Chaos Astrology

Toward a Physical Basis for Astrology

by John Townley

Before going on to the practical applications of cycles in astrology, it would do well to take a look at the one glaring deficit this art displays - the lack of a known physical basis for operation. Most sciences have a structure which explains exactly how they work (physics, chemistry, biology) and those that partially don't are often called "soft" sciences (psychology, sociology). In what is considered a "real" science, if you make a mistake, you can trace it back through a string of causal events, find your error, and correct it. In astrology, to date, you can't do that, because no one knows exactly how or why it works (or why it doesn't when it fails). If you make a mistake, you have to shrug your shoulders with a sheepish smile, or if you are less honest, try to do a lot of spin control or just cover it up.

Why/how do the planets have effect on events on earth? How is the Sun, Moon, or Jupiter linked directly to the events in our lives? What mechanism explains the associative links between what goes on up there and what goes on down here?

A variety of explanations have been put forward over the years, ranging from the provocative to the ineffable. In the former category, gravity or electromagnetism, sunspots and the solar wind are favorites. In the latter, spiritual rays emanating from the planets which are ensouled higher beings is my favorite. None has much evidence to go on, despite the sincerity of their followers. There might be another approach, however, which may subsume them all (as all good general theories do) and provide a new way at looking at the structure of reality with room for all.

The problems with linking astrology and modern science has been their mutually incompatible paradigms, or world-views. Science has not admitted to a structure of physical reality that would allow distant planets to have any appreciable effect on life on earth, and astrology has assumed a reality in which much of the principal structure of earthly behavior is linked to the planets in a manner unknown, but demonstrable in its visible effects. When challenged to be more specific about this unknown link, astrologers most often retreat into vague concepts like a proposed "collective unconscious" or "acausal synchronicity," both concepts attributed to Jung, who tried to walk the fence between science and spirituality with only limited success.

Hard science, of course, rejects this outright - it insists on having a formal theory that can be demonstrably described and tested in physical reality. That is the way the modern scientific method is constructed. Furthermore, it rejects any astrological "results," statistical or otherwise, without this series of theory-to-reality deductions. Astrology, intuitively knowing itself to be on to something and getting surprisingly good results, rejects science for being too stuffy about the whole thing and playing too limited a game. Two hostile paradigms of reality, but both existing and functioning rather well in the actual world (real reality, one might call it).

These mutual criticisms can be quite valid, however, if there is a larger picture that includes both points of view - a larger, inclusive paradigm that allows both approaches to work without invalidating either. This expansive trend has persevered throughout the history of scientific and spiritual thought and it is clear that another inclusive paradigm leap is in the making.

Where will it come from? Perhaps from pivotal concepts found in two places: First, in the visionary work Das Gesetz der Serie (The Law of Seriality) published in 1919 by biologist Paul Kammerer, which has remained virtually unstudied. Second, in the burgeoning field of fractal geometry and chaos theory. Kammerer searches for a true order of causality behind regularities apparently due to random causes, while chaos/fractal theory seeks to give apparently irregular phenomena a causal basis. Kammerer's work is conceptually consistent at the deepest level while remaining completely unmathematical; chaos theory employs an elaborate descriptive mathematics although its own conceptual foundations often seem incoherent. In many ways these two approaches seem to complement one another, and both have profound implications when applied to astrology and modern science. Indeed, what differences they have can be reconciled and unite under the umbrella of a much larger unified theory which will,it is hoped, literally explain everything. This is a very big bill to fill, but here, in a nutshell, are the pertinent concepts as they bear on astrology.

Since theoretical astrology, such as it has been, so often leans quite heavily on Jungian concepts in general and "acausal synchronicity" in particular, it is well to trace this latter concept to its originator, Paul Kammerer. Jung credits Kammerer with this concept and understands him to be proposing a new principle of nature, co-existent with causality and finality, that would explain the apparently random groupings of similar events that are called coincidences, such as runs of luck or the concurrence of planetary patterns and human behavior. In actuality, Kammerer clearly and repeatedly stresses a hitherto unsuspected side to the workings of causality itself, and to extend the range of accepted natural law by its means.

When one event follows another event and resembles it without any commonly acting cause, traditional causality teaches us to attribute their individual occurrence to special causes in each case, their concurrence to chance. Kammerer's beautiful and simple idea is that often we should be looking to the persistence of antecedent conditions instead, the tendency of any given system (a "complex of bodies acted upon by a constellation of forces," as he puts it) to maintain its initial conditions after the forces have ceased to act upon it, as long as other forces do not intervene. This appears to be merely a restatement of the classical law of inertia. But as Kammerer sees it, in a body-complex the persistence need not be uniform and rectilinear as it would be for an isolated body. On the contrary, the initial conditions would usually be persisting in a non-linear manner. They would fade in and out in intensity, part of the time being beneath the threshold of our consciousness or our ability to observe them directly. When they resurfaced to comprise an event similar to the first one, their identical reappearance would only seem to be due to new and unrelated causes.

