MEMO TO THE CAREFUL ONES

 from Dennis Elwell

 

One matter needs clearing up straight away. For many collective man-years you have picked an argument with astrology and astrologers. With extraordinary single-mindedness you have sought to undermine what to many is an important, and to some a sacred, truth.  

In so doing, you opted for the glare of the public arena. You might prefer to stick your heads above the parapet, take a few pot shots and duck down again, but that is not how it works. Unless you were prepared to take some return fire, you should have kept your opinions to yourselves. You claim to speak for science, so your ability to reflect the scientific view is fairly up for discussion. You claim to know enough about astrology to be able to dismiss it, so your proficiency in that area is likewise relevant. Your claim to possess superior reasoning inevitably invites scrutiny of your performance in this department, which as I shall shortly demonstrate is not great.  

Adopting this high profile and making the claims you do, people are entitled to know who you are, and what you are. Fame has its price. It is relevant that you are connected with CSICOP, those relentless rationalists. It is pertinent that, while professing to take a stand on science, in these exchanges you shy away from the spirit of openness and trust that science takes for granted. Smit publishes results allegedly unfavourable to astrology but hugs his data as if they were the crown jewels. Dean reluctantly admits to subterfuge with his birth data and heaven knows what else besides (what was he doing, this arch sceptic, lecturing recently on "unaspected planets" to Edinburgh astrologers?). And then there's Kelly, giving nothing whatever away, thereby failing to progress the discussion, and complaining when I do.

There are many who wish they could control what is said about them in print, and what facts are presented. Biographers often have to find information without their subject's consent. Birth data are not private, but belong to the public record, and you are not the arbiters of who obtains them and how. It is absurd to talk of ethical issues, and "going behind your back." Why not simply come clean and make things easier for future historians of astrology?  

Assuming your fears on this point are not feigned, you should be reassured that the date of birth is the least vital item in the ID package, and the explanation lies in the ease with which I obtained Kelly's birth information (and indeed mother's maiden name). A determined identity thief (or indeed an investigative journalist) can find out a surprising amount. Some companies sell such legally acquired information. 

The crucial point here, though, is that I did not expect to have to go to the trouble of searching the public record. In the spirit of the debate on planetary signatures I hoped Kelly would supply his data, or failing that, that you would put your heads together and tell us what astrologers in their misguided way would seize on in this meaningless chart, as the signature for an interest in combat helmets.  

Since I did not have his birth certificate at that time, this was a before-the-event experiment, and it was your failure to cooperate that made it what you call "yet another worthless exercise in after-the-event astrology", of which more later. 

Are you now suggesting that the date I have  is incorrect? You say there is no contact between Uranus and Pluto in Kelly's true chart. On the date I assumed to be correct (which involved a search of three decades) these planets were in both parallel and septile. Perhaps your confident contradiction is due to a lack of carefulness on your part? If that is unthinkable, the production of the true data would set the record straight.  

 

NOT CAREFUL ENOUGH

You may be wearying of this exchange, and who shall blame you. It may explain the flippant point-scoring in some of your recent comments.  

A really careful debater would not argue over language without a decent dictionary to hand. It is not tautology to speak of "air fuelling combustion", because the chief definition of combustion is simply burning. It is not tautology to speak of "valid knowledge", since my dictionary defines knowledge, among other things, as "the facts, feelings or experiences known by a person or group of people." (Webster's speaks of "intuitive knowledge".) You quibble that "invalid knowledge" is a contradiction, so I suppose that when astrology is described from your side of the fence as a pseudoscience that is also self-contradictory.

I said that the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy were separated by a multiple of days to the fourth power of seven (i.e. a multiple of 2,401 days). What is so difficult about that? Why misrepresent what I actually said by implying that I believe Kennedy to have died only 6.5 years after Lincoln? (There is a more familiar period of seven times 52 days, and since you do not recognise multiples you must save yourselves a fortune in diaries.) By the way, I have seen the CSICOP attempts to explain away the remarkable set of coincidences between these assassinations, by comparing pairs of other public figures, and pretty feeble they are. Probability is stretched even farther by the astrological dimension, of which ordinary coincidence-hunters would be unaware.

Your razor wire defensiveness seems to indicate an inability to let any observation, however harmless, get past you unchallenged. Noting this hyperactive tendency I mischievously expressed a view of statistics: "According to my understanding, statistics cannot prove any hypothesis, they only fail to disprove it. That is to say, a theory that might survive a statistical test is only provisionally true because it has so far resisted all attempts to falsify it."

Right on cue, you came back with: "Elwell is confusing statistics with nonfalsifiability."

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Economics: testing theories) says: "The science of statistics cannot prove any hypothesis, it can only fail to disprove it. A theory that survives a statistical test is not true as such; it is only provisionally true because it has so far resisted all attempts to falsify it."

Perhaps Britannica will be hearing from you.

Especially flippant are observations like why aren't steel helmets made of lead, or why don't cows get BSE in their necks. If this was going to be the calibre of comment you could long ago have revealed the stupidity of astrology by inquiring, since Jupiter is related both to the liver and to tin, why isn't your liver made of tin? The same with your copper kidneys and your heart of gold.

I know you intend this as a jocular exposure of the nonsense of symbolism, or more correctly correspondences, but what you are actually demonstrating is your shaky hold on the simplest rules of reasoning. You should revise the logic of identity. If you draw some Venn circles, a big one for Jupiter containing others for the liver and for tin you will see they need not even overlap, let alone be coterminous. To put it another way, I can pour water from a jug into two receptacles, but that does not make them the same size, shape and substance - all they have in common is the water.

You are also confusing two separate categories, namely function and form. Function dictates form. You could form a liver from tin, but it would not perform its Jupiter function. Similarly given the encasing function of Saturn, when it comes to helmets steel fulfils that function better than lead. (Against shrapnel at any rate, lead would be a better shield against radiation.)

But maybe these were throwaway remarks not intended to be answered seriously?

 

"ELWELL DOES NOT TELL US."

