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Causal or esoteric astrology ?

A REVIEW OF THE NOTIONS OF
SYMBOL, SYNCHRONICITY AND ARCHETYPE
VIS-À-VIS SCIENCE

By Suzel Fuzeau Braesch
Docteur d’Etat ès Science ( = DSc)
Paris University

SUMMARY: The notions of symbolism, archetype and synchronicity in astrology are reviewed in a critical and rational way. It is demonstrated that they can in no way be defended scientifically but are purely literary and “fashionable” notions that undermine the reputation of astrology and fuel the arguments of its critics.

A large number of fairly new and inadequately defined notions are currently circulating in the publications and circles of astrology, all relating to its position with respect to science. A review and critical analysis are therefore necessary.

Among the notions that can be described as “fashionable”, we will focus mainly on synchronicity, archetype and symbolism, which will at the same time lead to considerations of the notions of conscience and cosmic energy, among others.

The Astrological Journal of London (1) published a historical research study by a student following a Master’s Degree programme at Kepler College in the US. She analyses the long and complex evolution of two astrological movements. The first she refers to as “oracular” (Babylon), in which the stars and planets are signs of the gods. The second she calls “causal”, and was adopted by Ptolemy in his Tetrabiblos, in which he affirmed that the elements of the sky in question “produce impressions” on the earth, thus initiating a determinist trend in astrology.

An analysis of the different concepts mentioned shows the constant convergence of alternation, scientific or non-scientific astrology, which is consubstantial with any debate.

Alain Nègre (2, 3), despite being a physician and claiming to have discovered the viability of astrology by interpreting his own theme, defends a position that is far removed from his causal vision. In the opinion of this author, astrology has nothing to do with science and is, according to one of his expressions, “the poetic listening of inner nature (of oneself)”(2). It remains to be seen what precisely is this “inner nature”.

Patrice Guinard (4), a doctor of philosophy, goes much further when he writes about astrology in the following terms, “the chaos to which modern materialist thinking leads, which I predict - not as an astrologist - will collapse in the medium term”. This implies that he totally rejects the objectivity - materialist in the philosophical meaning of the term - of science.

Yet many astrologers, honest practitioners, do not pose questions about the scientific nature of astrology. For them ‘it works”, just like a laboratory technician can who carries out an experiment without being aware of its foundations. It is rather surprising to observe that one of the rare scientific approaches frequently puts forward gravitation to “explain” astrological phenomena linked to the sky of birth, but without having any proof, even for those who resort to an alleged difference at this level between the “aquatic environment and the air environment”. This clearly reveals a lack of understanding about pregnancy: the baby is not immersed in a huge pool but only surrounded by a little water. This cannot justify gravitational differences and only leads to providing arguments for critics of astrology.

What is even more serious is the rejection of science asserted by a wide movement, resulting in a total esotericism, such as the “symbolism” adopted, for example, by the astrologer, S. de Mailly Nesle. “I believe, in fact, that one should go beyond the opposition between science and astrology”, she writes. “It is a false debate. It is a controversy that belongs to the past.” (Astrological Review, n° 119). At first sight it seems to be an appealing idea. However, the reason why she puts forward this conclusion is to reject science, because in her view, everything is - or will become - spiritualist and esoteric. This point needs to be examined a little closer.

First of all, according to this astrologer, science and astrology correspond to two different paradigms because “astrology is based on the symbol”. Accepted. This indeed seems to be convenient as a means of expression. Every planet or every sign of the Zodiac has its symbol, for example  represents Aries, just as (Cu) represents copper for chemists. But we have not yet grasped the idea because “the symbol is based on an intuitive perception of man and nature […]. In astrology […] man and the world are not separated, they are united by inter-subjectivity.” Nothing expresses more accurately the thinking of the author, which is at the opposite extreme of science. By using the word symbol in this way, she immediately places herself on the side of total esotericism. The symbol becomes the alpha and omega, beyond which this there is nothing to add, nothing to search for or to study. This is how she sees the Sun: “it represents the centre of gravity of the individual, the ideal he seeks to achieve, the centre of the organism, that is to say, the heart”. All this is a figment of the imagination, expressed in a highly literary language that is remote from science. It should be noted in passing, that the Sun is a masculine word in French, and therefore lends itself to unfounded extrapolations (other masculine examples being heart, and for many astrologers, father). In German, on the other hand, it is in the feminine (Die Sonne). The moon is masculine in German but feminine in French, numerous French-speaking astrologers believing that it represents mother, femininity, etc.