But since nowhere on earth do we ever have any totally isolated systems, Kammerer took his line of thinking one step further. When other forces did intervene, the formal aspect of the initial conditions - their organization spatially and temporally - would not simply disperse, but transform itself into self-similar configurations that branch out into larger or smaller forms, or are even seemingly absorbed into the background as part of a higher order structure, only to resurface later as close reflections of the original (or sometimes, again, even the original itself), well after the track of the original had been lost to view. This accounted for repetitions of events that were more distantly similar: in many cases they were just transformations of the original conditions where we are unaware of the intermediate links. And again, one needs not invoke any new set of causes to account for the coincidence, only Kammerer's ambitious generalizations of the inertia law.

Although he gave an elaborate, almost Medelevian template of how these interactions should work and in so doing should explain most of the strange occurrences we attribute to extreme coincidence, Kammerer admitted that it was impossible for him to trace or even recreate the elaborate detail these transforming flow lines of causality would follow until they came back to their original forms or something close to them. Nevertheless, in theory, form or information put into the environment should mesh and fold over repeatedly and yet come back again nearly whole in various spots at more or less the same time.

This, of course, would explain all sorts of anomalies if true, but it ran into something in its time (1919) that would have made it completely unacceptable to science, and that was the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that order tends to decay into disorder and doesn't come back - non-conservative systems (which comprise most systems we meet in daily life) decay into randomness (through friction, heat loss, interaction with other systems) and that's that. Sooner or later, randomness just takes over and the universe grinds to a halt, a conclusion which seemed to be justified from the observations of the time. As far as anyone had seen, once turbulence and randomness occurred in a system, it was, by itself, irreversible.

The recent observations that have led to modern chaos theory, have noted quite the opposite, however. Systems that have apparently, in the classical sense, gone random show a high degree of order when looked at by this new set of methods. Moreover, systems which go into seemingly total randomness (untraceable even by chaos theory methods) often come back whole or in fractal permutations of their original order when pursued further. In large part, chaos theorists with the indispensable computer tools that enabled them to do this work, brought to earth what Kammerer had theorized half a century before. The only person of Kammerer's time to touch on this was Henri Poincare, whose topological transform work displayed this long-term foldover and resurfacing tendency of form and information, much referenced now but largely ignored in his own time. Kammerer also envisioned a related extension of the law of action and reaction - which he thinks of as a law of "imitation" - that further develops his elaboration upon causality. Any two proximate bodies or body-complexes tend to become increasingly like one another through an equalization of the various energies they possess, and this is not only true of their formal and material aspect. Any two oscillating systems also tend to interact and imitate one another in their periodic or "serial" character, growing closer together in their temporal organization over time, with the less regularly periodic tending to assimilate to the more strongly periodic (just as larger gravitational bodies tend to increasingly control the motion of smaller ones).

This is just the phenomenon called mode-locking or phase-locking, long-known to science but still not well-explained. It was noted as early at the 17th century by the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens (inventor of the pendulum clock) when he found that a room full of pendulum clocks, if left alone for a time, always end up in perfect lock-step, no matter how out-of-sync they were to begin with. This same phenomenon is found in orbiting bodies whose period of revolution is a small multiple of their period of rotation (the moon always presents the same face to the earth, as increasingly does Mercury to the Sun, for instance), and in the behavior of various waves (quartz crystals and radio waves, certain ocean and tide wave configurations, and even coordinated firefly flashing). Though a variety of transfer mechanisms may be invoked in each specific instance (sound waves through the walls for clocks, gravitational tidal pressure for the moon) the principle seems to hold - stronger more regularly periodic systems tend to bring smaller less regular ones into line.

The novelty of Kammerer's understanding of these phenomena lies in the way that he sees an inertial principle even here: eventually, the periodicity that the lesser system takes on from its surroundings will be held fast; it will retain its new periodic character as something endemic or indwelling even after its link with the larger system is broken.

