Tonight I wrote a letter to the National Science Foundation, who, every second year, survey Americans on, among other things their views and opinions on scientific matters. One question asks respondents, "Do you think astrology is scientific?" And to the horror of the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, in 2014, 45% of Americans thought astrology was somewhat or very scientific. I admire these guys a lot, but I disagree with them on 1) the validity of the question's wording, and 2) their interpretation of the statistic.
What does it really mean to "believe in" astrology, and how can the NSF encourage a little more sanity and groundedness around Americans' spirituality?
Hi there, my name is Erin Mulligan and I'm the owner of Rhode and Company in Canada where we (I for the moment) advocate for better spiritual literacy. We also advocate for scientific literacy, just so you know; we just believe one is no greater than the other.
I have a suggestion for changes to the wording in your question on your Science and Engineering Indicators poll about opinions on astrology.
You ask if Americans think astrology is scientific, but my guess is you're actually trying to gauge if people think it's accurate, or useful, or if they make decisions based on what they learn from their chart. Am I right? Of course it's not scientific. You'd have to change the definition of science in order for a wisdom tradition to squeeze into the Aristotilean delineation around logic and reasoning. Asking if astrology is scientific is like asking if women are men. Clearly they fall into very distinct categories; one is for knowing the outer world, and the other is for knowing the inner world and they use different skill sets entirely. You certainly wouldn't use science to measure someone's emotional intelligence, so why is astrology- a beautiful, robust, and incredibly useful system being measured against its "male" counterpart?
Carl Jung would have called these two categories I'm referring to as the masculine and feminine principle, or the animus and the anima; Asians would call it the yin and the yang. My guess is it's probably a little out of science's grasp to try and measure a mystic tradition, so why go there? As far as I know, astrology isn't trying to impress science, just like women aren't asking men, "Am I a legitimate human being?" and Italians aren't asking the French, "Are we French enough for you?" Astrology is a language unto itself that takes many years to learn, and decades to master.
By selecting, "yes, I believe it's scientific" pollsters are opened up to guffaws by actual scientists like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who know that you need to meet a certain set of standards to say something is scientifically valid- a legitimate pursuit, but not astrology's aim. Asking people to judge if astrology is a science necessarily makes them look foolish because astrology is in an entirely different epistemology, just like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness is a third and equally powerful epistemology.
Self-knowledge correlates with higher emotional intelligence, which in turn correlates with better leadership skills and reported life happiness-- all skills neceessary for getting the world's population out of some of the toughest dillemmas it's ever faced. And yet the inner world is a very vague and mysterious place sometimes. Ask any wife if their husband can clearly articulate why they always [fill in the blank with something that annoys the hell out of them], or ask any man if their wife can do the same. Just like women's medicine has always baffled male doctors, so we don't expect male scientists to automatically "get" a feminine spirituality*. It takes a motivation to start with usually, like a divorce or a death in the family, or a serious illness, and then a journey begins.
Not only do we call on society to honor the male and female principle, but as Jung also said, we have both the feminine and masculine within each of us, meaning all of us have the impulse to explore and learn about our outer worlds, as much as to explore and learn about our interior world. In men, the latter impulse is discouraged, as you are probably well aware, and as the numbers of STEM graduates reflect. Making "believing in astrology" a lightning rod for scientists by getting pollsters to conflate it with science does nothing to encourage the self-knowledge journey (which, by the way, happens in men later in their careers, often as they're retiring and can't have the same impact as if their aha! moment happened in their 30's).
On the other hand! We agree that making decisions based on horoscopes in the newspaper or online is quite a bad idea. General horoscopes like that are written in very, very broad brushstrokes based on the 12 ancient archetypes. Not always, but sometimes they can be quite accurate-- I got into astrology because I read a horoscope that said I was going to double-book myself that week, and that Wednesday, I actually triple-booked myself. It made me do a double-take. However, I have also then gone on to make the mistake of basing decisions on what I read on a horoscope from the internet, and now that I've learned my lesson, I just get readings done by a professional astrologer which are more accurate because they have my specific birth data. So I no more advocate for sloppy spiritual practices than you do for sloppy scientific ones. My astrologer, by the way, studied with Carl Jung's daughter and is one of the most highly sought-after astrologers in the United States. She was recommended to me by a male 50-something American angel investor, a former Fortune 50 executive who has his own spiritual practice now.
The mission of my company is to raise the profile of ancient self-knowledge traditions that grew out of Socrates' admonition to know yourself before pursuing any other kind of knowledge. Science, math, and engineering are wonderful and meaningful pursuits, but in order for their practitioners to be fully "in touch" with reality, they need to be counterbalanced by the feminine principle of the dark, mysterious, inner, and the spiritual. These characterisitics are notions that balance out the brazen, often unfounded over-the-top self-confidence and old-boys' club mentality that has gotten our environment into some pretty deep trouble.
In order to encourage thoughtfulness, groundedness, and sanity around spirituality, I ask you to please re-think how your astrology question is worded. I believe you can make a difference in western mentality by changing it so people aren't forced to choose between astrology and science.
All my best,
Rhode and Company
*By calling astrology feminine, I don't mean to exclude men from the practice or benefits of astrology. I just mean it calls for a kind of intuition that Jung associated with the anima. Any man can develop it, just as any woman can develop characteristics associated with the animus.