The same author has something important to add. She rejects statistics, even though this is the only method capable of demonstrating the reliability of astrological rules. The “symbol first finds its roots in the interiority of the human being by reflecting itself from the outside”. This is quite incomprehensible. And she continues, “Statistics do not take the exterior aspect into account since they truncate the idea of the symbol and reduce man to a quantifiable statistical object […]. This does not represent the globality, the truth of the symbol.”

At no point can this esoteric, imaginary and, in the final analysis, purely literary “symbol” be understood. As for its theoretical aspect, it certainly requires an extraordinary amount of self-assurance to present in the same text the astrological symbol as being “at the same time corporeity or non-corporeity, resembling in this way the particle that is both a corpuscle and a wave”. It is useful to note at this point the contradiction that now consists in resorting to a science, quantum physics, but again only to concoct some sort of esoteric “sauce”. “It has been demonstrated in quantum mechanics that the observer is not separated from the object he studies, or has not drawn conclusions from it, that is to say, the integration of the psyche in the experimental process.” This is a common area for all pseudo-scientific spiritualities, which Professor Omnès, a theoretical physician at University of Orsay, denounces with competence. “If it had to be thus, no fact could ever be proved definitely. The very notion of fact, even though it is at the basis of every science, would be in flagrant opposition to the theory […] there is an attempt to turn quantum physics into the pretext for a universal doubt and the wildest dreams”. And he continues, “the holistic and extremely non-local aspect of quantum physics, about which we have been sick and tired of hearing, turns out to be the fruit of a logical inconsistency, and it vanishes at the same time as the elements of reality […] the formal (that is to say, mathematics) alone makes it possible to fully define the extremely subtle nature of the quantum world.”

This is not what quantum physics is all about, except for spiritualists who want to appropriate all they can without a real understanding. For S. de Mailly Nesle, astrology is an exclusively spiritual approach, without any scientific basis or explanations. She is free to believe so but not to distort the debate. What she wishes to do, in fact, is to “identify in our space-time the manifestation of archetypes, of Gods.” To achieve this, she again resorts to serious notions that she adopts without any real justification. The space-time of Einstein and the “archetypes” of Jung fit her purpose. Using a fashionable vocabulary, what she finds there are, in fact, the archaic positions of the Mesopotamians who attributed a divinity to each star. Distorting the debate? Yes, because she makes erroneous allegations about other authors, including myself. Commenting on my book “Astrologie la preuve par deux”, published by Laffont in 1992, she writes, “the author, who is convinced of the exactitude of astrology, uses the statistical method to ‘demonstrate’ (the quotation marks are not mine) her certainties. But this convert lacks something that is nevertheless essential: her work contains no reference to symbols. Her approach is founded on a model of scientism that seeks to ‘squat’ in astrology by withdrawing its fundamental properties from it.” It is necessary to comment on a number of points, which are unfortunately repeated frequently. The use of quotations marks for the word “demonstrate” ridicules the scientific statistical approach. Her description of me as a “convert” is pejorative (is astrology a religion?). She calls me a “scientist” squatting in astrology, thus revealing that the author is unfamiliar with scientific method. She constantly displays this attitude in different texts, in which refers to those who do not share her opinion as “magico-determinists”, for example, thus merging in a comical fashion two notions that are poles apart from each other and creating further confusion.

