Astrological Research: From Paradigm To Method

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Astrological Research
From Paradigm to Method

By Glenn Perry


astrological researchMethods are rooted in paradigms and serve as the proper instruments for researching the kinds of questions that make sense within a given paradigm. In this article, I will argue that methods which derive from the mechanistic paradigm of modern science are inappropriate for astrological research and therefore unlikely to provide support for the astrological hypothesis. 

A paradigm is the worldview within which one attempts to understand a given phenomenon. Theories are housed in paradigms like steel girders within a skyscraper. Remove a theory from the paradigm it naturally supports and the theory becomes unintelligible, like trying to understand the concept of “steel girder” with no concept of what “building” means. Without buildings, steel girders make no sense.

Vice versa, placing a theory in the wrong paradigm and then assessing its validity is like placing a dream under a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to discern its meaning. Reduced to electronic signals that form images on a computer screen, the dream becomes unintelligible.

Something like this happens when astrology is interred in the mechanistic paradigm and subjected to statistical analysis. Because mechanism is incompatible with astrology, astrology becomes unintelligible. Paradigm is critical. Accordingly, this article explores how the theory of astrology is intelligible within an organic paradigm, but not in a mechanistic one. It follows that methods utilized for investigating astrology need to be consistent with the organic worldview. 

At the heart of the matter is the difference between modern, quantitative methods of analysis and postmodern, qualitative methods. My position is that quantitative or statistical research does violence to our subject matter—astrology—and that no matter how powerful or “modern” the method might be, it derives from a paradigm that excludes astrology on principle.

Because the modern experimental method is intrinsically hostile to astrology it is unlikely to produce results that support our model. Conversely, postmodern science is compatible with new, qualitative methods of research that show great promise of not only vindicating the astrological hypothesis, but also of advancing knowledge in the field.

Astrological Research and The Problem of Credibility

Astrology hinges on the claim that there are regularly observable correlations between celestial and terrestrial phenomena. Chief among these correlations is the isomorphism of psyche and cosmos; that is, astrologers allege that psychic structure is revealed in the structure of the solar system at the moment of birth. There would seem to be no question that if such an assertion were true, astrology’s value would be enormous.

To have an instrument that details the invisible archetypal structure of the human psyche, that elucidates patterns of growth and development, that reveals the essential meaning of a particular experience or phase of life, that targets periods of crisis and shows their approximate duration, that facilitates empathy, that exposes the pervasive synchronicities that link subjective and objective reality, that strengthens and deepens spiritual understanding, and that provides such aesthetic pleasure that it has been described as the ultimate scientific art form, is high praise indeed.

Yet, among those professions where it could conceivably do the most good—medicine, psychiatry, psychotherapy and family counseling—astrology is conspicuously absent. It has virtually no place in our universities, is scorned by almost all branches of modern learning, and thought by many scientists to be mere charlatanism.

In the September 1975 issue of The Humanist magazine, a statement attacking and disavowing astrology was co-signed by 186 leading scientists, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates. Once considered the divine art and a study worthy of such names as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, astrology has been effectively reduced to what one scientist referred to as “absolute rubbish.”

The disrepute into which astrology has fallen among our culture’s academic and scientific elite con­trasts markedly with the exalted status astrology en­joys in the eyes of those who champion it. It is a curi­ous almost schizoid split in the collective psyche. How can we account for the discrepancy between the abysmally low status of astrology and the phenomenal claims its exponents make for it?

I believe that the answer to this puzzle lies in the notion of paradigm. In the mechanistic paradigm of modern science, it is widely assumed that the method for demonstrating the validity of a hypothesis is the experimental method. But it was precisely the empirical and quantitative methods of modern science that led to the repudiation of astrology in the 17th century—not because such methods disproved astrology, but because application of the experimental method forced astrology into a theoretical straightjack­et from which it could not ex­tricate itself.

Empirical science is based on certain metaphysical assumptions that prevent one from see­ing any truths except those that fall within the purview of its method. But astrology does not conform to this way of knowing. Thus its truths are either invisible or appear to be disconfirmed. So long as astrologers be­lieve that the only way to vindicate their model is via the experimental method of mechanistic science, they are caught in a Catch-22: astrology must conform to the experimental method to be accepted, but the ex­perimental method is intrinsically incompatible with astrology.