It is easy to expose the fragility of this mantra, which appears repetitiously in your "Researchers respond" stand-alone. "What is this gravity, which us supposed to be everywhere? Newton does not tell us."  "How did the apple get up there in the first place? Newton does not tell us." Replace with any surname, any omission, ad nauseam.

In the civilities of debate one generally expects to be addressed on what one actually says, because there may be a good reason for avoiding a direct question, or wanting to answer in one's own way. For one thing it cannot be assumed that the questioner possesses the background necessary for understanding the answer, as when the infant asks why the sky is blue, and complains "Daddy didn't tell me."

Some perceptions can only fall on a prepared mind. I respect your competence within your own specialities, but I would suggest that astrology represents a standpoint totally alien to your thought process. The universe according to astrology is at least as peculiar as the quantum universe, and is not easily summarised. I hear you guffaw, but the reason the books you thoughtfully recommend appeared at all is because their ideas could not be written on the back of one of your matchboxes. You already accuse me of being prolix, yet a proper discussion of some of the points you raise would place a strain on everybody's time and patience. I have had to content myself with pointers to the right direction for investigating astrology, and how it differs from the direction you naturally adopt.

In summary, the methods you urge on astrologers involve abstracting single factors from the totality, whereas this is a subject in which single factors lose their significance in isolation. Your thought process, which you represent as scientific, is to exclude, while mine includes more and more. Yes, of course mainstream science has always been aware of networks of interconnections, nevertheless scientists nowadays are increasingly stressing the value of an integrative approach, a term that is perhaps more acceptable than holistic, with its trendy New Age connotations. You have found it difficult to grasp that I too recognise the significance of isolates within the wholes, while declining to give them supremacy. Obviously I have studied the planets and other indices singly, but when things start to happen it is their interconnections within a wider scheme that become important.

As I say, these matters are more deserving of books than brevity. However, when I made a list for myself of what Elwell is supposed not to have told you I found that most if not all of the matters you raise have at least been touched on, and I may be able to fill in any gaps in what follows here.

In asking for details of tests that would confirm or disconfirm astrology you say the results of your own tests explain why you see astrology nowhere. You may be confusing tests with speculations that happen to have proved negative. There are tests, and there are trials. To give an example of the difference, The Gemini Syndrome (Culver and Ianna) lists "Some diseases and medical phenomena found to be independent of Sun-sign." These range from acne to whooping cough, 42 conditions in all. We learn that if you get fractures, or sprains, or diabetes, or constipation, or the common cold, your Sun-sign is not to blame. Well, well.

These exercises would become tests only if it had been claimed that there was indeed an uneven distribution of these particular conditions among Sun-signs. Moreover, as someone who also respects the need for controls where they are applicable, there is no evidence that these conditions vary significantly when you slice the total population in ways other than according to Sun-signs. True, males will be less susceptible to uterine bleeding, and bald males less inclined to dandruff, but there is nothing to suggest that these medical conditions are themselves other than discrete populations independent of other groupings.

Astrologers themselves make experiments (since theirs is no more a 'finished' science than any other) and some seem to work, others not. If they seem to work, we have a proposition which can then be tested under various conditions.

Above all this means testing propositions in their own right. Careful researchers will be at pains to separate astrology qua science from the activities (and perhaps inadequacies) of its practitioners and consumers. For example, in the case of the R101 it does not really matter what Naylor said or did not say. The issue is whether the eclipse to which he drew attention actually pointed to a disaster of that kind, regardless of whether Naylor or any other astrologer was around to comment on it. Here we are testing a proposition that goes back to Ptolemy, who said: "The first and most potent cause of [such] events lies in the conjunctions of the sun and moon at eclipse and the movements of the stars at the time."

 

ENTER THE LADY BULLS

I have mentioned one proposition that is amenable to testing. It is that the values of a sign will appear when that sign is on the meridian or ascendant of a "mundane" chart, and is simultaneously switched on, as if on a toggle, by receiving a close major aspect or a symmetrical conjunction or opposition. The whole configuration of which the sign forms part then prefigures the outcome. I gave the example of Taurus, combined with Mars-Pluto, in connection with the brutal destruction occasioned by foot-and-mouth in Britain.

A more recent example of the principle is the eclipse preceding the twin towers catastrophe which, set for Washington, had Mars and Pluto bracketing the lower meridian, in opposition to the Twins midheaven. Mars and Pluto were in Sagittarius, a sign associated with the Arabs. For this terrible event and its consequences Saturn became standstill in Gemini on that same meridian. Since cosmic outworkings tend to be multiplex we note that Gemini is also pertinent to attacks (by anthrax) through the post.

I can hear you murmuring why, if it was so clear, a prediction was not made. Myself, I do not routinely draw up charts for every capital city in the world, but yes, those US astrologers who write regular forecasts should have been more alert. However, the physical event itself was not already in place, only the forces that produced it, which in theory might have been precipitated in some different way. I do not refer here to cosmic forces, but to the humanly generated political and other traffic for which the cosmic patterns merely provide a highway. These could have been diagnosed in advance, as part of the intelligence input, and it is no exaggeration to state that had they been acted upon the disaster might have been averted.

To go back to our testable proposition, there is one proviso, which I suppose - with dreary predictability - you will call an evasion. It is that events can take place without attracting public attention. I have a number of cases where the outworking of a chart was not realised at the time, only much later. But often, knowing from the chart what to look for, you can dig out facts that may have escaped the headlines. In this context the planets truly become spies in the sky.

You have drawn attention to a new moon figure, which I find especially interesting because it illustrates several points. Astrological causation automatically produces convergences which (if we noted them, and that is seldom) would make us exclaim: "What an odd coincidence!" Rationalists admit coincidences, but explain that in a world of such diversity they are only to be expected, and arise from pure chance. But there are coincidences, and coincidences. Some, like noticing familiar numbers on your bus ticket, may indeed be just chance. There are others, however, which are triangulated, with some cosmic factor standing at the third point and thereby, so to speak, legitimising the connection of the other two. When this happens the number and complexity of the factors involved makes probability calculations absurd.

