Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Neptune and Collective Mythologies

In a strange way, the world becomes what we collectively imagine it to be. You could say this is a definition of mythology. We have stories about ourselves, about the world and about the universe. Science, which provides the modern worldview, is no different. It has 2 big Creation Myths: the Big Bang (the Universe) and Evolution (Life). It also believes that its stories are not stories, unlike every other culture’s stories.

The assumptions behind the science story (at its worst) are that the universe is a material object ‘out there’ to be studied, that it is fully comprehensible by human reason alone and that it is inanimate and indifferent to us. Any other stories are the product of primitive minds. Huge, cold assumptions.

Jupiter is the planet of story-telling. But I think that Neptune, the planet of the Imagination, is the ocean out of which the stories are picked. Neptune is that place where consciousness and matter merge, where it becomes obvious that you cannot separate human consciousness and the universe that consciousness is always trying to understand and describe.

So our stories in a sense create the world, and it makes Neptune a very fundamental planet. We usually think of Neptune as fashion, as addiction, as creativity, as redemption, as a sense of connectedness. And all this is true. But underneath it all Neptune describes the sort of world in which all this takes place, the sort of world that the collective imagination has in fact created. It may be a beautiful, harmonious vision of the universe in which humanity and nature live in balance and flourish.
Or it may be a nightmare vision of master races and dominance of nature by divine edict. I think that in the West we probably have to go back to pre-Christian times to find a healthy collective mythology. We have forgotten what it is like.

Neptune was discovered in 1846, so its placement then tells us a lot about the world people imagined they lived in at the time. The Discovery chart (see below) has Neptune stationing conjunct Saturn in the 10th House at 26 Aquarius. So the Universe was becoming scientific (Aquarius), with man, rather than God, at the top of it. Aquarius supports humanity’s intellectual gifts, but is also prone to hubris. Prometheus was a very Aquarian figure. He brought all sorts of gifts to mankind, and Zeus told him not to bring Fire, but he did, and was punished for it. Prometheus had a disregard for Zeus as the embodiment of the laws of nature.

1846 was before Darwin’s book on the Origin of Species was published, but the idea of Evolution was already becoming known and gaining credibility in the academic world. So it was entering the collective imagination, and is well described by Neptune in Aquarius. Evolution is a scientific Creation Myth that puts Man at the pinnacle of Creation, continuing the sense of dominance over nature that was granted by the God of the Old Testament. Neptune’s close conjunction to Saturn in the 10th House reinforces this sense of dominance. Neptune stationing (standing still) is like him staring at us, saying you really need to look at this.

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In the last few years we have had the 1st Neptune Return, in the sense of Neptune reaching the place it was in when it was discovered. We have just had one full Neptune cycle of Science as our underlying collective mythology. So it is not surprising that the imbalances of that mythology are becoming clearer, that we are living in a time when we can no longer ignore the sense of dominance over nature that we have inherited from Christianity, and then had compounded by Science. We are collectively in the position of Prometheus with his liver being pecked out afresh every day.
A healthy mythology has stories about the consequences of humanity’s innate tendency to get above itself. Hubris and its consequences are fundamental to ancient Greek Mythology. You find it also in the Chippewa Cree stories in the figure of Wisahitsa, a figure of fun who is always getting tripped up by his own self-importance. But an understanding of hubris is not part of our modern mythology, which is full of pride at human achievement, at how clever we are.

The Big Bang is the other modern Creation Myth, and that began to gain acceptance in the 1960s, while Neptune was in Scorpio. That is the perfect sign for the Big Bang. Under Scorpio, or Pluto transits, seeds are planted that turn out to have tremendous power, and that is exactly what the Big Bang was. A singularity giving rise to the whole Universe. It is interesting that the Christian Era also began under Neptune in Scorpio, and that has the Creation Myth of God creating the world out of nothing.

The fact that Neptune was discovered under Aquarius suggests that the Myth we need to pay most attention to is the one behind the Big Bang and Evolution, which is the Myth of Science itself and its approach to knowledge, as well as its placement suggesting power and dominance. And it is first of all important to recognise that it is a Myth, in the sense of an underlying story that we have collectively created. This is hard to do, because it is so much presented to us as an undeniable reality. But any Myth worth its salt will have this quality of believability.

Years ago I read a short book called ‘The World is as You Dream It’ by John Perkins. It was based on his experiences with South American Indians, and the title is self-explanatory. Perkins was arguing for the need to re-dream western culture – that, if you like, a new mythology is needed. And I think the Neptune Return is also telling us this.

