Astrology is a field for scientific study
Extract from the talk given by drs. Floris Methorst, President of the NVWOA (Netherlands Society for Scientific Astrological Research) at the former NGPA/VMA (now AVN, the Dutch Astrological Society) theme-day 19th September 1998
This refers to a scientific approach to astrology. We hereby attempt to maintain the exciting liveliness of his discourse in which he, in plain terms, brought forward very significant points. The casual reader could easily miss them. Also a bridge is built between astrology and contemporary science. Astrology would definitely be a suitable field for university study. Highly recommended!
There has been, for a long time, a somewhat hostile attitude towards astrology by what we generally refer to as science. This has always surprised me, but the hostility is quite apparent. I think that this dates very far back in time, and came into being when scientists were troubled by all the thinking patterns of the middle ages, which were never demonstrated or proven. This was around 1600, but has continued during several centuries. In that period, something new has come into being: empirical research, attempting to find concrete proof with regard to certain claims - and whether they can be demonstrated on the physical level. There was a period during which both the church and public opinion imposed silence upon scientists - and even burned them at the stake for their claims. This is centuries ago, but such thinking patterns and habits still exist. People continue to follow the beaten paths.
When you talk to scientists, they immediately react to theories. When you put forward something for consideration, they say: "What exactly are you propounding? Is it so, etc?" This pattern has crept into the behaviour patterns of academical circles, which is quite useful - as it is the pathway to finding the truth. This enquiring attitude is most important, and should also take priority with regard to astrology.
Astrology, as is well-known, is one of the oldest forms of science. Surprisingly, astrologists themselves do not know when astrology came into being. Some say that it originated in ancient Greece, and that there are signs of astrological principles in ancient Arabia. Others say that the origins of astrology can be found in Mesopotamia. There are others who believe that astrology goes much farther back in history. I belong to the category of those who are of the opinion that astrology is much older than we assume.
With regard to the NVWOA, it was founded in 1971; I'll not say exactly when, because we would immediately get into practical astrology and at the moment we intend to steer away from this. If anyone would really like to know, they can contact Corrie Sietsma. She has delved into the horoscope of the NVWOA already fifteen times, and regularly gives commentary on this. This is a source of information, but we will not go into it now.
My approach is from a scientific perspective. I don't like to take things for granted, but prefer to first investigate things for myself. I came into contact with astrology in 1963 - a very long time ago. At that time, I didn't know anyone who was of the opinion that I was engaged in something worthwhile. I ran across books and thought: "If this is true, then I have made a discovery." This is the experience everyone has when they discover astrology. I was so excited, my hands were almost sweating and the thought came to me: "So, this is the way in which you can get an idea of what someone is like - by only knowing the time and place of birth." If this is true, I deserve the Nobel Prize. Then we barely need the information provided by psychology.
You then draw your own horoscope, and go to the best astrolger of the moment in the Netherlands. You even become a member of an astrological society, and things go on rolling from there. But the surprising discovery - I think that many people have this experience - you say: "Hey, what's going on here? Suddenly I can, with very simple tools, do a lot." This is an element that should not be underestimated, one that gives much satisfaction to everyone. Thus at first you go through the stage of drawing horoscopes, telling people how they are put together etc. Later on, you think: "How on earth did I have the nerve to do that?" Sometimes you put people on the wrong track; then you try to mend things.
Then there was the stage when I thought: "Now that I know so much, I can offer my services as a professional astrologer." I worked in a very "responsible" way, as I made - without having even met the subject - a fine rationalistic ten-page report and sent it to them. I made very concrete statements, had the people come in and we had a thorough discussion regarding the horoscope. I'm fairly good at setting up a good discussion, so you can imagine how things went. I did this according to the books, and my experience was that when I got the report back and discussed it with the subjects, I discovered that there are two kinds of people. There are those who say: "This is brilliant; I recognize so much. It is amazing that you can tell me so much about myself" - and there are those who say: "I don't recognize anything; there are so many mistakes. How did you come to make these comments?" It was my conviction during such discussions that self-knowlege, also in astrological terminology, was not their strong point and that the problem was, you were telling them some things about themselves which they had not as yet reflected upon.
