I have been confused about the relationship between astrology and science for a long time. As someone pursuing a Masters in Astrophysics, while learning astrology on the side, several years ago, I pondered often on these problems.
My solution to this was to take the attitude that it’s not worth trying to figure out — that even if science has or could show astrology to be scientifically valid — that it’s beside the point, that scientific validity is not necessary to give astrology meaning, because astrology is valid in other ways that are non-scientific.
However, I just looked at a graphic that shows the scientific process, and read a couple of examples from an official astronomy science course, and am rethinking this.
It occurred to me that if we choose the prediction carefully, then perhaps the practice of astrology can be viewed as scientific. However, not in the way most people think about when they ask the question “Is astrology a science?” Usually, we wonder if we can predict an event in the world based on planetary positions. That is very difficult to do. I don’t use astrology that way, (usually — although it’s a fun exercise) and I think that if you succeed in predicting a concrete event, then it may be just luck. (I leave room for the exceptional to be able to do so, or for the exceptions, however; but I am not tackling that subject in this article). Instead, we can make a prediction like this:
I predict that telling my client Bob, a complete stranger, during our consultation, that “You feel the need to bring the idea of beauty into your career in a way that supports your life purpose, or you start to become depressed” will result in Bob affirming that statement and then giving an example backing it up.
Now, while astrology has the capacity to make very general statements that are very open to interpretation and confirmation bias — statements that anybody could affirm; it is also capable of making more detailed statements, like the one above. I believe that most people would not affirm the above statement. Artists would be likely to affirm it, but most people are not career artists. Making these kinds of statements is risky. I cannot imagine being a consulting astrologer if I were not a risk-taker. If Bob answers “What? Oh no, I don’t care about that at all, and I’ve never been depressed in my life” than suddenly I feel like an idiot and Bob walks out the door and tells his friends that astrology is crud. But you know what? That never happens. I’m not saying that my statements are always on the money…far from it. However, they are often on point, and when not precisely so, there’s usually something there that the client can relate to, and when they respond, I can widen or amend my statement (always being true to the astrological archetypes) to fit their situation. This has the benefit of a conversation, which gives insight into the client’s life, and increases my understanding of how astrology works, especially those particular components that gave rise to my statement (for example, Venus and the North Node and the 10th house would have been involved in some way).
However, when I was learning astrology, and even occasionally now (though less and less often) I took chances like this with non-clients, and there were times I walked away feeling foolish, and wondering how useful astrology was. What I realized, in time, has helped to fine-tune my world-view, and also helped to guide my understanding of how astrology works and why and how to use it. I have been working on another article called “Why Astrology Works” that explores that. That, however is not the subject of this article. One thing I learned is that there’s a big difference between making a closed statement, and asking a more open-ended question. I also learned that there are a thousand ways to phrase things, that there are a thousand ways of translating “Venus/NN conjunction in the 10th house square Saturn in the 1st.” Instead of “beauty” I could have said “romance,” or “meaningful relationships,” etc., etc. Astrology is so wide in its application partially because Venus does not mean any one, or two, or even a thousand, things…rather, she is an archetype, beyond a set definition, and which can play out in various ways. However, we can usually go with a few keywords to great effect.
So, the science of astrology relies on a correct understanding of the content of the hypothesis and prediction. My predictions are not always perfect, but astrology being as much a social science as a “hard” science (like physics or chemistry), I am in the constant scientific process of making better and better hypotheses and predictions, thanks to the feedback of my clients, which constitutes the “observation” portion of the process. Here’s the graphic from above, accompanied with my take on how astrology fits into the categories:
As in science, astrology is practiced by real persons in real time, always subject to revision. An astrologer is in a constant search for better hypotheses and predictions. So if my analysis here is correct (I’m not sure so let me know if I mis-stepped) then I’m happy to declare that astrology is indeed a science (albeit not a hard science).