Neptune changes sign every 14 years or so, describing the ongoing shifts in the stories we tell ourselves about the world we are in. A mere change of sign doesn’t point to a fundamental change in mythology, you need to discover Neptune for that! For some of the significant changes, you probably also need to look at the Progressed Neptune chart, and the changes in direction of Prog Neptune, or the progressed new Moons, for example. In the early 1930s, Prog Neptune reached the position it was in when it was discovered, and there was also a Prog New Moon. And this was the time that Japan and Germany’s master race mythologies changed the world.

Neptune will change sign into Pisces on 3rd/4th April (depending on where you live). There is no reason to suppose it will re-dream the whole of western culture, but coming hard on the heels of the Neptune Return, and being in its own sign of Pisces, it may well be more notable than most.

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In the last 3 years we have seen both Pluto and Uranus change signs, and this has been quite dramatic. Within days of the 1st Pluto Ingress (entry into a sign) into Capricorn in January 2008, the Stock Market began to rock and the financial crisis got seriously underway. Pluto is a god of wealth, and so rules the economy. On Uranus’ last day in Pisces earlier this month, there was the biggest recorded earthquake in Japan followed by a tsunami. On his 1st day in Aries (his 2nd and final Ingress), there was an explosion at a Japanese nuclear plant affected by the earthquake.

The Ingresses are not always dramatic, but they remind you that these planets and their signs are real things, that the meaning of human affairs is to be found in the heavens.

The chart for Neptune’s Ingress into Pisces has six planets, including a New Moon, in Aries. This suggests to me that, while our basic mythology may not change, there will still be some big changes to the way we see the world. Neptune in Capricorn, which began in the mid-1980s, was an era in which money (Capricorn) became fashionable (Neptune). Neptune in Aquarius, which began in the late 1990s, began the Internet Age: Aquarius is computers and Neptune is the interconnectedness of the web. Neptune in Pisces. Who knows?

Events near the Ingress can be suggestive. A tsunami occurs in Japan, and the whole world feels involved. The major powers are acting in concert to help the people of Libya. Globalisation – the connectedness of Neptune – may move on a step from just business convenience, the globalisation of Neptune in Capricorn; and electronic friendships, the globalisation of Neptune in Aquarius. Humanity may begin to identify more with the world as a whole. There is a nuclear accident in Japan, no-one has died from it, but both Germany and China call a halt to their nuclear programmes. That halt may not last, but it shows how sensitive we have become collectively. Even China, which has an autocratic government that doesn’t have to pay too much attention to its people. If nuclear power takes a hit, and we all know that oil is ultimately limited, then that means we are starting to tell ourselves a different story about our relationship to the earth, that we are planning to move towards clean, renewable sources. Not only is that sensible for practical reasons, but it creates a new mythology in which we can no longer dominate in the way we have become used to. It means we can only take from the earth that which she can renew, which our ancestors – and anyone with half a brain – always knew. But it is not just knowledge, it re- creates a feeling relationship that has been forgotten. And when you have knowledge and feeling working as one, then you have a new imaginative relationship, you have a new mythology. So I think that Neptune in Pisces will bring this in to some extent, even in the USA (which is notable for not changing its nuclear policy and not wanting to curb its greenhouse gases.)

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Monday, March 28, 2011

How Astrology Works

10 days ago I did an interview which was published at another blog, John Barleycorn Must Die. I was asked at one point how Astrology works, and my answer was that it works because the Universe has a mysterious way of becoming what we think it to be. The Scientific Universe is not ‘objective’; it is that people have thought of the Universe as a Scientific Reality, and it has become that. And the same with Astrology. That is why Astrology works. Matter and Consciousness are intimately connected.

But then you are left with the problem that sometimes what you think is Reality, is clearly not so. It is delusional. When do your thoughts shape reality, and when are you merely caught up in a fantasy?

I think the key idea here is the Imagination, the Mundus. According to William Blake, Imagination is Reality. The original idea of finding meaning in the heavens, of relating celestial and earthly events, would have been awe-inspiring. Astrology therefore has its roots in the Imagination, and to that extent is real. When that sense of wonder is lost, when your interpretation is not fresh and you are merely reciting standardised meanings, then you could say it has become a delusion, in the same way that formalised religion is often a delusion. And that doesn’t mean people won’t continue to pay you good money and think you’re a great astrologer!

