“The atheist is God playing hide and seek with himself”
– Sri Aurobindo
The editorial and opinion section of this website is full of discussion about the limitations of the skeptical point of view. Excellent astrologers have written cogent pieces about the origins, limitations, and logical fallacies of skeptics. There’s even an article, In Praise of Skeptics, that illuminates the positive role they play in dispelling superstition and ignorance.
If we check the historical record we notice that the arguments between astrologers and skeptics are not new. The Tetrabiblios, written by the astrologer Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century C.E., outlines criticisms of astrology and the refutation of them in a way that is remarkably similar to the arguments of today. Cicero’s book On Divination doesn’t deal exclusively with astrology, but he mercilessly chides all those who practice any form of divination with a very modern-sounding skepticism.
It seems that some folks are disposed to consider the possibility of astrology, divination, and what we generally call the paranormal, and some folks aren’t. At least two thousand years of dialogue on the matter has done little to change minds – in fact it has done little to change the arguments! The idea that there are different types, personalities with dispositions that allow or prohibit consideration of things beyond the physical isn’t new. We find indications of it in the works of Carl Jung and William James, both of whom acknowledged that they were building on the work of predecessors. While not specifically pertinent to the question of astrology, the well-known dichotomy between the Platonic and Aristotelian views is in some ways foundational to the idea of types: Plato saw the physical world as a mere imitation of a nonphysical world of forms, while Aristotle was decidedly more down to earth.
Essentially, those people who give precedent to the physical world tend to have great doubts about anything that is not rooted in objects of sensation. This view, which is very popular in contemporary science, assumes that matter is primary, life derives from matter (and energy), and consciousness derives from life. From this perspective, astrology, divination, telepathy, and such are all more or less impossibilities.
The Other Viewpoint
The other viewpoint recognizes that consciousness in some form is just as primary as matter. Rather than being derived from matter, consciousness is coexistent with or even primary to the physical universe. Our interior experiences are just as real as external events. Beyond that, consciousness is seen as an active force in cosmos, something that doesn’t just passively register events and catalog them, but which plays a part in shaping the physical world.
Logically, neither of these viewpoints can be proven – a chicken-and-egg regression is always possible. What one sees as the original term of the equation, matter or consciousness, does indeed seem to be a matter of temperament. Materialists argue that the evidence favors their point of view, but then one would expect that data taken exclusively from matter supports materialism. Skeptics demand, following Carl Sagan, that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Yet they do so without ever considering that the extraordinariness they refer to is only so from a material perspective. At any rate, parapsychologists have been dishing out extraordinary evidence for decades, and the skeptics are not impressed.
Those of us seeking resolution to the argument want our perspective to win. We want the other side to realize the errors of their ways and come around. If history is any indicator, both sides will have to wait a very long time. The elusiveness of resolution may not be entirely a matter of one side or the other being foolishly obstinate. Perhaps this disagreement is a reflection of something that is (nearly) endemic to the cosmos, an almost-necessary component of existence.
The Cosmic Game
That seems like quite a statement, but it is not without support. The demand that we take a material perspective, denying consciousness a primary place in existence, is a part of what philosopher Alan Watts referred to as “the taboo against knowing who you are.” Watts was describing the personal dimension of the Hindu concept of Maya – the veil of illusion that screens us off from reality. For if we were to realize that consciousness – and each of us is part of a greater consciousness – is the operative force behind and beyond the physical, it would threaten to ruin what psychologist Stanislav Grof calls the cosmic game.
If we were to be truly aware of the prevailing condition of things, if we knew that the universe is a construction of consciousness, and that we are all part of an immense game in which a super-knowing mind hides itself from itself in an ongoing process of involution and evolution, then we would lose the excitement and thrill of discovery. Like patrons of a film or players at a Monopoly tournament, we would know that reality isn’t real, that our deepest separations and our most tormented divisions are but roles that we are playing for a time.
The ongoing dialogue between skeptics and astrologers is an extended debate within our species that parallels processes that take place within each of us. The force that seeks to awaken to consciousness competes with the force that seeks to keep us where we are so that we can play the game for another round with maximum investment in the outcome. If astrology works, there is a meaningful connection between consciousness and matter. Thus consciousness must be both real and powerful – and that is a conclusion that threatens to send a person off on the quest to find the reality behind the cosmic game.