Astrology and modern science – the gap is a Clash-Not a Disaster
The apparently unbridgeable gap that exists between astrology and modern science and their continuing clash is understandable because they differ in several respect in their approach and reasoning; the former branch of investigation has a holistic approach to the whole phenomenon of life and universe, while the latter is mainly confined to an analysis of the parts.
We have in east, especially India, a huge mass of studies and treatises on astrology. Even a cursory examination would reveal that many of them are the outcome of inquiries of earnest and intelligent explorers and there is ample evidence of planetary influences and their relevance to life. However, it is the above-mentioned difference that invokes the clash. In this context, one is reminded of what renowned mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitefield in his essay Religion and Science, published in the book Science: Method and meaning (New York University) has to say: “ A clash of doctrines is not a disaster- it is an opportunity.”
Citing some example from science itself, like the two contradictory theories about the nature of light, Newton’s corpuscular and Huyghens’ wave theories and pointing out that while one group of phenomena can be explained only on the wave theory, another large group can be explained only on the corpuscular theory, whitehead makes a though-provoking observation on the clash between science and religion, which is also very apt in the clash between science and astrology.
We should believe nothing in either sphere of thought, which does not appear to us to be certified by solid reasons based upon the critical research either of ourselves or of competent authorities. But granting that we have honestly taken this precaution, a clash between the two on points of detail where they overlap should not lead us hastily to abandon doctrines for which we have solid evidence. It may be that we are more interested in one set of doctrines than in the other. But, if we have any sense of perspective and of the history of though, we shall wait and refrain from mutual anathemas. We should wait: but we should not wait passively, or in despair. The clash is a sign that there are wider truths and finer perspective within which a reconciliation of a deeper religion and more subtle science will be found.
Mass of Evidence
When a so-called scientist say “No one needs to study astrology in all its details for an extended period to come to conclusion that it is unscientific“, he is evidently not prepared for critical research, as whitfield suffests, and is tempted to abandon a time tested doctrine in hast. Although the astrological reasoning, which takes into account various gross and subtle factors, does not conform to the methodology of modern science, there is a solid mass of evidence regarding the applicability and relevance of astrology in practical life. Another branch of knowledge that in its fundamental concepts does not come to terms with the methodology of modern science and proves its applicability in the day to day life of millions of people is Ayurveda. Should we dismiss it also as a pseudo science?
We cannot ignore, like the fabled ostrich, the solid evidence of thousands who seek astrological guidance and derive solace and hope. The highly educated as well as the commoner often seek the counseling of the astrologer. An expert astrologer, applying his knowledge, can often pinpoint the problem of the visitor. There is a mass of evidence revealed by highly competent people, including those not spiritually inclined and rational, but open-minded and outspoken, who have testified to their experience in astrology.
Serious investigation will not dismiss such experiences passing the flimsy opinion that they are the outcome of superstitions belief based on human anxiety and uncertainty in life.
Astrology is an elaborate system of knowledge and there are voluminous treatises containing very intricate calculation bases on the position of stars and planets and the inter-relation existing between them and the various phenomena on earth including human life. Because of the evidence at hand, several scientists regard this branch of knowledge with reverence, although they cannot explain its rationale. Carl Jung, the renowned psychologist, was inspired to evolve his ideas on synchronicity from his serious studies of I Ching, a book on ancient Chinese astrology. As long as modern science has not reached a final conclusion about the nature of mind and matter, the scientific methodology or the conclusions of science cannot be taken to be the only means to acquire knowledge or as the final word.
The practice of astrology involves many years of intensive study like any of the professional courses of modern science. Some of the astrological observations, of course, go wrong; but errors happen in every sphere of human activity. Doctors often fail to diagnose correctly despite their intensive medical training. Let us think of those investigators who involved astrology as a system of knowledge. No man of though worth his salt would consider savants of yore like Varahamihira to be lesser intellect difference is that they employed their intellects in different directions. Savants like Varahamihira earnestly sought to discover the holistic relations between man and nature and revealed what they found out with utmost humanity, unlike some of the modern scientists who specialize in some particular field and tend to believe they are competent to pass judgement on everything. We also are often prone to consider a Nobel-prize winner in a particular subject to be omniscient.
