Astrology and quantum theory come together in a standard cognitive model of reality
Published in: Linguaggio Astrale no. 117
Over the centuries, a scientific worldview has caused many conformity problems with astrological thinking. First, the Copernican revolution upsets the anthropocentric faith, dramatically displacing the human being from their central role to project them into a cosmos devoid of analogies. A century later, with the Principia Mathematica, Newton definitively handed over human destiny to the hands of a mechanistic universe completely independent of a spiritual order now considered unnecessary.
The attempt to replace the lost harmony between man and the celestial sphere has, as it were, generated over time an astrological hybrid whose scientific attribute is not immediately prominent but is nonetheless well rooted in the folds of its methods. We refer to the statistical and experimental propensity, which has now wholly entered the baggage of astrological interpretation. This generalisation, which closely follows the probative approach of scientific methodology, consists of “testing” the meaning of a particular planetary configuration based on the coincidence of countless repeated events to verify its analogical accuracy. For example, having established that the natal Mercury-Saturn conjunction in the third house limits freedom of movement, we check the statistical incidence of travel accidents when Mars transits near this configuration. This modus operandi appears legitimate when the astrologer uses statistical memory to support the refinement of symbolic understanding.
The astrologer facing the science
However, there are limits in applying a strictly scientific protocol to astrology, inherent in its holistic nature, referring to unrepeatable individuals who, given the same birth configurations, are subject to events that we cannot trace back to a statistical model. That has not prevented some scholars from actively searching for evidence to support a “scientific” reassessment of astrology. First, we mention Gauquelin, who tries to approach on a causal basis, postulating a complex series of electromagnetic influences at the planetary level capable of determining a “typical temperament” when specific planets are on the horizon or meridian of an individual’s birth chart . Here we are in the presence of a generalisation with its statistical validity, but which has little to do with astrology.
Let us now consider the case of Baron von Klöckler, author of a work that stands as a milestone in astrological treatises, a source of study and consultation of at least three generations of European astrologers . His writings possess impeccable formal precision and consider almost all elements of the traditional astrological background, including obsolete or little-known methodologies such as Ptolemaic terms or Arab-Indian lunar stations. It is an organic approach devoid of that indignation that distinguishes some scholars of other disciplines who, for some reason come close to astrology (von Klöckler was a doctor). However, this will not prevent him from stating that: “Ancient wisdom could be content with dogma: “As above, so below”, while modern man guided by science will seek an exact definition of the series of causalities reigning in astrological relations. Up to now it has not been possible to clearly explain astrological causality according to a radiant theory, whatever it is “. And again: “The current absence of a causal foundation gives the imprint to astrology, by making it purely empirical science. It shares this fate with numerous other disciplines, which nevertheless possess official recognition “.
Therefore, the heart of the matter lies in the eager attempt to provide scientific endorsement to astrology by including it in a causal context that highlights its rank as an experimental science; unfortunately, astrology meets analogic criteria. After all, von Klöckler was also aware of how weak the causal approach was in the traditional sense. He tried to bring into play what he called resonances or harmonies, a complicated system of relations between the physical-chemical and psychological planes and various types of causality, evidently referring to the radiant qualities of the individual planets, hoping for an understanding of the phenomenon in the future. It did not happen, but the merit of providing an adequate empirical basis at a forecasting and interpretative level remains intact.
Ebertin’s approach, the best-known representative of Cosmobiology , is singularly different from those mentioned. Its stated aim is to think of Cosmobiology as a tool capable of unifying the various branches of knowledge – psychology, medicine, history, etc. – using astrology as an investigation tool. To quote his words, “… in the future, Cosmobiology, even without mixing with current philosophies and ideologies, can become a formidable aid for science conceived as a whole “. His initiative is laudable, but not exactly new, as astrological symbolism already deals with multiform layers of meaning. Ebertin attempted a partial liberation from classical astrology methodologies to enhance the investigative tools made available by tradition. In particular, he emphasised the use of midpoints or points of equidistance (the degree of ecliptic longitude in which a planet forms equivalent angles with other two planets), of the aspects divisible by 45 ° and of the 90 ° graph (a graduated circle of 90 ° which facilitates the reading of the midpoints).