Fortunately there is an alternative paradigm within which to view and test astrological truth claims. This is the organic paradigm of pre-scientific cultures that today is reemerging under the heading of “postmodern science.” In recent years, there has been a fairly radical shift in the philosophy of science that is enabling practitioners to embrace truths that a cen­tury ago seemed magical. The significance of this cannot be overstated, for it was out of the magical, organic worldview of pre-scientific cultures that as­trology grew and flourished.

It is my contention that wider acceptance and openness to astrology is more likely to come from a paradigm shift rather than from experimental science within the old paradigm. This new, emerging paradigm is not only capable of pro­viding a climate of understanding that is hospitable to astrology, but of providing alternative methods of in­quiry that are in accord with the type of knowledge that astrology professes.

The Importance of Paradigm

To appreciate why modern statistical methods are inappropriate for astrological research, it is necessary to understand the paradigm from which they derive. A paradigm can be defined as the dominant “worldview” of a culture. It is essentially a constellation of con­cepts and theories that together form a particular vi­sion of reality. Within the context of a given para­digm, certain values and practices are shared that be­come the basis for the way the community organizes itself. A paradigm, in short, is a system of beliefs that binds a culture together.

Thomas Kuhn (1970), in his classic The Structure of Scientif­ic Revolutions, ex­plains that a paradigm is a shared set of beliefs or working premises that “for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitio­ners” (p. x).

Invariably, however, there are certain kinds of prob­lems and problem solving methods that fall outside the boundaries of a given paradigm. “A paradigm,” notes Kuhn, “need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be con­fronted” (p. 18). In effect, a paradigm is like a filter that not only colors the data which enter (i.e., giving it a particular interpreta­tion), but even determines which kinds of data enter.

While a paradigm helps us to see some things, it also blinds us to other things—those things that would not make sense within that interpretive framework. A researcher never has independent access to reality. The character of one’s knowledge and the categories according to which experience is formed are functions of the paradigm one has inherited. As Wittgenstein (1968) pointed out, one can only look through the opaque spectacles of the cognitive apparatus of one’s historically conditioned worldview. The belief that our theories provide a correct and true description of real­ity is a projection. It would be more accurate to say that our theories construct a reality that works for us.

The best example is the mechanistic paradigm that has dominated western culture for the past two centuries. Within the context of this paradigm, fantastic techno­logical and medical advances have taken place. Yet, in our attempts to reduce reality to its material substrate a whole range of phenomena that cannot be under­stood in mechanistic terms have either been ignored or explained away—creativity, freedom, purposiveness, intuition, clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy and astrology.

According to Kuhn (1970), once a paradigm is accepted and provides workable solutions to various puzzles, the paradigm can “insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools that the paradigm supplies” (p. 37). When anomalous findings start to emerge in the course of studies within a paradigm, the implications of such anomalies are at first resisted. They are dismissed as probable errors, fabrications, exaggerations, or are simply labeled as “anomalies” that do not fit into the formal framework and can be safely set aside until they do.

Kuhn explains: “By insuring that the para­digm will not be too easily surrendered, resistance guarantees that scien­tists will not be lightly distracted and that the anomalies that lead to paradigm change will penetrate existing knowl­edge to the core” (p. 55). Astrology, of course, is one of those anomalies that are not reducible to the puzzle form, cannot be under­stood in terms of the concepts that the mechanistic paradigm supplies, and that may well penetrate exist­ing knowledge to the core. Accordingly, I believe that astrology is resisted precisely because its acceptance would drive a stake into the heart of the mechanistic paradigm.

Core Principles of the Mechanistic Paradigm

In the 17th century the founders of modern sci­ence—Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Galileo—con­ceived of reality as like a machine. Accordingly, the paradigm that has come to dominate western culture has been called mechanistic. Early researchers discov­ered that many aspects of reality could be broken down into their functional parts and then put back together again, just like a machine. Such an exercise revealed how things worked. This implied (and re­quired) that anything “real” be viewed as having ma­chine-like properties.

The essence of mechanism was the belief that all “natural” phenomena can be under­stood through reference to laws of matter in motion. Matter could be reduced to minute particles, separate in space, independent of one another, and devoid of any sentience or capacity for self-move­ment. It was thought that motion was conveyed through empty space only by way of direct contact or through a series of direct contacts between material units. In short, mechanism promised to account for physical phenom­ena by way of a single, unitary principle—matter in motion.

