Reply to Dennis Elwell’s 'Concerning Ubiquity, Evidence & Hard Hats'
by Geoffrey Dean, Ivan Kelly, Arthur Mather and Rudolf Smit
[Note: This article is the sixth in a series. The first was written by Dennis Elwell, the second was a response to this by the authors of the current article; the third was by Dennis Elwell - partly a response to the second article, partly addressing some further issues; the fourth was a rejoinder to Elwell by the current authors; the fifth was 'Concerning Ubiquity, Evidence & Hard Hats' by Elwell; the current article is (as the title suggests) a response to it. The authors have chosen to reproduce Dennis Elwell's original article (11k words) in its entirety, with their point-by-point comments (14k words) interpolated. Elwell's original text appears in a regular font, with responses from Dean/Kelly/Mather/Smit in bold and indented. Comments and contributions on any aspect of the discussion are invited.]
As before, Dennis Elwell has partly or wholly ignored numerous important issues raised by us. So we have made a concise overview of the debate so far (3K words), see “Researchers respond to Elwell” on www.Astrology-and-Science.com
Concerning ubiquity, evidence, and hard hats
An open letter to the critics
By Dennis Elwell
In a conversation like this, eavesdroppers may think that astrologers generally, and this one in particular, see it as their life mission to convert the sceptics. In fact most astrologers have become indifferent to scientific criticism.
And to any kind of criticism. Towards the end of his article Elwell compares astrologers to doctors in their approach, saying “Just as doctors can gather round the bed to confer, a chart can be analysed and discussed”. But the comparison is misleading because doctors are responsive to scientific criticism whereas astrologers are not. Which is why medicine improves and astrology stagnates.
As you will know only too well, the last 30 years saw what purported to be a scientific investigation of astrology’s claims,
It is irrelevant what the investigation “purported” to be. What matters are the methods and their results, but Elwell says nothing about these, so readers are left in the dark. Furthermore in those days many astrologers (including the entire Astrological Association by definition) encouraged attempts to study astrology scientifically.
from which astrology hardly emerged with its reputation enhanced. As a result I detect a change in the attitude of astrologers, who feel they have been released to do their own thing. Science let astrology down, so who cares any more about science! Challenge some of their techniques, and you are told ‘it works for me.’
We are pleased that Elwell recognises a behaviour that is so typical of many astrologers, where any kind of criticism is unwelcome. Of course this hardly speaks well for astrologers. Even when astrologers rush to link astrology with the latest theories in physics, as Elwell does, they show no interest in testing these links. It is all lip service.
Objectivity is not pursued as it once was. Astrologers are guided more by feeling and dubious intuitions. They blur the boundary between lasting knowledge and the divinations of the moment, throw in a bit of card or hand reading for good measure. Since society pays more to be entertained than instructed, what was once the Divine Science could easily degenerate into a mere diversion. The price of trivialisation is that the important questions now seem irrelevant. For example, if mind is truly microcosm, how illuminating for psychology is the astrological model? If the zodiac, a book with its pages hardly turned, describes twelve distinct philosophies, twelve mental faculties, what implications might it have for cognitive science?
Presumably very little if the twelve distinct philosophies and twelve mental faculties did not actually exist. How could we show this? What does it mean to say “if mind is truly microcosm”? Elwell does not tell us. But we can all play this “if” game. For example, if Elwell was able to abandon speculation in favour of doing acceptable experiments, how illuminating would this be for other astrologers? If his experiments showed astrology to be invalid, what implications might it have for psychology? At first sight the “if” game might seem learned and clever, but in reality this one leads nowhere.
I personally regret this trend, and how it came about. It was not science that discredited astrology, but blinkered science.
Notice how the fault is never with astrology but always with the tools used to investigate it, and how science is never blinkered unless the results are negative. In what follows there are many more instances of this Elwell bias.
As a witness to the debacle, it left me very angry indeed, which is why I (and perhaps a few others) choose to stay in contention with you.
Despite the impression given by Elwell, not all astrologers are against us. Some are very supportive of any attempts, including ours, to introduce rigour, testing and experiment into astrology. Nevertheless Elwell remains the only astrologer to have replied at length to our interview in Year Zero, for which we must thank him. But Elwell tends to produce noise with very little content. For example he does not like our tests, or those made by astrologers if they produce negative results; but when we ask repeatedly for details of better tests, he does not tell us, or he suggests a test whose results can be explained away if they are unwelcome. Whenever he says X is crucial, he typically fails to explain it, or resorts to jibes, so readers have no clear way of deciding whether X is a reasonable point. When we reveal flaws in his arguments, he ignores what we say. When we give him an opportunity to fairly demonstrate the merit of his ideas, he deliberately wrecks the whole deal. Which reveals the total irony of his next comment:
That said, I begin to think we are engaged in a futile exercise of tail-chasing, since you are impervious to contrary arguments, however small a threat they may represent to your basic position.
How can we be impervious to contrary arguments when, despite our repeatedly asking about appropriate approaches, Elwell never tells us? He delivers nothing for us to be impervious to. In any case, arguments contrary to what? Common sense? Science? Vested interests? As usual, Elwell is not clarifying what he means, and he is not going to help you by giving examples, or by telling you what arguments in favour of astrology are so powerful but which we have ignored. He wants you to take his word for it. But why should you?
Meanwhile astrologers are getting on with what they do, and other people seem pleased enough with what they do to pay them for doing it. To justify your arguments you have to maintain that astrologers and their clientele are deluded, if in the most harmless way.
Here Elwell is ignoring what we say in Year Zero pages 129-130, where we point out that there is more to astrology than being true or false. So who is being impervious to contrary arguments? In any case, the satisfaction of clients says little about the validity or truthfulness of claims. Many clients were satisfied with phrenology and bloodletting.
I dare say astrology has as many gullible people within its ranks as any other section of the community,
Here Elwell is again ignoring the above part of Year Zero where we stress how gullibility does not necessarily come into it.
and indeed one could argue that nothing exceeds the gullibility of those who believe science has the answers.
The answers to what? Empirical questions? Questions of ethics? Metaphysical questions? Many leading philosophers such as Quine, Dennett, and Churchland, believe that all areas of human activity should be based on and influenced by our best science, and they are far from being gullible. It all depends on what we are seeking. Is it knowledge or emotional support? In some cases science may have the answers, in others it may be a dead loss. And how would Elwell defend his statement? Believing in science is hardly a sign of gullibility when science has been so hugely successful.
But many astrologers, and those who claim to benefit from their advice, could not be classed as stupid.
Nobody said they were. But they could still be wrong. Intelligent people can have all kinds of crazy ideas and beliefs.
Some practitioners are transparently intelligent, with sound qualifications.
As is the case with all disciplines, bogus or otherwise. But in astrology “sound qualifications” do not guarantee an awareness of research findings or of reasoning errors, which is mandatory in the sciences and social scienecs even at elementary levels.
Nor is all the advice given and received the kind of ego-massaging introspection which led Dean to concede that astrology could be of value without it actually being true.
Wrong, Dean did not concede this (which implies that he was resistant to the idea but eventually gave in), he proposed it. Nor was he led to it in the way described.
Most of my own clients were looking for a more hard-edged input, factual rather than psychological.
That is what they seek, but do they receive? The believers in phrenology were pleased with the information they received, and most would have described it as hard-edged and factual. But this did not stop it being invalid.
Because of the magisterial tone you sometimes adopt
Magisterial means “dictatorial”, or “don’t think, don’t question, don’t ask for explanations, just believe everything I say.” Has Elwell ever thought about the tone he himself is adopting?
our audience may have formed a picture of you seated in some Star Chamber, lips pursed, fingers steepled and patiently tapping, as you wait to be convinced. This is not how it is,
Quite right. This is not at all how it is. It is Elwell who sweeps all the negative evidence under the carpet, and who, upfront, states his arguments are irrefutable, as at the start of his second article where he says “I did not think a coherent reply to my critique was possible, and have not changed that opinion.”
and there are two important reasons for saying so.
Firstly, while you demand proof of astrology it does not follow that astrologers will rush to turn aside from their work to cooperate in tests, whether of their own invention or yours, or pile up evidence for your inspection.
We don’t demand proof of astrology (what would it look like?), only strong evidence, and we look for it ourselves, being careful to consider the whole picture. Also, some astrologers do go out of their way to make tests or to promote them on websites. Furthermore, people who advocate theories about human behaviour have a public responsibility to validate them. This is part of what it means to have a responsible, ethical discipline.
Since they themselves do not need any more convincing, why should they?
Because the ethical astrologer will want to be convinced that she is not being led astray by reasoning errors. Elwell’s argument could be applied by people with any belief system, but belief alone is quite unlikely to result in progress. Such a dogmatic and unhelpful attitude would certainly not lead to critical discussion and improvemnt of one’s belief.
After all, by donating their time as professionals they will come out with a financial deficit.
If doctors said the same thing there would be a public uproar. Donating time is part of being a responsible professional. We donate our time, so why shouldn’t astrologers donate their time? (and some do of course).
The thought may also occur that if enough outsiders become persuaded of astrology’s effectiveness, they might one day wake up to find theirs an overcrowded profession.
This has never been a problem for physicists, psychologists, physicians, and so on, because successful fields tend to absorb the interest by branching off into sub-disciplines. Think of all the jobs and fields spawned by the interest in computers. In any case the research to date denies that this could ever be a problem in astrology.
Such reservations are sufficient to explain any lack of enthusiasm you may encounter in your bid to achieve the high standard of proof you demand - unrealistically high, I have always said. If the resources were available for full-time research it might be different.
As we said above, if we can find the time and resources to do research, so can astrologers. But in our experience very few astrologers meet even the minimum standards of good research. They have no interest in setting up proper tests, they are not responsive to criticism, their ideas are without any testable theory, and they have no methodology that can sort out the present chaos of astrological techniques. Having resources would clearly not make any difference. Even if it did, their performance to date indicates that astrologers would be completely unwilling to abandon ideas not supported by research. Sun signs are a good example.
Secondly, I often wonder whether astrology ought not to remain unproven. My colleagues, fresh from cosy intimacies with their clients, seem bewildered when I say astrology is dangerous, but knowledge always confers an advantage on its possessor.
Elwell is here implying that astrology is a source of knowledge. But as we pointed out in Year Zero page 155, go to any university library or large public library, check reference works, and you will find that modern astrology has made no contributions to science or philosophy worth mentioning. It is considered worthless by people looking for productive ideas or a source of knowledge. But rather than consider this awkward point, Elwell rushes ahead with his propaganda.
You have said that if their beliefs were true, astrologers would rule the world. Well, I don’t know how far a covert astrology already infiltrates events. I do not know how many bank heists are timed by the stars, how many drug couriers are rested when their aspects are inauspicious, how many political coups are planned with advice from a backroom stargazer.
How is that relevant to our statement? Large numbers of people may well be influenced by religious beliefs or numerology or what a psychic told them, who knows? But contrary to what Elwell seems to be suggesting, lack of information is hardly positive evidence.
In my files are a number of interesting cases where the timing of events was too good to be true, and I ask myself whether the closeness of the fit might have been deliberately contrived. One time this happened was the assassination of President Kennedy, after which people kept calling attention to the coincidences with Lincoln’s death. I could add a few more to that list, but one of them especially caught my attention, and that was the fact that both were on a Friday. Now the old astrologers believed in climacteric periods based on cycles of seven and nine, and obviously repeating Fridays are in the seven-day cycle we all experience as the week.
What seemed suspicious was that the period separating these two Fridays was not just a multiple of seven, but of 7x7x7x7. Seven raised to the fourth power gives a period of some six and a half years.
So Lincoln (d.1865) and Kennedy (d.1963) died six and a half years apart? The Kennedy-Lincoln coincidences are an apt example here because they represent the same kind of erroneous thinking used by astrologers when they fit charts to events after the event. Many studies have shown that similar coincidences can be found for almost any two people, eg W.J.Wyatt et al, Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1984, 62-66, and Bruce Martin, Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 1998, 23-28. The last also looks at the coincidences between American presidents, with results that are rather devastating for claims such as Elwell’s. The problem is that the number of possible comparisons is so enormous that matches can always be found purely by chance, for example you can find predictions of Roswell in Moby Dick, or of Clinton sex scandals in the American constitution, see the work of mathematician John Allen Paulos at abcnews.go.com/sections/science/WhoseCounting/991101.html
Moreover, measured in years, the interval was twice the square of seven (plus seven months!).
It is also close to the number of inches in a mile divided by 666, the acceleration due to gravity in cgs units divided by the number of our fingers, the antilog of the sun’s mass in 10^(6x5) kg, pi times 10 times the square root of 10, and one 2x7x7th of the moon’s diameter divided by the square root of the height of the pyramids! Yes, astrology really is everywhere!
Rationalists will pooh-pooh any suggestion that hidden cycles might be operating here, but suppose somebody somewhere believed that such cycles were real, and could be exploited to advantage?
Answer: Astrologers would be rich. Of course, there may be hidden cycles, but why believe they must be astrological?
That such things happen I have no doubt, since feelers have been extended in my own direction in connection with various dubious enterprises. Needless to say, it involves a more solid astrology than the usual pap. In which context, perhaps the ubiquitous Sun sign columns are regarded as a blessing in some circles, because they portray astrology as a subject for amusement only, letting others get on with its serious business.
The same could be said for phrenology, which like astrology was divided into pap (bumpology) and serious (craniology), but the presence of blessed pap did not save the serious business.
Obviously organisations convinced of the usefulness of astrology would seek a monopoly. In Hitler’s Germany, Himmler thought astrology should be the prerogative of the state.
Which is why Germany won the war? The same applies to any belief system, think of people who wanted to make Islam or Christianity their state religion. Nothing new here.
Come to think, if I were in charge of an organisation which made regular and beneficial use of astrology, I would mount an exercise in black propaganda to rubbish it, recruiting the best equipped people for the task.
So why is Elwell attempting to discredit our work?
Comments on your last two productions.
I wonder why you keep reminding readers of my credentials, or perhaps lack of them. How is it relevant to this exercise that I was a journalist?
Since we are debating matters of science, readers (especially new readers) deserve to know how scientifically qualified the debaters are. Also, the supposed irrelevance of credentials did not stop Elwell using them against us, as in his second article where he argued that Dean’s training in analytical chemistry “explains why he and others have been barking up the wrong tree for 25 years.”
I could see that it might be, since in a survey of how the public rate the various professions for scepticism, newspapermen might score better than academics.
Then again they might not. Does Elwell have any survey results here? We can all speculate but some solid information would help.
Similarly, on the scale of who is the most likely to ask awkward questions.
But as we shall see, not on a scale of who is most likely to answer them.
Another thing that puzzles me is your penchant for word counts, and telling us how many man-hours were expended on your contributions.
Word counts help site visitors to know what they are in for. But where do we talk about man-hours?
May I observe that quantity and quality are not synonymous.
Who said they were? Nevertheless it is brave of Elwell to say so, given the length of his present article.
Nor do you approve of my style of writing. I did not realise we were in a competition to see who could produce the most inert prose. What I regret in your own style seems to be shared by one of your number, Prof Ertel, who calls it inflated. (Link to Ertel's piece)
However, I find it entirely in keeping that you should wish to dictate not only what I say but how I say it.
