desirable Poles of Trait Dimensions
Mars Self-confident


Tight ---------- ---------- Loose
Saturn Orderly



Table 2: The undesirable poles of trait dimensions
Mars Quarrelsome


Tight ----------


Saturn Grim



A further interesting possibility is that Ertel may not have gone far enough with his curvilinear eminence hypothesis, but paradoxically to go further may require a reinstatement of CTH. By this I mean that if different trait clusters as well as different G+% values apply to people of different degrees of eminence, then there is the possibility that CTH in its original form only fails because it lumps together too many widely differing traits from different regions of semantic space. The diagram in Figure 2 cannot be quantified, but the wider the range of semantic space crossed as a function of the domain of eminence, the greater will be the smoothing out of variance. The only way we shall answer this question satisfactorily is to study the way trait clusters shift, if at all, as a function of eminence for a sample of eminent people from a given profession, with the same planet in different phases of the cycle from plus to minus zones. Addey attempted to do this but it is not clear if samples large enough for statistically significant results can be obtained from existing data, (Addey, 1979, 1980, 1981a, 1981b).

Another key question is how to distinguish less from more eminent people given that their G+% figures may be similar. One hypothesis would be that they lie on opposite sides of the relevant planetary contour set in semantic space. If so this would invite the suggestion that a second planet might be important in both the less and the more eminent cases. There are certainly some unexpected plus-zone patterns among the charts of the very eminent, including Eisenhower, mentioned by Bauer (1993). It is also striking that the only significant effect for Venus reported in the original Gauquelin data is for military men, (M. and F. Gauquelin, 1973, Table 8, p.57). This is a suitable point at which to introduce a note of caution because an extensive biographical study of US presidents found no correlation between personal style and perceived greatness, even though wide stylistic differences existed. Instead greatness could be reliably predicted from such parameters as years in office, war service and intellectual brilliance, (Simonton, 1988).

As a final comment, we can return to the relation of what has been said here to the current debate about the validity of CTH. Although it seems the CTH would imply the analysis offered, it is also clear that cultural or social variables may be just as suitable. Equally it is interesting that these variables may present some formal analogies to those of personality theory and recognizable similarities to the general style we associate with the four Elements in whatever context. There is the important question of trait-extraction methodology, which so far has not been questioned in a theoretical way but only instrumentally. This has left the impression that if extractors who are unaware of the person whose biography they are extracting arrive at different descriptions (or no coherent description) from Gauquelin, this proves he was biased. I cannot give a detailed critique, but one suggestion seems to arise from the semantic differential approach used here, (Osgood, 1980). This is that words are not isolated objects like counters being drawn from a hat, but are situated in a semantic field, which has both universal and individual components. In asking an extractor to summarize a biography his or her personality may direct the person towards those semantic areas which please them at the time or in general. It seems risky to rely on a very small number of extractors, when large inter-person variation may occur.

Another possible error seems to be the halo effect by which any extractor may tend to prefer a trait which is coherent with those already extracted, thus the picture may be determined more by whichever traits occur early on in the biography. Finally, we have an unused technique in semantic differential analysis which allows trait adjectives to be placed in a space which represents their semantic distances from each other. If such a map were first constructed for the extractor, or even if a general population average were used from published data then instead of counting each trait as if it had no connection with others it would be possible to examine the distribution in semantic space and perhaps observe which “planetary” area they cluster in. This would remove the need for the extractors to make their own subjective summaries, while taking explicit account of their “personal equation” on the extraction they made.

I would like to thank Professor Suitbert Ertel, Mike O’Neill and Beverley Steffert for helpful comments on the draft of this article.

This article originally appeared in KOSMOS International, 1996, Volume XXV (2): 9 - 21

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