On 28 November 1995 the British government announced a ban on the sale of meat from cows' backbones, to reduce the risk of cross-infection to humans of "mad cow disease." The same evening, also in London, the Turner Prize was awarded to the installation artist Damien Hirst, best known for his works featuring animal carcasses preserved in formaldehyde. This particular offering, controversial and much publicised, was of a cow and her calf split down the middle, exposing the spinal cord. It was as if the Government was providing the words, and Hirst the graphics.

The coincidence was prefigured at the new moon a few days earlier, to which astrologers are referred. At London the bovine Taurus ascendant (do you have a problem with the concept of lady bulls?) received an exact aspect, and was hence "switched on". The triggering aspect was from a conjunction of Venus and Mars. If you ask astrologers what is the planet of art, they will say Venus. If you ask what is the planet of butchery, they will say Mars. Here the planet of art exactly conjoined the planet of butchery in the house of trauma, death, and danger, and the conjunction made a precise quincunx, an aspect connected with health, to the Taurus ascendant.

The question here is whether the indications of this new moon worked out in events specifically in the UK, and within the appropriate timescale. You raise the objection that since each day has many events one can pick those events that suit the argument. Only if they're there to be picked. But the events described were not confined to a single day, they belonged to the weeks covered by this new moon, and received ongoing media attention. The Turner exhibition had opened earlier in the month, and the shortlisted Hirst exhibit was already being noisily debated, not least by animal rights activists. Similarly, the government announcement did not come out of the blue, but was in the context of a continuing dispute, weeks before and after the 28th, about the handling of the "mad cow" crisis after it was suspected that the disease had crossed the species barrier.

In fact the aspect just mentioned received a fillip on the 28th itself, when Venus and Mars, separating from their conjunction, formed an antiscion. You make further objection that no planets were in Taurus on the 28th. Not in the solar zodiac certainly, but I am on record as to the legitimacy of a complementary lunar zodiac measured from the moon's north node. These events can also be viewed against the background of this "draconic" zodiac, when a very striking Taurus representation will be found. The new moon chart itself has seven bodies in Taurus. I hear the familiar cry of "escape hatch!" go up from your camp, but there are many situations outside astrology where different schemes of reference are routinely overlaid. In any case, it is not a matter of either one zodiac or the other, but of both working together to produce information they do not contain separately.

You declare that if one is looking for Taurus activity there are "dozens" of other charts to choose from. This objection is another instance where you really should have been more careful. Did you check that the charts to which you refer, the previous eclipses and ingresses, did contain a Taurus stress? True, the solar eclipse the previous month included a Mars Pluto conjunction in draco Taurus, which I would claim certainly belongs to the events described. But if you do not allow me the luxury of two zodiacs, even that point in your favour goes out of the window.

Does the lunar eclipse of October fulfil your expectation? No. Does the previous (Libra) ingress? No. Does the Cancer ingress? No. Does the Aries ingress? No. Does the preceding Capricorn ingress? No. Therefore your glib "if we want Taurus we can have Taurus" does not stand up.

Am I correct in thinking that these "silent" charts, to which you yourselves have drawn attention, serve as controls for the indications of our new moon?

Even more baffling is your observation that various key government figures involved in the crisis might currently have been experiencing personal Taurus activation. As indeed they might, appropriately enough, but how does this become an objection? Here again, you do not know what was or was not happening in the charts of these named dignitaries, or whether it typified the nature and extent of their involvement. What can I add, except that those who bluster with sweeping and unsupported statements are seldom numbered among the careful ones.

Your diatribe then catalogues a list of astrological factors which this new moon configuration did not contain. I suppose it is useless to insist that you should confine your attention to what a chart actually says, not what it doesn't say. Your incaution here has resulted in a ragbag of irrelevancies, although I dare say it may not seem so to you.

In fine, I do believe this interesting triple coincidence, with the heavens standing at the third point of the triangle, illustrates the sort of confirmation which cumulatively represents evidence for astrology. You ask what results I would accept as disconfirming astrology. Put simply, I would have given up astrology if I found it failed to work. For a very long time it has been virtually a daily activity for me, and I think I would have noticed.

More recently, I have been following the astrology of sporting contests, an exacting discipline. To keep a record of success/failure I make a practice of placing bets when the indications seem to justify it. (Bookmakers are not much impressed by after-the-event analysis.) Needless to add, a depletion of funds would not escape attention. To become a millionaire by this means probably requires as much application as becoming a millionaire by more orthodox means, such is the complexity and number of the variables. But I believe a cut down technique, over time, can produce an attractive return on your investment, which in the UK at least is tax free.

Dealing with bookmakers is certainly less vexatious than arguing with scientific opponents. If I did not realise it before, our exchanges convince me that any wooing of science (c2001) is futile, and that it is essential for astrology to sidestep the sceptics by creating an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon, one which (unlike the overrated Gauquelin results) has immediate practical implications, preferably financial. Would the production of a bookmaker's account convince anybody? Perhaps your response would be: "Clairvoyance cannot be ruled out."

To go down this avenue becomes all the more important because your killer objection, hinted at in your latest and spelt out in the "Key Topics" piece recently republished on Smit's site, is that nothing is allowable which does not conform to Science As We Know It. This makes your position unassailable. Futile to point out that astrology's importance is that it might change the prevailing paradigm, precisely because it is an anomaly. Or that the danger of astrology is that, while establishment science holds itself aloof, its relevance may be recognised by minds less hidebound, with consciences less keen.

 

OBSERVATION, DEDUCTION, PREDICTION 

Before leaving the lady bulls I must refer to a substantive point I made about scientific evidence. I said that if the sign Taurus was observed to be prominent and stressed when bovines were making bad news, then when they made the headlines in the future the same markers could be expected to be present. It seems to me that a limited prediction of this order is all the scientific method requires.

Fortuitously we did not have long to wait to test the hypothesis because in September it was announced that "mad cow" disease (BSE) had reached Japan, its first appearance in Asia. At the Aries ingress Saturn in Taurus opposed the ascendant at Tokyo. It became clear that the disease had already been recycled widely in Japan, which had acted too late, despite a warning from European Commission scientists. (Japan promptly banned bonemeal cattle feed, and bonemeal has to be a very Saturn-Taurus commodity.)