This was the first problem. Then I discovered another, even more essential problem - that when I made my comments based on all the rules, books etc, I was sometimes absolutely wrong. When I tried to use my intuition, my ability to enter into the feelings of the subject and interpreted specific positions differently, they said: "Yes, now we are on the right track." And: "How did you know this!" Thus, when I followed existing astrological rules, I found the wrong answers. When I worked with my intuition, valuable things came to the surface for everyone (including myself), as this was also an exploratory process for me. At this moment I thought: "Astrology doesn't add up; I should stop." Therefore, I interrupted my astrological practice for three months.
It was also a beginning for me; I decided: "I shouldn't go on with it." There was already a process in which I had actively taken part from the beginning, already before I believed in astrology. It was a process that in the end has led to the founding of the Netherlands Society for Scientific Astrological Research. The intention was that astrologers and scientists should work together; this is a development that took place in the sixties. Astrologers like to look back to beginnings. At that time, there was a small group of people at the University of Utrecht who said: "The 'para' fields of study (such as sociology and psychology etc) are quite interesting. Could we perhaps do more with them?" Prof. Tenhaef, professor in parapsychology at this university, would have to retire as he had almost reached the retirement age (65) - and also wished to do so. So we got together and discussed the possibilities; this was possible at that time. Half of the group were scientific co-workers, and the other half were students. We took (successful) action to see to it that the field of parapsychology would remain at the University of Utrecht. After Tenhaef retired, there were even two professorships in this field. This was more than we had expected to achieve.
Another point which shows the climate from which the NVWOA has emerged, that we thought: the more para, more borderline subjects which are not easily evident by means of traditional scientific rules, could perhaps be illustrated best if we began with astrology since it requires cipher-work, and this could be done by computers later on. We were convinced that astrology is actually one of the most precise of parasciences, thus that we could quickly demonstrate that astrology is exceptionally true and worthwhile.
Well, this is quite a few steps further on; this was the foundation of our idea. Meetings were held at the Psychological Institute; Leo Pannekoek was a very important figure in this. Various others were included, such as Ed Noordman who is still secretary. There was also psychology professor Piet Vroon (unfortunately he has passed on in the meantime) who did very much work in this direction. He said: "This will never work out." That was somewhat his style, his angle. Piet Vroon continually worked in this direction, except for the period when he was busy with his own development; he always had a subscription, amongst others, to the magazine that is now called <Astrology in Research> - and sometimes a reaction of his was printed in the national newspaper <Volkskrant>.
So we had the NVWOA. Here were also two groups: one a more "reflective" group, as well as the group of astrologers who said: "We want to get to work, no fiddling around. Now we must definitely show results, and that we are not just making claims." This group insisted on having the terminology scientific research included in the name of the society. There were also other people who thought as Piet Vroon did, who said: "I'm not sure; I think things are more complicated."
Thus, there were both good astrologers and well-intentioned, enthousiastic scientists. Here these two elements are combined. I have already mentioned that it is an old antagonism, so that it was a very interesting problem; you could always feel the electricity in the air during the discussions. We invested much time in setting up research in the sense of: "Here is this proposition; let us see - based on so many birth data, possibly on so many horoscopes - whether it is true that people born with the sun in fire and air signs are extraverts, and that people with the sun in water and earth signs are introverts." There was much research of this kind. The people thought: "Well, this goes fast." In the course of the research activities, technical problems became apparent. One of the problems is that birthdates are not evenly spaced; there are high and low periods throughout the year. Many researchers said: "Well, I don't have to take this into consideration; they will probably be evenly spaced." This is not the case. With some results, for instance with demographic factors, there are peaks in a specific period. You have to take complicated factors into consideration. One experience then was that sometimes we had significant results; you think: "Well, we've found the answer." We had the impression that favourable results were on the way. But science demands: "Now you have proved this, repeat it with the same set-up, in the same way, preferably with other data, another control group etc." Well, to be honest, almost all the times that the research with favourable results was repeated, in the second test the positive results disappeared like snow in the sun. Thus obviously there was some reason why this type of research gives results the first time, which are not confirmed later on. You scored a direct hit the first time. You must have great tenacity or be superstitious in order to be able to say: "We'll carry on."
