Big Think, an American think tank, invites readers to send in videotaped questions to Bill Nye. I sent in my question yesterday about how the Greeks viewed the number zero- how they didn't want to adopt it, even though it could have helped them in their math and science, because of what it represented- the void, nothingness,
I was watching some Bill Nye videos online today, and there was a dismissive comment made about astrology being a pseudo-science. I guess I'm really late to the astrology table and I haven't learnt to cower in fear before the scientific community, I suppose, so I was really surprised. Everyone I've introduced astrology to has had their jaws drop to the floor with how accurate it is. So I decided to google, "Astrology pseudo-science", and it turns out I'm on the wrong side of current thinking on astrology among scientists. Well, I aim to change that.
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.
Amy Schumer wrote a skit for Bill Nye, and it's funny but not funny. Here it is.
I love Amy's sharp mind- that girl has been on fire lately with her skits, and I have all the respect in the world for Bill Nye, although I don't know him that well. I just know he's a comedian-scientist who explains things to the public, and I'm all over that.
When I saw this skit, though, I was a bit dismayed. On the one hand, I agree that the affirmations movement started by Louise Hay in the late 1970's to "claim" support from the universe can be miscontrued to mean we can take in bits and pieces of reality and reject other, more glaring ones, in response to which Bill Nye says sarcastically, "We now know the universe is essentially a force sending cosmic guidance to white women in their 20s."
Ha. Amy and her girlfriend just show us how spiritually retarded the West is, but that doesn't mean we need to quash the impulse behind trying to make sense of life's tangled strands.
What this skit does is completely flatten the mystery of the starry night sky and our millenia-old connection to and fascination with it. Nye and Schumer wave their hand in the face of the complex understanding that the first peoples had of the planets and stars that kept time and anchored stories for thousands of years. The heavenly bodies and their stories essentially provided the means of survival for the human race, allowing it to progress from nomads and shepherds to civilizations who farmed and experimented with animal husbandry, giving way to civilizations who brought us philosophy, mathematics, logic, morality, and art, which eventually gave way to the development of the three major mystic traditions, Christian mysticism in the tradition of the Desert Fathers, Kaballah from Judaism, and Sufism from the Muslim heritage. The universe was found to have spiritual laws before rationality was even beheld by Socrates. Rationality is underutilized today by certain personality types, and overutilized by others. We all need a balance of the two to exist with integrity in this world.
Carl Jung talks about the ying and yang of the divine masculine (knowledge) and divine feminine (context). The former Catholic monk, Thomas Moore, says reason and ego can only take us so far. They CAN take us far, and we need that element, but the wisdom, -- and the emptiness of the other side of the wisdom-- is also needed.
No one wants to appear foolish, so we use our rationality to defend ourselves from the unknown, but we all know people who have been forced into the unknown with an uncurable illness or a divorce, and any transformation that has taken place in the lives of those survivors has come because they embraced the unknown, the mystery, that which is not defined, the vaccuum.
This blog is a call for a conscious "staying" with the discomfort around the paradox of reason and science on the one hand; and mystery and ancient wisdom on the other. As long as we have one without the other, we're incomplete beings.
I don't blame Amy for making fun of people using random t-shirts as signs to validate their immoral behavior. But I disagree with how she used Bill Nye to invalidate any use of mystery at all. Poking fun of those who don't know how to read the signs of the universe is kind of funny, but let's not do it at the expense of the "yin". Any ignorance around it needs to be met with sane formal and information education on how to use it, so we can not only become more intelligent about the universe, but also operate more intelligently within the universe.