One of the specialized online discussion groups I’m part of is composed of people who are supposed to be “spiritual leaders,” open to new ideas. I’ve never been quite sure why I was invited to join, as I’m certainly not a spiritual leader, but it turns out I’m the group’s only full-time scientist who is also interested in what spiritual growth is about, so it gets interesting.
One of the members recently raised a question about astrology, he didn’t know much about it, but wondered if it was a useful vehicle for spiritual growth. I thought I would bring the group up to date on the general scientific view and parapsychological view of astrology, and I’m sharing that brief description here.
Pine Needle World
– John Bamberger –
There have been a number of objective studies of the accuracy of astrological readings about individuals, almost all were non-significant. Non-significant in the sense that the readings did not yield significant numbers of correct, verifiable statements about particular individuals that were different from those for other individuals. That is, the basic questions these studies asked were if you knew the astrological data about a particular person, but nothing else about them, would you then be able to describe characteristics of that person and their life which would be a useful and valid description of that person, over and above generalities?
These kind of readings, and all sorts of psychic readings in general, tend to be full of wonderful statements like “You are very intelligent but sometimes you don’t use your intelligence to its full potential, and other people don’t give you enough credit.” Or “You have a little resentment that people don’t appreciate your full intelligence, but, out of consideration for others, you handle yourself well.”
Oops! Did I just do a psychic reading on you Jeff? Or was it on Phil? Or for David? Or you, Dear Reader? Who is going to object to being so positively and hopefully characterized? And who is going to doubt that it’s deeply true, even if some people might think we make as many mistakes as the next person.
Yes, I’m a fantastic psychic, I have to admit it! 😉
[Please note the smiley face at the end of above line, don’t say Tart says he’s a great psychic!]
In general these kinds of readings are full of generalities that really apply to almost everybody. A good psychological argument has been made, though, that since they’re usually very positive, it’s often a great bargain to receive nice compliments for a few dollars, it makes you feel good…
Believers in astrology or other psychic systems, of course, say that when tests of any systems show a lack of significance it’s because they were of crude, popular versions of the system, rather than the real thing.
Now, switching to the opposite position, no longer the general scientific view but from the perspective of scientific parapsychology, I will say there is strong evidence that some people have strong psychic abilities, ESP, to read other people. But in general it’s very hard for many such people to just take a chance with their egos (and jealous or suspicious others) and say “I’m wonderful and can do amazing things!” It hasn’t been long in historical terms at all since we burned “witches” at the stake…. So it’s much easier to blame it on the system. So you take some complicated, relatively random set of things, the positions of different stars and planets at birth, how the tea leaves have fallen in the bottom of the cup, how the entrails of a sacrifice are laid out, etc., and claim (and probably believe it yourself) that you are reading information in those patterns. That way any fault lies in the system. You pick up some of the credit for being so smart, but you avoid a lot of blame if people don’t like your reading. It’s probably also true that projecting this way actually helps your unconscious mind, which has gotten the information by ESP, to bring it to consciousness.
I wouldn’t say absolutely that there cannot be anything to astrology, but my working hypothesis, based on what research there’s been to date specifically on astrology, and on psychic stuff in general, is that such readings are mostly generalities. Occasionally some people with working psychic talents use them to make especially good readings of others, but it’s the readers’ psychic talents, not the positions of the stars and planet or the tea leaves s. A very few people sometimes give exceptionally accurate psychic readings, as in remote viewing, e.g. See my The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together book for detail on that.
Now somebody will probably peg me as having been born with Skeptico rising! Except, of course, those who think of me as being far too credulous and stupid for saying there’s evidence for ESP…
Spiritual growth? I have no doubt some individuals can use a system like astrology to further their own spiritual growth, but I’d suspect the importance is in their intentions and efforts, and/or any spiritual help they get, rather than in the external signs.