Many people have given up. One example is the editorial staff of <Spica>, the best astrological publication in the Netherlands at that time. It was a very enthusiastic group which had very interesting results, but they were influenced by the fact that astrology is much more difficult to prove. So people said: "If astrology cannot be proved, we'll stop." And so they did at a given moment. Then you have to be a strong believer in order to continue. I myself belong to the group of people who think: "There is something in it - what is it exactly?" There are those who have thoroughly investigated astrology, and do not give up immediately when the results are disappointing. They say: "I have known astrologers who have made quite remarkable pronouncements about things which they could not otherwise have known. They say that you can find these things in horoscopes; so there must be something to it." To be honest this is a very thin thread to hang on to - but for many people it is motivation to carry on, to search for an explanation. But if astrology can be proven, this would have the value of the Nobel Prize. It is really important that it can be proven scientifically - similar to discovering a new atom theory. This is also the opinion of confirmed traditional scientists.
Let us continue with the history of the NVWOA. The conclusion that "nothing regarding astrology can be scientifically demonstrated" almost won the case. I didn't want to accept this. That the editorial staff of <Spica> had resigned, brought for me the question: "Is this really necessary?" To me, this was absurd. I, at any rate, wished to continue with astrological research even if there were no results. And up to the present, there are no really scientific conclusions. Let's be clear about this - we're working on it, but we haven't reached the goal yet. At that time, I needed people schooled in scientific philosophy to tell me whether or not scientists could cancel out astrology entirely. I had the feeling that I knew the answer, but missed the arguments and tools of the scientific philosopher, an epistemologist. Then I approached several people, younger scientific co-workers, such as Sydney Simons and Jacob Ruyling who were versed in epistemology. They said they would investigate this for me. There were others, but these two people have published the most, done the most work in this field. They came with arguments and wrote about this: to put it concisely, science cannot reject astrology. As things are at this time, scientific approach cannot prove astrology, but neither can it completely reject it.
Thereupon I wanted to have these arguments. It sounds a bit like a game of chess or strategy: I had a number of people who could help me when I landed in a discussion, whereby I had insufficient knowledge on the subject. Bert Terpstra investigated the entire history of western philosophy later on; some people can do this in record tempo. He gave an extraorinarily interesting account of the various stages and changes in western scientific thinking, which he has published - and I invited him to give a talk for the NVWOA. As we weren't finished in one afternoon, we added another afternoon. We had an entire afternoon at our disposal, not only 45 minutes as we do today. Some people had difficulty in taking it all in, but it turned out to be quite worthwhile.
Fields of research
Now I'll go to a wider area. Science is generally considered to be tangible research. From the beginning, I have said - and I am still of the same opinion - that this is part of the field of science, but there is a good reason why we have colleges and universities. Universities are institutions at which not only exact sciences are practised, but also alpha-sciences (such as sociology and philosophy) in which it is much more difficult to give direct tangible proof; one has to work mainly with discussions, reflection and hypotheses. There has been a big increase in exact thinking in the alpha sciences during recent decades. However, as a rule, more people in this field are open to astrologers, to astrological thought processes.