This was not the only new appearance of BSE in 2001. In mid-January it was reported, amid much consternation, that it had been found in Italy. At the Capricorn ingress Saturn in Taurus was conjunction the ascendant at Rome. The Taurus ascendant itself was symmetrically opposed (i.e. switched on) by Mercury in the 8th house and Mars in the 6th. These two sectors are of significance where public health is concerned.

Other charts pointed in the same direction. For the Japanese outbreak, the previous eclipse saw the cusp of Taurus on the ascendant receiving a hard aspect from Mars and Pluto, both in the 8th. Pluto was additionally in parallel to the ascendant. Again, its Cancer ingress found the Sun in the 8th semisquare Venus in Taurus in the 6th, with Saturn at their midpoint. The eclipse of 21 June saw the Sun in the 6th semisquare Venus in Taurus (Saturn at their midpoint).

This geometry will only be meaningful to astrologers, but it shows that what is expected to happen astrologically was indeed happening, and moreover it had been flagged up in advance. I realise such observations are somewhat removed from handy matchbox-size tests, but some sciences are not structured for our convenience. Astronomy is one, and these charts do represent astronomical events.

 

TESTS THAT MIGHT WORK 

In pursuit of a test you can put in your pocket, you refer half a dozen times to a challenge in which astrologers are given two charts and asked to decide which chart belongs to person X.

What could be simpler! In passing I note that here again you are describing a test of astrologers, not astrology per se. You omit to explain how the astrologers are to come by the quality and quantity of information about X on which to base a judgment, and that is the crux of the exercise. Not only that, the same information needs to be supplied for the person for whom the "fake" chart belongs. Even if generated randomly the bogus chart would belong to an unknown somebody and probably a number of unknown somebodies. And one of those somebodies might be uncannily like our test subject, by pure chance.

But I agree that matching tests could be instructive, given the resources to conduct them. It would be necessary to scout around for a formula that produced a positive result. We may not have it yet. At this point I hear Kelly, currently hatching an essay on how astrologers make astrology unassailable, cry that whenever astrologers draw a blank they always move on to another test that might work better. But this happens all the time in science. The situation is no different from that of Edison, who experimented with hundreds of different substances to produce a dependable filament for his light bulb, rejecting most of them. Just as the bulb had to go on working, in endless replication, once the winning formula had been found, so would a workable "matching" procedure for astrology.

You will be aware of one matching experiment that may have come close, conducted by Martin Berzins1 and his associates, in which a live interview was conducted between astrologer and subject. He claimed a success rate of over 70 percent, but it seems that neither the funds nor the interest from the astrological community were forthcoming for a replication. A possible improvement on this technique would be to provide, rather than two charts and one subject, a single chart and two subjects, so there would be a three-way conversation involving the astrologer in which the subjects explored their similarities and differences.

Regarding tests, it is a disappointment that you did not respond to my invitation to discuss those examples of the evidence against astrology which you had found particularly convincing. The tests that persuaded Dean and Mather to leave the astrology fold would have been a start, but I detect that your confidence in some of this early data may not be so buoyant as it once was. You explain that as knowledge advances one can look back and see flaws that were unsuspected at the time. Your brand of truth seems to have a remarkably short shelf life!

You present an argument that is audacious if nothing else. Elwell is mixed up again, "confusing isolated studies of astrology with the thousands of scholarly studies of human judgment skills." With the boot on the other foot you would call that an evasion. Obviously there is right and wrong reasoning, but any debate on any subject whatsoever would come to a swift conclusion if one side were to maintain that the other held a different opinion on account of inferior judgment. In the old Soviet Union dissenters were incarcerated as mentally ill because they failed to grasp the obvious, namely the truth of communism.

I had hoped you might have called as witness my favourite astrological investigation which must represent the worst muddled thinking in its genre. This was carried out by Eysenck and Nias, with Dean's unstinting  help, to determine whether people familiar with the traits attributed to their Sun-sign tended to pick that description of themselves. In other words, if they acknowledged astrology it was not because astrology was true, but merely because of what they had read. (Astrology -  Science or Superstition?, Eysenck and Nias, 1982).

To dismantle this piece of research comprehensively is tempting, but it would be tedious, therefore a sample will indicate its overall quality. Dean supplied six alleged personality traits for each sign, and included in the list for Aquarius was "low integrity". Now if there are any streetwise academics out there, they would instantly understand that to include low integrity in a shortlist of traits is unlikely to promote an instant recognition of one's character. It would be a sticking point, steering the mind elsewhere.

The joke is that had I been designing this research I should have insisted on controls and safeguards, the very stuff I am supposed to despise. Astrology aside, I should want to know how many people in the general population would raise their hands for low integrity. Ideally, I should want to apply the same test to those of established low integrity, say in the prison population. Without this data we cannot attach any significance to whether Aquarians confess or otherwise to low integrity. In fact we are not told how many Aquarians did own up (yes, the devil is in the detail), and whether those who did were also tested for a sense of humour.

My guess is that Virgos would similarly back off from seeing themselves as "interfering", Taurus as "grasping", Gemini as "two-faced" (whatever that means), Pisces as "confused", and so on. Such loaded terms would skew the whole experiment.

Another safeguard would be to ask, say, 50 astrologers to list, without prompting, six traits they would most associate with each Sun-sign. I believe this would expose the shortcomings of the traits subjectively chosen by Dean.

But maybe this Eysenck-Nias-Dean experiment is another of those that has failed the acid test of time?

 

DEFINING A PERSON 

Lists of traits are not conducive to a dynamic concept of human nature, and certainly they present only a tiny receptacle, close to matchbox size, into which the richness of astrology is supposed to be poured. There is the added problem, as we just saw, of subjectivity.

I mentioned that in his investigation of astrology for Recent Advances Dean had a choice of a number of approaches, but chose trait words because they seemed amenable to counting. I suggested he might have produced a very different book had he followed the recommendations of Gordon W Allport, given that academic's reputation in the field of personality.

You commented: "Note how Elwell gives no details, so readers have no way of judging anything for themselves. They have to take his word for it."