Readers of what is supposed to be a serious debate are entitled to serious writing. They expect material to be accurately cited, and arguments to be illustrated by examples. They want evidence, not unsupported opinions. And they deserve straightforward reporting. But Elwell is not delivering. His citing is frequently in error, his examples are mostly nonexistent, his opinions are seldom supported, and he generally never reports that we did X when he can make us blast, boast, chant, cry, dupe, posture, savage, sneer, sniff, snort, smile, whinge, issue diatribes, whatever will slant our actions to suit his purpose. This sort of thing turns debate into a farce. Yet Elwell complains that we complain.
In your latest strictures you opine that my astrology is too lacking in rigour to be taken seriously.
Note how Elwell does not immediately attempt to rectify the instances where he is lacking in rigour, as if rigour were somehow optional. Instead he dishes out the red herrings. Why be direct when you can be evasive? Note how each time astrology is tested and the results turn out to be unfavourable, Elwell concludes that the test is flawed. The fault is never with astrology, it is always elsewhere. This is opposite to a responsible approach, where contrary and negative evidence are taken seriously. If science had adopted the approach of astrologers we would not have progressed beyond the ancient Greeks.
Mention of a lack of rigour reminds me of something I have been intending to ask regarding your contribution to Year Zero. I refer to the treatment on pp 142-143 of R H Naylor’s newspaper claim to have foreseen the R101 disaster. Several comments might be made here, but just take the single sentence: ‘The crash occurred when the Moon was 33 degrees from conjunction, a long way from modern orbs of a degree or so.’
We will reply to this in a moment. In the meantime the red herrings come thicker and faster.
To the uninitiated it will seem as if Naylor, and other astrologers by association, are being sloppy, while you display your superior knowledge and scientific precision. But there never was a 33 degree orb. At this lunation, actually a lunar eclipse, the Moon was exactly conjunction Uranus. You are suggesting that, to take Naylor seriously, the crash should have happened within a couple of hours or so of the lunation itself.
But I know of no authority who says this is to be expected. On the contrary, an ordinary lunation is given a range of days or weeks, and an eclipse much longer. Nor do astrologers think it remarkable if some appropriate event occurs just before the relevant eclipse. It is one thing to criticise astrology, quite another to make up your own astrology as you go along.
What is the explanation for this curious lapse? Is it ignorance about how astrology is supposed to work? Is it a simple mistake? Or is it perhaps another instance of a tongue-in-cheek attitude I believe I can detect elsewhere? The first two alternatives hardly sit well with your oft-repeated claim to be distinguished from astrologers by your ‘carefulness’. Nor can I see how a mistake might have arisen on account of your having so much else to think about, because this choice item - for which you had to trawl back 70 years - was something of a gem in your showcase.
After all, there were five of you recycling your contribution, apparently over a full year. Did not one of you query it? Can we draw any conclusion from that?
Yes. Elwell has got it wrong again. His reference to our supposed assertion that Naylor’s forecast was invalid because the orb was 33 degrees, when a lunation (or New Moon) allows even larger orbs, is misleading. The books do not always agree, but in general they say that a New Moon marks the beginning of a new cycle, so a lunation is supposed to mark the beginning of a cycle involving the activities of the house in which it falls. Thus Naylor himself says that when the configuration happens, certain events “follow”. So large orbs apply only after the configuration happens, whereas we might allow either nothing or a degree or two (depending on which book we read) before the configuration. But the air crash with the 33 degree orb occurred before the configuration, not after, so Elwell’s comments are irrelevant. There is another problem that Elwell ignores, namely Naylor predicted the real danger point would be the week following exactness, but during that time none of the events predicted by him were reported, see page 143 of Year Zero.
If we turn to scholastic rigour in general, I note how often Dean has offered the example of phrenology as a belief comparable to astrology which has now disappeared. He comforts himself that astrology will inevitably go the same way, as science again proves victorious.
Note the word “comforts”, whereby Elwell attempts to distort the whole situation into one that suits his purpose. Contrary to what Elwell would have you believe, the argument is not “astrology is like phrenology, phrenology has disappeared, therefore so will astrology”. The argument is that phrenologists were led by their experience to base their whole system on things now known to be completely wrong. They had been led astray by their reasoning processes, by their lack of caution, and by their lack of attention to contrary evidence, which is precisely the situation that applies to astrologers. So astrologers need to be concerned about being led astray.
But that was not the fate of phrenology. The best website on the subject, the work of a Cambridge graduate who made it a special study, clarifies the situation (www.jmvanwyhe.freeserve.co.uk).
While noting that phrenologists committed the same errors that you would attribute to astrologers, in that they sought only confirming evidence, this researcher says that rather than portraying phrenology as succumbing to the inexorable progress of ‘science’, what really happened was that it was diffused and absorbed into a host of other practices and traditions. It became ‘deeply unfashionable’.
In other words it disappeared. Elwell is implying that phrenology’s invalidity was either an illusion or did not matter. But what Wyhe is saying is that many factors contributed to phrenology’s demise. Despite many valid reasons to reject it, enthusiasts persisted, and it faded away only as they got old and no new ones replaced them. The parts that were passed on were the things that could be applied generally even though their particular application in phrenology was invalid, for example the idea of faculties and the idea that they could be measured. So Elwell is being selective in his reporting. In any case his argument is irrelevant to the real issue.
Other forces are at work in the growth and decline of ideas, besides their truth or untruth. Indeed it was not debunking that accounts for the disappearance of astrology in the 17th century. This early flowering, which was tied tightly to herbalism, and mostly rural, was defeated by the arrival of a determined and town-based medical establishment, with its own self-serving agenda. (See The Day the Universe Changed, James Burke, 1985.)
Elwell is again being selective. By defining 17th century astrology in a particular way, it can be made to disappear, as above, or stay on, as was the case for popular astrology in contemporary almanacs. Also, the argument goes both ways. Elwell is saying astrology disappeared due to social factors, so it could have arisen due to social factors, which has nothing to do with providing real information. The same social factors would explain why mutually disagreeing astrologies could flourish simultaneously and still claim validity.
So the truth may not be so black and white as you would like to suppose. You are far too eager to set up false dichotomies, and to repeat them often, as if they were some self-evident truth.
How does such talk help astrology? Or any other idea? See how Elwell has buried the issue, which was being led astray by reasoning processes, in a plethora of black and white, eagerness, and simple dichotomies. Also, recall how it was Elwell himself, in his second article, said “Either the astrological is everywhere, or it is nowhere.” Or precisely the kind of simple black and white dichotomy that he is now complaining about.
To keep chanting that science is evidence-based, while astrology is experience-based, is to create the impression that evidence and experience are somehow poles apart. This as the hoary reasoning fallacy of false alternatives, because there is no intrinsic conflict between experience and evidence. In epistemological texts we find discussions on the evidence of experience which recognise that experience can indeed sometimes be good evidence. In other words, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...
The terms “evidence” and “experience” are not synonymous. All believers cite experience to support their beliefs, hence the need for evidence to decide between conflicting beliefs. Also, when we talk of evidence for a belief we imply that evidence might be uncovered that fails to support the belief, but in Elwell’s universe this possibility does not seem to exist. Astrologers, unlike scientists, do not systematically search for errors in their beliefs. Not for Elwell the careful explaining of what we meant by evidence and experience, so readers could understand our arguments. The issue is the one that Elwell was earlier trying to bury under red herrings, namely being led astray by our reasoning processes (experience is open to reasoning errors whereas by definition evidence is not). Nothing here to do with ducks, unless it is Elwell’s score on this particular pitch.
Incidentally, you misrepresent my position when you say that ‘Elwell merely refers again and again to his experience, as if the problems associated with experience-based astrology did not exist.’ When I refer to the legitimacy of experience, I do not mean my own exclusively, but the accumulated experience of astrologers over centuries, a lot of man-years.
So what? The problems still exist. If a thousand people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. The accumulated experience over centuries did not resolve the fundamental disagreements between people of various religions, nor did it resolve the disagreements between different traditions of astrology. It is therefore misleading to refer to experience as if these disagreements did not exist.
Nobody regards experience is an infallible guide, but the claim that it must always take second place to evidence produced by controlled tests is questionable.
But astrologers generally regard experience as their primary guide, and so does Elwell, who in his second article said “Give me mature judgment, developed by experience of the world, and you can keep your critical thinking skills.” Furthermore, one of the reasons for controlled tests is to overcome the errors of drawing conclusions from experience.
In science it is possible to do controlled tests and come up with answers that disagree. The real problem is a lack of receptivity to the messages of experience, which become censored so that we believe we are hearing what we expect to hear, seeing what we expect to see. That is not the fault of experience per se, but a failure of wide-awake observation and the ability to be surprised.
If “receptivity to the messages of experience” means something like “being wide awake and critical”, who could disagree? But where is the evidence that astrologers have this capacity more than their critics? If it were true, astrologers would be leading the way to have their ideas examined and debated. But earlier Elwell says “Challenge some of their techniques, and you are told ‘it works for me.’” So, ironically, what Elwell says above applies especially to astrologers — they explain everything by their tight astrological belief system, and refuse to be distracted by reality. Note how the next para wanders even further from the issue, if that is possible.
The consequence of backing oneself down a narrow rationalist alley is that one will never encounter anything new. Like Procrustes, nothing counts unless it conforms to the same old yardstick.
If the same old yardstick = being true, hooray for Procrustes. But the “narrow rationalist alley” argument backfires on astrologers. To the ancient Greeks most of modern science would be incomprehensible and a huge surprise, but most of modern astrology would be easy to follow. Science has made huge advances while astrology has stagnated. So which one is backed down a narrow alley? Which one has encountered nothing new? Which one applies the same old yardsticks?
This quote is pertinent: ‘Success in scientific theory is won, not by rigid adherence to the rules of logic, but by bold speculation which dares even to break those rules if by that means new regions of interest may be opened up.’ (H. Dingle, Through Science to Philosophy, page 346.)
Alas, if only astrologers followed such advice. Nowhere do we find the astro equivalent of Newton or Einstein boldly overthrowing astrological ideas and opening new regions of interest. Instead we see only a rigid clinging to the past. Also relevant, of course, is the need for new ideas to be actually true, but this does not seem to worry Elwell.
Compared with the breadth of imagination one finds among the best scientists, the rationalist horizon seems distressingly limited. You keep implying that your opinion is the only opinion, your way the only way. You insist that what we need is more critical thinking, whereas more creative thinking might actually be the answer. You seem to imagine that divergent thinking has little value compared with your relentless convergent thinking.
Elwell is again misrepresenting our case. We are not saying that creativity is unimportant, only that we are easily led astray, therefore we need to be careful. No amount of creativity will save you if, like astrologers, you are not careful. If Elwell’s views of creativity vs being careful were correct, why is astrology so stagnant compared to the vast changes that have occurred elsewhere?
If I consult articles on the philosophy of science even in general reference sources like Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encarta, I find it emphasised that there is no one correct method of investigation. Referring to the various criteria of truth, Britannica says: ‘Far from there being any single or simple test of validity, the question whether predictive success or coherence, simplicity, historical authenticity, or mechanical intelligibility is the key consideration - and in what sense of each ambiguous phrase - must be considered afresh from case to case, with an eye to the specific demands of each new scientific problem situation.’
But how does this support astrology or tea leaf reading or any other practice? Any advocate of any practice could cite the above, but it tells us nothing about the actual validity. In the sciences, new methods are rigorously examined before being adopted, and many are found wanting. This critical approach is not found in astrology. Some astrologers are concerned about this, for example listen to what the American astrologer Mark McDonough says on his website www.astrobank.com/Astrology_Research.htm :
“Astrology has been flooded with wave after wave of plausible, astrologically sensible, but untested, ideas. It is time for us to enter into a culling period to discover which techniques are more reliable than others.”
McDonough proposes the use of experiments and statistics for this, which are the very techniques that Elwell rejects. We might add that projects for culling astrology are nothing new, the most notable being the Astrological Association itself, founded in 1958 “to enlarge the knowledge of astrology in a scientific spirit”, but none have had any noticeable effect on astrology. Also, Elwell fails to tell us what astrology does better than modern approaches, especially when (as noted already) astrology has made no contributions to science or philosophy worth mentioning. The philosopher Daniel Dennett asks: “Why do we need astrology? Why shouldn’t astrology belong on the dust heap of history?
You say I attempt to refute isolated studies which have proved negative, those ‘thousands of scholarly studies’ that suggest I might be fooling myself. I suppose it is futile to tell you that if I am fooling myself, I would be the first to want to know. The plain fact is that such studies as I have seen are open to criticism, both in their concept and design. There is no way to demonstrate your sweeping claim, or my sweeping condemnation, except by taking them one at a time, and this might be tedious, but if there are any you especially prize I will run a scribbler’s eye over them. Let’s get down to cases. Since I have no ‘scientific expertise’ you have nothing to fear.
Here Elwell gets into a muddle, confusing isolated studies of astrology with the thousands of scholarly studies of human judgement skills. From the way Elwell has described astrology in his three articles, it is not clear how he could ever find errors in it, or discover he was fooling himself. Thus astrological symbolism can be interpreted on so many levels that it can be made to fit almost anything. Elwell adopts approaches that are recognised as flawed by even the most elementary textbooks of research design. And he uses strategies that the above scholarly studies have consistently shown to be problematic. Later you will see examples so you can judge for yourself.
What tends to happen is that you state that such-and-such was found to be true, as if there were no possible room for contradiction. Often the reports are buried in obscure journals, and hence not conveniently checkable. The devil is usually in the detail, therefore I take the same forensic approach to these irrefutable studies as James Randi might to paranormal phenomena. The worst scenario for yourselves would be if the evidence of your choice disclosed the most unforgivable sin of all, in your eyes, namely the absence of proper safeguards.
Not necessarily. As knowledge advances, it is often possible to look back at early studies and see problems (which nevertheless may still be trivial) that were unsuspected at the time. What matters is the consistency of the overall picture shown by acceptable studies. Again, journals may be obscure but they are not unobtainable, and if we can obtain them so can Elwell. No doubt the devil is in the details, but for Elwell the conclusion is easy — a positive result means the test is acceptable, no matter how flawed, whereas a negative result means the test is not acceptable, no matter how perfect. Our previous responses gave many examples of this.
How can it be everywhere?
As I must have said, the astrological dimension is everywhere or it is nowhere. It is everywhere because it represents a system in which we are enclosed, and which conditions everything within it.
This “everywhere or nowhere” seems to be an example of the black-and-white thinking Elwell objected to earlier. Early astrologers did not believe that astrological principles applied everywhere, for example the Jewish astrologer Abraham Ibn Ezra held that one could learn to avoid them by reading the Torah, and even Ptolemy recognised non-astrological contributions such as genetics and culture. Nevertheless if astrology did apply everywhere then we would expect astrologers to be contributing to modern science and philosophy, and helping to resolve all sorts of problems, but as we already noted they are conspicuous by their absence.
From a perusal of the texts one sees that the scheme of planets, zodiac and houses, covers a wide range of disparate phenomena, from which hardly anything is excluded.