Even in Ebertin, and to a certain extent in the Swiss astrologer Witte and the French Choisnard, we find a syncretistic thought scheme to integrate astrology into a unified worldview. However, we are far from reaching the organic compactness that alone can measure the integration between astrological and scientific thought. That is not even attributable to the astrological researcher’s figure since they work with the material made available by the Newtonian heritage.
For at least three centuries, Newton fixed, through the determinism of his laws on the motion of bodies, a process that still today is the basis of scientific verification. Newton’s three rules on inertia, on the proportionality between force and acceleration and on acceleration, state that a body’s motion in space is entirely determined by the forces acting on it once the initial position and velocity are known. That implies that the system’s state at a given instant, whether it is the motion of a planet around the sun, the activity of gas molecules in a container or the parabolic trajectory of a projectile, determines its state at any moment. Now how does Newtonian determinism affect scientific thinking? As Laplace  points out, a higher intelligence capable of knowing at any moment all the forces that control nature and all the entities subject to these forces could incorporate the motion of bodies into a single formula. Ultimately, any action is entirely predetermined, and the whole universe behaves like a giant clockwork mechanism in which everything is established from the beginning.
Scientists, mindful of the need for an event to occur, apply their equations and theories to produce generalisations, or universal laws, capable of explaining the characteristics of physical systems. They define behavioural classes that allow deducing the evolution of a system starting from a known initial state. That is precisely the purpose of the scientific astrologer when he upholds the deterministic thesis and searches for the first causes originating the astrology forecast phenomenon. For intellectual honesty, it is necessary to clarify that the deterministic causation of events is a commonly accepted fact and that we experience every day: let’s think, for example, of the attraction that the moon exerts on oceanic masses; however, there are areas where a rigorous determinism fails to represent reality; the phenomenon of life falls into this category, like astrology.
Jung and synchronicity
Relatively recently, the first scholar to remove causal inheritance from astrology was Jung, with his studies on synchronicity. Jung’s work has no strictly scientific claims. Psychology is located in that still unexplored territory, which acts as a bridge between the physical and the mental; however, he is among the leading exponents of modern Western psychology.
Jung coined the term synchronicity following his studies on the parallelism of specific psychological states, which are not fully understood in causality resulting from simultaneous (hence synchronic) processes. His correspondence with the sinologist Wilhelm deepens his knowledge of the I Ching, in which he recognises the complete unfolding of the synchronicity principle. Speaking of astrology, another branch of his interest, along with alchemy, he wrote: “An example of large-scale synchronicity could then be that of astrology if one had quite specific results. But there are at least some well-attested facts and confirmed by detailed statistics, which make the astrological problem appear worthy of being subjected to philosophical investigation “. Here we find the most illuminating passage: “… the birth horoscope is not based on the actual position of the stars, but an arbitrary and purely conceptual chronological system. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the vernal equinox has largely shifted. Therefore, we cannot base correct astrological diagnoses on the influences of the stars but rather on our hypothetical temporal qualities; that is, in other words: everything that is generated and produced in a given moment carries within itself the specific rate of that exact moment “.
This premise clears away all the deterministic claims made by the defenders of scientific astrology. It establishes that the relationship between human destinies and the cosmos is based on the temporal symbolism of the tropic zodiac and not on the actual astronomical relations generated from the position of the vernal point regarding the fixed stars. The human and cosmic paths seem to run on parallel tracks of analogy, as the hermetic saying fully expresses: “as above, so below, to accomplish the miracle of one thing”. At this point, the attempt to combine astrology and science would seem unlikely – for those who accept the analogical premises – unless one consider one of the theoretical systems that have reformed the panorama of classical physics: quantum mechanics.
Quantum physics: two realities at stake
Until the end of the 19th century, physics’ theoretical and experimental situation rested on the following assumptions: the universe consists of matter and radiation. The matter is subject to Newton’s laws, which, as we have already highlighted, define its state for each instant by knowing its position and speed. The radiation is undulatory and manifests itself in dynamic variables whose components are the electric and magnetic fields for each point of space; the radiation’s wave nature means that it is not made up of corpuscles located in space. Maxwell formulated, around 1870, the theory of the electromagnetic emission of electric charges, later confirmed experimentally by Hertz in 1887.
