Astrology and quantum theory come together in a standard cognitive model of reality
Published in: Linguaggio Astrale no. 117
Over the centuries, the claim of a scientific vision of the world has caused many compliancy problems to astrological thinking. First, the Copernican revolution upsets the anthropocentric faith, dramatically displacing the human being from their central role to project him into a cosmos devoid of analogies. A century later, Newton, with the Principia Mathematica, definitively hands over human destiny into the hands of a mechanistic universe completely independent of a spiritual order now considered unnecessary.
The attempt to provide a substitute for the lost harmony between man and the heavenly sphere has, as it were, generated over time an astrological hybrid, whose scientific attribute is not immediately prominent but is nevertheless well-rooted in the folds of his methods. We refer to the statistical and experimental propensity that 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 so that we can verify its analogical accuracy. For example, having established that natal Mercury-Saturn conjunction in the third house limits freedom of movement, let’s check the statistical incidence of accidents during displacements when Mars transits near this configuration. Such 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, limitations inherent in its holistic nature, referring to unrepeatable individualities that, with the same natal configurations, are subject to events that we cannot trace back to a statistical model. This fact has not prevented some scholars from engaging in the frantic search for evidence to support a “scientific” reassessment of astrology. First of all, we mention Gauquelin, who attempts 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 in the birth chart of an individual . 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 the field of astrological treatises, a source of study and consultation by at least three generations of European astrologers . His writings possess a flawless formal precision and consider almost all the elements belonging to 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 come close to astrology for one reason or another (von Klöckler was a doctor). However, this will not prevent him from affirming that: “Ancient wisdom could be satisfied with the 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. So far, it has not been possible to clearly explain the causality of nature in the radiant astrological theory (italics in the text), 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 twitchy attempt to provide a scientific endorsement to astrology by including it in a causal context that highlights its rank as an experimental science; unfortunately, it 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 attunements, a complicated system of relations between the physical-chemical and psychological planes and various types of causality, evidently referring to the individual planets’ radiant qualities, hoping for an understanding of the phenomenon in the future. It did not happen, but the merit of providing an adequate empirical basis at the forecasting and interpretative level remains intact.
Ebertin’s approach, the best-known representative of Cosmobiology , is singularly different from those just mentioned. Its stated purpose is to think of Cosmobiology as a tool capable of unifying the various branches of knowledge – psychology, medicine, history, etc. – using astrology as an instrument for investigation. To quote his words, “… in the future, Cosmobiology, even without mixing with current philosophies and ideologies, can become a tremendous help for science conceived as a whole “. His initiative is commendable, but it is not exactly a novelty, as astrological symbolism is purposely intended to deal with multiform layers of meaning. Ebertin attempted a partial liberation from classical astrology methodologies to enhance the instruments for investigation 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 also in the Swiss astrologer Witte and the French Choisnard, we find an outline of syncretistic thought to integrate astrology into a unitary vision of the world. Still, 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 he works with the material made available to him 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, establish 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 states at any later time. Now how does Newtonian determinism affect scientific thinking? As pointed out by Laplace , a superior 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 where everything is established from the start.
Scientists, mindful of the necessity that has an event to occur, apply their equations and theories to produce generalisations, or universal laws, capable of explaining the characteristics of the physical systems. They define behavioural classes that allow deducing the evolution of a system starting from a known initial state. That is precisely the aim 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 which we experience every day: let’s think, for example, of the attraction that the moon exerts on oceanic masses; however, there are areas in which a strict determinism fails to represent reality; the phenomenon of life falls into this category, as astrology does.
Jung and synchronicity
In relatively recent times, the first scholar who removed the causal legacy from astrology was Jung, with his studies on synchronicity. Jung’s work has no strictly scientific claims. Psychology is situated in that still primarily unexplored territory, which acts as a bridge between the physical and the mental; however, his name is ascribed among the most outstanding exponents of modern Western psychology.
