Neil deGrasse Tyson

Open letter to the National Science Foundation

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,

Erin Mulligan

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.

Next step: Now that gay marriage is legal, let's go all the way with gender issues

I wrote this manifesto last night.  It started off that I was just going to write "I fucking love immigrants" somewhere on my site- I couldn't figure out where, so I was like, "I'm just going to write a manifesto, and I'll include that in there. (I don't know why but I just love immigrants sooo much.  They've added so much to Regina over the last 30 years.)  So but the rest is good too- that's my call-to-action for the Western world.

  Carl Jung recognized that we all have the male and female principle within us.  Maybe not like this.  Maybe in a more ethereal way.   Image unattributable because it's from one of those leech sites with all those ads.

Carl Jung recognized that we all have the male and female principle within us.  Maybe not like this.  Maybe in a more ethereal way.  Image unattributable because it's from one of those leech sites with all those ads.

1.  We call for equal status for science, math, logic, and capitalism on the one hand; and mysticism, the void, spirituality and myth on the other.  In Jungianism, these two elements are the animus and the anima; the male and female principles; in the Asian tradition, the yin and yang.  They both originate in similar times and cultural contexts, and they should be rejoined together after millenia of separation.  Neither is superior to the other, nor can they operate fully without the other.  Both are needed for balance in all areas of life. 

  Copernicus was a physician who studied astrology.  The two fields have a surprising amount of overlap.   Image from Wikipedia.

Copernicus was a physician who studied astrology.  The two fields have a surprising amount of overlap.  Image from Wikipedia.

2.  We champion A) self-knowledge (inner) education for the corporate and scientific (yang) communities; and B) business and tech (outer) training for communities of a yin inclination.  Both sides need the other to be fully in touch with reality, because in both camps, our egos viciously lead us away in search of false realities, cementing our antimony.  The future of the planet depends on learning about the interior world as much as the exterior world, and vice versa.

3.  We believe that when more people practice mindfulness, and learn to apply the Enneagram, and other self-observation and self-knowledge tools, the world will be a better, healthier, and safer place.  Self-knowledge engenders leadership; emotional intelligence brings about more "presence", as opposed to reactivity and craving, which the Buddha warned against.

4.  We call for political leaders with a mindfulness and self-awareness practice instead of those who are identified with a particular party.  When self-awareness practices become mainstream, bi-partisanship can be achieved, opening us up to more creative solutions to the world's problems. 

5.  We fucking love democracy.  In the end, though, the capacity for self-awareness is going to be more radical and effective than democracy is currently. 

  New immigrants to Regina, 2013 .  Image from cbc.ca. 

New immigrants to Regina, 2013.  Image from cbc.ca. 

6.  We also fucking love: immigrants, female orgasm, the internet, entrepreneurship and venture capital, High Maintenance (although sobriety's great), Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrology, New York, LGBT, history, pictures from your vacation, sarcasm, and this.

Science and Mysticism: We Need An Interdisciplinary Approach to Life

It turns out that Neil deGrasse Tyson has some pretty strong views on astrology.

Last week I was watching an interview that he did at SXSW last year, and something he said jumped out at me.  The interviewer was Christie Nicholson, a contributing editor of Scientific American Magazine.  She was reading him some stats from the National Science Foundation's 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators (a national survey that's been done every year for over 30 years) to get a reaction from him about what he thought of the state of scientific literacy in the US. 

Warmly regarded as "the peoples' astrophysicist", Dr. DeGrasse Tyson is a big advocate for scientific education for children so they don't fall prey to pseudoscience, and he and American creationists often get at each other's throats over how the universe came to be.  So because creationism contradicts science, I'm not defending the former, but Christianity does tend to get lumped in with astrology and other mystic traditions when his discussions turn to pseudoscience.

Anyway, one of the stats Nicholson used to build a case that America was still highly illiterate in science was that more than 40% of Americans see astrology as highly scientific.  Which is a crazy stat when you think about it.  Astrology is so not mainstream, or acceptable to bring up in conversation in almost any public context besides dates, yet more than 40% of Americans think it's "highly scientific"  I don't know what the definition of "highly scientific" is, as opposed to just normally scientific, but I will say that anyone who has ever had their birth chart read  is blown away with the accuracy of the readings, and after having mine read, and I've spent hours and hours dissecting mine lately, I can't say enough about the value of having it read. 

In my opinion-- and the Greek philosophers agree with me here, so I think I'm in good company-- if you don't know yourself, your knowledge that you've accumulated is dust in the wind.  "Know Yourself" was incribed in one of the pillars at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, which forms the basis of the Western tradition itself.  Science came later with Aristotle's drive for objectivity and logic, but Aristotle was definitely informed in his studies by the Delphic Oracle: "Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom", he said.  I don't want to be put in a position of having to defend astrology, as it's the Enneagram that's my first love, but I mean, the West does have a fascinating mystic tradition that deeply informs us about our nature as human beings, as well as a scientific tradition that is just as honorable, but gets all the attention.  Both, in my opinion, need to share the spotlight. 

Until there's a marriage between science and mysticism, the West will continue to struggle with terrorism, global warming, racism, and disease.  We not only need more informed people, we need wiser people who are self-aware and emotionally intelligent to solve these problems. 

DeGrasse Tyson's rejection of astrology in his discussion at SXSW reminds me that he's an Enneagram Type 8, one of the dominant traits of this type being skepticism and a categorical dismissal of anything that appears weak of "fluffy", and it just shows what you can miss out on when you're identified with the personality.  In essence, he's proving his own point that when you don't know the facts, you're subject to being led astray.  Astrology, the Enneagram, whatever: the whole Western mystic tradition helps you come home to yourself.  Knowing astrophysics without knowing yourself is cool for a while until life comes crashing down on your personal life or whatever kind of mid-life crisis elicits your soul-searching.  (By the way, I love DeGrasse-Tyson and have a TON of respect for what he does.  I just wish we saw eye-to-eye on this subject, and I don't wish him any crises- I just hope he has ears to hear when life does throw him a curve ball.)

I'm proud that my course offers both scientific lenses on the self (astronomy and neurobiology) and mystic lenses on the self: Astrology, the Enneagram.  Both are crucial for a integrated view on the world.  It is going to blow some minds, people.  I'm very excited.