And I would apply the same to Science. Think of the awe Copernicus must have felt when he discovered that God had created this elegant sun-centred solar system, and how divine Reason, that made this discovery, must have seemed.
You take the awe out of it, and put rats through mazes in a lab, and what you have instead is a coherent, but disenchanted, universe; it has a certain logic, but is also a case of the shadows passing Plato’s Cave, that the inhabitants mistake for Reality.

So Reality doesn't reside in a system of knowledge that can be argued about. It is instead something to be perceived when the Imagination is awake. And it has a force that carries people with it, because somewhere we know it to be true, it speaks to us. Astrology as a system can seem barking mad, it seems ridiculous from a certain perspective. So I'm not surprised when people try to dismiss it. But when you see heavenly and earthly events line up, it can touch something primordial and awe-inspiring; the chattering mind is swept aside because you know something real has happened.

If you want to make an argument for Astrology, then you need somehow to communicate that sense of awe if you want to get anywhere. 17 days ago, on the last day of Uranus' (sudden disruptive events) 7 year stay in Pisces, a tsunami (the ocean/Pisces) hit Japan. The next day, Uranus' 1st day in fiery Aries, a nuclear plant exploded in Japan as a result of the tsunami.

And it's the same with the Tarot. On the face of it, it seems ridiculous. But the symbols in it speak to us, and that makes the Tarot real. If the symbols speak to the reader, then what he/she says will be true. It's not something that can be proved; it has to be experienced.

It is interesting how what seems like common sense and what is actually real can be so at odds with one another. Scientific reality, with its string of practical successes, has come to seem like the standard by which all other forms of knowledge need to be judged. Astrology, from this point of view, seems like nonsense. And that is what the intelligent man-on-the-Clapham-Omnibus is likely to think. And yet, if your Imagination is awake, it likely to seem the other way round. It's probably always been like this, in one way or another. 700 years ago it was common sense that the God of the Old Testament existed and the Bible was true. People genuinely thought there was something wrong with you if you didn't think like this. In the West we are used to thinking in Absolute Truths.

Consensus reality is easy, because it is based on someone else telling you how things are, you have the security of everyone else thinking the same, and you don't have to work at it. And you are quite unconscious that this is what you are doing. And it is always the minority who question this reality, and who probably provided its imaginative basis in the first place, before it became literalised and prescriptive.

I once suggested to a Chippewa-Cree friend, who is a story teller, that surely his people are the same with their Creation Myths, they get absolutised. And he said no, they have a number of conflicting Creation Myths in their tradition, and that stops this happening. That is why I think there is something to be said for teaching Intelligent Design, as well as Evolution, in American schools. Not because I think Intelligent Design is true - I don't - but because it gives the children more than one story about how people came about. You have 2 opposing stories that have become fundamentalised here, but paradoxically you could create questioning and open-mindedness out of their conflict.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Charts for Neptune, Pluto and Chiron: Are they trying to tell us something?

First of all, a correction to my last piece. It seems that the coup that brought Gaddafi to power in Libya should be dated 1st Sept 1969, not 3rd Sept, as the worthy Book of World Horoscopes states. Fortunately, it makes little difference to my analysis, as it is only the Moon that shifts position, and it means that the May New Moon, rather than the April New Moon, is now the most significant one for the people (the Moon) of Libya.

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Technically, it means that instead of the MC of the April New Moon conjoining the Libyan natal Moon, we have the New Moon itself in May conjoining the Libyan natal Moon-Saturn. This is stronger, but it means the people will have to wait a bit longer to be in charge.

What I really wanted to do was to ramble a bit about the outer planets, so here goes. The outer planets have charts just like we do, for they were discovered at particular recorded moments. Of course, they existed before that (depending on your philosophical position – right now I’m in a mood to say they didn’t exist before that!) So the charts are as much about humanity’s relationship with these planets as they are about the planets themselves. And surely the Signs and Houses that Neptune and Pluto were in when they were discovered are of significance. It means that these planets have a particular meaning for us, as well as the more general meaning that Pluto has as Lord of the Underworld, and that Neptune, as god of the sea, also has.

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When Pluto was discovered in 1930, he was in Cancer and in the 12th House. We should also consider the Sun, because that is the body around which Pluto revolves. The Sun was in Aquarius, in Pluto’s House, the 8th. So we have messages here about the earth herself (Cancer), destruction (Pluto), this being hidden (8th/12th), as well as it being an issue for the collective in the widest sense (12th House). The Sun in Aquarius brings in Science and its darker side (8th House.)