Jung coined the term synchronicity following his studies on the parallelism of specific psychological states, which he said were not fully understood in the context of causality resulting from simultaneous processes (hence the term synchronic). His correspondence with the sinologist Wilhelm led him to deepen his knowledge of the I Ching, in which he recognised the complete unfolding of the synchronicity principle. Speaking of astrology, another branch of his interest, along with alchemy, he wrote: “An example of synchronicity on a large scale could then be that of astrology if one had utterly specific results. But there are at least some facts well attested and documented, and confirmed by detailed statistics, making 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 merely 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 particular moment carries within itself the specific rate of that exact moment “.
This premise clears away all the deterministic claims expressed by the defenders of scientific astrology, establishing 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 starting from the position of the vernal point regarding the fixed stars. The human and cosmic path appear to run on the parallel tracks of analogy, as fully expressed by the hermetic saying: “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 we consider one of the theoretical systems that reformed the panorama of classical physics: quantum mechanics.
Quantum physics: two realities at stake
Until the end of the 19th century, physics’s theoretical and experimental situation rested on the following hypotheses: the universe is made up of matter and radiation. The issue is subject to Newton’s laws, which, as we have already highlighted, allow us to 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 localised in space. The theory of the electromagnetic emission of electric charges was formulated by Maxwell around 1870 and later experimentally confirmed 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 . Based on de Broglie Schroedinger’s assumption, Heisenberg, Dirac, and others developed a mathematical theory that underlies current quantum mechanics.
This brief introduction is necessary to understand the ‘philosophical’ implications of wave-particle dualism. 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 – corpuscular and wave – of subatomic reality. Consequently, it replaces a concrete vision with abstract mathematical models that describe the quantities subject to observation in terms of probability. The so-called wave function, an amount that is part of quantum mechanics’ fundamental equation , does not establish the exact position or velocity of a particle, but the probability that it is in a particular region of space and that it has a certain momentum. This statistical vocation of quantum physics is not due to an imprecision in the measurements or the theory’s weakness but to the intrinsic nature of a quantum particle, which does not possess well-defined specific attributes. This quandary led Heisenberg to formulate the uncertainty principle, which states that the pairs of observable quantities of a particle – such as position and velocity – cannot have an exact value at the same time: the measurement of an amount makes it uncertain and indeterminable. Why are we talking about pairs of sizes? In our example, position and velocity would allow us to determine the future evolution and past of a particle; in the absence of one of these data, the particle’s history is a blank page.
We could object that the quantum paradox is the result of abstract suppositions in light of these facts. Our macroscopic reality is not affected by such oddities anyway; 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 comes out of the realm of probability only when observed, or rather when an experiment is prepared to reveal one of its aspects. Technically it’s called the collapse of the wave function. It indicates that the nature of reality decays into a well-determined 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.
Schroedinger 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 detector, a Geiger counter, operates 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 an equal 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 close debate to resolve the paradox and whose extreme limits give rise to some explanations. On the one hand, some state that the observer’s conscience when he becomes aware of the experiment results causes the collapse of the wave function. On the other hand, the act of measurement splits the universe into the various quantum probabilities – live cat and dead cat – each inhabited by a copy of the observer. The most accredited theory is undoubtedly the one that supports the priority of the measurement, where the act itself causes an irreversible change in the detection instruments, a record of the fact which remains available to the observer . We could argue that there is no defined quantum reality when no one observes it. Only the use of macroscopic measuring instruments allows determining the state of the microcosm of particles. In a series of quantum optics experiments, scientists found that they can postpone knowing the corpuscular or wave reality of the photons used in the experiments until after the data have been recorded and interpreted; in other words, the experimenter determines the outcome of the investigation itself. This scenario opens to disturbing and ambiguous explanations: for example, scientists could modify the particle’s past. But ultimately, that is the measure of how subjective and objective reality cross each other 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 – be it 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 itself.
Order and chaos
One of the quantum physics aspects that somehow closely concerns astrology’s scientific credibility is quantum mechanics’ applicability in the macroscopic world. The material entities and the life processes in which we are involved appear highly organised and do not seem to suffer from the quantum indeterminacy that marks subatomic particles. The debate on how the two levels – microcosmic and macrocosmic – can be integrated is still a source of lively physicists’ positions. 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 possible meanings. This indeterminacy essentially unveils that reality is chaotic until we place a conscious interpretation.
