“A new scientific
truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the
light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation
grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck
I’ve said it before, in these book reviews, in articles on
this and other sites, and in my own books: there is no more vexing problem for
astrology than an understanding of how it works. In the materialist paradigm
that dominates Western academic thought, astrology
must be impossible. It simply cannot work, apart perhaps from a few
seasonal trends in behavior and the powerful but nebulous effects of the Moon.
Yet if we step outside of that materialist paradigm, we may
find ways to understand how astrology does work. The trick, it seems, is to get
folks to take that step outside, even tentatively. Among Western materialists,
outside of cool scientific rationalism there is only, to use the title of
astronomer Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon
Haunted World. Beyond materialism lies superstition, ignorance, and chaos.
And astrology is right there with those fearful things.
An honest astrologer has to recognize that there is some
validity to the materialists’ fears. Before the advent of scientific
rationalism – and its inherently materialistic bias – it was indeed hard to
separate fact from fantasy. Evidence was secondary to belief, and dogma ruled
in many places: the Earth was the center of the universe, and if you didn’t
like it, some very nasty consequences awaited. By comparison, we breathe easier
today, knowing that astrologers may be marginalized and ridiculed, but are
unlikely to be burned at the stake.
The problem with scientific rationalism is that while it is
very good at measuring the material world, it has never quite got off the
ground in other areas. Social sciences try, and make valuable contributions,
but there is nothing in psychology or sociology as universally accepted as,
say, the second law of thermodynamics. When we enter into the realm of meaning
and value, the materialist perspective falls short: it’s like trying to measure
the circumference of a tree with a very finely calibrated, but straight, ruler.
In How Astrology Works,
James Lynn Page challenges the criticisms of skeptics with both power and
precision. It’s a short book that combines logic and narrative to make an
entertaining read. The book covers a lot of ground, which helps to keep things
fresh for the reader, while going into adequate depth on each topic. That’s
possible because Page is concise and direct in his writing style.
The first chapters of the book are devoted to understanding
– and undermining – the criticisms of skeptics. He points out the weakness of
their arguments, centering on their lack of knowledge about what astrology
actually is but also tackling errors in logic and failure to keep abreast of
the changes within their own fields. He does a very good job of showing that
the apparently cool, rational, Spock-like demeanor of skeptics tends to hide a
fierce Dishonest Skepticism (he also uses the term guerilla skeptics, while I would prefer Gary Abram’s phrase devoutly skeptical).
Yet debunking the debunkers doesn’t explain how astrology does work. After his treatment of
skeptics, the author goes on to tackle this greater question. His approach is
interesting, in that he starts with some foundational astrological concepts,
for example the four elements, and examines whether these concepts map onto our
experience of reality. Only later in the book does he tackle the philosophical
and practical questions, bringing in the idea of an entangled universe in which
consciousness is an active, creative force.
How Astrology Works
is a valuable contribution to a growing literature in the field of astrology.
For the interested astrology enthusiast or an astrologer who wants or needs to
know more about the topic, it is perhaps the best available introduction. As
for skeptics, I’m sure few will read, and no minds will be changed.
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