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The Human Cosmos - Ch. 3: Fate

#178: Oct. - Dec. 2021 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor
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The Human Cosmos - Ch. 3: Fate

Please use this thread to discuss the above referenced chapter of
The Human Cosmos: A Secret History of the Stars Hardcover by Jo Marchant.
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Robert Tulip
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Chapter Three, Fate, opens with archaeological investigation based in Mosul in Iraq, a city now destroyed by the war with ISIS. Until 2017, Mosul retained its ancient heritage. In the nineteenth century, the Assyrian city of Nineveh was rediscovered nearby. Most famous from the Bible story of Jonah, Nineveh had spectacular treasures including palace art, the world's first novel the Epic of Gilgamesh, and thousands of clay tablets covered in astronomical and practical data, which were all shipped to the British Museum.

Gilgamesh had shown the Bible story of Noah was copied from older myths, a highly controversial discovery for conventional Christians. Together with the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh revealed that a key theme in their religion was that events on earth and in the sky were seen as intimately entwined, as were astronomy and religion. In ancient Babylon, the Gods were planets, a system that flowed through into many cultures, seen in our current planetary names taken from the Roman Gods.

Another text Enuma Anu Enlil, contains a series of bizarre magical prophecies based on astrology, with particular concern about eclipses, which the Babylonian astronomer priests learned to predict many centuries before Christ.

After destroying Nineveh in 612 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt Babylon, with a focus on its sky temples, the ziggurats, upon which astronomers could record star positions all night. I like to imagine this nocturnal star culture, in both Babylon and Egypt, as decisive for creating the sense of cosmic order that became central to Christianity.

Johann Strassmaier worked for twenty years in the British Museum translating 60,000 Akkadian clay tablets. Many just contained numbers. It turned out these recorded accurate observations of the position of the moon and planets, dating back more than a thousand years to the second millennium BC. Over time they gradually becoming more systematic, as astronomical knowledge developed. That led to discovery of the repeating cycles of Venus over eight years, Jupiter over 71 years, and the moon over the 18 year metonic cycle.

Then, remarkably, around 400 BC it appears the astronomer priests invented the zodiac, the division of the stellar path of the sun into twelve equal segments. This enabled a transition from simply recording observations of planetary positions to using mathematical calculation to predict repeating patterns, a key step in the dawn of science.

A controversy in this material, not mentioned by Marchant, is whether the Babylonian astronomers before Hipparchus in the second century BC had discovered the precession of the equinox. As Garry Thomson explains in an excellent essay at http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-davi ... age9f.html there is no proof they did, and the extensive claims among German scholars to the contrary therefore appear open to doubt.

My view is that it is impossible that Babylonian astronomers discovered precise mathematical cycles of planets and the moon but failed to notice that the entire celestial sphere was rotating against the seasons by one degree every 72 years. While it may be true that Hipparchus was original in his discovery, he based it on old Babylonian star maps. The practical value of this knowledge is that the rising and setting dates of distinctive constellations like the Pleiades were used to set the dates of agricultural activity and religious festivals.

The ancient Greek poet Hesiod in Works and Days could say when the Pleiades set was the month to plough. This knowledge was part of religious oral tradition handed down in memory, which had gradually changed, a process that must have become part of the religious lore.

I explore these issues in some detail in my recent essay Christianity for the Age of Aquarius.
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Robert Tulip wrote:Then, remarkably, around 400 BC it appears the astronomer priests invented the zodiac, the division of the stellar path of the sun into twelve equal segments. This enabled a transition from simply recording observations of planetary positions to using mathematical calculation to predict repeating patterns, a key step in the dawn of science.
I recently introduced my Advanced Algebra students to the impressive achievements of Arab mathematicians, leading into it with the story in the book "The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu", and I wish I had had more material to give them about why astronomy led to so many advancements in Algebra. I did give them some sense that the lunar calendar rotates around the solar year, and pointed out that this could lead to complex algebraic calculations. I have a feeling Marchant's book would offer some lively material for that. Well, maybe I can read it by next semester.
Robert Tulip wrote:A controversy in this material, not mentioned by Marchant, is whether the Babylonian astronomers before Hipparchus in the second century BC had discovered the precession of the equinox. As Garry Thomson explains in an excellent essay at http://members.westnet.com.au/gary-davi ... age9f.html there is no proof they did, and the extensive claims among German scholars to the contrary therefore appear open to doubt.

