ASTROLOGY IN THE LIGHT OF THE 21ST CENTURY PARADIGM SHIFT - Part I
By now it must be apparent to most people that we’re living through exceptional times. With revolutionary turbulence and local wars flaring up like wild fire, with economies teetering on the verge of collapse and the climate so destabilised that catastrophic weather events are occurring world-wide, we face unprecedented challenges. The natural environment that has supported life on our planet for many millions of years is so heavily impacted that countless species have gone extinct and systems are breaking down. With rampant global warming heating it up, a critical juncture has been reached in our evolution. Could we be heading for another great extinction? And if a green-house effect wipes out life on earth, leaving our planet like Mars, a barren sandy desert, who cares?
Deep space exploration with the latest telescopes has expanded the sky to reveal suns upon suns and galaxies upon galaxies. Over five hundred exo-planets (planets outside our solar system) have been discovered so far, most far larger than ours. We’re just a tiny dot in the vastness of space it seems! The sky appeared very differently to our ancestors who lived in pre-history. In the words of Joseph Campbell: ‘The mystery of the night sky, those enigmatic passages of slowly but steadily moving lights among the fixed stars, had delivered the revelation, when charted mathematically, of a cosmic order…A vast concept took form of the universe as a living being in the likeness of a great mother, within whose womb all the worlds, both of life and death, had their existence.’ How good it would feel to be sheltered and nourished again by a great mother sky goddess!
Fig. 1: Nut, the Egyptian sky goddess, nourishes and protects Geb, the earth.
What we urgently need at this crisis point in our evolution is a new worldview to give our lives meaning again. The old religious, political and cultural myths are losing their hold and leaving a vacuum. Perhaps the present Uranus-Pluto square offers a window of opportunity for a new world picture to emerge, especially as Pluto is in Capricorn and in mutual reception with Saturn, correlating with tremors and transformation in the deeper strata of the collective unconscious.
Fig. 2: Pilgrim’s emblem in Chaldon church, Surrey
This is a copy of an emblem painted in the twelfth century on the wall of church on the Pilgrim’s Way in Surrey, England. If you look at it and see a cross, go on looking and suddenly a shift will occur and you’ll see a four-petalled flower. Stare at the flower long enough and the cross will appear again, giving you a mini-experience of a paradigm shift.
A paradigm is like a pair of spectacles that’s got stuck on our nose. Through them the world appears with a particular slant. Since the seventeenth century our Western conditioning has geared us to seeing the world from the scientific-materialist perspective, which vested interests seem keen on maintaining. The celebrity scientists promoted by the BBC, for example, give us the official version when they describe evolution as a random affair driven by physical and chemical mechanisms, and imply that homo sapiens, who they see as little more than a robot, was accidental. They find no deeper meaning or purpose in the universe. And as there’s nothing sacred in it, so everything it offers can be appropriated for profit and power!
The good news, however, is that a new cosmology is in the process of emerging, supported by some areas of post-modern science (quantum physics, evolutionary biology and systems science for example). And it not only offers values and a framework of meaning for our lives, but it can also accommodate astrology both philosophically and practically. It even suggests a credible explanation of how astrology works!
First think back to the last paradigm shift of magnitude, which occurred in the early seventeenth century when the heliocentric world picture replaced the geocentric, and the ascendancy of the scientific-materialist paradigm began. Galileo with his newly invented telescope provided evidence for the Copernican theory that the earth moves round the sun, not vice versa. And the way people saw reality suddenly shifted, which seriously spooked them. As the poet John Donne wrote in A Valediction, the ‘Moving of the earth brings harms and fears, Men reckon what it did and meant.’
That was when scientists began to compare Nature to a machine. The astronomer Johannes Kepler, for example, wrote, ‘The celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to clockwork.’ Reductionism, whereby wholes are explained in terms of their parts, became the accepted approach to phenomena accounted for by mechanical cause and effect. Only the outer world of material objects was seen as really real; subjective life with its feelings, dreams and intuitions was less real or imaginary. And there are still plenty of scientists around today who see all the experiences of our inner life as the effects of brain chemistry. Thus the universe was bankrupted of all meaning beyond utility, and science was employed to discover Nature’s secrets in order to dominate and exploit her.