At the beginning of the new century, some facts occurred that put classical physics assumptions in crisis. It was difficult to formulate a satisfactory atomic model with them. The discovery of X-rays by Roentgen and radioactivity by Becquerel found a somewhat difficult theoretical position, not to mention the difficulties in understanding the experimental data relating to radiation’s thermal emission from a black body . In 1900 Planck suggested that radiation was emitted in discrete quantities, or quanta, to explain a black body’s spectrum. In this way, the radiation acquired a dual nature, sometimes appearing as a wave and sometimes as a particle. This discovery marked the beginning of quantum physics. Subsequently, de Broglie advanced the hypothesis that also the material particles possessed a dual nature, corpuscular and wave; experiments confirmed this hypothesis on the diffraction of electrons by crystals . Heisenberg, Dirac, and others later developed a mathematical theory that underlies current quantum mechanics based on de Broglie-Schrödinger’s assumption.
This brief introduction is necessary to understand wave-particle dualism’s “philosophical” implications. In classical mechanics, Newton’s laws define the evolution of particles; therefore, it is always possible to know the state of a system by describing its spatial and temporal coordinates. On the other hand, quantum mechanics has to do with the indeterminate nature of subatomic reality – corpuscular and wave. Consequently, it replaces a concrete view with abstract mathematical models describing the quantities observed in terms of probability. The so-called wave function, a quantity that is part of the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics , does not establish the exact position or velocity of a particle but the probability that it is in a particular region of space and has some momentum. This statistical vocation of quantum physics is not due to an imprecision in the measurements or to the theory’s weakness but to the intrinsic nature of a quantum particle, which does not possess well-defined specific attributes. This difficulty led Heisenberg to formulate the uncertainty principle, in which the pairs of observable quantities of a particle – such as position and velocity – cannot have an exact value simultaneously: the measurement of one quantity makes the other uncertain. Why do we speak of pairs of physical quantities? In our example, position and velocity would allow us to determine a particle’s future evolution and past; in the absence of one of these data, the story of the particle is a blank page.
We could argue that the quantum paradox results from abstract suppositions in light of these facts. Our macroscopic reality is not affected by such oddities; unfortunately, this is not the case. The quantum hypothesis has been the subject of many experiments, which have all fully confirmed the theory: particles possess an intrinsically indeterminate nature, which leaves the realm of probability only when observed, that is when an experiment is prepared to reveal one of its aspects. Technically it is called the collapse of the wave function. It indicates that the nature of reality decays into a well-defined state when a measurement extracts a certainty from the realm of probability by selecting a specific result from a range of possibilities. It is as if two complementary and superimposable realities coexist, one in which the particle is not observed and does not exist in a precise way, the other where the observed particle shows itself in one of its possible states.
Schrödinger exemplified the problem of the dualistic nature of subatomic reality through the famous cat paradox. Let’s say we have a system – in which even the macroscopic elements are considered quantum – composed of a cat, a radioactive source, a radioactivity detector and a cyanide gas vial. The Geiger counter sensor drives a hammer that breaks the cyanide vial if a core of the radioactive source decays. Suppose that after a specific time from the beginning of the experiment, the quantum state of a nucleus has the same probability of decaying or not; it follows that the cat, being an integral part of the quantum system, is both alive and dead!
The example constitutes the starting point of a heated debate to resolve the paradox whose extreme limits give rise to some explanations. On the one hand, some state that the observer’s conscience when he learns of the experiment results causes the wave function to collapse. On the other hand, the measurement divides the universe into various quantum probabilities – live cat and dead cat – each inhabited by a copy of the observer. The most accredited theory supports the priority of measurement, where the act causes an irreversible change in the detection instruments, a record of the fact that remains available to the observer . We could argue that no actual quantum reality exists when no one observes it. Only the use of macroscopic measuring instruments makes it possible to determine the state of the microcosm of particles. In a series of quantum optics experiments, scientists found that they can postpone knowledge of the corpuscular or wave reality of the photons used in the experiments until the data has been recorded and interpreted; in other words, the researcher determines the outcome of the investigation itself. This scenario gives rise to disturbing and ambiguous explanations: for example, scientists could change the particle’s past. But ultimately, that is the measure of how subjective and objective reality intersect to merge into a unitary vision, testifying that an outer “reality” does not exist permanently.