The macrocosm appears to us 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 get back 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 and at even higher levels of complexity – see the human one – it hosts a self-awareness. The instant of birth can therefore be viewed 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 reflects itself in its particular and perspective 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 world vision that privileges the observer’s role is not a novelty even for Western thought. The Greek philosopher Protagoras already said, in his treatise ‘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 in the sense of 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.
So far, the contribution of the quantum model to the explanation of the non-causal mechanisms of astrology reveals the common intent of rationalising otherwise chaotic and non-deterministic processes if the quantum factor increases to include 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 a point in space are affected by what happens in the immediate vicinity. In quantum mechanics, when two particles having a common origin – being generated, for example, by the decay of another particle – move away from each other as a result of the event, they produce correlated results on measurements performed independently. This correlation of distant particles defines quantum physics as non-local. Despite having contributed to the formulation of quantum mechanical laws, Einstein was always highly annoyed by the indeterminacy these entailed (his assertion that “God does not play dice” remains famous). The non-locality seemed to him to clash openly with his relativistic theories.
For this reason, in 1935, he conceived together with two colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, a series of experiments known as EPR experiments from the three scientists’ initials. They postulated two physical systems capable of interacting, for example, the decay of a neutral pion into two photons . The EPR verified that the measurement on a particular photon state mysteriously invalidated the second photon’s measurements, almost as if the latter “knew” that the first photon had been measured. Suppose we imagine that the second photon is light years away from the first and perform the measurements on the two photons “simultaneously”. In that case, the uncertainty in the measurements themselves indicates that photon 2 “knows” that photon 1 has been measured. That is in open contradiction with the theory of relativity, which does not allow transmitting messages at speed greater than light. To overcome this contradiction, Einstein proposed the existence of local hidden variables that do not require instant actions at a distance.
In 1964, physicist John Bell proposed an experiment to verify these hidden variables’ existence, developing what is known as Bell’s principle of inequality. He showed that the hidden local variables could not explain non-locality and that the particles seemed to cooperate whatever the distance between them. 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 assume? All particles are interacting somehow, and all the particles that make up the universe are part of a single wave function, and that 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 signified as a language that allows to “bypass” the separative illusion induced by rational thinking 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 explain what appears to be a remote action of astrological configurations in a scientifically acceptable way. After all, the principles of analogy and sympathetic magic are nothing other than the traditional expressive modalities – some would say “primitive” – of a reality that has found scientific expression thanks to quantum mechanics in this century. Frazer himself noted 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 value at the level of complex systems in the macroscopic realm. For example, biological systems evolve according to a non-local quantum principle since 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 that is needed to explain life. Suppose one does not want to adopt the reductionist thesis that denies any distinctive reality between atomic particles and organised biological processes (the world as a cloud of atoms) or the idealistic hypothesis that considers reality a purely mental construct. In that case, we must place ourselves in a golden mean where cognitive processes and manifestation are necessary to build the foundations of the reality we experience, assuming that we should not deny quantum laws but rather integrate them with new organisation principles. A rereading of the evolutionary rules in this sense would suggest that the coincidence between environmental circumstances (for example, prolonged drought) and the mechanisms of genetic coding causes a remixing of the DNA capable of reflecting or creating an analogy between the interior and the external. The resultant would be an organism genetically adapted to the environment. This hypothesis invalidates Darwinian randomness and all its derivatives.
Still, quantum physics’s contribution would redefine evolution as the genome’s collapse (the set of genes present in a species’ chromosomes) into a phenotype (the external appearance of a biological organism). In the study of the links between micro and macrocosm, in the end, it turns out that the search for a solution to quantum paradoxes requires premises already pertinent to astrology 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. Still, nothing prevents us from saying that the astrological metaphor contains within itself the seeds for a revolution in scientific thought. All fields of study where local causation meets limits (an example for all the finalism and cooperation of biological phenomena that do not integrate with the mechanism of local forces acting at the molecular level) could “undergo” an astrological review in a holistic sense. Paraphrasing Ebertin’s words on Cosmobiology, quantum physics can bring together the various branches of knowledge under one flag, allowing astrology, finally free from prejudices, to operate as a unifying principle of scientific and humanistic thoughts.