Explaining Levitation By Denying Gravity

Geoffrey Dean and Ivan W. Kelly


A Response to Kenneth McRitchie’s Article ‘Clearing the Logjam in Astrological Research’

Abstract: McRitchie (2016) mistakes our 2003 JCS article ‘Is Astrol­ogy Relevant to Consciousness and Psi’ for an attack on astrology when it merely asks if the performance of astrologers has implications for consciousness and psi. For example, he attempts to validate astrol­ogy by citing studies we ignored (they were irrelevant to our investi­gation) and by highlighting the supposed flaws that made our tests useless (if astrology had the strong relationships claimed by astrol­ogers it would shine through regardless). A proper scientific valida­tion of astrology or any other practical field would critically review the existing empirical studies and then demonstrate replication of effect sizes commensurate with the claims. But McRitchie does not do this, which is most easily explained by the seeming impossibility of doing so. Our conclusion that the performance of astrologers has no useful implications for consciousness and psi is unchanged by recent or previously missed studies, whose outcomes we describe.

Keywords: astrology; cognitive biases; effect size; meta-analysis; psi.

1. Introduction

McRitchie (2016) was responding to our 2003 article ‘Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?’ which appeared in a special JCS issue devoted to psi. In our article we pointed out that, although astrology has been generally neglected by consciousness and psi researchers,

some astrologers claim that astrology involves an altered state of con­sciousness, and many more claim that astrology involves some degree of psi. So if astrologers can perform as they claim, we might be on to something. (Dean and Kelly, 2003, p. 176)

Because consciousness and psi require living entities, we had to look at the performance of astrologers, not at astrology itself (it was ‘of little concern’, p. 176). The connection with consciousness and psi had not been previously explored empirically in any depth, so it was worth a try. But after reviewing the relevant empirical studies including our own, we concluded that:

astrologers who claim to use psychic ability perform no better than those who do not. The possibility that astrology might be relevant to consciousness and psi is not denied, but such influences, if they exist in astrology, would seem to be very weak or very rare. (ibid., p. 175)

In short, the performance of astrologers had no useful implications for either consciousness or psi. This seems consistent with their view that astrology is a purely symbolic system in which physical quantities such as size and distance play no part (Kelly, 1997/2005). Later we show that our conclusion is supported by the results of more recent or previously missed studies.

2. Response to Our Article

In her review of that 2003 JCS issue, Edinburgh parapsychologist Caroline Watt (2004) found our tone ‘was even-handed and the authors were not triumphant in their conclusions’, which were ‘moderate’. By contrast, as summarized by Dean and Kelly (2004), astrologers around the world were outraged. Normally our cautious non-link with psi might have passed unnoticed. But it was noticed and misreported by London’s Sunday Telegraph (‘Astrologers fail to predict proof they are wrong’, 17 August 2003, p. 9), which was duly quoted around the world. So although most astrologers had most likely never read our article, they saw us as attacking astrology instead of examining the performance of astrologers. They claimed our nega­tive findings were entirely due to our ignorance and hostility.

2.1. Explaining Levitation by Denying Gravity

McRitchie (2016) effectively joins the outraged crowd because he mistakes our article for a direct attack on astrology. So his focus on astrology rather than the performance of astrologers seems to us to largely miss the point. Furthermore we have always stressed that there is more to astrology than being true or false (e.g. Dean and Kelly, 2001), just as there is more to religion than being true or false, so it makes little sense to see our article as an attack on astrology.

McRitchie’s declared aim is not to examine the relevance of astrol­ogy to consciousness and psi but to ‘point out weaknesses and errors that the authors [Dean and Kelly] should have avoided’ (McRitchie, 2016, p. 154). For example, he condemns us for not mentioning three ‘exemplary studies’ even though they involved no ‘practical concerns of consciousness and psi’ (ibid., p. 174), as if ignoring irrelevant studies was inexcusable; and as if incrementing hundreds of effect­ively negative studies (see below) by three positive ones was enough to change everything. To catalogue the various supposed flaws in our approach as a way of denying the evidence against astrology seems to us like trying to explain levitation by denying gravity.

3. A Strange Way to Clear a Logjam

McRitchie often refers to ‘astrological theory’, and to things that are ‘consistent with astrological theory’ (ibid., p. 174), but does not explain what that theory is, only that it is ‘based on centuries of docu­mented observation and practice’ (ibid., p. 162). But the same is true of a geocentric cosmos, planetary gods, the four elements, the philos­opher’s stone, and alkahest (universal solvent), all as old as astrology and all long overturned. So how relevant is centuries of observation?