This is the theory. But as Elwell has also said, the cosmos may not work in the way implied by our labels. So we may need a different theory. How do we decide which is right? Will Elwell tell us? As you will discover, the answer is no.
You ask why something that is everywhere is so difficult to prove. There is a paradox here, which is almost universal.
This does not seem to bother philosophers or scientists There are many metaphysical systems such as idealism and materialism that claim to explain everything. But they are constantly debated and criticised in philosophical journals. Their ideas do not have to be “proven” but they do have to allow critical examination. Some scientific ideas such as superstring theory also claim to explain everything, but this has not stopped scientists from devising tests or proposing alternatives.
Everywhereness does not guarantee ease of access. Various examples suggest themselves. Oxygen permeates our atmosphere, but it was not until the 18th century that this fact and its implications was demonstrated. Can we suppose that fish are aware of the element in which they live? Magnetic fields have always been present, normally undetected, except perhaps by migrating birds.
These analogies are not helpful. Methods improve over time, so nowadays we can easily show that oxygen is everywhere in the atmosphere, that fish need water to live, that magnetic fields are detectable. But even though astrology has been around for several millennia, we are no closer to showing how astrology is everywhere than were the ancients. Some astrologers see it as everywhere by definition, which of course hardly advances our understanding. In this case Elwell seems to have redefined everywhere to mean “everywhere but not visible” (so direct testing will be a problem) whereas the everywhere that applies to his astrology means “everywhere because we can see it at work” (so direct testing should be easy). In other words this is obfuscation, not debate.
Again, if Darwin is correct natural selection is taking place everywhere within the biosphere, but concrete evidence is nevertheless hard to come by, which is why it remains a theory.
There is overwhelming evidence for micro-evolution, as when farmers face a new generation of resistant pests, and strong evidence for macro-evolution, as in the fossil sequence and in the similar embryological development across species. The majority of scientists and philosophers are convinced that evolutionary theory provides a better explanation than competing theories. It has been enormously fruitful. Attacks by armies of biologists, geneticists, morphologists, physiologists, and ecologists have revealed the need for only minor departures from Darwin’s original theory. By comparison, astrology has no coherent objective evidence (except negative evidence), it has not been fruitful in guiding enquiry, it makes much less sense than existing theories, and it is not supported by any of our best theories of how the world works.
Or take Newton, and the theory of the aether. He tried to account for gravitation by differences of pressure in an aether, but did not publish his theory because he was unable to give a satisfactory account of this medium in terms of experiment and observation. Yet, if it existed, the aether was certainly everywhere.
Perhaps the ether was postulated to be everywhere, but its existence could certainly be tested in various ways. Thus in their famous 1887 experiment, Michelson and Morley showed that the ether (then supposed to be the bearer of light waves) did not exist. Subsequently Einsten’s theory by-passed the notion of an ether. Notice the great difference between the ether being everywhere, and astrology being everywhere. Experiments of the type rejected by Elwell for testing astrology were perfectly adequate for testing the ether. So his ether analogy is beside the point.
Currently scientists around the world are on the track of the Higgs particle, which has been called the Holy Grail of physics. The particle, which is the key to why there are things in the universe rather than nothing, has to be everywhere, but it cannot ordinarily be detected. The Higgs boson is so fundamental that it has been called the ‘God particle.’ On the same line of thought, one can imagine a theologian in an argument about the existence of God, in which the sceptic seizes the idea of God’s omnipresence, and asks: ‘If God is everywhere he must be in this matchbox then?’ The theologian becomes confused, and the sceptic triumphantly opens the matchbox. Reductionist sceptics have an inexhaustible supply of matchboxes.
Both analogies are again beside the point. The Higgs particle is postulated by what is called the Standard Model of matter, which has so far passed thousands of tests, and there is agreement among physicists on how it might be detected. Comparable models, testing, and agreement do not exist in astrology, so the first analogy falls apart. Elwell’s second analogy with debate over God sets up straw men on both sides, see any relevant journal such as Journal for the Critical Study of Religion, or books such as A Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell 1997). Perhaps Elwell should read the writings of skeptical philosophers such as Anthony Flew, Kai Nielsen, Keith Parsons, Theodore Drange, Paul Edwards, Robin LaPoidevin, and Michael Martin. In any case if our theory predicts that God is not something you can see, then opening matchboxes is not going to decide anything.
If anything is everywhere it must be the space-time continuum, so that some straightforward experiments (controlled of course) should speedily provide the answers. Recently Sir Martin Rees, Britain’s astronomer royal, wrote that while we will certainly deepen our knowledge of the universe in the new millennium, ‘there may be a deeper level of understanding which is simply beyond what our human brains can encompass.’ He goes on: ‘The idea that space has three dimensions and time just ticks away will have to be abandoned, and we may have to work with 10 dimensions rather than just the ones we’re aware of.’ (The Sunday Times magazine, 22 July 2001.) Ten dimensions!
There are different models of space-time but all can be tested along various lines, such as which one best describes how matter behaves in electromagnetic and gravitational fields. There is nothing here like the obscurantism of astrologers when they talk of synchronicity and the the astrological structure underlying the universe. Martin Rees is a good example of the creative and imaginative behaviour of scientists challenging the status quo, something absent in most of astrology. But if astrologers cannot see in charts what they claim to see, how will the idea of ten dimensions save them? Elwell’s ploy here is the common one of erecting a smokescreen to conceal unwelcome facts.
On planet earth economic forces are everywhere, but that does not prevent major disagreements as to their nature and relationships among those working in this discipline.
Elwell is missing the point. That theories may disagree has nothing to do with forces being everywhere. Gravity is everywhere yet there is no disagreement that it varies inversely as the square of the distance. Economists are always testing their economic theories and trying to improve them. Thus there are large differences between the early theories of Ricardo and Adam Smith and the modern theories of Marshall and Keynes, but the reasons for the differences are well-understood and explained in any economics textbook. The same does not apply to astrology.
In Italy, or Japan, the national character is everywhere, likewise in every other country, but pinning it down scientifically is another matter.
Elwell really should study back copies of journals like Journal of Cultural Psychology, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, and Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Furthermore, even elusive things like systems of thought can be examined by quantitative studies, see Nisbett et al (2001) in Psychological Review 108(2).
One could go on. The point is that while the astrological dimension might be pervasive, with astrologers believing they encounter confirming evidence of its presence at every turn,
This underscores a problem with astrology. Astrologers with conflicting ideas find it just as easy to encounter confirming evidence at every turn. Are they all equally valid? If so, why should we believe Elwell’s ideas rather than some other ideas? If not so, how does Elwell propose finding out which is best? Elwell tells us astrology is a different science with different methodologies. How do these methodologies help astrologers here?
it is not easy to demonstrate it with the force that would satisfy the determined doubter.
Note the contradiction: There is evidence at every turn, but it suddenly becomes elusive the moment we get serious. But getting serious means identifying problems, making tests, and coming up with improvements. So if astrology becomes elusive when we get serious, it suggests that astrology is not the best explanation for our observations. But rather than explore this perfectly straightforward idea, Elwell heads for the blue beyond:
To achieve this it is necessary to set up the right conditions, without being exactly sure what they might be. Economists have no laboratory in which to test their hypotheses, nor do astrologers. Conclusions have to be reached by more indirect routes.
As if it were somehow impossible to give astrologers two charts and ask them to decide which one belongs to X. As we already noted, the theories of economists are extensively tested and debated, but the theories of astrologers are not. They do not even reach square one. Elwell is again missing the point.
The right conditions need not include experimental controls. If I want to show how air fuels combustion, I can put a candle in a bell jar and watch it go out. After a hundred times you might be convinced. What would be a suitable control, and why would it be necessary?
Here Elwell is showing how fifty years of astrology has failed to provide the insights that first year social science students gain in their first class. To start with, “air fuelling combustion” is a tautology. And candles going out under bell jars do not distinguish between air and phlogiston. So you need a study that excludes other possibilities. What it would entail would of course depend on what the possibilities were.
Indeed controls are not always possible, but certainly replication can hardly be dispensed with. Yet even here there are sciences, such as astronomy and meteorology, where exact replication may not be feasible. What controls or replication might be applied to natural selection?
One-off events in meteorology and astronomy (eg hurricanes, exploding stars) can be independently observed by many scientists and evaluated against current theories in related areas such as physics and chemistry. There is constant challenging and constant checking, none of which happens in astrology, at least not by astrologers. New observations in one field can affect theories in another, but it seems that very little affects astrology. Note how Elwell once again prefers the blue beyond to reality. As if it were somehow impossible to give astrologers another two charts and ask them to decide which one belongs to X.
Is it not regrettable that there has never been, so far as I know, a discussion on the methods appropriate to astrology’s validation, which might be fundamentally different from those you favour.
We began such a discussion in Correlation 15(1). Also, as noted in Year Zero, our own methods include those chosen by astrologers; they also include those later specified by Elwell, so the implication that we are missing something is hardly warranted. Furthermore, note how Elwell seems to be leading us to expect something more on these fundamentally different methods. Alas, it never arrives.
Elsewhere, the academic world is alert to the possibility that there may be a range of methodologies, depending on the nature of the subject matter, which of course does not mean that an alternative methodology must be any less rigorous, within its own terms.
It would help if Elwell gave details of these more appropriate methodologies instead of merely saying they exist. But put his idea to the test: The astrologer Robert Hand notes how nighttime births and daytime births were once read differently due to changes in planetary symbolism between day and night. So how would Elwell, using his special methodology “within its own terms”, determine which approach (this or his own) was best? Issues like this are dealt with all the time in other disciplines.
And this is where the biggest problem makes its appearance, because you, like many of the sceptics, want to dictate the conditions to the astrologers. They want to impose the same conditions that have worked so well in the physical sciences, insisting that if astrology is true it must yield itself to this proven methodology.
Simply not true. The methods used included those chosen by astrologers, and many studies involved collaboration with astrologers. If researchers like to impose the same conditions that have worked so well in the social (not physical sciences, it is for obvious reasons — if they worked for say psychotherapists then then should work for astrologers. Astrologers themselves willingly embraced the same methodology until it didn’t support their claims, when it suddenly became inappropriate.
You do not pause to ask: Suppose it is a different sort of science, and needs a different methodology?
Expressions like “different sort of science” and “different methodology” need explaining. Otherwise it boils down to another “if” game leading nowhere. Once again Elwell prefers the blue beyond to reality. After all, astrologers look at charts every day without worrying about the true nature of astrology, or whether it is a different sort of science, or whether they need a different methodology, so where is the problem?
With hindsight it might be said that astrology owes a debt of gratitude to Dean and his colleagues for showing what astrology is not, namely a science which responds readily to quantitative and reductionist methods. (By the way, I use ‘science’ according to the dictionary definition, as any organised body of knowledge.)
Which did not stop Elwell calling his book The Cosmic Loom: The New Science of Astrology. Note the argument: Astrology is not quantitative, therefore it has to be qualitative. But it does not follow, anymore than finding that elephants are not blue means they are pink. Furthermore, quantitative does not imply reductionist. Thus biology, modern physics (as beloved by astrologers), and ecology, all arguably holistic, often use quantitative methods. The social sciences have uncovered all sorts of valuable information with quantitative methods. So why not astrology?
Far-seeing astrologers have believed their knowledge might even possess the power to switch science onto a different track, but to exert that leverage astrology must to some extent remain outside the current orthodoxy and its methods.
Even if this were so, it does not follow that astrology must be valid. Neither phrenology nor alchemy were valid, yet they helped lead the way to modern neuropsychology and chemistry. In any case, if astrology could demonstrate its claims within the current orthodoxy, its leverage would be that much greater. Note how Elwell is beating this red herring to death, as if his speculations made it somehow impossible to give astrologers two charts and ask them to decide which one belongs to X.
The Collins dictionary defines scientism as ‘the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation.’ While astrology has been subjected to allegedly scientific scrutiny for some few decades, looking back it is obvious that the first rule of scientific inquiry has been repeatedly broken, with impunity and without protest. Rule one says that the methods of investigation must be adapted to the phenomena, or alleged phenomena. In particular, impartial research into elusive phenomena is about creating the conditions favourable to their appearance, and the possibility of distortion through uncongenial methods is ever in mind.
Several points. (1) Many studies were initially welcomed eg Mayo-Eysenck, which was hailed by astrologers as “possibly the most important development for astrology in this century” (Phenomena 1977, 1.1, 1). The protest came only after further research was found to be unfavourable to astrology. (2) As already noted, Elwell follows the same recipe, praising positive studies no matter how flawed and rejecting negative studies no matter how well done. (3) There are plenty of tests where the first rule has not been broken. What could be more appropriate to chart reading than tests of astrologers reading charts? Especially where the tests were designed by astrologers. (4) Note how a previously visible-everywhere astrology is now suddenly elusive, demanding conditions favourable to its appearance, yet astrologers are convinced daily of its validity under conditions that cannot always be congenial.
In research of any kind, your basic orientation determines the outcome. If your observation platform opens only to the west you will never see a sunrise.
Research orientation, except in a trivial sense, does not “determine the outcome”. Believing that apples fall upwards does not make it so. Which is why scientists can be wrong, as in 1999 when scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory retracted their discovery of element 118 after finding they had misinterpreted the data. Elwell seems to be saying what he has said here many times before — that astrology requires a different methodology. So what is the right methodology? This is the question we have asked many times before, but Elwell seems determined not to tell us.
The sceptics made the fundamental error of failing to stand back and ask themselves what kind of creature this intellectual yeti must be, if it exists at all.
Elwell is saying it again, this time with a Yeti metaphor. How many more times must we respond to the same point? The tests we make are guided by the claims of astrologers, not by the claims of pastry cooks or chimney sweeps. Don’t blame us if astrologers are making the wrong claims or quickly backtrack when findings are negative..
They might then have realised that their hunt was on the wrong compass bearing, and needed a turnabout of 180 degrees.
Not again! It is amazing how Elwell can say the same thing in many different ways and never tell us what we should be doing instead.
By the same token, the potential impact of astrology on a receptive science would not be a slight deflection, not a marginal modification, but a bold march down the same road in the opposite direction.
Yet again! Science has only to be “receptive” and all will be well. Instead of needing “a turnabout of 180 degrees” we need to march “in the opposite direction”. This is metaphor at its silliest, as if it were a practical substitute for actual tests. Note how Elwell is assuming what he needs to prove, namely the validity of astrology. As Bertrand Russell said, this has the advantage of theft over honest toil.
One direction leads to what might be termed microscience, in which entities and phenomena are isolated for closer and closer study. This has been the prevailing tendency of the last few centuries. The other leads to macroscience, in which everything is viewed in relation to a larger scheme. The symbol of the one direction is the microscope, of the other the telescope. It is the difference between zooming in and zooming out. Both are equally valid: There is a science of the centre, and a science of the circumference; a science of the earth and of the enclosing heavens.
But what larger scheme should we adopt? Most sciences, perhaps all, have characteristics of both microscience and macroscience. But so what? There is already a science of the earth (geology/geography) and a science of the enclosing heavens (astronomy/astrophysics), and they seem to be doing very well without astrology. See how we are getting further and further away from the issues of being led astray, and astrologers choosing between two charts. But this is Elwell’s approach, fly so high over gaping holes that they are no longer visible, and provide in-flight movies as a distraction.