My view is that it is impossible that Babylonian astronomers discovered precise mathematical cycles of planets and the moon but failed to notice that the entire celestial sphere was rotating against the seasons by one degree every 72 years. While it may be true that Hipparchus was original in his discovery, he based it on old Babylonian star maps. The practical value of this knowledge is that the rising and setting dates of distinctive constellations like the Pleiades were used to set the dates of agricultural activity and religious festivals.
I guess that makes sense, but one degree every 72 years does not sound like it is in the same league with the repetition of the planetary cycles on a time frame covered by one lifetime. Might they even have noticed the small shifts in constellations that accumulate to a substantial change over tens of thousands of years? I don't have any feel for that at all.
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The conquest of Babylon by Alexander the Great in 331 BC opened a clash of worldviews. Marchant says the Greek and Persian views could not have been more different, but that is hyperbole, since they had much in common. The tendencies were toward magic on the Babylonian side and logic on the Greek side, but there has been an ideologically prejudiced agenda within the classics tradition to exaggerate these differences. Martin Bernal explains this in his excellent book Black Athena.

Alexander’s tutor, the Athenian philosopher Aristotle, believed the planets were held by perfect geocentric spheres, on the assumption of heavenly perfection. The kludge factor of epicycles was invented to reconcile geocentrism with the observation of annual retrograde motion of planets, which is actually caused by the earth moving between the sun and each planet.

Marchant says the great astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes was decisive in putting stargazing onto mathematical foundations, possibly even inventing trigonometry to enable accurate prediction. Unfortunately, for some reason Marchant fails to mention what may be the most famous achievement of Hipparchus, accurate calculation of the speed of precession of the equinox. This is a highly controversial topic, with various views about exactly what Hipparchus discovered and how. As I have mentioned already I have studied this in some depth. My view is that Hipparchus used the observation of a specific total lunar eclipse, seen on 21 March 135 BC, to enable his exact measurement of the equinox point. The significance of total lunar eclipses is that they show the exact opposite position of the sun, whereas a normal full moon does not give that observational accuracy, since visual observation alone cannot tell exactly when the moon is precisely full.

This eclipse observed by Hipparchus, whose timing and location is shown at eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/5MCLEmap/-0199--0 ... 03-21T.gif, had the further great advantage of being precisely at the equinox point, as shown in the attached diagram from page 4 of my paper.

Hipparchus could see from this eclipse observation that the fall equinox was shifting into Virgo from its longstanding position in Libra. In religious myth, my view is that this observation was decisive for the prophecy that a new age would start at the time of Christ. This prediction therefore came from accurate astronomy, not from divine revelation as Christians like to believe.

Marchant then mentions Ptolemy, whose Almagest remained the most renowned astronomy text for more than a thousand years, despite numerous errors. Marchant seems to imply Ptolemy’s views were based on his own observations, whereas it looks more likely that he collected the observations of others, and made a number of mistakes.

Then Marchant notes a remarkable discovery in modern Germany, a proof that the Babylonian astronomers had accurately calculated the lunar month to four decimal places, with 29.5306 days between new moons, known as the synodic month. Remarkably, the Babylonians also calculated the draconic month, the time between lunar nodes, and the anomalistic month, the time between successive lunar perigees, showing that the three months combined to produce the Saros eclipse families.
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Robert Tulip
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Chapter Three on Fate provides a considered discussion of astrology, noting its spread across the Greco-Roman world from apparent origins in Babylon and Egypt. Marchant says the renowned astronomer Brian Cox has said astrology “undermines the very fabric of our civilization”, while Richard Dawkins complains it is “shrivelling and cheapening the universe.”

Marchant’s assessment is that astrology proved to be incompatible with the scientific revolution. And indeed, the ancient astrological examples she gives of oracular prophecy, such as the risk to Alexander the Great from entering the wrong gate at Babylon, do appear to have no possible evidentiary basis. Such prophecies tend to be remembered on the scattergun principle that of a hundred prophecies one will be correct, and that is the only one that will be remembered.

My personal view is that the astronomers who attack astrology do not understand it, and that it is perfectly possible to develop astrological ideas that are entirely compatible with scientific knowledge. The difference between astronomy and astrology is essentially that astronomy describes the universe, while astrology seeks to explain how life connects to the universe.

This theme of connection is incredibly complex, and naturally prone to charlatanic speculation and fraud, justifying the suspicions of Dawkins and Cox et al. It is clear from the lack of accepted statistical corroboration that any planetary effects are far weaker than astrologers claim. And yet, this could well be due just to an overwhelming noise to signal ratio. If we assume that non-astrological causes govern 99.9% of our conduct, and astrological causes govern the remaining 0.1%, this presents a framework for the possibility of such causal processes. The planetary signature beneath all the mundane noise has an importance as a signal that describes the fundamental personal identity and nature of our soul.