Something else that we thought is: astrology is old - so let us investigate its history more deeply, more systematically. To be honest, people in the NVWOA have done more work in this direction, than I have ever run across in conferences and magazines etc. There are those who are busy investigating ancient texts to see exactly how the Greeks worked with astrology. Did they use the same terminology etc? In general, we don't search very thoroughly. This is not unusual, but if you really track down ancient Greek texts... In scientific research, you can study the history of the subject as well as theories. Whether or not astrology is true is then less important. What matters is that apparently there are people who have been working with this model, with a specific train of thought. Then you don't have to worry so much about the verity of astrology, but you investigate the manner in which people have been working with it. An interesting fact is that some of the cardinal astrological conceptions have remained the same for centuries. This is in itself very surprising. There can be various explanations, but there are also things which remain the same. This is quite remarkable. How is it possible that people hand down the same information regarding astrology for so long, in spite of the fact that civilization has changed. This should be investigated, systematically and in detail. If many people would go about this in the right way, they might come up with very interesting results.
The third direction is, that I have also done research in good quality esoteric literature. Much has been printed, with extraordinary differences in quality; but here again, if you search you will at least find impressive writings. It is striking that astrology is mentioned in an appreciative tone in all this esoteric literature. Apparently it is a way of learning things. Also here you come across people whom I know to investigate things more thoroughly, who say there is something to astrology; they work with it. This is also a source, as well as a way of to make use of this field of study. I am really convinced that astrology used in this way is a field of study - is in fact a science.
The next step: it can be said that astrology is a figurative, a descriptive or psychological language. There is apparently a category of people who can communicate by means of astrological conceptions; thus, a way by which to make various things clear - so you realize there is something to it. This is in itself a curious phenemenon, so that it is not necessary to prove the verity of astrology. It suffices that it is possible to understandably communicate with one another - using so to speak an international language similar to Esperanto.
Astrology is kind of a psychological language, although it is also useful in clarifying other things. In this sense, astrology could be a most valuable tool. I don't know exactly how this might be worked out further; presumably language experts could comprehend in which direction you can go with it.
Hopefully it is now clear that science, as seen by the NVWOA, is absolutely a far broader field than only statistical research. That is only half of our work - it is important, but it is not all there is to it.
In closing, something I should like to mention is that people say: "Well, now I have your horoscope. So now I can tell you how you are put together." What I consider to be essential is, that when you meet someone or there is a specific situation that you wish to understand better, put astrology aside. Take a look at the subject; who is he or she? First think this over thoroughly without astrology, with no birth data, no place of birth etc. Thus, work first from your own experience, your own thoughts and projections. When this process has come to an end, then look at the horoscope. I think this is a more constructive way in which to work, and that then astrology will be of more value to you.
To my view, astrology is not just a projection-system; it definitely has more imformative value. In my opinion, if you go to work in this manner, you suddenly say: "Eureka, now I understand how this person ticks." This has happened to me a number of times; I've deliberately worked this way. This has been much more valuable than if I had simply been contented with what you can find in books. First think things over, and then use astrology to confirm your findings. This is also useful experience.
These were my remarks on astrology as a field for scientific research. Thank you.
Unknown planet becomes visible
There was sensational news at the last NVWOA (Netherlands Society for Astrological Research) open-house meeting of this century (and this millennium) on 6th November 1999. Prominent NVWOA members Floris Methorst and Willem De Graaff reported the results of their investigation regarding the (im)possibility of still another real planet existing in our solar system. And, not somewhere far away outside the orbit of Pluto, but within the orbit of Mercury!!!
At first, it seems such an unlikely idea, that a level-headed person already "knows" that this cannot be true. After all, the sky - particularly around our sun - is constantly monitored and photographed. In spite of this, and making use of typical NVWOA methods, Methorst and De Graaff have come to the following interesting conclusions:
- Approximately 1920, an accurate ephemeris was published by astrologers in America - which was ignored by the astrological world.
- Articles in esoteric publications are positive: Vulcan really does exist, but will be difficult to locate.
- The search for Vulcan which was discontinued at the beginning of this century, has begun again. The first results were published in the May number of <Nature>; a Vulcan orbit is possible.
The complete report of the talks by Methorst and De Graaff will be released in the NVWOA summer 2000 publication.