In the days before inflation, this kind of question was referred to as a $64 question. Later these became $64,000 questions. But whatever the monetary value of this particular question is, it still hasn’t been answered.
Some people think that the planets send rays of some kind, or perhaps transmit force-fields and affect human life in this manner. This would make astrological influence the result of some kind of purely natural, but as yet unknown, interaction between humans and the cosmos. If this is the case, then astrology is potentially a subject of science pretty much as we know it and, if so, astrology does not really challenge modern science in any serious way.
Science is not threatened by natural phenomena that it has not yet discovered. It is expanded. In fact, whenever science discovers something new using its basic tools and thinking about things in its own peculiar way, it becomes more confident and certain about its ability to answer just about every question that could be asked.
Is Astrology Natural?
So is astrology just an undiscovered natural phenomenon of the kind that is finally amenable to science? Some people think so. These people are not numerous because astrology is considered a heresy by many in the sciences. It is not politically safe in the sciences to mention any kind of correlation between terrestrial and celestial phenomena unless it can be quickly explained in terms of known gravitational or other force-field effects. Anyone who does so has to move quickly to avoid being branded as a charlatan, while making all kinds of disclaimers that what he or she is doing is not astrology. Often even that is not enough to save an investigators reputation. So whether or not we may agree with people who investigate “astrological” phenomena from within the framework of science, as we know it, we do have to applaud their courage.
Is Astrology Magnetism?
One such investigator is Percy Seymour of Great Britain. He has proposed that the phenomena of astrology are the result of planetary influences on the geomagnetic field of the Earth. It is not clear just how the planetary motions affect the earth’s magnetic field, but there is evidence that there may be such an effect.
In the late 1950s and 60s, the late John Nelson of RCA developed methods by which he claimed he could forecast solar flares, sunspots and geomagnetic disturbances well in advance using the heliocentric positions of the planets. In more recent times, Theodor Landscheidt, a former judge of the German court system, has developed a similar system.
A linkup between solar and geomagnetism and planetary positions is an intuitively plausible one, although in some circles it has provoked the usual phobic response to anything that looks vaguely like astrology. It seems as if here one might find a causal mechanism for a planetary effect that would do violence to basic scientific paradigms. This appears to have occurred to Seymour as well. This is the source of his quite well-reasoned effort to explain astrological effects in terms of geomagnetism.
Scientific Theories and Philosophy
When I say “the problem with the scientific approach,” I mean a scientific approach that is reasonably consistent with science as it is currently understood. And when I say “understood,” I refer to the philosophical assumptions of science, not its theories as they are currently presented.
Each science consists of two layers of ideas. On top, so to speak, are the theories believed to be “true” at any particular point in time. Under these are the philosophical assumptions on which the science is based. To give a simple example that is relevant to astrology, physics has believed that no two objects in the universe can affect each other unless they either 1) collide or 2) interact by means of a well defined set of known forces. What those forces may be is the subject of theories. The philosophical assumption is that objects cannot intersect at a distance from each other except by means of some kind of force. This assumption came into being in the seventeenth century. It is not only not proved, it is not provable. That is the way with most philosophical assumptions. They are adopted because they seem useful, not because they are proved.
You can see how this relates to astrology. The planets are clearly not colliding with the Earth, so they cannot have an effect by collision. Therefore, they either affect the earth by acting at a distance, which the assumption rejects, or there are forces that we simply do not know or understand. Astrology seems to be action at a distance with no intermediate forces. This is one of the reasons why astrology fell from grace in the seventeenth century. Seymour and others like him are trying to solve astrology’s philosophical incompatibility with science by proposing theories that do not violate science’s philosophical foundations.