It was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who argued most vociferously that the primary qualities of the Universe were physical and mathematical. The pri­mary doctrine of Cartesianism was the division of re­ality between mind (res cogitans), the essence of which is thinking, and matter (res extensa), the es­sence of which is extension in three dimensions.

By isolating mind from the rest of reality, science was free to deal with a pure res extensa untainted with the nonmathematical characters of being. By implication, that which was not extended and measurable involved the entire domain of mental and spiritual reality. It was not simply mind that was split off from matter, but God as well; i.e., mind and God constituted a separate ontologi­cal status.

While early science was carried out in the frame­work of a dualistic supernaturalism in which the soul and God were assigned explanatory functions and hence causal power, the success of the mechanistic approach in physics soon led to the conviction that it should be applied to all of reality. God was first stripped of all causal power save that of the original creation of the world; later thinkers turned this deism into complete atheism.

Likewise, the status of human consciousness was gradually reduced in direct pro­portion to the conquests of materialist science. In the 18th century, the mind was regarded as “epiphenome­nal,” which meant that it was a real phenomenon, but only as an effect, not a cause. Ultimate­ly, its status as a distinct entity was eliminated entirely and it was declared to be simply one of the brain’s emergent properties. This is known as the “psycho-neural iden­tity thesis” – the belief that mind is simply a word used to describe the biochemistry of neuronal mecha­nisms.

In effect, the mechanistic paradigm is materialistic at its core. There is the implicit assumption that noth­ing that lacks a material component exists. Griffin (1988) notes that the disenchantment of the world is both a result and a presupposition of modern science. By “disenchantment” he means the denial to nature of any subjectivity, experience, feeling, or purpose.

Or­thodox science, says Griffin, can only be applied to that which has been disenchanted, which means deanimated. To deanimate is to remove all anima or soul in the Platonic sense of a self-moving thing that determines itself, at least partly, in pursuit of particu­lar values. From a strict scientific perspective, then, humankind can only be under­stood in purely imper­sonal terms, as embodying no creativity, no self-de­termination, and nothing that could be considered di­vine.

The metaphysic of modern science was also de­terministic in that there was the explicit claim that all events, including moral choices, are completely deter­mined by previously existing causes. This meant that causation was exclusively material via direct physical contact. No element of internal self-causation (“free will”) was possible, nor could there be downward cau­sation from an alleged higher source—planetary, god­like, or spiritual.

This presumption radically undercut any basis for understanding the astrological relationship between celestial and terrestrial events. If astrology could not be explained in terms of scientific determinism, then it became unintelligible, a spurious system of belief wedded to an ousted paradigm.

At the time of its conception, mechanism pre­sented a powerful challenge to the organic worldview of pre-scientific Europe. Whereas mechanists con­ceived of the universe as a lifeless machine, medieval “natural philosophers” thought the universe was more akin to a living organism. In fact, this was the primor­dial worldview that in one form or another prevailed in all places at all times dating back to primitive humans.

Ancient cultures viewed the world as an enchanted garden in which some sort of Universal Consciousness or “world soul” was immanent in all the parts and processes of nature. Virtually everything was alive and connected by sympathetic resonances. This was called animism, the belief that all things in nature were ensouled and animated by an indwelling, spiri­tual presence. Little souls were nested within the big soul, psyches within Psyche. Events did not happen randomly, but were manifestations of an omniscient and intentional consciousness infinitely diffused throughout existence.

Because the cosmos was a great hierarchy of Being, nothing was separate and every living thing belonged to the one life that flowed through all things. Accordingly, an event could be understood by inferring its divine purpose or function in a meaningful world. Astrology was central to this conception because it not only presented a unifying vision in which everything cohered, but also provided a symbolic language for understanding the various meanings and correspondences of natural phenomena.

By the end of the 18th century the educated per­son lived in a universe that was effectively dead, hav­ing been constructed and set in motion by a transcen­dent (not immanent) Deity, with all subsequent events accounted for by mechanical interactions and rational laws. Such a universe was static and purposeless since God was thought to have no further intentions beyond that of his original creation. In fact, any assumption of purpose in the natural world was considered naively anthropo­centric, a projection of human subjectivity onto the world of nature.