It is useful to understand how these famous “symbols” function. The same author points out, for instance, that during the month of March, that of Aries and the beginning of spring, “temperatures rise, young shoots push up the earth”, etc, thus seeking to give concrete expression to the symbol Aries. However, she conveniently forgets about the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are reversed even though the signs of the Zodiac are the same. Over there, young shoots push up the earth for the good reason that it is autumn. Forget about precise and scientific minds! This omission in taking the other hemisphere into consideration, it should be noted, tends to be rather widespread among astrologers. Why? Because “stars are the reflection of oneself, one should not delude oneself”, writes the astrologer D. Lustig (6). Here again, it is a question of Babylonian “oracular” astrology since there is no star-man causal link but simply an unexplained and unexplainable reflection. This is perhaps humanly conceivable since the author writes honestly, “when living a large part of one’s life with astrology, one is led to live with symbols and to think with symbols”. This reveals a gradually distorting mental mechanism but it cannot justify the objective validity of the esoteric “symbol” under any circumstances.

At this level of analysis, it is impossible to omit references to the psychoanalyst Jung in the use of this symbolism. In a recent work (7), S. de Mailly Nesle writes, “in the past, a symbol was the expression of a tie with a transcendent world”. She quotes Jung, “a symbol always supposes that the chosen expression designates or formulates as perfectly as possible certain relatively unknown facts, the existence of which is nevertheless established or seems to be necessary […] Only the symbol is alive, which for the spectator is the supreme expression of what is present but not yet recognised. It therefore incites the subconscious to participate.” The author adds, “the hold of a certain scientistic approach over our civilisation has made us lose the meaning of the symbol […] especially in astrology.”

Before going back to Jung, a remark should be made about the use of the word “scientistic”. As a scientist, I find it amusing because this word is used to describe me in English-speaking countries. In English, it simply means a “scientist” or “scholar”. In French, however, it is frequently used in a negative sense, as a term to describe “scientist with a narrow-minded and dogmatic materialism, without spirituality or transcendence”! In my view, there is only one scientific method: experimental and causal. The origin behind this pejorative use of the English word “scientistic” in astrological circles is a manifesto written in English, signed by 186 scientists, precisely “scientists”, and published in 1975, that was violently and foolishly against astrology.

An appraisal is useful to define briefly the “symbolic” position in astrology before analysing the case of Jung further:

  • symbol = spiritualist concept which can be assimilated to a purely literary form and is not based on anything objective;

  • the use of esoteric commonplaces that tend to resort to the scientific advances of modern physics, without a genuine knowledge of it, under the aspect favoured by the media.

It should not be concluded from the above that astrologers who think are all opponents of the scientific position or that they are uneducated. Mention can be made, for example, of the astrologer A. Le Bau who claims “physical causality as opposed to symbolic relationship”, and writes, “I cannot help reacting to such a thesis, which does us a disservice vis-à-vis our detractors […] the word symbol has become a free-for-all for astrologers.” There is also the example of the astrologer J.P. Nicola who considers that the Zodiac is not founded on esoteric symbols but on concrete seasonal variations resulting in a Pavlovian excitation-inhibition concept.

As for Jung, who is so much in fashion in astrological circles these days, the subject needs to be studied in depth.

He started out as a disciple of Freud (1907) - who was pleased to see that his work appealed to non-Jewish circles (8) - until their split a few years later (1913). Jung developed themes often found in astrological literature: “synchronicity” and archetypes”. He was fascinated by orientalism and showed a marked taste for the occult that was not shared by Freud.

In 1919, Jung introduced the notion of archetype to define “a pre-existing unconscious form that determines the psyche and provokes a symbolic representation (the underlining is mine) appearing in dreams, art, religions […] The archetypes constitute the collective unconscious that belongs to all of humanity” (9). This notion of “archetype” has for a certain time been taken by storm by many authors in the field of astrology. They have found in it an opportunity to remove from all scientific objectivity the similarities between typologies relating to the planets and the signs of the Zodiac, not yet explained scientifically but which, as will be indicated further on, can be the object of scientific theories in the light of current knowledge. Jung therefore serves as a support - the famous reference - for the development of esotericism in astrology. His personal background has been forgotten everywhere, including his racism that prompted him to distinguish between the “Aryan unconscious and the Jewish unconscious”, stressing a superior potential for the former with, in addition, a very ambiguous attitude towards Nazism. Also forgotten - or else it is not talked about - is the literally maniacal side of his oriental esotericism and the way he isolated himself in his house at Küsnacht in Switzerland, where he decided his ashes would be deposited in a cellar, which he himself decorated in advance. In brief, he was an individual with a strange career that also included a period of interest in astrology itself, yet another reason for adopting him as “one’s man”.