The astrological theme of connection to the cosmos opens the possibility of what we can call a terrestrial cosmology, focused on the problem of how our planet connects to its context within the solar system. There are several observations that lend some potential credibility to this analysis. The idea of a harmonic wave structure of time grounded in the seasonal patterns of the solstices and equinoxes creates the possibility of a scientific explanation of the zodiac signs, in terms of the physical relationship between the earth and sun rather than conventional magical ideas of emanations from distant star patterns. The chaotic principle of sensitivity to initial conditions explains the possibility that the shape of the cosmos at birth provides explanation of character.

I can understand that Dawkins and Cox regard popular astrology with contempt for its routine practice of exaggerating intuitive speculation with no scientific grounds. I agree with Cox that such conduct undermines the principles of evidence and logic that are central to the value of science. And yet, it is entirely possible to take an evidence-based approach to astrology. Many scientific critics do not understand this possibility, and instead use false arguments like the shift of the constellations due to precession of the equinox to claim astrology lacks any physical possibility.

The journal Correlation is devoted to scholarly study of astrology. The cultural ferment that surrounds astrology means many critics dismiss such research on prejudicial grounds. I would suggest people take a more circumspect view, respecting the possibility that we are connected to our cosmos in far more sensitive ways than have yet been discovered and explained by science.

Statistical research has shown the possibility of astrological effects. I would like to conduct a statistical test of the epidemiology of astrological transits to assess the hypothesis that the position of the planets in the sky relates to their positions at the moment of a person’s birth. The test would look at birth and death dates for a large sample, say one million people, and analyse the data to see if any predicted astrological transits appear above or below chance expectation. Unfortunately I have too many other things to do, and will only be able to progress this if some one contacts me offering to help with relevant statistical expertise.

In my recent paper on Christianity for the Age of Aquarius I wrestle with the philosophical problem of the apparent use of astrology by the original Christian authors to construct the Gospel story of Jesus Christ. My approach in this paper does not require the possibility of any astrological effects, but rather explores astrological claims in the context of both imaginative cultural construction and the actual observations of climate cycles caused by orbital patterns of seasonal light.
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Robert Tulip wrote: I can understand that Dawkins and Cox regard popular astrology with contempt for its routine practice of exaggerating intuitive speculation with no scientific grounds. I agree with Cox that such conduct undermines the principles of evidence and logic that are central to the value of science. And yet, it is entirely possible to take an evidence-based approach to astrology. Many scientific critics do not understand this possibility, and instead use false arguments like the shift of the constellations due to precession of the equinox to claim astrology lacks any physical possibility.

The journal Correlation is devoted to scholarly study of astrology. The cultural ferment that surrounds astrology means many critics dismiss such research on prejudicial grounds. I would suggest people take a more circumspect view, respecting the possibility that we are connected to our cosmos in far more sensitive ways than have yet been discovered and explained by science.

Statistical research has shown the possibility of astrological effects. I would like to conduct a statistical test of the epidemiology of astrological transits to assess the hypothesis that the position of the planets in the sky relates to their positions at the moment of a person’s birth. The test would look at birth and death dates for a large sample, say one million people, and analyse the data to see if any predicted astrological transits appear above or below chance expectation. Unfortunately I have too many other things to do, and will only be able to progress this if some one contacts me offering to help with relevant statistical expertise.
Hello, Robert. I'd go along with Prince Hamlet here: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Many discoveries of science were once themselves undreamt of. "Insufficient data" would be a good response to claims about the legitimacy of some part of traditional astrology. People like Dawkins might come down hard on astrology, believing that it was a hinderent to the world discovering science sooner, but astrology has also been seen more favorably as paving the way for astronomy.

That said, it is nevertheless understandable that science would shun research into astronomy. There is so much else to spend money on that answers to a real need or is on the cutting edge. The prejudices, as you call them, against such research stem from big challenges to the credibility of any aspect of astrology. But if some mogul decides to fund astrology research privately, that's a different story.