The Plutonian Sun at 29 Aquarius is opposite Neptune in Virgo, as well as conjunct the Neptune of the Neptune chart, which is at 26 Aquarius. Neptune tells us what we find fascinating and glamorous and entrancing, and in these 2 cases it is in Aquarius as the scientific vision for the future, and in Virgo as the technology that follows in its wake.

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Neptune in the Neptune chart is conjunct Saturn and in the 10th house. It was discovered in 1846 as Science and the technology it resulted in was really getting into its stride. There is a huge amount of scientific ambition around Saturn in Aquarius in the 10th, and Neptune suggests both the imaginative engagement and the entrancement involved.
Pluto in the Neptune Chart is opposite the North Node, and Venus in technological Virgo disposits the Sun in Libra, which seeks balance.

So there are a number of important crossovers and repeated themes in these charts to do with the earth, its destruction, and entrancement with science and technology.

In addition, and this is quite remarkable, the 2 planets most associated with the natural world are the Moon and Ceres. The Moons of both charts conjoin (in Pluto's sign) and the Ceres of the 2 charts conjoin. If that isn't a pointer, I don't know what is! Pluto was discovered at the Lunar and Ceres Returns of the Neptune chart.

The basic 2 astrological signatures here, though, are Pluto in Cancer and Neptune in Aquarius, which can be seen as fascination with science followed by the destruction of nature (Neptune was discovered first.)

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If we take a composite of the 2 charts, we find Uranus (Science) in the ambitious 10th House in square to Cancer (the earth herself) on the Ascendant. Chiron conjoins the North Node, as it does in the chart of Pluto and in the chart for the first controlled nuclear reaction. This aspect warns of a damage that cannot be undone, an approach that is inherently out of balance. Chiron is also opposite scientifically ambitious Saturn in Aquarius. Ceres conjoins Pluto and the Moon (ruler of Cancer) is in Pluto’s sign, and inconjunct Uranus – again bringing together the themes of the earth, destruction and science.

In the last year or two, Neptune has for the first time reached the position in which it was discovered. And in about 5 years Pluto will for the first time reach a point of opposition to its natal position. So there is a reckoning happening; the environmental issue and its relation to our scientific genius is coming to a head.

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Chiron, an asteroid associated with both healing and wounding, was discovered on 1 Nov 1977, and was in the 4th House (Cancer's House) in Taurus (an earth-loving sign). As with Neptune, Pluto was Nodal, and also on the Midheaven, in the sign of Libra, of balance. Ceres and Sun-Uranus were in Pluto's sign, and the Moon was in its own sign of Cancer, square to Pluto and the Node. So again we have the themes of science, the earth and its destruction. Nodal Pluto on the MC square to the Cancerian Moon seems to me to point to an urgency in the situation.

At the same time, this chart seems to point to a resolution, a healing. Chiron is opposite an exalted Uranus (Science) in Scorpio, which with the Sun is in trine to the Moon and exalted Jupiter in Cancer. Sun-Uranus trine Moon-Jupiter suggests a basic harmony, a harmony between nature (the Moon) and Science (Uranus), but only after Science has undergone the dismemberment and transformation that Scorpio requires. Science tends to be heady, it can easily ignore the values of the natural world. Scorpio stands for the necessary re-balancing, but not in a 'nice' way. It is about getting real. Scorpio can be savage in its transformation and takes no prisoners. It suggests that there can indeed be a healing, a re-balancing, but only after we have thoroughly undone ourselves. So the Chiron chart is urgent yet optimistic, it says things can be sorted quite easily - but we have to enter the darkness first.

That said, I don't think that we have to view 'the darkness' as some extra horrid thing that we haven't encountered yet. We are already in it, if you look at the amount of natural destruction, and the consequences of that, that have happened already. And as I said earlier, we have just had the first Neptune Return and are about to have the first Pluto opposition. After that comes the first Chiron Return. So we are probably already in that Scorpionic crucible.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Japanese Nuclear Explosion

The chart for the 1st controlled nuclear reaction, on 2 Dec 1942, has the Sun at 10 Sagittarius opposite a Saturn-Uranus conjunction at 9 and 2 Gemini. 8 to 10 degrees of Sagittarius-Gemini has proved very sensitive to transits over the years, and has since become known as the NUCLEAR AXIS.