According to the scientific-materialist paradigm, we are separate entities living in a world of other people and material objects. Alienated from Nature and our fellow creatures and locked up in our heads, no wonder we feel insecure and suffer from existential ‘angst’. Science has no remedy save drugs, being blind to the symbolic dimensions of human life that can give it significance and purpose. But for how much longer?
Although its foundations were shaken a century ago by Einstein’s relativity theory and the development of quantum dynamics, scientific materialism has remained the dominant paradigm in our society. And the two revolutionary insights of quantum theory, which would have the power to change our reality – namely oneness and inter-relatedness – have been brushed under the table. The findings of quantum mechanics are said to apply only to the sub-atomic level of existence, and to be irrelevant on larger scales where the universal laws of nature hold sway. However, as the maverick biologist Rupert Sheldrake has shown, a belief in fixed universal laws is one of the many unproved assumptions underlying the scientific-materialist paradigm.
In his recent book The Science Delusion Sheldrake criticizes ten unproven assumptions on which the materialist paradigm is built and seriously undermines it. He comes to the conclusion that, rather than being something static and unchanging, the universe is a dynamic, on-going process, and more like a living creature than a machine, with its ‘laws’ being temporary habits.
The failure of the genome project to explain the difference between a man and a chimpanzee on the basis of their genes has hammered another nail into the materialist’s coffin. After its results were published he had to admit that genes do not mechanically create what we are. Instead we live in a fluid give-and-take receptivity with our environment, whose factors, as epi-genetic research is showing, can switch our genes on and off. Even the simplest life forms are now seen as living systems with flexibility and a certain intelligence, as demonstrated in the creative ways they adapt to changing conditions.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields can account for many natural phenomena that defy simple cause and effect explanations. ‘Minds are closely connected to fields that extend beyond brains in space, and also extend beyond brains in time, linked to the past by morphic resonance and to virtual futures through attractors,’ he writes. For example an over-arching morphic field, in which each individual shares, can explain the way termites carry out their tasks in tune with the needs and purposes of the colony as a whole. Sheldrake also proposes that morphogenetic fields govern the development of embryos by providing the information needed to position the different cells, thus coordinating the formation of their parts.
Another discovery that’s causing the materialists a headache is the ‘anthropic principle’ or Goldilocks effect. It has been computed that, of the potentially millions of planets in the universe, only a small percentage will be just right – like the baby bear’s porridge – and provide the necessary conditions for life to develop. In fact Fred Hoyle once said that the likelihood of life evolving on a planet is so small that, when it does happen, it’s like a hurricane blowing through a scrap-yard where the pieces of a Boeing 707 lie scattered, and assembling them by chance! The anthropic principle, of course, gives ammunition to believers in ‘intelligent design’, together with the geometry identified in natural forms that seems to prove the world was created by a god who was good at maths.
However chaos theory is able to demonstrate that geometry can emerge in Nature without the aid of a creator god. Computer simulations based on the iteration of numbers enact the emergence of fractal patterns from chaos, mirroring the evolutionary processes that repeat in the natural world on all levels of scale. And, following this discovery, words like ‘emergence’ and ‘self-organization’ have been increasingly used by progressive cosmologists to describe evolutionary processes.
Above all the concept of nested hierarchies introduced by systems theorists turns out to be very relevant to the new cosmology. Single phenomena can be seen as belonging to systems, which are contained in ever larger systems to create a nested hierarchy like a Russian doll. Thus the universe, as the largest known whole, is made up of a series of systems that themselves are all wholes at lower levels. And, as each level includes all the lower ones within it, the universe is a unity – one vast ‘holon’ (Arthur Koestler’s word) with inter-related parts.