Dawkins spoke of "speciesism" in a couple of the essays we talked about. Speciesism might be his primary objection to astrology. Why should we think that the cosmos revolves around humans in the way that astrology posits? Why wouldn't physical effects from planetary transits affect an orangutan or a naked mole rat, as well as human creatures? Is there really anything at all in astrology that can be aligned with modern science? Astrology has developled such sophistication and a type of precision that some of its adherents are loath to admit that their fascinating hobby isn't science.
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The author of a book I'm reading (A Concise History of the Middle East) makes this comment:
. . . in history we care as much about what people believe to have happened as we do about the literal truth.
And, indeed, Marchant discusses astrology as a pseudoscience that people once believed. If there is a mechanism by which the movements of stars and planets can influence human behavior (and presumably animal behavior as well) it would become a part of the realm of science. I always appreciate listening to Robert's astrological musings. It would be very cool if there was something to it. But for now Marchant helps us to connect to ancient peoples by getting to know what they believed (knowing they lived at a time when there was very little actual scientific knowledge to speak of). In of itself this is a powerful connection.

It's also tantalizing to wonder if the ancients' intuition might have been correct in some ways that modern science has so far overlooked. There is definitely something irresistible about the idea. And if it turns out there's something to it, it wouldn't surprise me if Robert Tulip was the one who eventually susses it out.
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DWill wrote:Hello, Robert. I'd go along with Prince Hamlet here: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Many discoveries of science were once themselves undreamt of. "Insufficient data" would be a good response to claims about the legitimacy of some part of traditional astrology.
I think it is more that astrology has a tendency to make highly exaggerated claims which have been easy to disprove, and which rest entirely upon intuitive guesswork and anecdote rather than any systematic evidence. That syndrome creates a reasonable suspicion among scientists that astrology is guesswork all the way down. Answering that suspicion has to first present a coherent explanation of how astrological claims could be possible, which tends to be rejected out of hand in scientific and religious circles. Once the possibility is explained, its plausibility requires astrologers to provide empirical evidence to back up the hypothesis that astrological effects are weak but real.
DWill wrote: People like Dawkins might come down hard on astrology, believing that it was a hinderent to the world discovering science sooner, but astrology has also been seen more favorably as paving the way for astronomy.
I had not seen that criticism from Dawkins. My reading of his criticisms has more been that he lumps all magical thinking together as examples of obsolete delusional method, more in terms of its current fantasy effect in contemporary culture than as a criticism of the past. It is widely recognised that astrology helped inspire astronomy, since much data collected by astronomers such as Galileo and Kepler and Tycho was for astrological forecasting purposes.
DWill wrote: That said, it is nevertheless understandable that science would shun research into astronomy.
Assuming you meant astrology here, I personally do not find the lack of research at all rational. Rather, the situation is that anyone who expresses interest in astrology becomes an academic pariah, so professional researchers with career aspirations have to steer well clear of such topics.
DWill wrote:There is so much else to spend money on that answers to a real need or is on the cutting edge. The prejudices, as you call them, against such research stem from big challenges to the credibility of any aspect of astrology. But if some mogul decides to fund astrology research privately, that's a different story.
The history of astrology research reveals an intense bigotry on the part of critics, whose methods have been highly dubious, aimed at supporting their preconceived conclusion that astrology is bunk, while ignoring and distorting the positive findings of researchers like Gauquelin who have proved weak but real effects of planetary positions at birth.

I had a conversation about this with some astrologers recently. They were asking what birth chart features indicated mental illness. Since most astrologers are not scientific, they tend to think it is reasonable to use an ad hoc anecdotal method, examining the birth charts of a few people who are mentally ill and jumping to conclusions from whatever features seem to align with astrological convention. What is needed to generate anything reliable is large scale statistical analysis. Epidemiological study could examine the birth charts of thousands or even millions of people with mental illness to find if they have any recurring planetary patterns. If such research did find stable proof of factors with medical correlation, it would be an important and valuable scientific finding, potentially adding a new medical diagnostic tool. The ability of modern computing to crunch big data means such research is entirely possible. An example of rigorous statistical research using artificial intelligence machine learning of massive datasets to show apparent proof of more mistakes during Mercury retrograde, as predicted in astrology, is at https://www.ayurastro.com/articles/non- ... trograde#/ by Renay Oshop.
DWill wrote: Dawkins spoke of "speciesism" in a couple of the essays we talked about. Speciesism might be his primary objection to astrology. Why should we think that the cosmos revolves around humans in the way that astrology posits? Why wouldn't physical effects from planetary transits affect an orangutan or a naked mole rat, as well as human creatures?
No, I don’t think speciesism is a real issue here. Prof Frank Brown from Illinois proved in the 1950s that rats have a magnetic sense enabling them to tell without seeing when the moon is above the horizon, and that oysters have a similar lunar sense that enabled them to open when the moon is directly above even when all sensory input is removed and they were moved from New York to Chicago. These examples of a magnetic sense have clear adaptive evolutionary benefits, with rats using their magnetic sense to avoid predators who hunt by moonlight and oysters using magnetism to tell when the tide is high. Life is far more sensitive than we can easily tell. Marchant makes this the theme of Chapter Ten, which I have not read yet, so I hope we can return to it then. I found it by googling Brown, who I first encountered from Gauquelin’s The Cosmic Clocks. The chapter was published in Wired Magazine - https://www.wired.com/story/oysters-tha ... me-it-was/ where I found it by searching, not having read that far in the book yet.