Well, don't take his word for it. A discussion of how the astrological picture of mind as microcosm relates to the many theories of personality would occupy a lot of cyberspace. Let me just say here that to the extent that trait psychology trivialises human nature it conflicts with the picture offered by astrology, and more especially with this summation by Allport himself:

"...the most comprehensive units in personality are broad intentional dispositions, future-pointed. These characteristics are unique for each person, and tend to attract, guide, inhibit the more elementary units to accord to the major intentions themselves. This proposition is valid in spite of the large amount of unordered, impulsive, and conflictful behaviour in every life. Finally, these cardinal characteristics are not infinite in number but for any given life in adult years are relatively few and ascertainable. This fact should encourage psychodiagnosticians to seek methods more appropriate than some they now employ." (Becoming, 1955)

As for techniques, Allport advocated the case study approach as "the most comprehensive of all, and lies closest to the initial starting point of common sense. It provides a framework within which the psychologist can place all his observations gathered by other methods; it is his final affirmation of the individuality and uniqueness of every personality. It is a completely synthetic method, the only one that is spacious enough to embrace all assembled facts ... Properly used it is the most revealing method of all." (Personality, a Psychological Interpretation, 1937).

It comes down to what you select, what you reject. Dean took away the notion of falsifiability from Popper, but not his endorsement of a view of human nature compatible with the astrologers' view. Popper once wrote: "In his many ways very important book A Theory of Justice (1971) John Rawls introduces the idea of a plan of life to characterise the purposes or aims which make of a man 'a conscious, unified moral person.'"

For the astrologer the birth chart is just such a plan of life, and the issue is whether it makes the person more comprehensible.

I suppose this is where you go into matchbox mode and ask what tests would confirm the concepts of a plan of life and Allport's "broad intentional dispositions, future-pointed". Not forgetting how such claims might be treated statistically, what tests would disconfirm them, and what safeguards and controls would guarantee freedom from error. Alas, Allport does not tell us.

You might be able to figure out why for yourselves. His definition of personality requires that it be discussed, judged and applied in its own terms. Anyone who wishes to pursue another theory of personality is at liberty so to do, but one theory cannot be used as a yardstick for another. Likewise, the astrological picture of human nature, which at the same time implies a world view, demands to be evaluated in its own terms. Your insistent complaint is that it is not being evaluated, or indeed validated, in your terms, but it is not immediately obvious why your terms deserve the attention you claim for them.

 

PROSPECT AND RETROSPECT

Our human situation is like riding in a train with our back to the engine. We can see where we have been, and where we are, but the scenery ahead can only be conjectured. That is the way our minds are forced to work, yet you demand that astrological minds must work differently, and imagine that you are justified in dismissing everything that is after-the-event.

You point out that while memory is always retrospective "that does not mean it is accurate or valuable." Yet reasoning, on which you set such store, is as much an after-the-event process as memory, and even when it is directed to the future it depends on past data. If we could think futurity we should pass our days in prophetic visions. Like memory, reason it is not automatically "accurate or valuable", but we have to do the best with what we've got.

There cannot be any objection to astrologers revisiting and reassessing events, and it happens in science all the time. When you imply that nothing can be believed unless it is in advance of looking, you seem to be making a special case of astrology, and loading it with a handicap that applies nowhere else. Why don't you tell astronomers that you will only believe their crazy theory about rocks falling from the sky if they can predict a time and place where it will happen? Because once it has happened, it is disqualified. You will retort that the case is different because meteorites are accepted by science - but it was not always so. Again, it seems we cannot believe in supernovas because they are after-the-event, both in their reporting and their occurrence.

Would not astronomers reply: "What do you think we are, clairvoyants?"

Regarding astrology, after the event the correct scientific question is whether it was there to be seen, not whether any astrologer saw it. Useful subsidiary questions might be to determine what precisely was there to be seen (and conversely what was not), and if it was there to be seen why did astrologers fail to see it?

On the latter point, you seem to understand (in connection with BSE) that any set of events involves a whole raft of charts, incalculable in number. They indicate a hyperconnected reality. But whereas for you this means confusion, for me it means the possibility of confirmation. These charts are not in the alternative but together form a network of mutually interacting indicators, and the astrologer who is looking for concrete answers has to find where the charts are supporting each other, and telling the same story.

It is a difficult task, unless the context can be narrowed. Astrologers are expected to have eyes everywhere, but it is often the case that to find a burglar under the bed you have to look under the bed. The search can be delimited by focusing on an area of special interest. Thus a counter-terrorist agency could work through the charts solely to gauge the probability of such activity, because there are indeed times and places where the cosmos opens windows of opportunity to those with this intent.

That said, a wealth of detail can be unwrapped after the event that was not seen in advance, simply because it was not there to see. From the standpoint of physical events cosmic factors are indicative but not definitive. Casting around for metaphors, I can predict that in summer there will be more hours of sunshine than in winter, but I cannot tell you how many, or which locations will be sunnier than others. It is neverthelesss useful to know about the seasons. Again, if I set up a lamp on a dark night I shall trap flying insects, but I cannot tell you in advance how many and what kind. Nevertheless a lepidopterist would not dismiss the exercise merely because counting the night's catch came after the fact.

Here we find ourselves discussing yet another instance where you seek to apply to astrology criticisms that would be palpably absurd elsewhere.

Not unlike a lamp attracting moths, a planetary configuration in the future infallibly draws to itself events appropriate to its nature, a process of convergence. The nature of the attractor may be understood but the end results cannot be known with the same certainty. We should rejoice in that, because were it otherwise we should lose any prospect of exercising freedom, and live in a mechanical universe where everything moved on preordained tracks.

The situation becomes clearer when one considers the physical basis of the astrological indicators. I mentioned an eclipse in connection with the twin towers. Because of the predictable regularity of planetary movements that eclipse was already built into the system, long before there were any twin towers, any Washington, any America. Its elements were in place, awaiting to be clothed in the appropriate garments, which did not then exist save in a notional sense.

Thus the cosmic is only half the story. On the other side of the equation is a take-up factor. It is not unlike the parable of the sower, and as planetary configurations come and go the question is whether there is any fertile soil where they can take root. Therefore we cannot adopt a philosophy of naive determinism, which astrologically would be akin to gipsy fortune telling.