In his opus Recent Advances in Natal Astrology Dean came away empty handed because he unwittingly reversed what astrologers believed, and what they were actually doing, and having established this false position proceeded to demolish it.
From what Elwell is saying you would never know that over twenty prominent astrologers assisted with the entire text (their names read like a Who’s Who of astrology), that its chapters were recycled many times until they were happy, and that most of the reported studies were conducted by astrologers. So Elwell’s talk of how Dean “unwittingly reversed what astrologers believed” and established a “false position” is simply absurd. Earlier Elwell was attacking skeptics for favouring outcomes consistent with their orientation, yet here he is doing precisely that. Nevertheless read again what Elwell says. Do you have the faintest idea what he is talking about? What follows leaves you none the wiser:
Reviewing his journey, it is possible to see that at every conceptual crossroads he takes the path which leads to the book’s conclusion, whereas others would have led to a different conclusion. The directions he chooses are not self-evidently superior to the others, and at every turn the real issue should have been which route was the most compatible with the claims made for astrology, if it was to be given an honest chance to prove itself. But step by step Dean opts for a route that imposes criteria which are arguably at variance with the subject matter.
More absurdity. What was seen by RA’s participating astrologers to be “an honest chance to prove itself” suddenly becomes uncongenial because it did not confirm Elwell’s presuppositions. But as noted by astrologer Geoffrey Cornelius, in astrology this happens all the time. Thus after attaching itself to Aristotelian science for two millennia, astrology attached itself to magnetism and electricity, then to radio waves, and more recently to depth pschology. Each attachment seemed to be the real thing at the time, but eventually each one let astrology down by not supporting it. After all this time, why not admit the emperor has no clothes? In any case, as we previously noted, much of RA is now very out of date, and it seems pointless to dwell on outdated work.
This is particularly clear in his approach to the astrology of personality, by trying to make it conform to non-astrological and more or less incompatible theories, involving a simplistic use of traits and psychological dimensions, as if these were endowed with some Mosaical authority. Had he followed the definition of personality given by Allport, given that psychologist’s unrivalled reputation in the field, and Allport’s recommendations as to the best methods of studying it, he would have arrived at an entirely different destination.
Note how Elwell gives no details, so readers have no way of judging anything for themselves. They have to take his word for it.
As a knock-on, research astrologers, in their anxiety to conform to what seemed to be the regnant methods of science, were unwisely persuaded that unless their data could be chi-squared it was of inferior status, or of no value whatever.
They were “unwisely persuaded” only because scientific methods did not confirm astrological beliefs. Had the results been positive there would be no problem with the methods. That is, the fault was always elsewhere, never with astrology. But how is it not useful to know to what extent your results could be due to chance?
The trait approach to personality was chosen because it seemed to offer a quantifiable handle, but from the standpoint of astrology traits are merely the incidental, and perhaps even accidental, fallout from processes within the psyche which are capable of a more comprehensive definition. To make a comparison, one can count the frequency of the different letters on this page without paying any attention to the fact that together they make words, and the words make intelligible sentences.
Alas, not the above sentences, see below.
Both Cattell, with his source traits, and Eysenck, with his personality dimensions, attempted to make words of the letters, but the question remains, are these words truly in the lexicon of nature? Will their value still be recognised fifty years from now? I note from Cattell’s obituary that towards the end of his life he rejected dimensions and returned to a psychology of traits.
Here Elwell is showing some responsiveness to data and experiment, but he is still living in the past. We are already fifty years on from when Eysenck opened the first pages of this lexicon, and most of his findings have survived to become fundamentals recognised throughout psychology. To a psychologist Elwell’s statements are uninformed.
Ideas are in flux, both in individual thinkers and society at large, and if you as critics seek to impose concepts on astrology which have not emerged from astrology itself, you must first be certain that those concepts possess some eternal and unassailable validity in their own right. If on the other hand they are ever so slightly provisional, the test might well turn out to be a test of the concepts, not astrology.
A pity Elwell never told that to the writers of astrology books. But how could we establish such eternal and unassailable concepts? By which eternal and unassailable methods of validation? This sounds very much like another repeat of Elwell’s perpetual ploy of claiming we are doing it wrong but never explaining how to do it right.
The moral is that astrology, which has words and sentences uniquely its own, needs to be examined in its own terms, which means you must stop thinking up tricks for it to do. It is the difference between studying animals in their natural habitat, or in the circus ring.
Here are two more ways of saying we are doing it wrong. And once again we need clarification of what its “own terms” means. When astrologers tie astrology to other practices like numerology (as Charles Carter did) or the Tarot, do these other practices appear under the same “terms” as astrology or under their own?
The best trick of all.
In whatever field of activity, by persistently applying inappropriate concepts and methods it is possible to make the phenomena you are studying disappear altogether.
Once again it would help if Elwell told us what methods are appropriate and how they help astrologers resolve conflicting opinions.
Take your favourite theme that there can be no valid knowledge without experimental controls.
First, “valid knowledge” is a tautology (and “invalid knowledge” is a contradiction). Second, nowhere do we say “there can be no valid knowledge without experimental controls.” Third, Elwell is confusing controls (think of the safeguards used in qualitative and historical research) and experimental controls.
When in my late teens, and fresh into astrology, I became excited to find that more celebrities were born with Mars in their Sun sign than in the opposite sign. I thought I had discovered something tremendous. As a check I assembled the same number of birth dates at random, and found that here Mars too was more frequently in the Sun sign. So my effect disappeared!
This was my first lesson in the desirability of controls in experiments which allow for them. But on reflection, controls were not essential in this case because the mistake arose through an inadequate grasp of the relative astronomy of the earth, Sun and Mars. This knowledge had been in place for thousands of years, and controls had not been necessary for its formulation. It was reached by careful observation, confirmed by replication.
On average, due to the orbital geometry involved, Sun conjunct Mars is over four times more frequent than Sun opposition Mars. But this applies only if both bodies are moving normally. It does not apply in directions and transits or if Mars is retrograde. So mere knowledge of relative astronomy is not enough once we need to quantify, for example to see if the effect is more pronounced for celebrities than for ordinary people, or once we start looking at more subtle contacts. In such cases controls are the only practical solution.
Observation plus replication unite in the term ‘experience’, this commodity you seem to disparage.
We have explained why the interpretation of experience is not straightforward. For an excellent readable introduction see Keith Stanovich, How to Think Straight about Psychology, 6th edition, Allyn and Bacon 2001.
Yet cumulative observations are the mainstay of sciences ranging from ‘A’ for astronomy to ‘Z’ for zoology. It is central to astrology as well. If Mars has been observed to be associated with characteristic effects, to the extent that it can be expected to produce those same effects in the future, and repeatedly does, it may be enough to recognise this simple fact, without setting up some artificial experiment.
So astrology boils down to observation, therefore all is well. See how Elwell blatantly ignores the problems of being led astray. To him there are no problems. We are supposed to accept without question his ability to avoid errors, and to dismiss out of hand the thousands of scholarly studies that reveal them to be unavoidable without special precautions. In any case, how would we observe the characteristics associated with Mars when, as Elwell says in his second article, “situations never repeat themselves exactly, just as the heavens will never be the same twice”, to say nothing of the slipperiness of the symbolism.
Given the whole sweep of phenomena it is only on the margins that experiments are possible at all, with or without controls. If you limit knowledge to phenomena that can be the subject of controlled experiments you will finish with a very threadbare version of reality. That methodology contains its own problems, because with complex phenomena it is not always transparent what controls are appropriate.
People could agree with all of the above generalities and still reject astrology. Furthermore if they were true then science would hardly have made the advances it has. They serve only to distract readers from the unwelcome-to-Elwell truism that there is nothing marginal, threadbare or complex about giving astrologers two charts and asking them to decide which one belongs to X.
So this unrealistic demand, this control freakery,
Like asking astrologers to do what they do? Elwell seems to be saying that, for him, the only reality is astrological, so non-astrological concerns such as artifacts and safeguards can be safely dismissed. The game is rigged from the start
might actually change the nature of whatever science you are studying, whereas in true science everything is done to preserve the integrity of the phenomena. It certainly cramps the ability of astrology to tell its own story.
So what methods will allow astrology to tell its own story? This is the question we have been repeatedly asking, but by the end Elwell still does not tell us.
The same objection applies if you insist that statistical analysis is the royal road to astrological certainties. Just as I appreciate the value of controls where controls are feasible,
As we pointed out in Year Zero page 131, the argument against statistical analysis is invalid. It is easy to see why. Astrology is said to incline rather than compel, it indicates only tendencies as in “water people tend to be more emotional than aur people”. So we have no way of knowing whether a particular chart judgement is a hit or miss until after the event. In other words, astrology works only sometimes, it is essentially probabilistic, which means that probabilistic (ie statistical) approaches could hardly be more suitable.
and of statistics where statistics can be legitimately applied, to assert that knowledge must be invalidated if it has no statistical base is a statement which many scientists would hesitate to support.
Just as well, since we do not say this. One of us (Kelly) teaches courses on research methods, and qualitative methodology is a large part of the course. He also does both qualitative and quantitative research. So who is Elwell addressing?
According to my understanding, statistics cannot prove any hypothesis, they can 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.
Elwell is confusing statistics with nonfalsifiability. Also, a good study requires both design and statistics. The statistics help to evaluate the outcomes, but the conclusion depends largely on the design. Statistics are not much use if the design is poor.
But in the statistical approach you are again in danger of changing the nature of astrology,
How can using a probablistic (statistical) approach change the nature of astrology when, as we noted above, that nature is itself probabilistic?
which essentially consists of qualitative distinctions, by claiming that those distinctions must be quantifiable. How to quantify the qualitative is a problem that arises elsewhere, so perhaps your argument does not lie specifically with astrology.
But qualitative research does not consist of after-the-event analyses of the kind favoured by Elwell. The aim is not to confirm preconceived ideas but to challenge them. So qualitative methods prefer data that does not fit or is awkward or negative, which is precisely the sort of data that Elwell’s system rules out from the start.
Excessive faith in the magic of big numbers can lead one astray, for the reason that one may not be dealing with a genuinely homogeneous population. A category that is too large may contain valid subcategories which, by lumping them together, are diluting each other’s significance.
Yes, as every statistics textbook tells us. But Elwell makes this objection only when the findings are negative. When the findings are positive it is a different story. Thus when Gunter Sachs tested samples of typically a hundred thousand cases, Elwell in his Cosmic Loom said “it is hard to fault the methodology adopted by the Sachs team”.
Thus a New York scientist studied the birthdays of biologists and found that while biologists per se showed no significant sign variations, when they were broken down into their specialities molecular biologists showed a peak in Aries, and taxonomists in Cancer. He conceded that although the peaks were remarkable, they could have arisen by chance. (Nature, April 26 1974).
He did not apply a significance test, but our own calculations show the two peaks were not even marginally significant (p=0.59 and p=0.24). In other words the results were most likely due to chance variations and are most likely meaningless. Now see how effortlessly Elwell can find meaning in these meaningless variations:
On the other hand, to the astrologer a taxonomist collecting data about families, superfamilies and subfamilies, does have an uncannily Cancerian ring. Again, the rapid development that has characterised the field of microbiology, its urgently forward-pointed research, and its engagement with the very origins of life, might seem congenial to Aries.
You have just seen an example of being led astray. For another, see how we can just as easily find meaning in these meaningless variations even when they are reversed. Thus the energy required to deal with all those families has an uncannily Aries ring, while the very origins of life could hardly be more congenial to Cancer. Yes, we can all capitalise on astrology’s flexible symbolism. No wonder Elwell can see astrology everywhere.
We have all seen those bar charts showing the fairly even distribution of Sun signs in various professions. If you had started out believing in astrology you would have drawn the correct conclusion, namely that the categories were not astrologically homogeneous.
If we had started out believing in astrology, we could have also drawn the equally-correct conclusion that Sun sign effects are swamped by the rest of the chart. Non-believers would have drawn the conclusion that there is nothing useful in Sun signs. Either way, Elwell’s conclusion begs the question, as does the rest of his argument.
You could produce a graph for the number of mice populating the different countries of the world, and find there was no significant variation between one country and the next, yet you would hardly conclude that because they can earn their living everywhere, mice as a valid category cannot exist anywhere.
It is hard to disagree. We would conclude that mice exist everywhere. The comparison between easily identifiable mice and problematic ideas such as sun signs does not seem to be fruitful.
The same goes for Aquarians, and any other sign you could mention. The credo that anybody can do anything may not be absolutely true, but it comes close. Some professions, like medicine or the Church, are so broad that people of widely different temperaments can find a niche.
This is a good example of how Elwell is ignoring what we say. In our previous response we pointed out how the extensive work done on vocational interest “has confirmed that such professions represent a way of life as well as a way of earning a living, and that the associated patterns of likes and dislikes do not arise from the profession but exist before a person enters it. Such patterns are as stable and permanent as any known aspect of personality.” This contradicts what Elwell is saying, which is awkward, so he is obliged to ignore it lest it get in the way of a good story. And he has the nerve to complain earlier that it is we who are “impervious to contrary arguments”.
While these statistics were presented as a test of astrology, the hypothesis that Sun signs would produce significant results when measured against broad professional categories is contrary to astrological expectations.
Not according to what Elwell is ignoring, see previous comment, nor even according to Sun sign books. Indeed, some astrologers consider the Sun sign to be the most important single chart factor. Presumably they arrived at this view by the same reasoning that Elwell arrived at his own view, so how do we decide between them? Furthermore, if Sun signs genuinely differ, then even if things overlap to some extent we should still expect to observe the predicted differences.
The textbooks contradict that premise, and direct attention to other factors in the chart as a whole.
This does not invalidate Sun signs. Most textbooks point out that the Sun sign is but one of numerous chart factors. So if we take a large enough (and homogenous enough) sample to cancel out the effect of factors other than Sun signs, we should be able to detect Sun sign effects in their own right. Nothing contrary to astrology here.
Why then, if astrology is to be judged in its own terms, should those who seek to test it adopt some criterion of their own? Presumably for no other reason than that the data were in convenient supply.
But they do not adopt some criterion of their own, they follow the criteria given by astrologers. If (as is usual) astrologers cannot agree on the criteria, then all criteria are tested. Elwell is insisting that only his concept of astrology is valid, but no responsible researcher is going to ignore the concepts of others.
But if all that is shown by such figures is that the Sun sign is not a determining factor in the profession, you have merely confirmed what astrologers themselves have been saying. This does not strike me as outstandingly clever.
Correction: What some astrologers have been saying. Others of equally rich experience, especially authors of Sun sign books, say the opposite.
These observations may be unpalatable, and with some reason. Such tests attempt to foist a specious simplification on astrology, by making it toe some crudely drawn line.
Which did not stop Elwell speaking glowingly about Kary Mullis’s simplistic hand-waving tests of Sun signs, see his first article, or about the simplistic Sun sign studies of Gunter Sachs, see previous quote. Nor does it stop Elwell, in his final section, promoting tests of Sun signs.
If I dip into a book on astrophysics or microbiology I see nothing but complexity, and I fail to see why you should imagine that astrology, with the breathtaking scope claimed for it, should yield itself to naive questioning.