It is actually reasonable to think the cosmos revolves around us, since any thinking must occur in a physically located perspective, and such a geocentric approach can examine the question of how we connect to the cosmos around us.
DWill wrote: Is there really anything at all in astrology that can be aligned with modern science? Astrology has developed such sophistication and a type of precision that some of its adherents are loath to admit that their fascinating hobby isn't science.
Again, the Brown case shows how much science has a pathological loathing of astrology. Marchant explains how Brown was made a pariah in his professional circles. My impression, extending from her description, is that this occurred simply because his findings reminded his critics of astrology, and they were in fear that such taint would wreck their own careers if they did not excommunicate him.

The scientific analysis of astrology is a separate topic from astrology itself as a traditional craft, which clearly has nothing to do with the scientific method. Those adherents who imagine astrology is a science are misinformed, because the intuitive mythological symbolism used to read birth charts has none of the systematic rigorous study of evidence required by science. But that does not imply there is no scientific basis for the intuition – it can often turn out that insights garnered from imagination later turn out to have a physical basis.
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geo wrote:The author of a book I'm reading (A Concise History of the Middle East) makes this comment:". . . in history we care as much about what people believe to have happened as we do about the literal truth."
Hi Geo, I am so pleased to see you engaging with The Human Cosmos. It is a great book. Your quote here makes a deep philosophical point about the social construction of meaning that is directly relevant to Marchant’s approach to story as the core of meaning. Our mythological stories encapsulate what people have valued, what we find important. They therefore contain something essential that captures our imagination and care and concern in an ongoing way.

One of my favourite books dates from 1841, The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Essen ... ristianity His humanist critique of religion is that God is a projection of human consciousness. That means that religion evolves within human psychology through construction of the transcendental imagination, not as a result of revelation from on high. A part of this transcendental fantasy agenda is the practical observation that something real is better than something fake.

So a real God and a real Jesus are far better than a fake God or a fake Jesus. Because people want to construct a story of what happened that is psychologically compelling, it was naturally far more popular to systematically exclude the idea that God and Jesus are fake, despite that far better explaining the evidence. This principle of the superiority of the real over the fake even became a core proof of God, Anselm’s ontological argument, which rests upon that premise.
geo wrote:And, indeed, Marchant discusses astrology as a pseudoscience that people once believed. If there is a mechanism by which the movements of stars and planets can influence human behavior (and presumably animal behavior as well) it would become a part of the realm of science.
There are many problems with this discussion of mechanism in astrology. Firstly, western astrology holds as a basic principle that stars have no effect at all, but are simply used as markers for the zones of the sky defined by the solstices and equinoxes. The western view is known as tropical astrology because it is defined by the dates when the sun reach the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.

This is broadly misunderstood within and outside astrology. Indian astrologers and a minority in the west still hold the view that I see as baseless that star signs are caused by the stars. The western astrological tradition sees astrology as entirely a function of the solar system, providing a basis to open a discussion of the physics of astrology, something many scientists regard as impossible on principle.

Astrological effects are far weaker than is assumed by astrologers, who systematically exaggerate on a similar psychological principle to the religious fallacy that the real is better than the fake, even where the allegedly real thing is only imaginary. Despite this observation that the physical signals are weak, it is plausible to postulate that the solar system as a whole has harmonic patterns, a music of the spheres, and that it is possible to examine these harmonic patterns using astrological models to look at the system as a whole, and that every entity existing inside the system partakes of the quality of the whole. This can be explored through the logical axiom 'as above so below'.

The principle of sensitivity of each entity to its moment of creation is another important mystery, fundamental to astrology but too complex to easily measure. It is used in astrology to say the moment of first breath or the moment when something is created establishes the signature of soul, defining natural identity and character which can then colour the entire course of life.