In fact, he tried to carry out a statistical experiment on marriages that has been criticised by Dean and Mather (9). The results have not lived up to expectations and one of our coworker, D. Castille demonstrates all the weaknesses. Even though Jung himself was not convinced by the results, he nevertheless believed that “astrology is only an auxiliary in the appearance of synchronistic events”. Here too, he ends up with an unquestionably esoteric position. It is now time to define this latter notion.

What is “synchronicity”, a term now used so frequently by certain makers of “astrological sauces”?

Jung tells the story of the “bird woman” who one day noticed a concordance between the death of one of her acquaintances and the massive arrival of birds on the roof of her house. For the record, only starlings behave in this way, but on trees and not on roofs. But let us say that there was a tree near the house and that the lady was not very observant. However, Jung relates the next episode. There is another flight of birds and she thinks of another death. It is the death of her husband.

If 20, 50 or 100 hundred similar synchronous cases had been described, one could say there was a problem, a correlation that needed to be analysed. But one single story! For Jung, “synchronicity” consists of two independent facts without common cause but linked by “meaning”, a definition he turns into a principle. “Understood in this way, the principle of synchronicity indicates in the last resort a transcendent connection between all the elements of the universe”, explain the co-authors of a book on this subject (10). Thus the word “transcendent” saves esotericism as a whole from the notion and embellishes it with a reference to the universe. These affirmations are based on a work Jung wrote in collaboration with Pauli, published in 1952, on “synchronicity as a principle of a-causal connections.” It must be admitted that to resort to a so-called “a-causality” - events without a cause - obviously represents a final and indisputable refuge, which in actual fact demonstrates the fragility and, let is be stated unequivocally, the futility of this concept of sychronicity. This is clearly a case of primitive archaism worthy of being studied by anthropologists.

In the final analysis, it is impossible for science and pure common sense to accept these purely literary and high-flown amalgams. It is, in fact, sufficient to read Jung to realise the aberration of these notions, symbols, archetypes and synchronicity. “I have carried out experiments that are, so to speak, ‘inexpressible’, ‘secret’ because one can never describe them exactly and because nobody can understand them (I am not even sure whether I myself have understood them, if only approximately), and ‘dangerous’ in that 99% of the people will think I am mad if I were to relate such things.” (11)

All this is situated in a so-called “post-modernism” that tolls the knell for rationality and objective scientific method. It is useful to recall here the edifying episode of a hoax played by a physics professor at New York University. He wrote an article that parodied the fashion of the day. It was in fact merely a hotchpotch of post-modern ideas. These included “the principle of uncertainty, the questioning of the traditional concepts of space, object, causality, science freed from all dependency on the concept of objective truth, the conscience insistence on symbolism, the theory of chaos that provides us with our deepest understanding of the phenomenon, at the same time mysterious and endowed with ubiquity, non-linearity, etc”, backed by quotations and references. The critics took this hoax very seriously, and the publication went off without a hitch despite serious “referees” (12). Much ink flowed at the time in the United States, but also in France when Sokal disclosed the parodic nature of his text and his anti-conformist goal directed against the famous post-modernism! A book in French, with the provocative title of “Intellectual Impostures “ (A. Sokal & J. J. Briemont, 13), was published the following year denouncing with the help of evidence, these highly fashionable tissues of nonsense. The authors brought to light the confusion over quantum mechanics, the theorem of Gödel, the theory of chaos, etc., which were all the object of intellectual abuse and were used as pretexts for false scholarship. He pointed out with good reason that:

  • one should be sure of what one is talking about when writing

  • all that is obscure is not necessarily profound

  • science is not a “text” or a reservoir of metaphors ready for use

  • all radical doubts concerning the possibility of understanding the world through an experiment should be abandoned.