 

HARD HATS, EVEN HARDER HEADS

I fear I can award you only four out of ten for astrological acumen. You are advised to steer clear of bookmakers.

On the question of finding the signature for collecting combat helmets in a given chart you say Elwell twists the situation, and dispute that, in advance of looking, astrologers would know what to look for. If you were being careful you would realise that here you can be shown to be blatantly in error.

How would astrologers go about locating the signature? They would turn to the familiar planetary and sign associations, which have been in currency for a long time "in advance of looking". I refer you to a dictionary of such correspondences, The Rulership Book, by Rex E. Bills. Here we find that Mars is helmets, combat, armour-plate, the head, and iron. Under Saturn is listed relics, defensiveness, history, the skull, precautions, protectiveness, shelter, concussion. Aries is the skull and face. Scorpio embraces death, and things made of iron.

This must surely silence your doubts on whether astrologers would agree on what to look at. What else would they be looking at?

They would expect a permutation of some of these factors. Now it is your turn to twist. You focus on a particular combination, Mars in Scorpio, and consult a few texts for quotations which will show that "Elwell seems to be inventing things to fit." However, as usual you are being selective. Your sources certainly do not use the word "defensive" in connection with Mars-Scorpio. Yet Tadd Mann does list "survival instinct" (as does Ebertin) and "indestructable", which you may think hand waves in the right direction.

Arroyo's Chart Interpretation Handbook speaks of "the need for self-protection" in connection with Mars in Scorpio, and Hamaker-Zondag attributes self-defence mechanisms to Mars itself. But my most telling quote from this haphazard dip into the bookshelf is from The Astrologer's Handbook (Sakoian and Acker) which tells us: "The two hundred Spartan soldiers who held off the entire invading Persian army are an example of the Mars in Scorpio principle."

I rather resent your remark: "See how important the usually ignored parallel suddenly becomes when it suits Elwell's purpose, which is to find a link (any link) between Mars and Saturn..." Ignored by whom? The parallel of declination has never been ignored by me, nor my students, so you are mistaken to imply that I am scrabbling around to find some technique to fit the purpose of the moment. In the books from which I learnt my astrology the parallel was not an optional extra, it was part of the whole picture. In America it went out of fashion for a while, but interest has recently been revived (see for instance the publications of the Magi Society) perhaps because computer programs make the calculations easier.

Moreover I was not looking for a link ("any link") specifically between Mars and Saturn in Kelly's chart. It could have been some other combination of the above mentioned factors.

I have tried to keep things simple, because I know if I introduce the smallest complication you will jump up and down and say complications are not allowed. While learned professors can fill a blackboard with equations, when it comes to astrology sceptics always try to impose on it a spurious simplicity. Let me test you. You will be aware that no sooner did the concept of a twelvefold zodiac come into being, than it was subdivided into decans. Each sign has three subdivisions, each of ten degrees.   

There have been various ways of determining the inflection of each decan, and I use a method of the Greeks, which in effect constructs three mini-zodiacs, each beginning at zero degrees of the three Fire signs. Thus sign Aries has an Aries decan as its first third, Taurus as its second, and Gemini and its third. For Kelly Saturn falls in an Aries decan, which chimes in with our theme. His Aries decans also contain Venus, and possibly the Moon. (My other helmet collector, Tagliavini, has Mars in an Aries decan. My control chart, for Dean, shows nothing in Aries decans.)

Now before you launch into your usual protest about astrologers making anything mean anything, are you really saying that, astrology apart, subdivisions of influence do not exist in the recognised disciplines?

Moving on, you seize on the fact that in Kelly's chart Mars and Saturn are forming their parallel of declination from opposite sides of the equator. Leo's Dictionary of Astrology says of parallels: "In the zodiac, these are equal distances from the equator, or having the same declination; whether one is North and the other South, or both North or both South, makes no difference." You then assert (goodness knows where you got the idea from) that bodies on opposite sides of the equator contradict the usual interpretation, so that Kelly's Mars-Saturn means the opposite of what I say it means. Frankly that is nonsense, and I would refer Dean and Mather to page 432 of their own book for a summary of what astrologers have said on this topic.

You then play your strange game of creating your private hypothetical universe where, as in Alice's Wonderland, everything means what you say it means. Why Mars-Saturn for helmets, why not Venus-Jupiter? Well, why aren't pigs birds, or grass red?  Your refusal to accept the distinctions and differentiations made in astrology itself rules out any honest effort to evaluate it in its own terms. I suggest you consult our referee, Rex Bill's book on rulerships, and figure out how Venus-Jupiter can mean combat helmets.

Writing this, I realise how extremely tedious it must be for readers, as indeed it is for myself, to find that every piddling point has to be wrangled over. It is happening because you try to turn every point into an occasion for derision, and - since silence gives consent - I cannot allow it.

With one of your little smirks you issue another "Readers, watch this space" challenge. Just tell us, you say, where astrology predicts Aries to be in Kelly's chart. I reply, somewhat wearily, that I am ashamed for Smit, that he should allow this cheap gambit to appear under his name. When he worked as an astrologer he specialised in chart "rectification", i.e. discovering an unknown or uncertain birth time. As Smit well knows, it's the hardest thing to do, even when you have all the information you need about the subject and their biography. Saying where Aries might be found in Kelly's chart is to attempt to discover a birth time when only the day is known (you have even hinted I may have the wrong day, though I doubt it) and without access to any information to work with.

However, it is my turn to put you on the spot. My answer is that astrology predicts that in Kelly's chart Aries will be combined with some of the other elements mentioned above in a "combat helmet" signature. I further predict that you will deny it. Then what? Even if you produced a chart for Kelly how should we know it was not a spoof? I should add that to recognise the chart as genuine there would need to be an additional astrological factor, indicating the impulse to collect, which in Tagliavini's case involves his Cancer ascendant.

Based on a noon time, the midpoint of Mars and Saturn in Kelly's chart falls half a degree from the opposition of zero Aries, which some astrologers regard as important in its own right, regardless of any sign associations with the head and so forth. This is as exact as it needs to be, yet you claim it is not exact "so Elwell's emphasis is misleading."