The physics of tropical astrology involves the mathematical division of the annual light cycle of the year based on the solstices and equinoxes. Postulated annual wave functions of duple, triple and quadruple frequency produce the mathematical structures of astrological signs. There is no requirement for these postulated resonant wave periods to have any measurable effect for them to be validly described as the physics of astrology.

The length of the day over the tropical year forms a physical sine wave with one cycle per year, by simple arithmetic. Eg https://tasks.illustrativemathematics.o ... tasks/1832

Multiplying this sine wave by two to produce a wave of double the frequency (two cycles per year) produces what astrology calls the modes – cardinal, fixed and mutable signs. Multiplying its frequency by three produces the elements, known as fire, earth, air and water signs. The interaction of modes and elements produces the twelve signs, each defined by its unique combination of mode and element. This mathematical structure of time is no less real than string theory, and possibly far more real.

This underlying physics explains why western astrology has kept the tropical zodiac based on the equinox point while rejecting the traditional popular assumption that astrological signs were somehow based on emanations from the distant background stars. That wrong idea of sidereal astrology continues to be supported by some traditions, and is widely but wrongly assumed to be the basis of astrology.

That also explains why ignorant scientists routinely and wrongly express haughty disdain about how precession of the equinox disproves astrology.
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Robert Tulip wrote: Your quote here makes a deep philosophical point about the social construction of meaning that is directly relevant to Marchant’s approach to story as the core of meaning. Our mythological stories encapsulate what people have valued, what we find important. They therefore contain something essential that captures our imagination and care and concern in an ongoing way.
I suspect Jungian insights are likely to prove the most helpful here. Perception of significance has a stronger influence on popular narratives than evidence of causality does. So we have "sympathetic magic" for example, a common way of ensnaring people's perception of significance to suggest, at a very gross level, that Cancer's are crabby, Capricorn's are stubborn, Leo's are regal and brave, Aquarians are servile, etc. etc. etc. Since the human mind loves to perceive patterns where none are present, "evidence" is recruited by confirmation bias to "prove" that "there must be something to it."
Robert Tulip wrote:One of my favourite books dates from 1841, The Essence of Christianity, by Ludwig Feuerbach. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Essen ... ristianity His humanist critique of religion is that God is a projection of human consciousness. That means that religion evolves within human psychology through construction of the transcendental imagination, not as a result of revelation from on high. A part of this transcendental fantasy agenda is the practical observation that something real is better than something fake.

So a real God and a real Jesus are far better than a fake God or a fake Jesus. Because people want to construct a story of what happened that is psychologically compelling, it was naturally far more popular to systematically exclude the idea that God and Jesus are fake, despite that far better explaining the evidence. This principle of the superiority of the real over the fake even became a core proof of God, Anselm’s ontological argument, which rests upon that premise.
Yes, the ontological "proof" is a serious distortion, but also a source of insight into the misunderstandings to which theology had become subject. The subtleties involved are not easy to navigate. I once heard a guest lecture by a professor partial to Hegel declare that Kierkegaard was a near-final gasp of a dying Christianity in culture, when in fact it would be more realistic to see Kierkegaard as the opening of the long development of existentialism, a perspective with far more vitality and fecundity than Hegelian thought. As you observe, people's preferences and interests influence their interpretation of ambiguous evidence.

The idea that God and Christ (which means "Anointed One" or "Messiah") are fake is far less helpful than seeing these concepts as rudimentary intuitions about grand-scale spiritual forces. "Fake" implies "invented to fool people" when it is probably more realistic to see these as "imprecisely intuited" and then "distorted by imperialistic tendencies in monotheism". The urge to clarify that God and Christ have been elaborated as doctrine far, far beyond anything that can be based on evidence or reason is an urge born, I believe, of resistance to these imperialistic urges which should never have been part of a religion founded on a crucified and spiritually resurrected martyr. Fine, let there be resistance, but let there also be recognition that distortions are involved in the narratives created by such resistance.
Robert Tulip wrote:
geo wrote:And, indeed, Marchant discusses astrology as a pseudoscience that people once believed. If there is a mechanism by which the movements of stars and planets can influence human behavior (and presumably animal behavior as well) it would become a part of the realm of science.
There are many problems with this discussion of mechanism in astrology. Firstly, western astrology holds as a basic principle that stars have no effect at all, but are simply used as markers for the zones of the sky defined by the solstices and equinoxes. The western view is known as tropical astrology because it is defined by the dates when the sun reach the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.

This is broadly misunderstood within and outside astrology. Indian astrologers and a minority in the west still hold the view that I see as baseless that star signs are caused by the stars. The western astrological tradition sees astrology as entirely a function of the solar system, providing a basis to open a discussion of the physics of astrology, something many scientists regard as impossible on principle.