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The astrology is impressive: the splitting (Uranus) of matter (Saturn) to create the energy which powers the Sun. OK, the Sun runs on fusion not fission, but it’s still from the heart of the atom. The chart for Hiroshima, the first aggressive use of nuclear power, has Mars at 11 Gemini - conjunct the nuclear axis. And conjunct Uranus. Astrology really does work!

This morning there was a huge explosion at a Japanese nuclear power plant as a result of yesterday’s earthquake, the biggest recorded in Japan. And Uranus entered Aries last night.

In an earlier edition of this post, I put the time of the explosion as 16:50. It was a fantastic chart, but unfortunately it turns out to have been 15:36!

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As you can see, the Moon at 13 Gemini conjoins the Nuclear Axis, and Mars at 13 Pisces (symbolising the explosion) squares both the Moon and the Nuclear Axis. The MC-IC of this chart (the line from top to bottom) conjoins the Asc-Desc (the line from left to right) of the Nuclear Chart. And the Asc-Desc of the Explosion Chart has the same signs as the MC-IC of the Nuclear Chart. That is significant symmetry. And here's a bit of a whopper: the Nuclear Mars at 21 Scorpio is opposite the MC of the explosion chart to within less than half a degree. Scorpio is secretive, so the explosion may well have been nastier than we think.

So there is a lot of synastry here, making it is a very significant nuclear event. Officials are denying there will be a nuclear meltdown at the plant, just as they were denying there was much of a problem before the explosion. With the nuclear axis signified on the chart, as well as the other synastry, and with explosive Uranus having just changed sign into Aries of all places, further unfoldment seems likely. Since writing this, fears have arisen of a second explosion at the reactor. Astrologically, a meltdown cannot be ruled out. Again because the nuclear axis has been activated, the event is likely to have a major effect on nuclear policy. E.g. not putting nuclear power stations in an earthquake zone!

The other 2 major nuclear accidents were 3 Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in the USSR.

3 Mile Island (where a reactor went into meltdown) has the MC-IC at 5 Gemini-Sag, close enough in my book to be on the nuclear axis. And there was a New Moon in Aries, resonant of the Uranus Ingress into Aries theme of the Japanese explosion.

Chernobyl, where there was both a contaminating explosion as well as a meltdown, has the MC-IC axis at 10 Virgo-Pisces, exactly square the nuclear axis; along the nuclear axis itself lies Chiron in Gemini opposite Saturn in Sagittarius. Chiron decribes the long-term damage to people and the natural world caused by Chernobyl and any other such leakages.

We do not seem to be looking at another Chernobyl here, because the aspects to the nuclear axis are not as strong. Maybe not even a meltdown. But because of Japan's history, any nuclear incident has heightened significance. Chiron is conjunct the Desc on the Explosion Chart, so as with Chernobyl, we are probably looking at a degree of environmental contamination.

The wider symbolism of the times is the square from Uranus to Pluto, which will be within one degree in June, and became ‘in-sign’ as Uranus entered Aries. A hard aspect between 2 outer planets always indicates a time of profound change, a shift from one era to another. Uranus-Pluto well describes the earthquake that preceded the explosion: a sudden disruption (Uranus) from the depths (Pluto). Of course, you will always get earthquakes, but it seems more than coincidental that Japan should get the most powerful it has recorded as Uranus is being empowered by Pluto.

The symbolism and timing of events around Uranus has been extraordinary. First, with Uranus in its last day in Pisces, the ocean, you get a major earthquake out at sea followed by a Tsunami. The next day, with Uranus on its first day in the fire sign of Aries, you get a nuclear explosion as a result of that earthquake. I don’t usually pay that much notice to the exact movements of the outer planets. I look to the inner planets for that. But Ingresses – when a planet first enters a sign – seem to be something else. When Pluto, a planet associated with the economy, entered Capricorn back in early 2008, almost to the day the stock market began to lurch, as a prelude to the financial crisis that followed.

Of course, the signs are, in a sense, nonsense. They were artificially constructed as 30 degrees each millennia ago, and have since slipped away by 23 degrees. But the fact that they work shows that reality involves a mysterious collusion between mind and matter. It shows that the outer world is much more a product of consciousness than one is led to believe. It is not the hard, ‘objective’ scientific world that we moderns believe it to be: scientific reality is just one more instance of the world seeming to conform to our presumptions about it. Neptune, the dissolver of boundaries, is the planet that describes this mysterious and fluid relationship between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. Reality is a hologram.

