Sunday, January 16, 2011
Oh, My Stars!
As someone who uses a veneration of the psychology of C.G. Jung, the linguistics of Owen Barfield and the poetic sensibilities of W.B. Yeats to mask all manner of dismissive ambiguities in my scientific worldview, horoscopes are problematic for me. Basically I think they are a very, very stupid thing. The idea that a magical man could come from the sky and do only good, freeing the world with his own sacrifice, I basically have no problem with; the notion that a prince sat under a tree until he knew everything, I can get behind; the notion that an arrogant boy was cursed with an elephant's head, and now smiles from the æther upon travelers who take the time to offer him a coin or two, I have been known to actively buy into.
In these examples (or those of werewolves, or heaven, or magnets), we're talking about events that took place in a time of poetic consciousness in which the bicameral mind hadn't, in some cases, entirely finished combining into the single powerful beige box we now use for all our knowledge-manipulation needs. To say that these events are worthy of "belief" in the post-Enlightenment sense that we say that, say, the Moon Landing is worthy of our "belief," we have to adopt a bead-dangling hairy-person position of attempting to fit poetic pegs into a prosaic hole, which just makes everyone look silly. Asking the scientific community to accept propositions without providing the falsifiable proof that that community rightly demands is like asking me to admit that Two and a Half Men is an excellent show just because you like it.
It's simply not appropriate to place statements made from a poetic-conscious perspective, or the truths they express, on a prosaic scale of truth-to-falsehood. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, tell the inhabitants of a laboratory or lecture-hall that prosaic consciousness is an unwieldy and inappropriate position from which to interrogate some positions, and they will brand you an irritating postmodernist, and they'll be right; but then again, you get to suspect that these are people who don't really know what postmodernism is.
Anyway, so I have no problem believing (in whatever sense) in these sorts of things; however, I simply cannot be prevailed upon to believe in astrology as it's popularly understood. The idea that there are stars in the sky? Certainly. The notion of a "Saturnine" temperament? No problem. But the suggestion that the former might play some part in creating the latter? Oh come on now.
I think this is because astrology, as it's publicly understood, doesn't hesitate to attempt to place itself within a causal, rationalist worldview; but the way it does so is ridiculous and laughable and stinks of cheap hairdressers' waiting-rooms. IF you were born in August, THEN you will be extroverted and showy; and if you're not, then surely INWARDLY you must sometimes feel like you are not expressing yourself as openly as you might be; and (1) what a nakedly transparent piece of cold-reading this all is, while (2) why would that be, exactly? Might it be the desire to prove that your presence on this earth is anything but an incidental side-effect of too much holiday wine? No, no, it's just the stars, don't question the stars. Go fuck yourself.
This makes astrology the intellectual equivalent of the fundamentalist zealot who insists that not only is their dogma "true," but that it's "true" in a concrete, shade-of-the-tree, nails-in-the-palms sense, as if that were an appropriate level on which to interrogate such positions. Such an insistence isn't just impossible to discuss usefully, it's also almost as boring as those who insist on the utter meaningless emptiness of the universe as ultimate, inviolable truth. Which is to say: very boring.
This week, a mischievous scientist has pointed out that, if astrology were to hold itself to any sort of scientific standards, it would have to admit a new astrological sign: Ophiuchus, the snake-wrangling Healer sign. (Famous Ophiuchuses would include the snake-handling Britney Spears and God's frickin' gift to humanity, Ian Somerhalder).
The parody may be more apt than intended: the snake often denotes self-awareness, that force whose ascent has given rise to all the immensely beneficial and evolution-advancing developments since antiquity, but whose era is also marked by the fracturing of a shared awareness, a painful maturation that separates consciousness from the All.
To wrestle the snake, like Ophiuchus, could then denote a refusal to submit to the ego's will toward separation from All That Is: a quixotic attempt to to navigate back into Steiner's womblike Old Moon Consciousness, or the brave surge forward into Jean Gebser's "double consciousness," that posited future age in which all earlier phases in the evolution of awareness come together to form an ultimate sort of "super-awareness." To wrestle the snake would be to take charge of the direction our ego is leading us, to forge a way forward into the future of human awareness with a Healer's eye toward bandaging the wounds left by years of rigidly perspectival existential separatism.
Whereas the astrological position seems to be more one of, "get fucked, we're not writing an extra paragraph for the newspapers every week."
Astrology was originally intended, of course, as a science. The first astrologers were scientists of the poetic-consciousness age, many of them (we ought to presume) every bit as rigorous as those of our own prosaic time. Their tools were different, so their conclusions are often incompatible with our own science (which has, on the whole, far better tools and more time in which to use them); when consciousness evolved, astrology progressed into what we now know as astronomy and continued to serve as a useful and fascinating scientific field.
If people were serious about astrology, then, they might well say, "thanks, modern science: it appears we have once again proved useful to one another." The resultant discussion of what exactly astrology means to those who half-heartedly follow it might provide some useful insights into just how rational we've become nowadays, or expose an area in which logical positivism has yet to satisfy millions of people.
However, this hasn't happened; which means that, if I want to make space on my belief-shelf for the potentially useful Ophiuchus, I have to hide that shelf not just from visiting logical positivists, but also from any hairy bead-dangling friends I might allow into my sphere of discussion.
No, I think I'll stick with my lengthy library of The Complete And Annotated Why Astrology Is Stupid.
 I mean "Enlightenment" in reference to the grey-haired man who sat under a tree until he glimpsed the force that organizes the entire universe, not the bald boy who sat under a tree until he glimpsed the force that organizes the entire cosmos; however, I readily admit that when you put it like that, it's a pretty spurious distinction to make.
 For many of these thoughts about consciousness, I am indebted to Gary Lachman's book, A Secret History of Consciousness.
 "Prosaic" is meant here simply as an alternative to "poetic," rather than any sort of value-judgment of our own time as boring or staid. As any student of apocryphal Chinese curses will tell you, our own times are plenty interesting.