Astrological effects are far weaker than is assumed by astrologers, who systematically exaggerate on a similar psychological principle to the religious fallacy that the real is better than the fake, even where the allegedly real thing is only imaginary. Despite this observation that the physical signals are weak, it is plausible to postulate that the solar system as a whole has harmonic patterns, a music of the spheres, and that it is possible to examine these harmonic patterns using astrological models to look at the system as a whole, and that every entity existing inside the system partakes of the quality of the whole. This can be explored through the logical axiom 'as above so below'.

The principle of sensitivity of each entity to its moment of creation is another important mystery, fundamental to astrology but too complex to easily measure. It is used in astrology to say the moment of first breath or the moment when something is created establishes the signature of soul, defining natural identity and character which can then colour the entire course of life.

The physics of tropical astrology involves the mathematical division of the annual light cycle of the year based on the solstices and equinoxes. Postulated annual wave functions of duple, triple and quadruple frequency produce the mathematical structures of astrological signs. There is no requirement for these postulated resonant wave periods to have any measurable effect for them to be validly described as the physics of astrology.

The length of the day over the tropical year forms a physical sine wave with one cycle per year, by simple arithmetic. Eg https://tasks.illustrativemathematics.o ... tasks/1832

Multiplying this sine wave by two to produce a wave of double the frequency (two cycles per year) produces what astrology calls the modes – cardinal, fixed and mutable signs. Multiplying its frequency by three produces the elements, known as fire, earth, air and water signs. The interaction of modes and elements produces the twelve signs, each defined by its unique combination of mode and element. This mathematical structure of time is no less real than string theory, and possibly far more real.
I found this to be an intriguing explanation of possible sources of influence. It would be good to recognize that most of modern astrology is based on practices of telling people narratives that they will either reject or accept based on their own sense of what forces are in operation in their lives. Like fortune cookies, they rely on confirmation bias. It is always going to be difficult to avoid a more sophisticated version of the same thing in speculating about the influence of modes and elements.

My priors are that if there is any statistically discernible effect of birth time it is from selection of parental time of pregnancy as well as from possible epigenetic effects of season of birth. Influences of the seasons are unlikely, IMHO, to imprint in a lasting way on the infant. So many things happen later in the person's life that the signal (if it exists) will be lost in the noise. Compare that to the effect of being older than average or younger than average in a school cohort, based on month of birth. The latter is a statistically discernible effect due to a reliably repeating influence: the child is older than cohorts (or younger) for his or her whole school career, so that the effect keeps reinforcing.
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Robert Tulip
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geo wrote:I always appreciate listening to Robert's astrological musings. It would be very cool if there was something to it. But for now Marchant helps us to connect to ancient peoples by getting to know what they believed (knowing they lived at a time when there was very little actual scientific knowledge to speak of). In itself this is a powerful connection.
This keys directly into the argument I present in my recent paper on Christianity for the Age of Aquarius that the apparent beliefs of the ancients often conceal what they really believed. Astrology in particular appears to be an area that was not shared openly, but was kept within initiated secret elder circles, with the result that much of the tradition has been lost, and we do not know the origins of current approaches. We only know what later writers chose to transmit, plus what we can forensically determine from the fugitive traces of earlier suppressed ideas.

Taking extant evidence as a guide to what the ancients believed is rather like imagining that an empty field is a guide to the rich forest that once occupied its site. Marchant could explore this problem of secrecy and suppression more, as a way to recognise that we face a deeply Orwellian distortion of our prevailing views of the past. My view is that the New Testament contains abundant clues to a suppressed astrological basis in knowledge of precession of the equinoxes. This is a hypothesis with a difficult pedigree that has potential to transform the basis of theology, totally removing any need for supernatural belief.
geo wrote:It's also tantalizing to wonder if the ancients' intuition might have been correct in some ways that modern science has so far overlooked. There is definitely something irresistible about the idea. And if it turns out there's something to it, it wouldn't surprise me if Robert Tulip was the one who eventually susses it out.
Science restricts knowledge to information supported by clear evidence. The method of intuition, reliance on hunches accumulated over generations, is in principle unscientific, but that does not mean it is untrue. The remarkable mystery that I find most fascinating is the perfect correlation between the actual evolution of culture from religion to science and the simple astrological vision of zodiac ages that underlies Biblical cosmology, with both presenting a shift from belief to knowledge as the guiding principle of the zeitgeist.
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Harry Marks wrote:I suspect Jungian insights are likely to prove the most helpful here. Perception of significance has a stronger influence on popular narratives than evidence of causality does.
Jungian psychology holds that people find meaning in popular symbols, more so than in objective facts. Perception of significance means how much people regard an idea as important and valuable. This subjective assessment congeals into myth when ideas have an enduring appeal, a process that Jung analysed under the concept of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

