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Book Review: Astrology: A Place in Chaos

October 10, 2013

By Armand Diaz, PhD.   

Astrology has an issue: it doesn’t fit very well with the contemporary Western worldview. Many sophisticated, modern people are at a loss to understand how astrology could possibly work, as it is clear that the planets and stars could not have significant physical influence on human affairs. Even those inclined to give astrology some credence—including many astrologers—are at a loss to explain why it works. Frequently cited explanations include Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, although that is really more of a description than an explanation. In her book, Astrology: A Place in Chaos, Bernadette Brady addresses the place of astrology in the contemporary world.

From the start, Brady differentiates two worlds, that of chaos and cosmos. Chaos is the original state, the matrix from which creation comes forth, as described in ancient creation stories. Chaos is unpredictable, but not meaningless; it is nonlinear but not nonsensical. Cosmos is the orderly universe, a layer of understanding that emerged later. Within the worldview of cosmos, we seek to find self-consistent evidence of a linear reality, one that we expect will someday make complete sense and explain everything. Materialistic science, which reduces everything to blind physical processes, is perhaps the ultimate expression of cosmos detached from chaos.

In recent decades, however, chaos has reemerged in the form of a new branch of science, chaos theory. As the name implies, chaos (and its cousin, complexity theory) recalls the nonlinear world of creation. Far from being a bizarre and strange world, chaos turns out to be very much the world that you and I inhabit, where meaningful patterns emerge all the time. The simple (and simplistic) linear view that A leads to B and B leads to C is replaced by an understanding that multiple factors interact in a complex way to create patterns that are comprehensible when viewed as wholes, but which cannot be predicted at any one point. For a quick example, think of the weather, where we can predict the general temperature change over the course of the year but cannot say with any certainty what the weather will be on any given March 1st.

One concept from chaos theory that is particularly relevant to astrology is that new patterns emerge and become stable as energy is added to a system. The initial response of the system may be to become less predictable and seemingly random, yet over time higher-order patterns tend to emerge spontaneously and eventually achieve “lock-in.” With this view, astrology is neither a given metaphysical system nor a physically based phenomenon. Rather, astrology is an example of a higher order pattern emerging from the interaction of the physical world and human consciousness over the course of thousands of years.

Astrology: A Place in Chaos has remarkably little astrology in it, and can be easily read by someone with no astrological vocabulary. In fact, the book can serve as an accessible introduction to chaos theory in general. It is also richly referenced, so that the reader can find other sources on the topic with ease. Bernadette Brady, known to astrologers for her excellent work within the field, has done a wonderful job of building a bridge between astrology and the emerging science of chaos. It should be read by anyone with an interest in understanding astrology, but it can be read by anyone who wishes to better understand the different worldviews that shape our perception of reality.

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