In their belief that the scientific method is the only means to acquire knowledge, some Indian scientists and scholars tends to dismiss traditional sciences as unworthy of investigation. But more serious investigators and scientists in foreign countries express a better appreciation of the ancient inquiries. For instance, Professor Alexander Spirkin, a well-known psychologist, who was a corresponding member of the erstwhile USSR Academy of Science and the head of the section of methodological problems of Cybernetics in Scientific Council of Cybernetics of the USSR Academy of Sciences, presents some illuminating views in his book Dialectical Materialism (Progress Publishers Moscow-1983, published during the Soviet days) about Indian’s ancient explorers. Professor Spirkin writes:
The sages of India discovered astonishingly subtle and profound psycho-biophysical connections between human organism and cosmic subterranean processes. They knew much that even today is beyond the ken European scientific thought, or that it ignores, often trying to conceal its helplessness by asserting that oriental wisdom is mere mysticism, and thus showing its inability to distinguish the rational but not yet fully understandable essence from various figments of imagination? How could people in those far-off times know so much without any experiments or apparatus about the conditions and factors that regulate the course of the vital processes and the character of the interaction between man and nature, particularly the influence of the celestial bodies, the sun and Moon and the various radiation proceeding from outer space and the bowels of the earth? And all this was taken into consideration both in diagnosing and in treatment! Does this not go to show an astonishingly high level of culture that should arouse our admiration gratitude and desire to study!
Jawaharlal Nehru says that the human faculty to wonder at things is the mother of all knowledge and its advancement. It is a unique asset even to the matter-of-fact scientist, which prompted a busy scientist like Professor Alexander Spirkin, far away from India, to make a detailed study of the ancient India concepts and get inspired by the fund of knowledge. ‘ A giant leap backwards‘ is not to be despised, but encouraged if it brings in valuable information that would lead to advancement of knowledge for total human progress. In place of contempt, it is the sense of ‘admiration, gratitude and desire to study’ that would result in greater discoveries to lift human society to higher cultural levels.
The scientists who discredit astrology claim that there is no evidence for a force from heavenly bodies that can affect individual behavior. It seems they do not grasp the point that astrology’s approach is not entirely material, which is the dominant characteristic of today’s science, but both material and mental. Astrology regards the universe as an inter linked conscious and physical phenomenon established in the source, Brahman, the Supreme Reality having infinite potential. Therefor, astrology gives importance to the influence of Karma, the nature of personal actions accumulated through several lifetimes and also to the influence of cosmic energies. The ancient investigators discovered that the whole cosmos is both mental and material which are inter-linked and modifying influences are present in the subtle and gross realms in the entire universe.
According to astrology, an individual is not an exclusive island but has links with the past and the future with the whole universe. The ancient masters found out some clues to reveal these subtle links. They evolved methods to indicated these links. They evolved methods to indicate these links to a great extent from the particular positions of the heavenly bodies. An open-minded observer sitting with a gifted astrologer can well make out that his utterances are to a great extent related to the context and not mere ambiguous speculation. These are often spontaneous as if the thinking process has been eliminated considerably. Perhaps, the long period of study of astrology and its mastery activates some areas in the human brain with the faculty to decipher a cosmic code formed by the position of the heavenly bodies information about the subtle influence of Karma and the cosmic energies involved in a person’s life.
Role of Intuition
Is the mode of investigation of modern science the only way to know the deeper facts of life and the universe? The German biologist Prof. Dr. Joachim Illies raises the following points in an article Does Universe Hold Other Intelligent Beings, published in the Universitas:
Is science really the only authority from which we expect answers to our questions? There are pre-scientific experiences, unconscious certainties, hopes and conjectures, and especially the vast energy centre of emotional life. All these media are, just like science, antennae for felling our way in the world we live in. even the certainties of science did mostly originate in a flash of genius, a hunch, and intuition; and it was often only after this that the scientist went to work, painstakingly elaborating the logical proof for what he had known all along. Let us, therefor, learn this from the great discoverers and research workers; not to scorn the power of our own intuitive feelings, which supplement that of our universally valid reason.
There are indications that a new scientific thinking is also veering round the ancient perspective that the universe is both mental and material. The view of the ancient biologist Sir Julian Huxley that all the activities of the world-stuff are possibly accompanied by mental and material happenings and his preference to name the possible low intensity mental happenings in matter as ‘psychoid’ happenings is indication of this new line of scientific thinking.
The trends indicate that the emerging new science will be taking a more balanced view of the two aspects of Reality–mind and matter. Sri Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at the University of oxford, revealed that which prompted him to write the book The Emperor’s New Mind was the reaction against people making rather outrageous statements about the capacities of computers assuming all we were doing with our minds was computation. The emergence of the new science calls for a deeper comprehension of the nature of mind. In this context, the following observation of Sir Roger Penrose in the Interview assumes much significance: ” Whatever that future science is–and we can pint to the direction it may take –it will have quite a different character from the science of today. What we have today cannot come to terms with what mentality is.”
In the evolution of this new science, the critical research of the ancient knowledge which gives much emphasis to the ancient knowledge which gives much emphasis to consciousness is likely to contribute a great deal for a better understanding about ourselves and the universe. If the teaching of astrology and allied subjects is conducted with a research orientation, it may indeed prove to be an advantageous ‘leap backwards‘ for humanity.