The dilemma in the relationship between significance and causality is that scientists can plausibly argue that objectively they should be the same, ie that imaginative fiction is not really significant in the scheme of things compared to the grandeur of evolution and celestial mechanics, or at least that the significance in ideas amounts to their objective truth. For example, a novel is significant to the extend it reveals the human condition, a causal reality. And yet, in popular culture significance is entirely a subjective construction of mythology, based on whatever ideas people regard as most important regardless of their scientific content.
Harry Marks wrote:So we have "sympathetic magic" for example, a common way of ensnaring people's perception of significance to suggest, at a very gross level, that Cancer's are crabby, Capricorn's are stubborn, Leo's are regal and brave, Aquarians are servile, etc. etc. etc. Since the human mind loves to perceive patterns where none are present, "evidence" is recruited by confirmation bias to "prove" that "there must be something to it."
Sun signs have proven remarkably resistant to statistical corroboration. If these stereotypes had a strong causal basis they would deliver a strong p value in population level analysis. One study that supports sun sign statistical corroboration is The Astrology File by Gunther Sachs, but as with all astrological studies it has not been accepted by scientists. Tarvainen is perhaps the best contemporary expert in statistical analysis of astrology. His research has shown strong support for the existence of sun signs based on tropical astrology, but none based on sidereal division of signs.
Harry Marks wrote: The idea that God and Christ (which means "Anointed One" or "Messiah") are fake is far less helpful than seeing these concepts as rudimentary intuitions about grand-scale spiritual forces.
To call something a fake asserts it has zero scientific authenticity, it is not what it purports to be. That is helpful as a critique of popular literal faith, whose objects (eg the Blessed Virgin Mary) are not what they seem. But calling Mary a fake is not helpful as a way of engaging with the mythological meaning of the stories.
Harry Marks wrote: "Fake" implies "invented to fool people" when it is probably more realistic to see these as "imprecisely intuited" and then "distorted by imperialistic tendencies in monotheism".
I appreciate your pushback against fakery as such a crude criticism Harry. If religious ideas are accepted as inherently metaphor, the problem of fakery does not arise – we don’t call Shakespeare a faker for saying all the world’s a stage. Fakery arises with the process of reification, with the dogmatic insistence that the metaphor is actually literal, and not a metaphor. That process is inherently deceptive and delusional, simplifying and distorting complex material.

The original Gospel stories were not invented to fool people, but their use by scheming bishops certainly had that objective. Richard Carrier presents a plausible account of the evolution of Christian fakery, suggesting that the original Christ in Paul’s epistles was intended as cosmic metaphor, then the next stage, Mark’s Gospel, was sacred allegory that also was not intended to be taken literally. Fakery then entered with the insistence from Luke and John that the Gospel story was true history, and subsequently ramped up as the church condemned all questioning of its fakery as heresy.

The “imperialistic tendencies” that you mention are an apology for fakery. Christendom saw Christianity as a useful fable for state security and unity, what Plato called a Noble Lie, and what Hitler called a Big Lie. The whole astronomical background was thereby junked by the empire as heresy, incompatible with simple literal dogma.
Harry Marks wrote: The urge to clarify that God and Christ have been elaborated as doctrine far, far beyond anything that can be based on evidence or reason is an urge born, I believe, of resistance to these imperialistic urges which should never have been part of a religion founded on a crucified and spiritually resurrected martyr.
Resistance to empire points to two conflicting purposes of religion, liberation and stability. Seeing faith as a basis for social stability produces the union of church and state, grounded in supernatural myth, with obedience and hierarchy seen as primary virtues.

Faith as liberation, as presented by the message of Christ in the Gospels, opens a messianic vision of salvation, the idea that the earth must be transformed into heaven. Messianic religion in this sense treats all religious stories as metaphor for natural events and processes, not as invoking a separate supernatural process of causation.

The transcendental hope within messianic religion is about imagining a better world together with a critical path analysis showing how to get there from here. This is where objective astronomy enters as a fundamental systematic ground for being in the world as care. And precession of the equinox through zodiac ages is the encompassing historic order of visual astronomy.
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