By putting together his generalized inertial principle and his special understanding of mode-locking, Kammerer can begin to make sense of a host of anomalistic phenomena; in biological evolution (why it goes in spurts), gambling (beginner's luck, runs of luck), geology and mineralogy (crystal formation), medicine (epidemic patterns), even history (why major ideas surface together, how wars evolve), and lots more. He only alludes to astrology and the possibility of making it scientific on his grounds, but here are how his principles might be applicable:

Starting at the largest level, the biggest bodies we as a planet have to concern ourselves with even remotely in our vicinity are the other planets, the Sun and the Moon. Although their direct gravitational influence on individuals on earth at any one moment is minuscule (as scientific debunkers of astrology are so quick to point out), their effects on our entire planet as a whole are considerable, to the extent of perturbing its very orbit through space. Thus, the entire planet is subject to a series of strong, regularly repeating cycles/waves of gravitational pressure which should, by Kammerer's thinking, tend to mode-lock other larger systems on the earth (land and water tides, weather, geological cycles, etc.). These, over the eons, continue to mode-lock downward to smaller systems, not as a single homogeneous unit but singly by planet depending upon the nearest associated frequencies or resonances (just as different crystals lock onto different radio wavelengths). Over millions of years, multiple series of integrated systems are set up and continually reinforced.

In the old way of looking at physics, these smaller systems would tend to decay quickly because of friction, heat loss into space, and so on, but if pattern and information, as suggested by Kammerer and by many applications of chaos theory, is not lost but only diverges into other related forms, the whole system and all of its parts, no matter how detailed, would be evolving directly in tandem, motivated and encoded by the pressures of the planetary system long ago and continually refueled by it still. The original gravitational rhythm of each planet upon the earth would be stepped down into a multiplicity of lesser systems originally associated with its frequency (somewhat like an overtone series, but more pervasive), all of which interact into diversity but continually resurface in forms closer to the original and in sync with it and each other. Thus, "synchronicity" is indeed a cause-and-effect situation, but over time rather than space. One might say that when Mars returns to a given place in its orbit, for instance, earth-based systems receive the effect from that event as a reinforcement of a pulse developed over eons more than just a particular transit happening right now - the time of the current transit simply indicates when a particular set of Mars-related systems is in sync and reinforcing the same set for later step-down effects. Naturally, under such a plan the effects of an individual transit would not always be instantaneous and exact, but varying and approximate according to the developments of the stepdown systems - an inexact sort of reliability which is so often observed in astrology and which so befuddles astrologers and comforts debunkers. It may, in fact, be a key to how the whole system actually works.

This approach would certainly allow for a profound cumulative influence of other planetary bodies upon even the finest of systems on earth, living and otherwise. But what about a natal horoscope - how does it explain that? What happens at birth that provides something for these other systems to interact with all your life? The answer is in Kammerer's "persistence" or just plain inertia. At the time of birth (first breath, in fact) the child becomes an independent system, a constellation of elements and forces that tends to maintain the fabric of its initial conditions, that fabric being the entire set of conditions present at its initiation. Moreover, since life systems are recursive systems (feedback systems that maintain themselves), the subsequent development of that system is greatly more resistant to change than that of a non-recursive system like, say, a whirlpool. In fact, this would apply to any other system that is recursive or at least tends to maintain itself, such as a ship, a country, or a corporation, for which horoscopes are also commonly used. Naturally, transits are simply times when certain parts of the rest of the picture overlap that initially-established condition and so may affect it. Furthermore, it can easily be seen, in this sort of view, that the otherwise mysteriously-invoked astrological techniques of various form of progressions are simply a form of viewing transits and their future implications through a single fractal transform (of a day equaling a year, for instance), an approach that would be logical from either a chaos or a Kammerer point of view.

Conveniently, many of these suppositions easily lend themselves to various experimental exploration such as comparison of birth patterns and/or events with mean planetary cycles vs. observed positions and the like. It is much easier to get results when working within such a theoretical framework than when merely floundering around looking for unattached phenomena, because you know what to look for. The Gauquelin data might be an easy place to begin such experimental analysis.

The idea is simple, once the foundation concepts are in place, but it needs to be explored in a methodical way using the combined mathematics of chaos theory and waveform analysis within the structural approach pioneered by Kammerer, efforts toward which are underway (some of them explained at the conference, the subject of a separate paper), but there is not enough space to report on them here. Making all the pieces fit smoothly will require further efforts to fill gaps in a variety of areas: the avowed (though not necessarily correct) limits of chaos theory at the quantum level, for instance, and what the real parameters (if any) of truly entropic form or energy loss are, to name two important ones to be addressed but which are too lengthy and technical for treatment here. But although this is only a thumbnail sketch, the advantages to this approach are obvious: it provides a new vision of both astrology and physics which contradicts the tenets of neither - and since it is directly mathematizable it should be able to be brought down from theory to application without leaps of faith, gratuitous elimination of inconvenient anomalies, or reliance upon conflicting views of statistics.

[This piece is adapted from an article in Matrix Journal #1, © 1989 by Matrix Software, reprinted by permission.]