In a nutshell, the authors denounce “intellectual laziness and imposture, from whatever source”. They protect themselves from irrational tendencies that may be the fashion but are nonetheless suicidal”, reminding us that “our knowledge is always partial and subject to revision, even though this should not be an obstacle to being objective.” (14)

One can also read affirmations that are just as absurd and fanciful as the preceding ones. A correspondence between world events and the discovery of a planet by astronomers, as if its appearance in the sphere of knowledge suddenly and magically gives it a repercussion on the future of human history! And what about the wild imaginings of Paco Rabanne and, alas, many other astrologers on the eclipse of 11 August 1999?

Similarly, notions that are just as devoid of reality frequently originate from the pen of astrologers, such as conscience, often written with a capital “C”, or “cosmic energy”, which have no serious and scientific foundation, and are pure literature.

The conclusion is very simple. All the described astrological movements described based on symbolism, archetypes, synchronicity, conscience or cosmic energy are purely and simply contrary to a scientific view of astrology. They only fuel the attacks by serious adversaries. I do not refer to minds that are paralysed by taboos - they too are irrational - but to those who would like to understand how astrology functions, and I venture to say that there are more of them than generally believed. The latter have been discouraged, and with good reason.

Although the repeated practice of astrological rules and the results of statistics efficiently compiled show the validity of a large part of astrology without the nature of star-man relations being known, it is important to be modest and merely say that scientific research cannot be excluded from the required investigations. The future unquestionably relies on the latter, and two things are therefore needed: open minds (and there is some visible progress) and funds (still lacking in France). If these two conditions are fulfilled, results will certainly emerge.

Theories have already been formulated on possible directions (14), Chapter entitled “How”), those of neutrinos, electromagnetism, planetary tides, the sensitivity of the ADN chains of our cells, the influence of major events, including those of an endocrine nature, taking place during birth, etc. It has already been observed that the behaviour of an adult rat is determined by a fleeting hormonal peak that is produced when coming out of the mother’s womb, whether this occurs in a natural way or through a Caesarean operation. Here is a result linking birth and the long-term manifestation of a pattern of behaviour demonstrated in a laboratory (Université d’Orsay), which could have served as a model for many other experiments. Unfortunately, the professor who initiated this experiment has retired and his colleagues have dispersed to laboratories where funds are devoted to cancer, for example. And a good example it is too.

Despite these irrational esoteric movements that undermine the serious approach to astrology, pessimism is not total. Scientific and causal astrology does exist. But it is first of all necessary to carry out a rational cleaning-up operation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(1) MATEUS M.J., 2001, The Oracular and Causal Models of Astrology, Astrol. Journal of London, n° 43, pp.4-11
(2) NEGRE A., 2000, Science et astrologie: un autre regard, Le monde inconuu, n° 134, pp. 27-33
(3) NEGRE A., 1994, Entre science et astrologie, published by S.P.M.
(4) GUINARD P., 2001, Point de vue, Lettre de la FDAF., n° 22, p. 11
(5) MAILLY NESLE de, S., 1994, L’astrologie, published by La Martinière
(6) LUSTIG D., 2001, Interview, Lettre de la FDAF, n° 21, pp.15-17.
(7) MAILLY NESLE de, S., 2000, L’interprétation du thème astral, published by Du Rocher
(8) ROUDINESCO E., 1997, Dictionnaire de la psychanalyse, published by Fayard
(9) DEAN G. & MATHER A., 1977, Recent Advances in Natal Astrology, a Critical Review, 1900-1976, published by Astrol.Assoc., G.B.
(10) REEVE H., CAZENAVE M., SOLIE P., PRIBRAM K., ETTER N.F., von FRANZ M.L., 1995, published by Albin Michel
(11) JUNG C.G., Letter to Dr. Baur-Cello
(12) SOKAL A., 1996, Transgressing the Boudaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Social Text, 46/47, pp. 217-252.
(13) SOKAL A. & BRICMONT J., 1997, Impostures intellectuelles, published by O. Jacob.
(14) FUZEAU-BRAESCH S. & DELBOY H., 1999, Comment démontrer l’astrologie? Edited by Albin Michel

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