Ultimately, the subatomic world reveals only the traces left in the measuring and detection instruments – a Geiger counter, a spectroscope, or an accelerator’s bubble chamber. No one can claim to have ever observed an electron or any other subatomic particle. The theoretical physicist’s work consists of constructing a mathematical formalism – an equation – that satisfies the experimental datum; if this equation can predict the result of future experiments, it is considered representative of the reality supported by the experimental data.
Order and chaos
One of the aspects of quantum physics that closely affect astrology’s scientific credibility is the applicability of quantum mechanics in the macroscopic world. The material entities and the life processes we are involved in appear highly organised and do not seem to suffer from the quantum indeterminacy that marks subatomic particles. The debate on how we can integrate the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels is still a source of lively positions from physicists. But the problem is likely to be more apparent than real; quantum mechanics, through the “clues” left in the macroscopic measuring instruments, suggests that beyond a certain level of definition, the nature of reality reveals its “emptiness” in the Buddhist sense, the lack of existence (per se) of phenomena. The quantum paradigm demonstrates the indeterminacy attained when the values of conscious definition reach the minimum threshold, beyond which there is only chaos, an undifferentiated potential from which it is possible to extract some meanings. This indeterminacy essentially unveils that reality is chaotic until we place a conscious interpretation.
The macrocosm appears organised by the order through which consciousness reads the world, and since it is human consciousness, the universe becomes anthropomorphic – on a human scale. Astrology is one of the possible ways to retrieve information about ourselves and the world around us, precisely because the universe – or rather its representation – is in our image and likeness. It is an organism that, at certain levels of complexity, becomes vital in the biological sense. At even higher levels of complexity – see the human one – it harbours self-awareness. Therefore, we can consider the instant of birth as a relationship of analogical equivalence with the cosmos: the space-time site where the birth event takes place becomes the point of confluence of the experiences of a conscious entity that is reflected in its particular vision of the world; here, the laws of analogy and synchronicity have value because the observer and the phenomenon are interdependent; indeed, they are the same thing.
The model of a quantum worldview that favours the observer’s role is not new to Western thought either. The Greek philosopher Protagoras already said, in his treatise ‘The Truth’: “Of all things, the measure is Man, of the things that are, and of the things that are not”. Plato interpreted this cryptic passage as denying the opposition between “essence” and “semblance” as if to say that being and its formal manifestation do not differ. Indeed, the sophist Protagoras proposes a horizon on a human scale, substantially critical of the absolute, relativistic, to reunite opposites through the subtle art of rhetoric. The central claim of sophistry is that we can give two valid interpretations of each argument, whereas rhetoric aims to impose one. It is the equivalent to the investigative methods of quantum physics, which “extracts” the corpuscular or wave reality of a particle by setting up an experiment to reveal an aspect of it.
So far, the contribution of the quantum model to the explanation of the non-causal mechanisms of astrology reveals the common intent of rationalise otherwise chaotic and non-deterministic processes if we extend the quantum factor to the macrocosm. However, we must consider that the human conscience suggests itself as the ordering logos in both cases. There is a quantum principle known as the non-locality principle, which will help define this point.
The non-locality of quantum systems
In classical physics, locality suggests that events occurring at one point in space are affected by what happens in the immediate vicinity. In quantum mechanics, when two particles having a common origin – generated, for example, by the decay of another particle – move away from each other due to the event, they produce correlated results on independently performed measurements. This correlation of distant particles defines quantum physics as non-local. Although he has contributed to the formulation of quantum mechanics laws, Einstein has always been very bothered by the indeterminacy they entailed (his assertion that “God does not play dice” remains famous). Non-locality seemed to him to clash openly with his relativistic theories.