In April Neptune will enter Pisces. Pisces is the sign Neptune rules, and one wouldn’t associate either the sign or the planet with sudden dramas and bold new actions. But look at the Ingress chart:

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Six planets, including a New Moon, in Aries. The transit of Neptune through Pisces is likely to involve dramatic changes in our underlying mythologies (which shape everything else). And a dramatic new phase in the history of our use of oil. Neptune rules oil, and the first oil strike occurred under Neptune in Pisces.

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The first oil strike also has Neptune in the 2nd house of wealth, showing how oil has become entwined with the world economy. And Pluto (wealth) in Taurus (wealth) on the Taurus IC (the depths of the earth). As Neptune moves into Pisces, so we are likely to see the first phase of our use of oil begin to come to an end.
Neptune and Pisces are associated with lack of boundaries, and that certainly describes the unbridled way we have used this resource, as if it were limitless (Neptune), when it is not. In 12 years time Neptune will reach 26 Pisces, its position at the 1st oil strike. So that is the timescale of change we are looking at.

All 3 outer planets are changing sign within a few years of each other: Pluto from 2008-9, Uranus from 2010-11 and Neptune from 2011-12. These are the 3 collective planets, so they show the world moving from one era to another. If you add into the equation an outer planet hard aspect in the form of Uranus square Pluto, then you have a double message of change, of a new era.

This is the wider context in which the Japanese nuclear explosion has occurred. A very significant chart occurring in an era of major change. For the Japanese, the earthquake and the explosion have occurred as Uranus was squaring both the the Moon and the Asc of the Japanese chart. At present, all Uranus transits occur in the wake of a Pluto transit in the preceding few years. Pluto brings deep structural change, and Uranus brings sudden disruptive events that bring that deeper change to life: something that has been brewing beneath the surface for a long time becomes apparent. Japan has been stagnating economically for many years, and China is suddenly in its face as an economic and military threat after Japan’s many years as the world number 2 economy, under the military protection of the USA. Japan is due for change, and the events of the last 2 days could be a catalyst for that.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

A Ramble about the Royal Family and the End of the World

I don’t know how the British Royal Family manages to produce such a seeming lack of basic intelligence in many of its members. Prince Charles and Princess Anne seem bright enough, but the younger two… Prince Andrew is a Trade Envoy for the UK, and has kept up his links with Jeffrey Epstein, an American millionaire who has been convicted of molesting underage girls. And has accepted money off him to help pay off his ex-wife’s debts. If you are in a public position, then this matters. And a case like this is just so obvious. A senior Tory MP described Andrew as having “no discernible mental activity.” If he was anyone else, Andrew would have been sacked, but you don’t treat Royals like this in Britain. I don’t think it does them any favours.

The Queen herself is not immune to idiocy. And I don’t mean PR slip-ups, which anyone could make. Princess Diana’s butler was found to be in possession of a large amount of her effects sometime after her death. The family brought him to court on a theft charge. Half way through the headline-making trial, the Queen mentioned to Charles that the Butler had previously told her that he had these effects, and was looking after them on Diana’s behalf. The trial immediately had to be stopped.

I don’t think the Queen is stupid, though her sons Andrew and Edward may well be. I don’t think it is the famous inbreeding that has done it. I think it is being born into wealth and privilege (which can sometimes be fortunate, if you can see through the nonsense.) It can remove you from ordinary reality, from the sense that you belong to a society that has basic ways of working that you need to pay attention to and understand. That’s why Prince Philip has been making racist remarks for decades (and getting away with it.) That’s also why you get these rich families who are weird because they can buy their way out of the normal rules. Dirty, Sexy Money is a TV series about the US’s richest family (it’s a satire on the Kennedys) and to start with it seems too bizarre to take seriously. But then it dawns on you that the real Kennedys are probably every bit as bizarre. And if you put some of their antics in a TV series, they would seem too implausible. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

The Royal Family is not unlike a religious cult, with its rigid rules and hierarchy and sense of being special. Cults are often just more obvious forms, because they are different, of what goes on anyway in a lot of families and sections of society. Look at the unwritten rules and sense of superiority you usually get in wealthy or titled families, for example. I can’t see the difference between that and a religious cult.