Quite a few things have surprised me about your contributions, but nothing more than your misguided comparison between the charts of Kelly and Tagliavini, which you introduce with "Let us do what Elwell ought to have done and make a systematic tally." This piece of nonsense offends against fundamental laws of logic, which accounts for Elwell's omission.

How to say it? If two things are drawing on a third thing they may or may not share the same attributes, despite the common origin of the attributes each possesses. Imagine the factors that might appropriately combine in a signature for combat helmets as colours on a painter's palette. Using the same palette two pictures can be painted with totally different colours, or alternatively with some sharing of the colours.

For a more formal explanation one would turn again to that pioneer in probability, the redoubtable Reverend John Venn. Draw a circle to represent the horoscopic factors that might be associated with steel helmets. Another overlapping circle represents Kelly's horoscope. Since there is more in Kelly's horoscope than is involved in steel helmets this new circle will merely intersect with the circumference of the other, not be totally within it. Now draw a similar circle to represent Tagliavini's horoscope. Part of this circle too will overlap the original circle, but it may or may not overlap Kelly's circle.

I hope it will be clear that you can only do a tally where the three circles overlap. That is the iron logic of it, and to burble on about ballpark expectancy, and hits or misses, is merely pretentious, although I realise it might impress the impressionable.

There is another axiom of clear thinking which you persistently flout. You may not have grasped what Euclid meant when he enunciated the principle that because a proposition is true, it does not necessarily follow that its converse is true. If all Greeks are men, it does not mean all men are Greeks. Yes, I said I would expect to find an unambiguous signature of combat helmets in Kelly's chart, and indeed the charts of other keen collectors. That is a straightforward proposition. Apropos of controls, I also said that other charts containing the type of planetary combinations that might signify combat helmets did not necessarily make them the charts of collectors.

In other words, in other people the same planetary combination can signify a range of other things, i.e. the converse of my statement is not necessarily true. I pointed out that you might innocently and accidentally pick such people as controls, thereby drawing the wrong conclusion. You mistakenly took this as an admission that my "unambigious" had suddenly become ambiguous.

Let me interpose here that I do not think for a minute that these principles of sound reasoning are strangers to you. In an argument on a neutral subject you would apply them routinely enough. But when we are pushing for a certain outcome the rules tend to be bent, and I dare say the same holds true for me.

Now that I have reminded you of the converse rule you will be able to accept that while I would expect all collectors of combat helmets to have indicators of steely defensiveness in their charts (and maybe other indicators like a collecting tendency) it does not follow that everybody with those same indicators collects helmets. I have to mention this because you have had some fun with my own chart, presumably enlisted as a control.

In effect you have added my circle to the Venn diagram, fitting me in between the circles of Kelly and Tagliavini, with some overlap with both. There we hang, like beads on a necklace, a tribute to Boolean logic.

You are at least right that I do not collect helmets. I was nine when Hitler's war broke out, and I would be haunted by the fate of the poor devils who wore them. Besides which, I am not a collector by temperament.

I remember helping father build a family "helmet", an underground air raid shelter with a roof of steel plate, which would have taken anything but a direct hit, and of counting the sticks of bombs as they thudded nearer. Those years were filled with defensively warlike images. Weekends, the Home Guard ("Dad's Army") trained in our garden, so I was firing automatic weapons at 13. The house was littered with the paraphernalia of war, yes and tin hats. I was an aircraft spotter. I belonged to the school's army cadet corps. After compulsory national service I volunteered for civil defence. I took up judo, taught unarmed combat.

I won't bore you with the rest, but my life has been combative, with a few good scraps. You will have noticed that lately I have been defending astrology, and I hope with some spirit. So your diagnosis of my chart goes to prove how accurate astrology can be. Mind you, your hands-on technique could be improved. Antiscions are not signs but points - in America they call them solstice points. So it is not especially significant that the antiscion of my Mars is found in Scorpio, but it is significant that it falls on the east point, the ascendant at the equator. I should mention, also on the matter of accuracy, and in defence of Harvey's observation, that the midpoint of Dean's Mars/Saturn does indeed fall at 27-05 Aquarius, which is on an axis not specifically astrological but associated with what one might call a sense of the cosmic.

Now this is where it gets interesting. In the chart of a dedicated collector like Kelly the "helmets" signature will be something of a permanent fixture. But other people, like Dean and myself, can have a passing association with helmets, as has been happening recently, and it would be no surprise to find this indicated in the current planetary climate.

So I find it meaningful that when Dean was born it was possible to say that in the year 2001 he might be engaged in the issue of combat helmets, among a range of similar things. The solar return is a recognised technique, and at Dean's last return the Aries ascendant was switched on by an aspect from Mars in Scorpio. Since this was a quinxunx, it would be nice to think that embroiling himself in this argument might have saved him from a crack on the head.

Secondary progression is another recognised technique, and Dean's progressed Mars is now in Aries and contacting (by septile) its birth position, which gives a little surge to Mars activity. Progressed Mars in Aries is also square the node, the latter tending to bring issues into prominence. Incidentally it also conjoins the only Aries planet in my chart, a timely piece of networking not inappropriate to our clash of views.

It is particularly relevant that my own progressed Mars is also in Aries, and making significant contacts, because I initiated the helmets debate. This was deliberate, with an eye to the aspects, which I consult all the time much as one might weather reports. As I have said, it is possible to be proactive in astrology, thereby making its testing strictly pragmatic, and giving an argument a push in this or that direction is the least of it. At number of critical times in my own life, knowledge gained through astrology has proved decisive, and others have complained at my unfair advantage.

 

WORKING WITH THE RIGHT MODEL 

Your comments on President Kennedy throw the differences between our standpoints into sharp relief, which made it a useful detour.

The mindset from which you are coming is naturally numerical, even though matters of psychology and destiny are more likely to call for a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach. Kennedy had the Sun in the 8th, and although his death was not accidental your liking for counting noses leads you to mention Carter's figures on accidents.