But complexity in these fields does not deny the success of asking simple questions. Chemistry offers nothing but complexity, but this does not mean we cannot have straightforward experiments like putting candles in bell jars. Similarly with astrology. No matter how dauntingly complex it may be, we can test it quite simply by giving astrologers two charts and asking them to decide which one belongs to X, or giving subjects several chart interpretations and asking them to pick their own.
Hard hats, hard heads
These discussions are apt to become theoretical, and far removed from hands-on astrology, which I why I suggested a little experiment in chart interpretation. With something concrete on the table we could take another look at the issues.
An admirable sentiment but ignored in Elwell’s final section where he supposedly addresses the issue of testing.
As an astrologer I expect planetary signatures for the themes of life to feature in the natal chart. So when I discovered through the Internet that one of Kelly’s hobbies was collecting combat helmets, it seemed probable there would be an unmistakable signature in his birth chart. The things spread out around us - the furniture of our life - are rather like an exploded diagram of our inner self, and it may be that hobbies, being perhaps closer to one’s heart, are more eloquent indicators of ourself than professional matters. Prince Charles collects toilet seats, and I do not, which presumably says something about both of us.
To test the conjecture I asked Kelly if he gave out his birth data, but he does not. Nothing wrong in that, we were subsequently told, because these days the birth date is used for security purposes. It looks as if all those who freely provide their data for references like Who’s Who have yet to realise the alarming consequences. Obviously a comment on their intelligence.
The use of birth data for security purposes became widespread only after the recent popularity of phone transactions, and after most of the entries in Who’s Who had been prepared. It remains to be seen whether these considerations will tend to limit the birth data in future Who’s Who entries to birth year only.
Maybe some celebrities are vain about their age, in which case they will knock off a few years, a recurrent hazard for astrologers! But I have never heard this explanation from anybody save your good selves, and I quote: ‘Elwell seems unable to understand that people could have perfectly legitimate reasons for keeping their birth data private. For example, to prevent hostile astrologers from saying untrue and defamatory things based on the charts of their opponents.’
This comment was an inadvertent leftover from an early draft, and was amended when it was found shortly after posting. What we actually say about the reasons for witholding birth data is as follows: “There are several good reasons. These days birth data is used to check the authenticity of phone enquiries about anything from bank statements to electricity bills. So you are foolish to give it out. Also, critics sometimes meet people who claim they can guess Sun signs (Kary Mullis was an example of this). If they can guess accurately then it could be the start of something big — but not if your birth data is already out there. Others may clam up because it could be embarrassing, like April 1st, or because it might expose them to unwanted taunts about their Sun sign or their age. Elwell seems unable to understand that people could have perfectly legitimate reasons for keeping their birth data private.”
But what about friendly astrologers, like myself, who would like to say true and praiseworthy things?
Like your statements so far? No thanks.
In the same place you go on to assert the following: “We predict that astrologers would not claim to see iron helmets in charts. Or if they did, they would disagree on the significator. Perhaps Elwell could tell us what features he is so confident of finding. Should he decline, or be wrong, or not show the confidence he demands of others, this will speak for itself. Watch this space.”
Watch this space indeed. A few lines on, perhaps with caution nibbling away, you rather undo this spirited stance by declaring: “To the extent that anything can be seen in a chart after the event, finding a signature for helmets would be unremarkable, as would any agreement between astrologers.”
Astrology books and websites like StarIQ ( www.stariq.com/main.HTM ) or the Mountain Astrologer ( www.mountainastrologer.com/ ) are full of symbolic “explanations” of past events, but always after the event, never when we actually need it, which is no help at all. Indeed, for astrologers the future is just as hidden as for the rest of us, see for example astrologer Tim Tarriktar’s article at www.mountainastrologer.com/tem1200.html
So first you are telling me I can’t do it, and then say that even if I can, it would not be significant. This is called hedging the bets.
The issue is the difference between before and after. The challenge is for Elwell to predict, in advance of looking, what he might find. This is very different from looking first, picking whatever fits, and declaring it to be significant, which is no challenge at all. Nothing here about hedging bets.
I agree that if your astrology is sufficiently soft-focus you can, with a little goodwill, coax a chart to mouth what you think it ought to be saying. Much depends on how the astrologer has been trained. When I was teaching, I coined the verb ‘to mif’, meaning to make it fit. I counted it progress when the student could admit that a chart was silent on some point. It is an ever present danger, interpreting data in accordance with one’s preconceptions,
Many astrologers never realise when they are miffing, so Elwell should be congratulated for highlighting a serious problem. Ironically Elwell subsequently falls into the same trap, miffing not once or twice but all the time, which might miff the astrologers he is criticising (miff, as opposed to mif, means to offend). To avoid miffing we need to take all factors into account, weigh them, and come to a balanced indication. But Elwell never does this, at least not in these articles so far.
but may I point out that miffing is not unique to astrology, it is everywhere.
But rarely in science, where the whole idea is to prevent miffing. Which is why scientists are suspicious of after-the-event fudging.
In my teaching I have always discouraged soft-focus, and urged attention to specifics,
It would help if Elwell gave examples that distinguished between after-the-event miffing and non-miffing. Thus astrological websites such as StarIQ give endless examples of after-the-event fits with seemingly every conceivable world happening. Would Elwell consider such fits to be examples of miffing or non-miffing?
which is why concrete signatures are such useful landmarks.
Like those isolated factors you condemn us for testing?
But you deny that Kelly’s helmets would be an ‘unambiguous highly focused test’, and say the real test in terms of helmets would be distinguishing Kelly’s chart from a control chart. Let us look at this squarely, since it is a stubborn strand in your thinking. Where would the control chart come from? Would it be chosen by somebody? Would it be random? How should we recognise it as a control? Might it accidentally be the chart of someone for whom hard hats could be otherwise significant, perhaps as a construction worker or motorcyclist? How would we know that our control, a few years on, would not develop an interest in combat helmets? I know a man who has a metal plate in his skull, could he be a control?
Note how Elwell was previously so sure about seeing German metal helmets, but is now suddenly worried about plastic hats and metal plates and as-yet undeveloped interests, as if the base rate for these things was suddenly awesome. We come back to this point later.
More importantly, a signature suggestive of combat helmets could be present in a random chart, but by chance. You will say that in that case it could be present in Kelly’s chart by chance. And so it could, but here I want to draw attention to the way astrology seeks its guarantees. There always need to be safeguards, but whereas for you the safeguards are controls - more or less artificial - the safeguards appropriate to astrology consist of multiple confirmations.
As if multiple artifacts were somehow no longer artifacts.
You may be able to provide metaphors from within your own areas of expertise, instances where units are validated not singly but through combination. You can take a piece of a jigsaw, measure it, weigh it, analyse its surface, but another question is how well it fits into the extended pattern.
When Elwell starts on the analysis proper, watch how his emphasis on isolated factors automatically ignores the extended pattern. By definition you cannot determine the extended pattern unless you look at the whole chart, but Elwell never does this.
Signatures are never isolates. They will express themselves in multiple ways, at different times within the same life, without losing their essential ‘gesture.’ Two facts I know about Dean is that he developed a theory in which birth records might have been falsified, and that by an extraordinary coincidence he himself chose to misrepresent his own birth data.
Now apply a control. Suppose Dean’s theory had involved birth records not being falsified. Amazingly, there are instances where he did not falsify his own birth data. Extraordinary!
These different circumstances spring together as irresistibly as the ends of a chest expander,
Or anything else we look for after the event. No matter what crazy idea Dean’s theory might have involved, say the Moon being made of green cheese, we can always find an instance to match, say once having tasted green-veined Camembert cheese, which then spring together by definition. Nothing extraordinary here at all.
yet they are not causally related, save through their common astrological denominator, the natal Moon-Neptune opposition across the meridian.
Amazing how Elwell’s reservations about isolated factors suddenly disappear when it suits him. This is where being able to tell miffing from non-miffing would come in useful. How would Elwell convince his critics that what he does is not miffing?
Would Kelly’s chart serve as a control for Dean’s chart, and vice versa? Why not? Would the dominant themes of each life and personality be found in both, making them interchangeable? I think not.
Does this mean yes it would or no it wouldn’t?
In the helmets exercise the vital term in the equation, namely Kelly’s birth data, was missing. I asked Kelly if he would at least tell me his rising sign, which is hardly a security risk since it indicates only the hour of birth, but this ‘meaningless’ information was not forthcoming either. Without any chart to consult, we played a game of let’s pretend. I said, let’s suppose that in Kelly’s birth chart an astrologer, in his misguided way, might think he has found the likely planetary signature, what would it be? Since the chart has no real significance in Kelly’s eyes, there was surely no harm in revealing this purely hypothetical configuration. The exercise had fortuitously become a test of how far astrology’s critics understand its nuts and bolts.
But some of astrology’s best critics happen to be former astrologers. In any case the above points are a red herring. The challenge is to predict in advance of looking what the signature of iron helmets would be. So Elwell had no business asking for clues, and Kelly was right to refuse. Note how Elwell has turned it into an after-the-event challenge, which is precisely what we wished to avoid. But wait, it gets worse.
Dangerous ground, of course, because Kelly is astrology’s very own Witchfinder General, chairman of the astrology committee of CSICOP (aka the thought police), of which Dean is another diligent member. Putting one’s head in the lion’s mouth, you might say.
Note the irrelevance to the issue. Now the part where it gets worse:
Curiosity aroused, a friendly genealogist searched the public record for me. Perhaps going to such lengths demonstrates my confidence that what is supposed to happen astrologically generally does happen.
Note how only a few paragraphs earlier Elwell was claiming to be a friendly astrologer. But do friends go behind your back to get private information you preferred not to divulge? Do they discuss you in public? Of course not. To us Elwell’s actions merely demonstrates his contempt for ethical issues and his unwillingness to put his ideas to a proper test. What follow boils down to yet another worthless exercise in after-the-event astrology.
My copy of Kelly’s birth certificate was certified on 18 June 2001, and although it seems I am not allowed to disclose his date of birth here it does not matter for our present purpose.
I feel free to comment on this data because it illustrates several points we have been debating. For example, the issue of what comprises the ‘whole chart’, which seems to excite some critics immoderately. Here the whole chart is not available, only part of it, so like any other astrologer in this situation I have to do the best with what I have. I should like to put in other factors, at my discretion, connected with the hour of birth.
It also illustrates the folly of not using safeguards. More on this in due course.
You say that astrologers would disagree on what they were looking for in Kelly’s chart, but that is not true. They would examine the factors most likely to be involved, in view of their known associations. They would certainly look at Mars, planet of things warlike.
Note how Elwell twists the situation. Our point was that astrologers, before looking, would disagree. But Elwell is talking about what astrologers would do after looking. Not the same thing.
Mars is also connected with the head, and with iron. As in war, the planet has two forms of expression, an attacking mode and a defensive mode, the latter associated more with Scorpio.
But our seach through standard works found no reference to Mars in Scorpio being defensive, for example Carter (“courageous”), George (“revengeful”), Hone (“strong desires or hurtful vengefulness”), Tad Mann (“violence, destruction”), March & McEvers (“explosive”). Elwell seems to be inventing things to fit what he already knows, namely what the chart contains. As we have already pointed out, making any chart fit is easy, as Elwell now demonstrates.
The astrologer might reason that helmets also have a defensive connotation, so would not be surprised to find Scorpio well represented in this chart. It turns out that as well as the Sun and two other planets, Mars itself is in this sign.
Note the thread from iron to helmets to defensive connotations. Elwell is making his own connections to suit a situation he is already aware of, which should not convince anyone. It would be just as easy to make other connections starting from iron, and conclude that Kelly collects iron lamposts or railway lines or machine guns (which have decidedly offensive connotations). But back to Elwell’s argument. If true, then the astrologer might confidently expect to find Mars in Scorpio in the charts of anyone with a serious interest in German helmets, like the entire German army. Or in the chart for the launch of the German steel helmet, which Elwell cites later. But here Mars is in its detriment in Libra (“indecisive”). Is that why Germany lost the war? The astrologer might also reason that defensiveness has much to do with major aspects between Saturn and the personal planets. But it turns out there are none. No minor aspects either. More on this in a moment.
Nothing in the chart (or in the universe) exists in isolation, all is interconnected, which is why tests based on isolates are likely to fail.
Which does not stop Elwell basing his astrology on isolates like Mars in Scorpio. To be sure, he talks about the importance of interconnections, but in his hands this boils down to merely selecting a series of isolates that happen to fit after the event. It is like selecting only caramels from a box of assorted chocolates and saying (1) they are interconnected, therefore (2) they prove everything is caramel, which of course might be completely untrue — there might be many more hazelnut pralines than caramels, but we will never know unless we examine the whole box. In other words Elwell’s selection of isolates-that-happen-to-fit reduces astrology to absurdity. Astrology has always required pros and cons to be weighed against each other before a conclusion is made. So much for Elwell’s previous platitudes about miffing.
Mars makes a very important connection with Saturn, a parallel of declination.
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 even though their angular separation is nowhere near any major or minor aspect, so ecliptically they are as disconnected as can be. In any case the supposed parallel is in fact a contraparallel, which symbolically is the opposite in meaning to a parallel. So when Elwell, below, says the parallel means the two planets work together, the contraparallel should mean they work against each other, giving an inability to finish anything, which rather upsets his argument.
Working together these planets come closest to the military ethos, because Saturn is about discipline, duty, order. Through its association with Capricorn it connects with the idea of hierarchy, a chain of command, and through Aquarius, with comradeship, of esprit de corps.
How does this relate to Kelly himself? But even if the contact had been Venus-Jupiter it could still be made to fit via the ancient warlike Venus and the Jupiter-like German expansion. Much the same fit could be made to almost any planet such as Mercury (military intelligence) and of course Pluto (overthrow). All we need to know is the chart in advance and voila, we can find perfect isolated fits. That the fits are more or less numerous, as Elwell proceeds to show, and that they support each other, clearly means nothing. If we select only caramels we should not be surprised at ending up with only caramels. What matters is whether the relevant factors, predicted in advance of looking, are more numerous in Kelly’s chart than in control charts. But because Elwell rejects controls, we will never know.
Saturn has another association relevant to steel helmets, an encasing function, the creation of an impassible boundary, a monumentally thick skin.
In his Cosmic Loom Elwell assures us that Saturn has to do with lead. But as far as we know lead helmets have not caught on except in the case of lead soldiers. So Elwell’s next statement merely confirms how being selective after the event can make anything fit.
Mars and Saturn together are the eminently appropriate signature of armour. Yet another Saturn association is with history, and added to Mars it is appropriate that military history should be an interest.
But as already noted, Mars contraparallel Saturn means they are working against each other, which seems eminently inappropriate for having history as a successful interest.
The connection between the sign Aries and the head is an astrological commonplace, and could be part of the jigsaw, but without a time of birth we do not know where Aries falls in Kelly’s chart.
But Kelly knows his time of birth. So here is a chance for Elwell to demonstrate how well his astrology works, this time in advance of looking, so it will mean something — just tell us where astrology predicts Aries to be in Kelly’s chart. Readers, watch this space.
