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On Prediction and the Unpredictable
 
by Bill Sheeran



It is a truism that one can't take prediction out of astrology. The work I do on a client's chart before he or she arrives - in a sense anticipating what type of person is going to walk through the door - is predictive work. As is the interpretation of a child's horoscope. This is before one even starts to think about the dynamic side of astrology.

I get good feedback about circumstances unfolding as discussed in consultations. I also note that in the last 15 years I haven't had any feedback about predictions not working, except that I give to myself, largely in relation to mundane work. This observation prevents me from assuming that the feedback I get represents the full picture, unless one thinks the universe is clockwork, and that the astrologer is a machine.

However, I have no qualms whatsoever about presenting myself as a predictive astrologer. What interests me profoundly is the nature of astrology's predictive power. My own experience tells me that it certainly isn't reliable in terms of specifics. The credibility of astrological prediction depends on how one frames the definition of the phenomenon, which determines what kinds of predictive claims an astrologer will make.

I'm particularly interested in exploring the "deep truth" of the unpredictable, which to my mind interpenetrates with the various manifestations of the predictable, from the scientific to the astrological. I don't see how one can become a good predictive astrologer in the absence of any understanding of the dynamics of the unpredictable.

For example, there are at least two dimensions involved (if we ignore the skill and cognition of the astrologer) - the nature of the event, and the timing element. As regards the former, at what point does the predictive power dissolve? OK, you get the car crash event, but did you get the fact that there was a passenger, or that the driver was wearing a red coat, to take the point into the realms of the absurd? In other words, predictive statements can be made within hierarchical field from the generic to the specific to the micro-specific. At some point, one reaches a predictive horizon beyond which 100% guess work sets in. And the same is effectively true for the timing factor. Where, in other words, does one draw the line (or predictability horizon, as I call it)? One can be successful at making a prediction one one level, but fall down on a more specific level.

So there is something to be discussed here, and it does entail acknowledging unpredictability. In other words, applying the archetypes or principles of Uranus and Neptune in particular to astrology itself, rather than just wheeling them out for external use.

As far as attempting to justify astrology in scientific terms, we also need to develop the art of astrology by acknowledging that whatever cosmic principles astrology is revealing, they emerge through and within a worldly context. Above is not separate from below, so lets look at below too. In order to understand astrological phenomena (including prediction), one has to take a good look at the worldly context which modulates its expression. And science is the primary form in our culture which attempts to understand and model that context. A financial astrologer has to understand the contextual dynamics of the world of finance. Astrology does not cause fluctuations in the stockmarket. It is a variable in the overall process.

Contrary to traditional scientific perspectives, the subject is not separate from the object, and astrology is not separate from the astrologer or the context onto which astrology is being mapped. So again, it makes sense to at least take a look at cutting edge developments in the study of cognition and consciousness (regarding, for example, the perception of qualitative time), and concepts from science and mathematics which reveal current ideas about predictability in complex systems, such as those onto which astrology is mapped.

Apart from the fact that this would lead to a greater success rate for astrological prediction, it would also help to develop a philosophical sensibility among astrologers, and probably contribute useful insights for the modelling of astrological theory.

The objectivist materialistic reductionist paradigm of science is fading as part of the general drift of postmodern thinking, and is being supplanted with an holistic paradigm which acknowledges subjectivity, and the need to include a qualitative perspective to counterbalance the quantitative. Astrology, on the other hand, has hardly made it out of the pre-modern era, and it shows. It is certainly time for some re-imagining of the old astrological paradigm. In the current era, astrology is bringing up the rear when it comes to self re-appraisal. The deconstruction and reconstruction of art, music, literature, architecture, science and so on has been underway for most of this century.

In most cases, what is being recognised is the restricting impact of a dogma of stability or order which has its roots in the first patriachal stirrings in Mesopotamia. It was the consistent refining of this dogma through the use of reason, and in the 17th century onwards experimentation, which eventually excluded one of the founder members of the club - astrology. The pursuit of order is the pursuit of predictability.

The course taken was to exclude (or at least mistrust) the unpredictable, the unknowable, the natural, the dark (occult), the left, the feminine, the qualitative, and so on. Astrologers' repugnance at the word "unpredictable" is merely reflecting a cultural bias which is shared with traditional science. However, it is plain and evident that life can be very unpredictable. Why do astrologers ignore that truth? I have yet to see a book on unpredictability for astrologers (though I am trying to write one). The irony is that such a book would make a huge difference to understanding the nature of astrology's predictive power.

Astrology, mathematics and science share the same roots in our cultural cognitive landscape. They are all concerned with mapping order in time and space, whether of a quantitative or qualitative nature. In my opinion, it is an error to fall into the objectivist, materialistic, reductionist trap of maintaining an artificial divide between these three disciplines. This merely indulges a cultural fetish for specialisation, or blandly succumbs to the Cartesian fallacy about the separation of psyche from matter, or subject from object.

Contemporary mathematics in particular is at the forefront of revisioning our perception of order in reality, and is doing so in a way that embraces the inevitability of the unpredictable. It makes sense to me to look at what our estranged cousins are coming up with, as in the long run, we're all at the same game.


Copyright 1999 by Bill Sheeran

All Rights Reserved

This article first appeared as a posting to the Exegesis Mailing List in Dec, 1999, and is archived
as Volume 4, No. 101. It was subsequently published in The Wholistic Astrologer, Issue #3, Feb-Apr 2000.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BILL SHEERAN is one of Ireland's leading astrologers. He has been a full-time professional since 1986, prior to which he worked as a research microbiologist. Bill edited and produced Réalta, the journal of the Irish Astrological Association, for four years, and has had many articles published in European journals. He has spoken at several conferences, most recently in Italy, Denmark and Spain. Apart from client work, his astrological interests lie in the areas of mundane astrology, and exploring the conceptual and philosophical overlap between astrology and contemporary science, especially the fields of complex dynamical systems theory and chaos. He is also collecting an archive of the life and work of the eminent Irish astrologer Cyril Fagan. Bill can be contacted via e-mail: bsheeran@iol.ie



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