One cult making the news is the US-based Family Radio, which is proclaiming Judgement Day on May 21 2011, and the End of the World on Oct 21 2011. A lot of its members have sold up or given away their possessions and are travelling the country in caravans, warning people about what is coming. They have arrived at their conclusions through applying mathematics to the Bible.

Unfortunately astrology does a similar thing. It applies mathematics to the motions of the planets in order to comment on, and even predict, human affairs. I can’t necessarily see the difference! Astrology works primarily symbolically and intuitively, it tells people stories about themselves that resonate with their sense of who they are. As long as the maths is kept simple enough so that the sense of symbolism is preserved and even unfolded, then I’m fine with that. But if it heads too far into abstractions such as mid points and harmonics, I lose my sense of relationship to the planets, even though I can see that these techniques work. It’s like the maths in astrology keeps the rational side happy and quiet so that the intuitive side can get on with its job. But too much maths and the rational begins to usurp its place.
And at this point astrology becomes a legitimate target for the criticisms of the scientists, because viewed from this ‘rational’ angle alone, astrology is indeed nonsense. That is why I like the modern tendency to view the planets not just as principles but as gods. It makes the point forcefully that astrology is not a science and cannot be criticised from that basis.

Anyway, I guess one query I have of Family Radio is that if their dates are produced mathematically, then at the moment of Judgement Day, it will not be 21st May in certain parts of the world. It will be the 20th or the 22nd. And the same with the End of the World. Unless the world is to end gradually, beginning at dawn on Oct 21st in the Far East and then sweeping across the globe, ending with California and Alaska.

A professor from Canada, Lorenzo DiTommaso, has made a 12 year study of apocalyptic movements.

"It’s a philosophy that explains time, space and human existence,” DiTommaso says. And by buying into this sort of outlook, a person can find comfort in a “comprehensive answer.”

He calls the apocalyptic worldview “adolescent” because it’s “a simplistic response to complex problems” and one that “places responsibility for solving these problems with someone else or somewhere else.”

I quite liked that idea of adolescent thinking, because it seems very common. Like the 2008/9 financial crisis was the fault of greedy bankers, or of the governments, or of a secret cabal who engineered it for their own ends. Or that 9/11 was the result of ‘terrorists’, or of a secret government plot. All of these are simplistic explanations for complex problems, and that blame somebody else. In the case of 9/11, both ‘explanations’ are ways of not having to understand why there are foreigners who are angry with America. Politics thrives on adolescent thinking.

Last night, I was watching a programme on the end of the world, or rather the end of the universe, from a scientific rather than from a quasi-theological point of view. The programme was presented by Professor Brian Cox, who has recently become well-known amongst British astrologers for saying on TV that astrology is rubbish. A complaint to the BBC was worked up by the Astrological Association and signed, I assume, by many astrologers. I think it’s helpful not to get too pissed off when astrology gets criticised or dismissed, because it’s always going to happen, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be quite interesting if you do get pissed off, to look at why. Is it any different, in principle, to the Islamists and their fatwas? Is astrology part of your sense of who you are, your identity?

Anyway, Professor Cox was presenting what seems to be called the Heat Death theory of the end of the universe, which I hadn’t encountered. It’s based on the idea that entropy in any system always increases with time. Entropy is disorder. So the universe will eventually, after an immense period of time, have no order left in it. This is in a trilliontrilliontrilliontrilliontrilliontrillion… years, if you get the idea. We are at present in a long phase where stars shine. But that will come to an end, and all that will be left are white dwarves and black holes. They too will gradually come apart, and their constituent atoms will dissolve into light particles. And as the universe keeps expanding, so will the average density of energy in the universe approach zero. And that will also be a state of maximum entropy, of no order, of everywhere the same – nothing.

The direction of time is measured by entropy. Time goes in one direction, that of increasing disorder. When the universe reaches maximum entropy, then time will necessarily come to an end.

The period during which life is possible, though lasting for trillions of years, is infinitesimally small compared to the overall lifespan of the universe.

I found it a fascinating story. The universe began as nothing outside of time and will end as nothing outside of time, at least that’s how I interpreted it. The Big Crunch theory, that the universe will end up collapsing back in on itself to a singularity, ready for another Big Bang (which is in line with Buddhist cosmology) has been discredited in recent decades as it has become clear from astronomical measurements that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

I don’t know where consciousness lies in all of this, if indeed it can be separated from matter. But remember, it’s just a story!

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