However there is one point in the entire zodiac which singularly represents Aries, namely zero degrees of that sign, the vernal point itself. In this planetary pattern Mars and Saturn stand in exact symmetrical opposition to zero Aries.
Oh yes, and if it did not, there is always some other point or some other zodiac that can be pressed into service. In any case the opposition is not exact, so Elwell’s emphasis is misleading.
Via the Internet I solicited the birth dates of other collectors of combat helmets, but without success. I should not have expected to find the exact same signature (unless they were born on the same day) but a combination of the same elements.
But what is meant by “the same elements”? Would other astrologers, in advance of looking, agree on what they should be? And would collectors of combat helmets have “the same elements” more frequently than say collectors of ceremonial helmets or fencing masks?
However I was pleased to get the date for the introduction of the German helmet, of which I understand Kelly has a fine collection. The Stahlhelm35 began its career on 25 June 1935.
But as pointed out in our previous response, Kelly has fewer German helmets than those from other countries, and they are far from being his favourite helmet. So the M35 is hardly appropriate for a check on Kelly’s hobby. In any case the Germans introduced their first metal helmet (the coal scuttle helmet) on a large scale in 1916, when the helmet with the spike on top went out of fashion, so 1935 is rather late. Again, there were other versions as in the slight modification of 1940 and the more extensive flared-rim modification of 1942. Finally, although the testing of the M35 was finished in June 1935, it did not achieve field use until April 1936. It seems that once again Elwell is picking from a selection of charts after the event.
Of course a lot of things happen in one day, but it is interesting to find the Moon in Aries, and to note that Mars and Saturn (armour) are in hard aspect (the 32nd harmonic) and together symmetrically oppose Mercury, a planet connected with the brain.
Several points here. (1) Depending on the time, the Moon could also be in Taurus. (2) Elwell is saying that in the 32nd harmonic chart the two planets are in conjunction, which hardly qualifies as a fully-fledged hard aspect. (3) Given enough harmonics we can link any two planets we like. (4) Given enough ingenuity we can link almost any planet with the brain/head, such as the Sun (obviously), Moon (lunacy), Venus (jewel in the crown), Mars (blood), Jupiter (blood via nutrition), Saturn (bone), especially given the shift in links over time, for example in the 16th century Mercury was connected with the lungs.
I would expect the charts of avid collectors to connect with the Stahlhelm chart, and Kelly’s does (appropriately enough) through Mars, as well as in other ways. If you bisect the positions of the Stahlhelm Mars and Kelly’s Mars it is the position of his Sun.
OK, so we have a connection for iron, but what about helmets? If you bisect the positions of the two Saturns (defence) it is not the position of his Sun (head) or even in major or minor aspect to it. It is not even in Aries (head). Yet according to Elwell the interconnectedness of astrology never fails to produce this sort of thing.
ENDNOTE. On the day this was being posted, I was glad to receive a positive reply from another helmet collector, whose chart also provides a meaningful mosaic. Michele Tagliavini wrote that he was born 12 March 1969, in Bologna, Italy, ‘apparently around noon.’ In his chart we find Saturn in Aries, hard hats, conjunction Venus, the bonding planet. For specifically combat helmets one expects some Mars involvement, but there is no angular contact between Saturn and Mars. There is already an inbuilt connection, of course, because Saturn occupies a Mars-ruled sign. [continued below]
Note the search for other connections when one is missing. In the game of cherchez la correspondance, if at first you cannot find, you just cherchez someplace else.
The Mars/Saturn midpoint falls exactly semisquare zero Aries, recalling that in Kelly’s chart it is in opposition. This is even more relevant because zero Aries is the place of the Moon’s node. The Mars/Saturn midpoint also coincides with the Sun/Moon axis, of which Charles Harvey (devoting a whole chapter to it in Working with Astrology) remarks: ‘The importance of this midpoint cannot be overstressed.’ [end of endnote]
Let us do what Elwell ought to have done and make a systematic tally. Did Tagliavini have Kelly’s Mars in Scorpio? No. Lots of Scorpio? No, only Neptune. Mars contraparallel Saturn? No, nor parallel nor aspect. Mars/Saturn midpoint at 0 Aries? No, but it is semisquare 0 Aries. Bisection of Mars and M35 Mars = Sun? No, nor in aspect. Conversely did Kelly have Tagliavini’s Saturn in Aries? No. Venus conjunct Saturn? No, nor in aspect. Moon’s node at 0 Aries? No, nor in aspect. Mars/Saturn on Sun/Moon? No. Total 1 hit, 8 misses. What hits are expected by chance? A ballpark expectancy might be something like the mean of 0.08 (planet in sign) and 0.22 (major aspect orb 5 degrees) and 0.07 (midpoint or minor aspect orb 1.5 degrees), or 0.12. So in 9 comparisons we expect roughly 9 x 0.12 = 1.1 hits by chance. In other words there is no reason to assume the results are other than chance.
For completeness we should now test Elwell’s signatures for helmet collecting on a suitable control chart, that of a person known not to collect iron helmets. Recall how Elwell had earlier cast doubt on whether such a control was possible, saying
“Where would the control chart come from? Would it be chosen by somebody? Would it be random? How should we recognise it as a control? Might it accidentally be the chart of someone for whom hard hats could be otherwise significant, perhaps as a construction worker or motorcyclist? How would we know that our control, a few years on, would not develop an interest in combat helmets? I know a man who has a metal plate in his skull, could he be a control?”
But this conflicts with what Elwell said in his second article about Kelly and helmet collecting, namely “one would expect to find an unambiguous signature of the helmets in his birth chart.” If Elwell expects to find an unambiguous signature, why is he now implying it could be ambiguous?
However, Elwell subsequently says that he was initially unable to find birth data for other helmet collectors, so he is clearly not a helmet collector. Nor (according to his bio in Year Zero) is he a construction worker or motorcyclist, nor (given that his allotted threescore and ten expired last year) does it seem likely that in the next few years he will suddenly start collecting German combat helmets. In other words Elwell’s own birth chart should be an acceptable control. Since he gives his chart in Year Zero and elsewhere, we are able to compare it with the signifcators he found in Kelly’s chart, as follows:
- Is Mars in Scorpio? No, but antiscion Mars is!
- Is there lots of Scorpio? Yes (Asc and antiscion Sun, Mercury, Mars)! - And Pluto (Scorpio ruler) is contraparallel Saturn and closely square Moon, ruler of the sign occupied by Pluto! - Is Mars contacting Saturn? Yes, semisextile, and also conjunct (31st harmonic)!
- Is Mars/Saturn at 0 Aries? No, but it is 66.6 degrees away (mark of the beast!) and sesquiquadrate Jupiter!
- Is the bisection of Mars and M35 Mars on Sun? Yes (27th harmonic), and even more significantly it is on natal Vertex and square antiscion Moon!
We can also compare Elwell’s chart with the significators he found in Tagliavini’s chart, as follows:
- Is Saturn in Aries? No, but in Capricorn, even more defensive!
- Is Venus contacting Saturn? Yes, a close septile!
- Is Moon’s node involved? Yes, sesquiquadrate Sun/Moon and square Venus/Saturn!
- Is Mars/Saturn contacting Sun/Moon? Yes, semisextile, and also conjunct (29th harmonic)!
If we look further at Elwell’s chart, it reveals ample confirmatory significators such as the following:
- Mars semisquare Sun/Moon. Recall how Elwell quotes Sun/Moon as having an importance that “cannot be overstressed”, and here it is contacting the iron helmet planet!
- Ascendant square Venus/Saturn, the helmet planets for Tagliavini!
- Aries (head) is occupied by Uranus, which is closely sextile Mars!
- And for some ayanamsas the Sun is in sidereal Aries!
Furthermore, Elwell’s chart shows uncanny similarities with the M35 chart whose data he provides, for example M35 has Sun sextile Uranus, whereas Elwell has Mars sextile Uranus! The contacts between the two charts are even more uncanny, such as the following (M35 first):
- Moon sextile Sun (one could expect no better indication of similar sympathies!)
- Venus sextile Moon (almost as good!)
- Saturn sextile Saturn (wow!)
- Sun trine antiscion Sun (even more wow!).
Of course all this might be due to chance. But on precisely this point, recall what Elwell said above:
“More importantly, a signature suggestive of combat helmets could be present in a random chart, but by chance. You will say that in that case it could be present in Kelly’s chart by chance. And so it could, but here I want to draw attention to the way astrology seeks its guarantees. There always need to be safeguards, but whereas for you the safeguards are controls - more or less artificial - the safeguards appropriate to astrology consist of multiple confirmations.”
So all is well. The confirmation could hardly be more multiple — nine tests, nine hits, and ample confirmatory hits, all produced by using only the factors used by Elwell himself. So the conclusion could hardly be more clear cut: Either Elwell is not a collector of German helmets, in which case his significators (and by extension his astrology) are urgently in need of re-evaluation, or he is a secret collector even more avid than Kelly and Tagliavini combined.
Of course Elwell might now find within himself something equivalent to helmet collecting, such as an early childhood in which he played soldiers or dispatch riders, or the occurrence of German helmets in his favourite war movies. But this would again conflict with what Elwell said about how he “expects to find an unambiguous signature” for helmet collecting.
There is one final point. Elwell’s argument against controls was that astrological knowledge
“had been in place for thousands of years, and controls had not been necessary for its formulation. It was reached by careful observation, confirmed by replication ... replication can hardly be dispensed with”.
So Elwell’s astrology stands or falls on replication. But how can replication ever occur if everything can be endlessly qualified in the way just mentioned? Also, Elwell’s idea of “replication” is not the same as in science, where it means repeating the experiment (clearly defined in advance) to see whether the same common factors are obtained. In Elwell’s case it means looking at another chart and expanding the net until something vaguely similar is found. There is no clear defining of factors in advance, so it is really fishing, not replication. To do the same in science would get us nowhere.
It is something of a mystery why Kelly, well established in his own academic field, contentedly surrounded by his mementos of war, should even bother with astrology, let alone implacably pursue it to its evil lair.
This is a fake mystery. Elwell has contacted Kelly, so why did he not simply ask?
After all, most scholars shrug off astrology as rubbish, and leave it at that. So it is natural to speculate why.
And to cast around for something, anything, that will fit. But Elwell has no need of speculation when the reasons are so obvious, namely that scholars are not in business to accept something so clearly problematic as astrology. We explained this in detail last time, but once again Elwell ignores what we say if it conflicts with his gospel.
The zodiacal degrees 27 Leo-Aquarius are one axis connected with astrology, and so it may be significant that the antiscion of Kelly’s Sun falls there. Antiscions, according to you, are supposed to be a point of contention between astrologers,
Elwell is referring to Recent Advances page 430. Antiscions are mirror-image positions about the 0 degrees Cancer-Capricorn axis. Actually page 430 says nothing about their being contentious, although this does apply to parallels, only that little work has been done and that opinions are lacking. Also, the 27 degrees idea originated with Charles Carter. Later work with larger samples moved it to 28-29 degrees, but still later work with the largest sample yet of 385 astrologers found they were not among the most occupied degrees (see page 452). So the apparent degree emphasis, and the apparent hit, is probably meaningless.
but the truth is simply that some astrologers will go to the trouble of noticing them (they are part of the declination coordinates) and others may not. There is no disagreement, only disinclination. Incidentally, the late Charles Harvey pointed out to me that in Dean’s chart this same axis is bracketed by Mars/Saturn, that hard-nosed combination.
That is, Dean’s Mars/Saturn is not actually on the 27 Leo-Aquarius axis but is halfway between it. No doubt had it been one-third or one-quarter or one-fifth between, it would still have been seen as confirming these preconceived mif-intensive ideas.
As in the psyche, and indeed in the brain, it is the connections in a chart that count, and in Kelly’s planetary setup I detect a siren voice calling in the direction of absolute autonomy, the mood of Henley’s poem ‘Invictus’, with its stirring ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ This arises through a combination of Uranus and Pluto. The poem had unprecedented publicity recently in connection with the execution of Timothy McVeigh, and it is instructive that McVeigh and Henley were both born under a conjunction of Uranus and Pluto, along with other similarities.
And a few million other people. This is also a Barnum statement — most people would agree that they are master of their fate.
One more example of how a feature peculiar to the individual always connects with the wider picture.
Note the sleight of mind. Does Uranus aspect Pluto in Kelly’s chart? No it does not. So what is Elwell talking about?
I mention this detail of Kelly’s chart because the ideal of autonomy might wish to play down outside influences, such as the astrological.
Note how suddenly the pro-astrology contact of Kelly’s antiscion Sun with 27 Leo-Aquarius is forgotten, along with any pretence of synthesis. Margaret Hone will be turning in her grave.
The same might apply equally to spiritual influences, and it is pertinent that Kelly has aligned himself with secular humanism.
So have some priests including some rabbis. But there is no single philosophy that is connected to secular humanism. Some are materialist, others are not, and so on. Elwell’s statement is meaningless.
None of this is intended as criticism, merely characterisation.
More specifically, characterisation to suit Elwell’s preconceived ideas.
A psychological astrologer might view the steel helmets as symbol jargon for a barrier against all those forces associated with the periphery, a sort of armour-plated umbrella. On the other hand, an astrologer who believed in reincarnation, with its implications of unfinished business, might hypothesise a situation where a military commander had suffered grievous defeat through the false advice of soothsayers, and was intent on teaching them a sharp lesson!
Again, somebody unblinkered by astrology might view them merely in terms of Kelly’s real interest, namely their historical interest, so all this speculation falls flat. Such speculations are ten a penny.
What we can know for sure is that because of its astrological connections nothing can ever be quite what it seems.
Tell this to the astrologers who write astrology books. Note how Elwell is proceeding in precisely the way guaranteed to maximise being led astray. For example, look at the diversity of factors Elwell has used so far (planets, signs, rulerships, aspects, harmonics, midpoints, declination, parallels, antiscions, this or that axis), to say nothing of factors waiting in the wings such as fixed stars, nodes, parts, retrogradation, distance, hypothetical planets, asteroids, and Elwell’s routine use of several zodiacs and house systems. Add the flexibility of symbolism, and the number of choices simply explodes. So if we want X we can have X. Provided we count only the Xs and ignore the not-Xs, as Elwell does, we cannot fail to achieve apparent hits that are actually meaningless.
It is like opening a pack of cards, finding aces, and concluding it proves something. But no conclusions are possible unless we do the same for control charts, which will allow us to tell whether the observed hits are due to genuine astrological connections or are merely due to chance. To paraphrase Elwell, it is something of a mystery why Elwell should embrace such an assailable mif-intensive approach. On the other hand, following his own recipe for illuminating insight, we need only note the consistent heavy afflictions from Neptune in his own chart. And Neptune is also retrograde!
Below, in his final section of 3600 words, Elwell turns to the issue of testing. This of course is our main interest, so we gave it careful attention. Unfortunately, as you will see, it contributes almost nothing to the debate. But bear with us.