Fig. 3: A nested hierarchy
The full meaning of any part can only be understood in the context of its larger whole, and thus meaning is top-down from this perspective. In contrast the reductionist’s approach to meaning is bottom-up; he attempts to explain wholes in terms of their parts. However the model of the nested hierarchy implies not only that particulars should always be understood in terms of the wholes to which they belong, but that wholes are greater than the sum of their parts. As Plotinus said, ‘The life of the universe does not serve the purposes of each individual but of the whole’. And in part two of this article I will demonstrate the repercussions of top-down meaning for astrological interpretation.
So a new cosmology is emerging based on the conception of the cosmos as a living organism rather than a lifeless machine, containing within it the various systems of creation. The fact that the whole interfuses with its parts explains their interconnection, and also why each part holographically contains information relating to the whole. We are reminded of the Hermetic axiom ‘as above so below and as below so above’, with its corollary of the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm that is central to astrology. The human individual is a mini-universe, and the universe a maxi-human.
Perhaps the new emergent paradigm is echoing a very ancient one – the conception of the world as a giant organism alive with gods, and with affinities between its components. As Plotinus wrote, ‘This one universe is all bound together in shared experience and is like one living creature, and that which is far is really near…and nothing is so distant in space that it is not close enough to the nature of the one living thing’. When the primal ‘participation mystique’ was replaced by the scientific-materialist viewpoint of Aristotle and the Greek naturalists, this also caused a paradigm shift of magnitude. Richard Tarnas illustrates it in Cosmos and Psyche using the following diagram.
Primal World View Modern World View
The physician Larry Dossey has recently published a book with the title One Mind which I haven’t yet read, but the description suggests it’s in tune with my line of thought. A universal mind would be the largest holon in a nested hierarchy of minds stretching outwards from the mind of the human individual through the fields of family and community minds, which are contained in the generic human mind, which is within the planetary and the galactic minds, and all are finally embedded in the one great mind of the universe. And Dossey writes, ‘A premise of the One Mind is that we have potential access to an unlimited field of information by virtue of membership in an unbounded domain of consciousness. This can be a shocking realization.’
And, if the macrocosm corresponds fractally to the microcosm of the human individual, it must also have a psyche. The ancients spoke of the ‘anima mundi’ – the soul of the world. So does the universe also have a feeling heart and a creative imagination? That it has an aesthetic sense is demonstrated by the beauty of the colour schemes found in flowers, and the design of the markings on birds’ plumage that reveals exquisite artistic taste.
For me the most revolutionary statement that Tarnas makes in Cosmos and Psyche is ‘the psyche is not in us; we are in the psyche’. This is a very big idea to take in, as we are used to thinking of interiority as being an exclusively human property. However it can release the locked up inner cosmic senses within us, allowing the soul dimension of the cosmos to become our lived experience, and giving us intimations of the sacred.
Advanced thinkers today are promoting a vision of a unified cosmos with one energy or life-force manifesting in all that exists. We can see ourselves as individual expressions of this whole, with our minds participating in the intelligence of the universal mind, and our hearts beating with the heart of the cosmos. This approach gives us a co-creative role, as what we think, do and feel will influence the whole. Thus our values and our choices in life have far-reaching significance. The scientific-materialist glasses we’ve been wearing created the illusion that we are isolated singularities marooned on a lonely planet, living lives that are empty of ultimate meaning. But just a tweak is needed to shift this paradigm, and then we could be looking out into a brave new world.
 Quoted by Keiron Le Grice (2010) The Archetypal Cosmos: Recovering the gods in Myth, Science and Astrology, Edinburgh: Floris Books, p. 17.  As in Brian Cox’s BBC series The Origins of Life.  John Donne A Valediction: forbidding Mourning.  Quoted in E.A.Burt (1932) The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Sciene, London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trubner, p. 120.  Rupert Sheldrake (2012) The Science Delusion. London: Coronet, p.108.  Sheldrake Ibid., p. 229.  See Rupert Sheldrake(1995)A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance, Repr. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.  Plotinus Enneads IV.iv 38-9.  Plotinus Ibid., V.i.2.  Richard Tarnas (2006) Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a new World View, New York: Viking. p. 34.  Larry Dossey writing in The Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, No.112, Summer 2013, p.5.
Phoebe Wyss, February 2014 firstname.lastname@example.org