For this, in 1935, he conceived a series of EPR experiments (from the initials of the three scientists) with two colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen. They postulated two physical systems capable of interacting, in that case, the decay of a neutral pion into two photons . The EPR verified that the measurement on a particular photon state mysteriously invalidated the measurements of the second photon, almost as if the latter “knew” that the first photon had been measured. Suppose we imagine the second photon is light years away from the first and take measurements on the two photons “simultaneously”. In this case, the uncertainty in the measurements themselves indicates that photon 2 “knows” that photon 1 has been measured. That contradicts the theory of relativity, which does not allow transmitting messages faster than light. To overcome this contradiction, Einstein proposed the existence of local hidden variables that do not require instant actions at a distance.
IIn 1964, physicist John Bell proposed an experiment to verify the existence of these hidden variables, developing the so-called Bell’s principle of inequality. He showed that hidden local variables could not explain nonlocality and that the particles seemed to cooperate regardless of distance. Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, took on a specific interpretation called the Copenhagen interpretation, arguing that both particles in question, having a common origin, are part of a single wave function. Therefore, it is impossible to say that they are physically independent. Particles show their independence only when measured, but it is unknown whether they possess a definite position and state of motion before that moment. What do we suppose? That all particles interact somehow, and all the particles that make up the universe are part of a single wave function, and the reality of each particle connects with the entire cosmos. We can say that reality appears separate only when subjected to investigation, and this is a further confirmation of analogy’s law, which in this light is understood as a language that allows to “circumvent” the separative illusion induced by rational thought to return to the “quantum” unity between man and cosmos.
What conclusions can we draw from our journey into the chaotic world of subatomic particles? Undoubtedly, non-locality can scientifically explain what appears to be a remote action of astrological configurations. After all, analogy and sympathetic magical principles are none other than the traditional expressive modalities – some would say “primitive” – of a reality that in this century has found scientific expression thanks to quantum mechanics. Frazer himself observed that the formulation of magical laws respected what he called the law of contagion: two things that have been in contact continue to interact even at a distance after being separated .
The problem physics poses in the current research is understanding whether the quantum paradigm has a value at the level of complex systems in the macroscopic realm. For example, biological systems evolve according to a non-local quantum principle as different parts of an organism adapt their development to other spatially distant parts as if they were following a joint project. But this is not enough to say that quantum processes are all needed to explain life. Suppose we do not want to adopt the reductionist thesis which denies any distinctive reality between atomic particles and organised biological processes (the world as a cloud of atoms) or the idealistic hypothesis, which considers reality a purely mental construct. In this case, we must place ourselves in a golden mean where processes and cognitive manifestation are necessary to build the foundations of the reality we experience. We start by assuming that we should not deny quantum laws but rather integrate them with new organisational principles. The evolutionary rules in this sense would suggest that the coincidence between environmental circumstances (for example, prolonged drought) and the genetic coding mechanism causes a remix of the DNA capable of reflecting or creating an analogy between the inside and the outside. The resultant would be an organism genetically adapted to the environment. This hypothesis invalidates Darwinian randomness and all its derivatives.
However, the contribution of quantum physics would redefine evolution as the collapse of the genome (the set of genes present in the chromosomes of a species) into a phenotype (the external appearance of a biological organism). Finally, in the study of the links between micro and macrocosm, it seems that the search for a solution to quantum paradoxes requires premises already pertinent to astrological thought: the link between observer and phenomenon (the identity between man and the cosmos) and the acceptance of non-locality (the analogical link that realises this identity). Therefore, we can say that quantum mechanics allows us to leave the causal legacy of astrology with good reason. However, nothing prevents us from saying that the astrological metaphor contains within itself the seeds for a revolution in scientific thought. All fields of study in which local causality encounters limits (an example for all the finality and cooperation of biological phenomena that do not integrate with the mechanism of local forces acting at the molecular level) could undergo an astrological revision in a holistic sense. Paraphrasing Ebertin’s words on Cosmobiology, quantum physics can bring together the various branches of knowledge under a single banner, allowing astrology, finally free from prejudice, to operate as a unifying principle of scientific and humanistic thought.