Astrology is everywhere, yet it flourishes without academic endorsement. You say there can never be any scientific credentials because astrology is superstition,
Why cannot Elwell report our comments correctly? We do not say this. What we actually said was that scientific credentials require rigorous testing and critical debate, neither of which presently occur in astrology. We also pointed out that no scientific theory could survive the quantity and seriousness of the anomalies and disagreements found in astrology. There is nothing here that says astrology could never have scientific credentials. It could have them if it wanted them.
and those who believe otherwise are ignorant of the empirical tests that have been applied to it, and which have proved negative. I reply that science has yet to catch up with the kind of knowledge astrology represents, because the approach you advocate seeks to isolate, whereas astrology demonstrates itself through its multiple interconnections.
Once again Elwell is condemning tests that isolate despite his previous glowing endorsements of Mullis and Sachs. But look at it this way. A quarter of the way through this section Elwell singles out “one line of inquiry that might prove particularly useful”. It might be difficult but “nevertheless the experiment would be worthwhile.” So what is this particularly useful and worthwhile line of inquiry? Amazingly, it is a test of Sun signs, which is precisely the kind of test that Elwell is here condemning. Furthermore his argument begs the question — astrology could equally be demonstrating itself as the result of reasoning errors. We can find out which explanation is correct by preventing reasoning errors, which approach Elwell shows no interest in adopting, at which point his side of the debate loses credibility, always assuming any has survived the above self-contradiction. It is as simple as that. We say more about this in our concluding comment.
You demand details of ‘tests’ that might be applied to astrology, and already seem to be envisaging an isolating process, preferably matchbox size, with the results as unequivocal as litmus paper.
Note how Elwell is again wanting you to believe his version. Not for him anything so simple as listing our points so you can make up your own mind. So here they are. To find out what would be appropriate tests (since Elwell was not telling us other than complaining we were not making any), we asked him to provide the following information:
(a) Details of one or more tests capable of confirming astrology.
(b) Details of the results he would accept as confirming astrology.
(c) Details of one or more tests capable of disconfirming astrology.
(d) Details of the results he would accept as disconfirming astrology.
(e) Names of people we can ask for opinions on Elwell’s abcd replies.
What could be simpler? So we had high hopes, but in fact Elwell provides almost nothing. As you will see, on (a) the nearest we get is a suggestion that we look at Sun signs, see our comment above, and a vague suggestion that we test astrology by looking at charts after the event to see how well they fit, as usual without controls, as if the fatal problems with this approach did not exist. On (b-e) Elwell is effectively silent. So at the end of the day, after three long articles ridiculing our integrity and criticising us for not testing astrology properly, Elwell fails completely to detail what we should be doing instead. We ourselves could easily answer our own questions directly and concisely. So it seems clear that Elwell has failed to answer our questions because he cannot or will not. But judge for yourself. Back to Elwell:
It is perhaps useless to protest that holistic knowledge requires holistic methods of investigation. Defining what belongs to the parts and what belongs to the whole is a problem perennially encountered elsewhere. It is the difference between anatomy, the science of the mortuary slab, and a living physiology.
One could agree and still reject astrology. Thus many systems in science, philosophy, and religion are holistic but they have no use for astrology or the kind of symbolic connections used by astrologers. Nothing here is relevant to (a-e), nor is the next paragraph:
Moreover there are sciences where ‘tests’ can only be applied on the margins, and do not encompass their essential nature. These are spontaneously arising phenomena, or phenomena where the causes are in the past (in the case of astronomy, long past indeed). Where the subject of investigation is after-the-event, meaningful tests may be impossible. Therefore the shopping list [shown above] rather begs the question, in that you assume that the subject matter of astrology is amenable to the tidy tests you have in mind.
Elwell has repeatedly told us we are making the wrong kind of tests, so we want to know what we should be doing instead. We want to know what Elwell has in mind. How is this begging the question? In any case, meaningful tests of spontaneous phenomena have to be made before the phenomena are accepted. For example the belief that a huge asteroid extinguished most life forms in the distant past has been tested by many methods from different disciplines. The belief that a star exploded long ago can be checked against early records all over the world. Why should astrology be different?
Hitherto such tests have tended to be not tests of astrology at all, but of astrologers, or (even more removed) of those who believe in astrology. The distinction is as clear as that between the science of medicine and the activity of doctors.
The responsible researcher will want to test both. Furthermore, as we have repeatedly pointed out both in our responses and in Year Zero, the tests included those chosen by astrologers, and many involved collaboration with astrologers.
You should not try to discredit astrology by demanding an impossible perfection from its practitioners.
We demand no such thing. We don’t expect all Taureans to be bull-like, just more bull-like than other signs. We don’t expect astrologers to be 100% accurate, just more accurate than non-astrologers. All we want are Elwell’s suggestions for appropriate tests and how to interpret the results.
Doctors sometimes differ in their diagnosis and treatment. And yes, to respond to one of your persistent but overplayed objections, you can be sure some have been handed the wrong lab results or X-rays, and chosen a treatment on that mistaken basis - which might, incidentally, have been successful.
First of many marks for sustained evasion. Lab results and X-rays can be independently validated to uncover errors. What methods do astrologers use to uncover errors? How might other astrologers challenge Elwell’s after-the-event fits?
What must be deplorable in your eyes is that celebrity doctors have built their reputation on the testimonials of patients. This must undermine the entire basis of medicine, if we are to believe the stricture you apply to astrology. (See your Additional Comments to ‘Are Scientists Undercover Astrologers?’)
But medicine does not rely on testimonials. Today it is very much involved with the kinds of experimental studies (clinical trials) that Elwell rejects. Our point was that astrology could certainly be scientific, for example by testing it against competing techniques, but it would mean eschewing testimonials and embracing tests as a matter of routine. Such a situation already applies in medicine, so the relevance of Elwell’s comment is unclear.
In devising tests for astrologers, as distinct from astrology itself, there is one element that might produce more positive results. That is the option to reserve an opinion. For example, I fancy that if I were given a dozen birth charts I could say something both true and particular (i.e. not statements of universal validity) about the ‘owners’ of a number of them. Maybe only a few. Given the option of accepting or discarding, I should be looking for patterns that I personally recognised. Other astrologer s might make a different selection. After all, teasing information from charts is what astrologers do every day. Between us we might even produce observations on all twelve.
No doubt anybody could produce a few true things, and in Barnum studies they do it all the time. The point is, can astrologers do better than non-astrologers? This of course is where controls come in.
(Astrologers interested in taking up a challenge of this sort should first conduct private pilot tests of their ability to perform creditably. One can only marvel at the breathtaking audacity with which astrologers have agreed to play their violin in public, without rehearsals.)
But surely they read charts every day for paying clients. Is this not enough rehearsal? Next, note how Elwell builds on this idea to distract us from his continuing to evade the issue.
It may be that this experiment would be judged as too open-ended, because of the uncertainty of deciding whether or not the statements were true, and whether the quality of those statements made them significant. Doubtless you would want to set up controls, and it would indeed be fascinating to see how well non-astrologers performed against astrologers, handed the same charts, which to them of course would be gibberish. At least the astrologers would be able to take hold of some handle, however insecure you would deem it to be. Minus a handle, using only guesswork, non-astrologers would also be able to say whatever they liked, without restriction - except they should be cautioned against the trap of universal validity.
Elwell’s fascination with what might happen is curious, because such tests have already been made (they are included among those reported in Year Zero pages 146-147), with negative results. Despite their grasping handles, astrologers do no better than non-astrologers.
As I understand your position, because charts are meaningless they must be interchangeable. If you claim that anything can be read into a chart after the event, the corollary is that anything can be read into a chart before the event. Not only does this not happen, it is physically impossible. Aries is different from (say) Cancer, and one planet can hardly be said to double for any other. It follows that each chart is inevitably producing its own information, regardless of how pertinent that information may be judged. The only question is whether that individual information meets the corresponding case.
Elwell does not understand our position. He is confusing the process of synthesis (which in principle is the same whether before or after the event) with what individual factors mean. As he says, the question is whether a person matches his chart better than some other chart, which is what this exchange is all about.
It is issues of this sort which make the last point on your list so important, the necessity for impartial referees. Perhaps there are specialists in the philosophy of science out there who might be induced to give an opinion, among other things, on when controlled experiments are the sole criterion of truth, and on what protocols would be appropriate in an experiment like the above.
The last point on our list was a request for names of people we can ask for opinions on Elwell’s replies, which was to avoid your having to rely on our own opinions. For example, if Elwell says he would accept test X as being able to disconfirm astrology, we would like to know what other people (selected by him) think of it. Ironically, Elwell stresses that our last point is important, but nowhere in his article does he actually respond to it.
From the sidelines, they would certainly find one of your arguments extraordinary. It is transparent that if any one claim stands out in astrology it is that each Sun sign represents a distinct character-type, in which there is not one feature but a cluster of related features. Therefore the most direct path of research is to try to ascertain whether the cluster of characteristics attributed to (say) Aries tend to be present in the people of that sign, or at least to a significant degree.
Which argument? We agree about the most direct path. Our problem is that unwelcome results are brushed aside, or the direct path is suddenly said to be inappropriate. Hence our items (a-e).
Techniques developed to identify the shared attributes of any group of people must be applicable here, and so it is baffling that in the on-line version of your contribution to Year Zero you seem to be saying it would be impossible to discover what Cancerians as a group have in common. Yet any market researcher, any organiser of focus groups, would be able to suggest tests.
So why are you not doing so? Ironically, such people use the very methodologies that Elwell rejects as inappropriate. Next, Elwell advocates the kind of isolating studies that he condemned at the start of this section.
There is one line of inquiry that might prove particularly useful. Researching the Aries tribe, or the Cancer tribe, is not unlike finding methods for studying national character. Some years ago a study was made into the German national character, or world-view, by inviting Germans to indicate whether they agreed with various proverbs. In the case of astrology, it would be possible to try out a list of proverbs, axioms and other philosophical statements, on a general population, to see how far they met with the assent of the different Sun signs.
We look forward to your results. But how relevant are proverbs to what astrologers do? What about the problems arising from self-attribution? Would astrologers accept tests of isolated factors, which earlier Elwell had argued was a waste of time by definition? Talk about muddle.
The sayings need not be random, they could be deliberately chosen to reflect the attributes scattered around the zodiac. It would be puzzling to me personally if the proverb ‘Blood is thicker than water’ found greater acceptance among Aquarians than Cancerians, or the converse in the case of ‘God gave us our relatives, thank God we can choose our friends.’
It might be puzzling but no doubt Elwell could explain it away, for example airy Aquarians would see the literal truth in venous viscosity much more clearly than watery Cancerians. But weren’t attributes (traits) supposed to be a no-no? More muddle.
Of course, the assumption in this experiment is that the axioms we endorse truly reflect our innate self,
As predicted, here is the escape hatch, the explaining away.
although there may be other possibilities. Our conduct may be at variance from what we profess to believe. Axioms may be a sort of memo to ourselves, pointing to what we need to rectify. Or an Aquarian, aware of the ideal of brotherhood, may be noting with regret that in the real world blood still counts.
Elwell is planning escape routes in case the findings do not support astrology. He is showing how nothing could upset the beliefs of astrologers. And he is still nowhere near addressing (a-e)
Although nothing is straightforward in psychological testing, nevertheless the experiment would be worthwhile. It would need professional expertise, and would need financing. One advantage doctors have over astrologers is that they are backed by well-funded ongoing research. If one thing stands out in your demand for tests, it is that the only tests likely to satisfy your exacting criteria (which I suspect would spiral ever upwards) would call for adequate funding.
No Elwell, not our criteria, your criteria. Why aren’t you listening? Another advantage doctors have is that medical theories (eg the germ theory of disease) fits in with physics, chemistry, biology etc, while astrology hangs in isolation. Yet another advantage is that medicine is built on confirmed easily replicable success (eg vaccines), which is absent in astrology.
Since astrology is unlikely to attract money for academic research (the more so in these days of peer reviewed funding) it follows that should astrologers feel under any obligation to demonstrate the truth of their contentions to disbelieving academics they must adopt less formal methods, knowing that this recourse will only attract fresh criticism. So on the one hand they are unable to see done what needs to be done, and on the other the little they can do will be regarded as not worth doing.
Why should astrology attract funding when, as Elwell is showing, it is not clear what methods are appropriate? Or what will happen if the results are negative. Furthermore, what is the point of funding when research results have so little effect on the practices of astrologers?
All that said, a financial vacuum does not prevent discussion of the problems of validation. Let me modify your requirements slightly so that you now ask for details not of ‘tests’, with their narrowly specialised implications, but of the methodology for confirming or disconfirming astrology. To the casual reader this may seem a distinction without a difference, except that by enlarging the perspective I can now reply that the methods and principles for demonstrating astrology are identical to the methods and principles which apply in science generally.
But didn’t Elwell argue earlier that they were not appropriate?
Basically, these involve observation, analysis, replication and prediction.
But these terms do not have the same meaning in astrology as they do in the sciences. To observe and analyse without controls is generally fatal in science, as it the failure to replicate or predict. But in astrology such niceties are ignored.
Before considering how these fit together, take the simplest test of all. Astrologers deal with charts, and the obvious question is whether a chart yields correct information, or whether comparable information could be obtained from another chart - and indeed, in your terms, every other chart.
This is a test of astrology per se. Is astrology doing what is claimed for it? It becomes a test of astrologers only to the degree that different doctors may reach different conclusions with the same patient. Just as doctors can gather round the bed to confer, a chart can be analysed and discussed, and tested against the canons of interpretation. Every new generation of astrologers can revisit the chart, to examine again whether it answers to the case, in the same way that data about historical or natural events can be reappraised.
We cited this right at the start, and noted how the comparison with doctors was misleading because doctors are responsive to scientific criticism whereas astrologers are not. Medicine progresses because its canons are routinely tested, debated, and improved. Nothing comparable happens in astrology. To argue, as Elwell does, that these things could happen is beside the point. They don’t.
Our impartial philosophers of science would probably recognise this procedure as one that obtains in other areas of investigation, and they would expect the same standards of coherence and consistency to apply. But you will raise an instant and idiosyncratic objection. You will say that it is being wise after the event, and must thereby be automatically disqualified.
But as we just pointed out, the same standards do not apply. In science, after-the-event fits are not automatically disqualified but they have to be compatible with existing well-proven theories, and even then they are not given the credence of experimental studies. There is no comparison here with astrology, which hangs by itself outside of science.
Well, a trawl of the Web for ‘retrospective analysis’ produced some 23,000 hits, so not everyone is agreed that consulting the past is a sterile operation. You have done it yourselves, surely. One of your number, Smit, with Dean’s approval, investigated cases of violent death. Would positive conclusions be automatically invalidated because the individuals were already dead?
We did not say that consulting the past is a sterile operation. It is sterile only when done in a lax and sloppy way, as is the norm in astrology. Smit’s study was an exception but its results were negative. Elwell is confusing our meaning of after-the-event, which involves looking for things not specified in advance (so anything goes), with his present meaning of after-death.
Everywhere we look, understanding is always retrospective, meaning is always retrospective. Where is it otherwise? Astrology can claim to be an incomparable repository of meaning, which makes its retrospects invaluable. If you insist we remain in a state of collective amnesia you are denying astrology one if its most characteristic functions.
How does this clarify what we are talking about? Memory is “always retrospective” but this does not mean it is accurate or valuable, just as the fact that astrology makes claims does not mean they are true.