You query whether "a large sample" of violent deaths would show an afflicted 8th house Sun more than some other configuration. There is only one way to find out, but I doubt the answer would be astrologically meaningful. A violent death, or for that matter an accident, and can no more be separated from the totality of the biography than any other life event. Astrologically it is integral to the case study which, as Allport said, is the final affirmation of the individuality and uniqueness of every personality. Statisticians are uncomfortable with uniqueness, but in this field their techniques of abstraction are apt to create a private and artificial reality.

I have noticed that you dislike differentiations, and that any statement of uniquenness is met with the objection "everybody is like that!"  So everybody is a path-carver, although in the real world there are doers and spectators, leaders and followers. The majority would probably define life as something that happens to them, but you announce that "most people would agree that they are master of their fate." I suspect not, but you're the researchers, so why not count them. You might start, over coffee, with friends and family, and Kelly is fortunate to have his students to consult.

Such assertions leave me wondering about your powers of observation. If you cannot see the obvious you are unlikely to distinguish the more subtle differences between, say, the Aries people you encounter and other signs. Which explains a lot.

It is also true that in the real world events are contingent. Your "large sample" might be the 5,000 people killed in the twin towers. I don't know whether all their birth charts - or perhaps more importantly their current aspects - were individually indicative or whether they were subsumed under some overarching indicator. Or both. There is only one way to find out. Again, although we may be unique, our life is a circle in a Venn diagram, overlapping other circles to a greater or lesser degree. One person's violent death will be an identifiable strand in the astrological biographies of others.

My reason for introducing Kennedy's 8th house Sun was to cast doubt on your after-the-fact objection. My contention is that if the astrological ingredients in a retrospect have been documented in advance (as indeed happened with the significators of combat helmets) they cannot be so easily dismissed, because it shows they have not been invented to fit the special case. I should have welcomed your agreement or disagreement in principle.

Clearly, if you had agreed (do pigs fly!) the question of documentation becomes crucial, although the definitive interpretation of such factors may not yet have evolved. You have consulted sundry astrological cookbooks to see if they support the indications I quoted from Robson. In passing I should say that if they all agreed it might point to no more than copying from each other. But what worries me, and not for the first time, is that you wilfully misrepresent the facts, by selecting what suits you.

Predictably you find nothing in your sources to confirm Robson's indications, which were: "Extravagant marriage partner. Honour after marriage. Fame at or after death. Danger of death in middle life. If afflicted, violent death." Yet in a capsule interpretion in Leo's The Horoscope in Detail I find: "Gain or honour through marriage or partnership. Some danger of death in middle life." I glean from Llewellyn George's book that there may be gain by marriage, that fame often comes at death, that about the 45th year may be critical, and that the partner is apt to be extravagant. Among other pertinent remarks, March and McEvers mention an extravagant partner.

Yet you say2 the description in these sources is in terms of legacies, mysticism, and an interest in sex. Gentlemen, you bring scholarship into disrepute.

I fear you will have no sympathy with what I am about to say, and no willingness to understand, but it may interest others.

It is a mistake to assume that the astrological is all the time expressing itself equally everywhere. The process is not mechanical, and I have already mentioned the take-up factor. There are reasons why some people's lives express the cosmic more vividly than others, which is inconvenient if you are thinking statistically and giving each individual equal weight. Some lives will express eloquently what is silent in others, or finds only stammering expression. Moreover there are individuals who are destined to stand out as beacons of the Zeitgeist.

What is operating here is something like Gauquelin's eminence factor, but much more powerfully. Whereas it may be assumed that the Sun, for example, functions equally all the time in everybody, in fact the qualities denoted by the Sun will be evident only to the degree that we attain some position in which we can shine. As we shine more brilliantly the more we become locked into the solar mode, and whatever the Sun signifies in our chart is likely to be enacted more dramatically.

So when considering the 8th house Sun I would not think statistically, because Mr and Miss Average, keeping their low profile (wisely perhaps!) may not be typical. Besides Kennedy you mention President Truman, another luminary, who became president on the death of Roosevelt, and is remembered for Hiroshima.

You wanted to know if Truman et al had extravagant wives, and were best remembered for their manner of dying. The answer is no, but here again it is advisable for you to revise the logic of Venn circles. A big circle will contain all the possibilities of the 8th house Sun, while its circumference is intersected by the smaller circles of individual lives. Those smaller circles, each overlapping the big circle, may themselves overlap, or they may not.

The problem for you in these discussions has always been your unshakeable prejudice, which skews your judgment in whatever direction suits. A final example among many: I mentioned how appropriate it was that President Kennedy should have the Sun in the 8th house, and you retorted that the fit was "negated" by the presence of Venus and Jupiter in the same house, giving a different reading. I think this negating business is something you have made up. But giving you the benefit of the doubt, answer this: "If there is any negating going on, why shouldn't the Sun be negating Venus and Jupiter?

 

THE LAST WORD 

It seems to me that we have come to the end of our exchanges. It must be the first time in history that an astrologer and sceptics have stood toe to toe and traded blows. From my side, I believe it has been worth while. Some issues have emerged better defined, yet the gulf between "science" and astrology seems as unbridgeable as ever. Assuming anybody else has been listening, it is for them to decide if their opinions have been changed.

Gentlemen, I thank you for your courtesies and forgive the occasional rough treatment, and hope you will do the same.

Ends

© Elwell, 2001

 

 

Notes:

 

1: Martin Berzins - Canadian astrologer, who organised the Astrology Hamilton Matching Experiment in the late 80's (29 correct matches in 42 attempts).  He linked to a previous instalment of this dialogue, with the search terms 'general semantics' and 'astrology'.

2: It can be noted here that Elwell is taking issue with a comment in the previous contribution from Dean/Kelly/Mather/Smit, and is disputing their comments about what is and is not said in certain astrological texts by quoting from these sources.  Their original comment runs as follows:

 “Standard works such as Leo, Hone, Davison, George, March & McEvers describe Sun in 8th in terms of legacies, mysticism, and an interest in sex, with the Sun tending to increase vitality and prolong life, unless it is afflicted (which is not the case here) when the spouse may suffer a premature death. Nothing exactly supportive of Robson here.”