The Gold Standard

“The philosopher of mind Phillip Goff points out with particular verve that since Galileo, the physical sciences have proceeded by putting aside the ontological question (the is question) and focussing only on the behaviour or structure question: ‘All the properties physics ascribes to fundamental particles are characterized in terms of behavioural dispositions. Physics tells us nothing about what an electron is beyond what it does.’ ” –The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge by Jeffrey J. Krippal

In a public lecture held at the Bristol Science Centre, I asked theoretical physicist Brian Greene a question on the possible multiverses that comprise our universe: what do we know about or think about reality prior to the Big Bang or the reality that the Big Bang emerged from? He smiled, recognizing, I believe, my attempt to elucidate a metaphysical point as he readily admitted that even the most experimental modern astrophysics does not go there. It was when I was travelling in Los Angeles the following year that I realized the author of the book I was reading on George Harrison was Brian Greene’s brother, a Krishna devotee. Somehow this seemed apt.

Astrology attempts what modern physics and cosmology do not. It attempts to explore a meaning to the physical properties of what is occurring in the solar system, some of what we can see in the night sky. Inevitably in so doing it transcends the remit of what is experimentally verifiable and yes, it risks superstition and a descent into the absurd.

It is also perhaps absurd that the technological advances of modernity proceed apace alongside a philosophical stance akin to ‘why bother?’ when it comes to the meaning of anything. Surely the meaning of this experience, here in a body on this precious green earth, is vital to how and why we might interpret physical (and non-physical) phenomena.

In an excellent talk at the Norwac conference in Seattle some years ago, Richard Tarnas called Astrology “the gold standard of superstition in the modern era.” It is the litmus test of what might be considered absurd by the complacent rationalism of the modern scientific/materialist mind. Is this not also its great strength? Astrology attempts to answer a defining human need, in a territory that even the brightest physicists tend to steer clear of. Instead of a culture criticizing its failings, might it not be time to appreciate its potential? Sure, some of the field is childish and caught in a victimized place where planets conspire to hurt us, other parts are adolescent and caught up in fighting the system, flipping the bird at ‘the man.’ How could it not be when operating in such an un-tethered domain?

Astrology preoccupied Carl Jung to the extent that he consistently postponed his dialogue with the Nobel prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. Both Jung and Roberto Assagioli, the two founders of a spiritually mature psychology (after studying originally with Freud), used Astrology as the primary bridge to help the fledgling field of psychology re-orientate to the perennial tradition. Steiner studied astrology. Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas found astrology to be the only efficacious determinate of their psychedelic therapy at Esalen. It is not the same as a mathematical proof of special relativity I concede, but also not just part of a new age séance, bedecked in purple off the back of Venice beach! Instead, I would argue a serious contribution to the gathering of human knowledge.

Perhaps overall in our culture, we need to start distinguishing between intellectually provable theorems and knowledge that is useful in helping one live a meaningful and useful life. Astrology has its place in the tradition of the great humanities and religious studies, giving a foundation for a respectful attitude in the face of the human soul, and furthermore, astrologers should see themselves as a living part in that great tradition of human art, literature, history, and metaphysics. However fringe we are as a profession, when the dominant society has largely forgotten the inner gold at the heart of the soul, could we recognize that, at our best, we could stand together for something worth risking intellectual ridicule or aspersions of weirdness for? That soul is worth the risk. That the gold standard of superstition from another perspective is the raising of the flag of recognition that such a gold might really exist….that there may even be a map that could help find it.