However, in challenging your assertion that ‘anything can be seen in a chart after the event’, I want to suggest that in testing the fit between charts and cases we may actually be dealing with the exact opposite of a retrospect, namely a predictive situation.
In the scientific method phenomena are studied to the point where a prediction can be made that when the same phenomena recur, the same particulars will be found to be present. To see how this applies to birth charts consider the example of President Kennedy. My own primer, Robsons’s A Beginners’ Guide to Practical Astrology, says of the Sun in the 8th house: ‘Extravagant marriage partner. Honour after marriage. Fame at or after death. Danger of death in middle life. If afflicted, violent death.’
Recall how Elwell condemned us for looking at isolated factors. But how reliable is Robson? Will most of such people match his description? If we looked at a large sample of violent deaths, should we expect an afflicted Sun in 8th more than some other configuration? Charles Carter, in his Astrology of Accidents, looked at house position for 168 accidents, many of them fatal, and found Sun in 8th was below average. 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.
We note in passing that none of these circumstances are causally connected, except through the logic of astrology. This puzzling situation arises again and again in this subject, implying that astrology is coming at reality from an unfamiliar direction and creating different connections, which alone must make it worth a second look.
Alternatively it might imply that astrologers are being led astray, which would hardly justify even a first look. Indeed, there can be no “logic of astrology” when its symbolism has no clear rules either of derivation or application, which makes connections easy to find even when none exist. Hence the wrong chart problem, where astrologers unknowingly use the wrong chart but find it still fits exactly.
The obvious test is to what extent such recorded notes, which are nothing less than predictions of what can be expected from this solar position, applied in Kennedy’s case. It is true that his wife’s extravagance was a problem for him; that marriage into high Boston society brought a status money alone could not give; that the manner of his dying, rather than his living, placed him among the immortals; and that he did die in middle life.
And that this applies to every such case with Sun in 8th (around 8% of the population), not just to the case Elwell remembered in his huge collection? For example, did Lord Byron, President Truman, and John D Rockefeller (all with Sun in the 8th house) have extravagant wives, and are they best remembered for their manner of dying? Clearly not. Furthermore, Venus and Jupiter are also in Kennedy’s 8th house, and according to Alan Leo in his Key to your Own Nativity both promise “a very peaceful end, and preservation from accidents at the close of life, or any sudden termination of your existence”. Looks like this approach is already off the rails.
There are other connotations with this solar position, mentioned by other writers, again long before Kennedy came on the scene, connected with the traumatic reputation of the 8th house. These would include the father, the patriarch whose ambition drove his sons towards the White House, yet who was paralysed by a stroke in Kennedy’s first year as president (he was being cared for by a nurse named Dallas); and the fact that the father’s expectations had fallen on Kennedy when the eldest brother was killed (the Sun is in Gemini, the sign connected with siblings). Sun in the 8th in the literary Gemini must relate to the curious prescience of Kennedy’s favourite poem, which he read to his bride on their wedding night, Alan Seeger’s ‘I Have a Rendezvous with Death.’
Presumably the opinions they put into print reflected how Robson and these other authors would regard Kennedy’s chart, had they been commissioned to interpret it at birth. Hence they could not be accused of being wise after the event, and by the same token neither can that charge fairly be levelled at a contemporary astrologer who simply repeats what they would have said.
Only at the astrologer who selected the chart knowing its owner, and disregarded all contrary indications.
In a variety of fields, authorities have recorded observations and defined principles which are open to verification as new cases arise. I fail to see how it should be different for astrology. The instant a confirming case arises you cannot disqualify it because it is now after-the-event.
To talk of confirming cases implies the existence of disconfirming cases. Could Elwell give examples of such cases, where astrology has failed to make the connections and the symbolism is wrong? It seems that no single factor could be quoted, because contradictory factors can always be found, so disconfirming cases could not exist by definition.
Let us not argue about the relative quality of such published observations, some are certainly more insightful than others. Considering the principle alone, it seems to me you must agree that no chart is a blank page into which you can read whatever you like, because it occurs within the context of years of recorded astrological experience.
Sorry but we do not agree. In your examples you have been doing just that, if only because you ignore contrary indications and the golden rule about considering only the whole chart.
As a footnote to the assassination, if Robson and others had applied their published predictive methods to Kennedy’s chart they would have noted the return of the Sun (in declination) to the exact same place it held at birth. This is by secondary progression. By converse progression Saturn had arrived at precisely the same declination, a baleful coincidence.
More after-the-event stuff. The point is, would they have predicted it in advance of looking at the chart?
(It should be added that not everybody with a mid-afternoon birth, placing the Sun in the 8th house, will exhibit the same degree of ‘fit’ as Kennedy. There are technical reasons for this. For every major earthquake there are many minor quakes, and innumerable tremors.)
Perhaps not everybody, but most people? More than if they have the Sun in other houses? If not, as is suggested by the Charles Carter results mentioned above, then what Robson says about Sun in 8th house would seem to be unuseable.
Needless to say, this Sun position is only one of a number of signatures in this chart, each producing its own correlations. The exhaustive study of a single chart in relation to the biographical data seems to me a valid procedure, provided the interpretations are applied consistently. It is open to critics to draw attention to any infringements of astrological best practice. In other words, astrology is either shown to be working, within its limits, or it is not.
At last, something approaching an answer. Elwell is recommending we test astrology by looking at charts after the event to see how well they fit, as usual without any attempt at controls, as if the fatal problems with this approach (which we have repeatedly explained) did not exist. So Elwell’s recommendation is fruitless. One down (a), four to go (b-e).
There is another experiment where a case study can be made of a group of people who share some unmistakable attribute, which means that like is being compared with like. Such a group might be the leading fashion designers of the day. Their charts can be expected to have common features related to their profession, but perhaps more significant would be whether the charts reflect the differences between their personalities and approach. By comparing similarities and contrasts, each would be acting as a check on the other, one might almost say a control.
This sounds rather like those Vernon Clark tests that Elwell complained about in his first article, where “imposing criteria on the astrological may be no more than a test of the criteria”. Note how this provides the obligatory escape hatch — if the results are negative (as indeed they are to date), the fault lies with the criteria, not with astrology. In other words Elwell’s suggestion, in his own terms, is fruitless. The idea of the subjects acting as a check on each other, almost like controls, is absurd because by definition they cannot provide the needed control for within-group variations. And how does Elwell propose to measure the “differences between their personalities and approach”?
Personalities apart, the study of world events proceeds from observation to prediction. It boils down to examining the astrological credentials of events, and deducing that when similar events occur in the future, it will be in the context of similar astrological credentials.
In other words we predict what an event chart will contain. Elwell now explains how it works. Watch for the obligatory escape hatch.
I have already mentioned a study I made of the arrival and progress of BSE, ‘mad cow disease’. The relevant charts threw up the same useful marker, namely a stressful accentuation of the bovine sign of Taurus, representative of ruminants generally. The inference was that when events again turned bad for bovines, similar astrological indices would be present. This indeed happened this year (2001) with the dreadful mass slaughter of cattle in the UK, in response to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which apparently I am not allowed to cite as evidence because they are again deemed to be observations after-the-event.
But this did not stop Elwell going to town on Kelly and Kennedy
Well, it is not after-the-event to predict that when bovines are again making sombre news it will be in connection with similar astrological indices. But there is a subtlety here which both astrologers and their critics may easily overlook. The terms stated above are the only terms strictly required for scientific prediction. Take a comparable case. From past data seismologists know that when the next earthquake occurs, its elements will essentially correspond with what they have learnt about earthquakes. They have arrived at a consistency of data for the phenomena which allows this limited prediction to be made with confidence.
But, note carefully, it is not regarded as a failure of seismology that predictions are not regularly being made about the when and where of future earthquakes. Cynics do not shrug off those carefully accumulated observations with, ‘Well, if they’re so clever why don’t they tell us when San Francisco is next going to be hit?’
Because seismologists, unlike astrologers, do not make grandioise claims about their abilities. The claims of seismology are compatible with other disciplines such as chemistry and physics, and seismic models can be tested in the field. The supposed parallel with astrology is poor.
Astrologers themselves tend to think predictions must be made out of a clear blue sky, startling everybody with their accuracy, but the confirming or disconfirming predictions required by science are more prosaic.
Now comes the escape hatch:
You may argue that if the astrological indices found to be associated with certain phenomena are scheduled to recur next month, or next year, then of course it must be possible to take that extra speculative step and predict a recurrence of the same phenomena. Well, the possibility will be there, and astrologers might even venture an opinion on probabilities. But there is a technical question to consider when weighing such probabilities. To take the example given above, a Taurus accentuation can signify a range of things besides ruminants. The sign is linked to money, resources, profit, capital (the term originally applied to the head of cattle one possessed). It is linked to the land, farming, husbandry, food, the countryside. One might summarise it as the material basis of life. All these issues are packaged together in the astrological reality.
No wonder one size fits all. Note how none of this is addressing (b-e).
There were two key astrological charts implicated in the slaughter, the winter solstice and an eclipse. Both had Taurus on an angle, in symmetrical opposition with Mars and Pluto, perhaps the most brutal of all planetary combinations. It happens that all the above mentioned associations of Taurus made their appearance in the melancholy events of the spring of 2001. The cull was nothing to do with animal welfare (in India sick cows are nursed back to health), nor with any danger of transmission to humans, but was everything to do with the profits from meat marketing. Critical commentators allied it to the worship of the golden calf. The wider issues in the public mind concerned modern agricultural practices, responsible animal husbandry, care for the countryside, and ultimately how rapacious man relates to planet earth. Under the harsh spotlight, government reforms in these areas were promised.
Let’s look at this in more detail. Elsewhere Elwell has said that 28 November 1995 provides convincing proof of astrology, because on that day the British government banned the sale of meat from cattle backbones to prevent any risk of consumers getting mad cow disease, and on the same day a work involving a cow carcass won the prestigious Turner Art Prize. Elwell found that the new moon chart had Taurus rising (Taurus signifies money, resources, cattle farming, and food), and a Venus-Mars conjunction that was in square aspect to the artist’s Mars in Virgo, which he interpreted as art plus butchery. The fit between event and astrology seemed so exact that Elwell saw it as providing convincing proof of astrology. But look at it this way. Elwell admits to being a news addict. Each day has many events, so he can pick those that suit his case. Which raises a couple of interesting questions:
(1) Why the new moon chart and not one for the 28th? As it happens there are no planets in Taurus on the 28th, but there are dozens of other charts to choose from — eclipse, ingress (many kinds), solar and lunar return, to say nothing of charts for Britain, the government, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Food, the Chairman of the Meat Marketing Board, and so on, all with several zodiacs and several house systems to choose from. The number of choices simply explodes, so if we want Taurus we can have Taurus.
(2) But why Taurus? The fit with Taurus might seem apt, but Taurus is bull-like not cow-like, and the disease (brain inflammation) is not in a body part ruled by Taurus (throat). And what about other fits such as brain inflammation (Aries), upper backbone (Gemini), domestic confusion (Cancer), government (Leo), health (Virgo), public relations (Libra), butchery (Scorpio), legal issues (Sagittarius), expediency (Capricorn), idealism (Aquarius), self-sacrifice (Pisces)? We can step through the planets in the same way, from spine health (Sun) through inflammatory illness (Mars) to hidden-forces-that-affect-whole-societies (Pluto), to say nothing of asteroids such as Cowell and McDonalda.
So even without Taurus, if we want a convincing after-the-event fit we can still have one. What we should not do, of course, is claim it means something. Like prove astrology.
So from the standpoint of prediction the ruthless pursuit of profit could have appeared in some other context, which did not involve cattle at all. The cosmic criteria would still have been met, but the astrologer whose forecast specifically mentioned cows would be judged to have failed.
So the question arises, is the fit genuine or is it due to the inherent ambiguity of the symbolism? How can we decide? Elwell does not tell us. The escape hatch stays firmly open.
The fact that each astrological factor simultaneously stands for a range of possibilities, albeit interconnected, is a hurdle for any astrologer hoping to make a name as a prophet. However there is a context in which this seeming disadvantage can be turned to positive advantage. This is the situation where humans decide to work proactively within the cosmic parameters, in pursuit of their own ends, or the good of the community. The multiple possibilities now offer the flexibility to choose the ingredients best adapted to their purpose. Here the prediction, or bet if you like, is that the right effort at the right time is likely to prove effective.
We have just seen how this flexibility allowed a seemingly convincing after-the-event fit that was most likely meaningless. So why should anyone believe that meaningless fits could prove effective for anything? Other than further deluding astrologers of course. And we are still no nearer to addressing (b-e).
When the latest foot-and-mouth crisis hit Britain it was reported that, shortly before, a phial of the virus had been stolen from a government research laboratory. It was also revealed that during Hitler’s war the Nazis had studied the possibility of spreading the disease among Britain’s livestock. Let us imagine that ill-intentioned individuals have access to astrology. Setting oracular pronouncements firmly aside, the question might then be what are the probabilities of creating havoc at this place, at this time? Given the expertise, and working with the grain of events, so to speak, it is possible to maximise the chances of achieving the desired ends. For all I know, this is already happening in some circles.
Of course if everybody does it, everyone will have the same advantage, meaning back to square one
When it comes to validating astrology the ultimate proof may turn out to be strictly pragmatic. Knowing the cosmic situation ‘up there’ you consciously create the right conditions ‘down here’, and find that the tiniest efforts meet with a disproportionately augmented result. Here we enter the realm of experimentation. My modest efforts in this direction, on my own behalf and that of others, have supported this hypothesis, and of course it is open to everyone to satisfy themselves at first hand. They may be gratified to discover that, in a competitive world, this despised science gives them the competitive edge.
We are not gratified to discover that, despite Elwell’s torrents of words, we still have no convincing evidence that a competitive edge exists, and no concrete suggestions in response to our five simple requests. At which point, if readers are still awake, they may find of interest what the journalist Neil Spencer says in his conclusion to his recent in-depth pro-astrology survey of modern astrology (True as the Stars Above: Adventures in Modern Astrology, Gollancz 2000). Spencer notes that some astrologers look to a new era in which this “maligned art takes its rightful place in the cultural firmanent.” John Addey was one such astrologer, and of course Dennis Elwell is another. But “There are few signs of such noble visions becoming reality. ...astrology remains stymied by there being no rational reason why it should ‘work’, whether as psychology or prediction. ...astrology, in short, can never regain respectability until there is a scientifically acceptable model of the universe to sanction it.” (page 245)
Spencer interviewed astrologers and read their writings, but unlike Garry Phillipson in Year Zero he largely ignored the research literature. So Spencer was unaware that there is already a rational reason and scientifically acceptable model of why astrology should work, a point we touch upon in Year Zero page 163 but which, alas, is then overlooked by Garry Phillipson on pages 179-181. Nevertheless Spencer’s emphasis on a testable model hits the nail on the head. If Elwell wants his own model of cosmic loominess to be considered, he has first to propose rigorous tests and the evidence he would accept as showing his model had failed or was in need of re-evaluation. Until he does this, which judged strictly from his performance to date will be never, the critics are entitled to dismiss his model as one of cosmic looniness.
Elwell material is © Dennis Elwell, 2001