The notion of consciousness as immanent in matter was lost as a consequence of the Cartesian splitting of spirit and matter. It was pre­cisely this splitting that provided the justification for the all-out mechanical materialism of modern science. From this point forward, the God-concept was arbi­trarily limited to its transcendent aspect, while the immanence of deity was either forgotten or eliminated. This meant that macrocosm and microcosm, cosmos and psyche, were no longer linked by resonant bonds of vibratory frequencies that united heaven and earth.

Since mechanism explicitly denied that natural things had any inherent power to attract other things, planets could in no way influence or correspond to human affairs. The desire to rule out the possibility of action-at-a-distance was, in fact, the main motivation behind the mechanical philosophy (Easlea, 1980). Mechanists declared that there were no hidden (“occult”) proper­ties in matter, no soul, no intelligence, no purpose, no capacity for self-movement, and certainly no capacity to influence or respond to the movements of distant bodies. Effects were explained entirely by reference to antecedent causes, and these causes in the final analy­sis had to be physical.

The rejection of action-at-a-distance in favor of action-by-contact explanations was based on the re­placement of all organismic and psycho-spiritual ex­planations with mechanical ones. At the heart of the mechanistic vision was the denial that natural things had any hidden (occult) powers to attract other things. Psyche and cosmos were in no way alike; they did not correspond, nor were they linked by sympathetic reso­nance.

This took the magic out of nature. The universe was stripped of any qualities with which the human spirit could feel a sense of kinship. Even when it is conceded that human subjective experience involves purposiveness, the fact that science claims the Uni­verse is purposeless results in the alienation of hu­mans from nature. A dualism is conferred: humans are alive and purposive, the rest of the universe is a gi­gantic corpse in mechanical motion.

The primary dualism of modern science was the splitting of spirit from matter. Other dualisms, such as the mind-body split and the psyche-cosmos split fol­lowed logically from this original sundering. In effect, this was sci­ence’s “original sin” – the aspiration to know all of reality while simultaneously denying the reality of that which lies outside the province of its method.

Within the context of the mechanistic para­digm, astrology must be considered either a fabrica­tion or an anomaly; that is, either its proponents are fraudulent or astrology constitutes such a radical de­parture from normative knowledge that it is simply considered too strange to investigate. The point is that astrology has been rejected by modern science not because it has been disproved but because in principle it should not work. Astrology simply does not fit into the kind of universe that materialistic science envisages.

Summary and Preview

Since the 17th century, the mechanistic paradigm has been the dominant worldview of western civiliza­tion. Because mechanism explicitly denies the possi­bility of action-at-a-distance, the immanence of divin­ity, or downward causation, astrology was rejected on principle. In effect, astrology was repudiated not be­cause it was disproved, but because it became unin­telligible when viewed within the arbitrary constraints of the modern worldview.

Astrology is wedded to the organic paradigm that science radically displaced. Organicism holds that the world is ensouled by an indwelling, spiritual presence that is immanent throughout the hierarchies of existence. Each human being is a microcosm—a miniature universe—re­flecting the macrocosm, the Universe as a whole. Within the context of this view, astrology is intelligi­ble for it provides a way of understanding how micro­cosm and macrocosm are related.

In the next chapter, we will explore the epistemol­ogy of the mechanistic para­digm—the experimental method—and the conse­quences of its misapplication in astrological research. I will argue that the experi­mental method is inherently unsuitable for astrological research and is unlikely to provide support for the as­trological hypothesis.

My argument hinges upon six interrelated factors: the meaning of any part of the chart can only be under­stood in the context of its rela­tions with the whole; personality is an emergent prop­erty and cannot be re­duced to a part of the chart; the meaning of chart symbols contain an inescapable am­biguity; astrologi­cal phenomena are synchronistic; astrological causation is circular and teleological; and the horo­scope symbolizes an open, evolving, indeter­minate system.

* * * * *


Easlea, B. (1980). Witch hunting, magic and the new philosophy: An introduction to debates of the sci­entific revolution 1450-1750. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Griffin, D.R. (1988). Introduction: The reenchantment of science. In D.R. Griffin (Ed.), The reenchant­ment of science (pp. 1-46). Albany, NY: State Uni­versity of New York Press.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The structure of scientific revolu­tions (2nd ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1968). Philisophical investigations (3rd ed.), (G.E.M Anscombe, Trans.). New Yor


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