Nevertheless, he argues that much of the scientific evidence against astrology is based on misperceptions and flawed reasoning, causing a logjam in research, and suggests (without presenting a systematic survey) that ‘there is no reliable evidence against astrological theory’ (ibid., p. 175). A detailed response here would take us too far away from our focus on consciousness and psi, but fortunately one is already provided by Dean et al.’s (2016) encyclopaedic Tests of Astrology, which critically reviews the many hundreds of empirical studies of astrology made since the 1920s and meta-analyses those with effect sizes. Their findings indicate that replication of effect sizes commensurate with the claims of astrologers does not exist, and that their claims are effectively built on artefacts. McRitchie briefly cites this work (2016, pp. 164 and 167) but otherwise ignores it.

3.1. Dealing with Science the Astrological Way

Given that McRitchie’s aim is to validate astrology, it seems reason­able to ask why he doesn’t proceed in the usual scientific way by presenting a meta-analysis that demonstrates replication of effect sizes commensurate with the claims. It is here that Dean et al.’s (2016) findings suggest a clear answer — McRitchie fails to do this because he cannot or will not.

McRitchie also follows the example set by astrology’s supporters by ignoring two things that are fundamental to the credibility of any research, namely:

  1. Statistical significance is not the same as practical significance. For example, a test of ten million cases that resulted in a hugely significant p = 0.0001 is equivalent to an effect size of r = 0.004, clearly of no practical or clinical use to anyone. In counselling terms it would mean that on average 1 in 250 clients might receive better advice than tossing a coin. Yet p is 0.0001!

Indeed, if the sample size is large enough, the relation between any two variables picked at random will always give significant p values. Sooner or later even the most unlikely variables will be significantly if uselessly related (Meehl, 1990). Unfortunately, supporters of astrol­ogy tend to ignore effect size and focus on statistical significance. For example, McRitchie acknowledges the help of British professional astrologer Robert Currey, whose website (2016) advises that ‘a growing number of astrological studies… are confirming high levels of significance favouring astrology’, so the use of effect size ‘serves to disguise and dilute these large significant studies’. The cited studies usually have large sample sizes (often many thousands of cases) and trivial effect sizes. They have statistical significance (whatever that means) but no practical significance.

  1. A result means little unless it replicates and is relevant. Dean et al. (2016) found that the above ‘exemplary studies’ (of red hair, work-related accidents, earthquakes) either lacked replication or did not replicate, certainly not to the extent shown in Figure 1. They were also not relevant to the usual reasons for consulting an astrologer such as relationship or job problems.

Figure 1. Astrology’s most replicated effect (mean r = 0.062). Odd-numbered signs starting from Aries are said to be extraverted, the rest are said to be introverted. When studies of sun sign versus extraversion scores are meta-analysed (left), the results show differences from controls (right) that cannot be explained by sampling error but are easily explained by self-knowledge of astrology. Ask Sagittarians (said to be sociable and outgoing) a question related to extraversion such as ‘do you like parties’ and astrol­ogy might tip their answer in favour of yes rather than no; and vice versa for Capricorns (said to be shy and solitary). The effect may seem like astrology but it has a non-astrological explanation.

3.2. Meta-analysis

McRitchie claims that to ‘improve significance’ regression analysis is better than meta-analysis, and that disparate studies in a meta-analysis, such as those that test different populations, negate the outcome (2016, p. 164). But such differences are precisely what meta-analysis is able to deal with, see Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2. Effect of selecting criteria said to be more familiar from a set of astrological matching studies from which, to avoid charges of bias, no exclusions have been made. Left: The black dots show the effect size and sample size for 69 studies where astrologers had to match birth charts to various external criteria such as case studies, occupation, or responses to questionnaires. Grey circles are computer simulations in which the astrol­ogers in each test make 100 judgments at random, so each black dot has 100 grey circles at the same sample size with a range that depends on the number of astrologers. Duplicated circles appear as single circles. Features: (1) As sample size increases, the scatter due to sampling errors decreases, so the plot resembles an inverted funnel. (2) The black dots are generally engulfed by grey circles, which suggests that the observed effect sizes are due to sampling error not astrology. Meta-analysis of the black dots confirms this — the variance due to sampling error is 0.041, nearly three times the observed variance of 0.1192 = 0.014, so their scatter is entirely explained by sampling error, thus leaving nothing for astrology to explain. (3) The black dots should be symmetrical about the mean, but more are on the far right than on the far left, indicating the presence of pub­lication bias against negative results. Right: Same after selecting studies based on case histories, which are the criteria most familiar to most astrol­ogers and which should therefore give the best results. But if anything they give slightly worse results. Such manipulations can of course be repeated as required to test particular criteria of interest including the effect of removing low quality studies, which in this case happens to make little difference, see Dean et al. (2016, p. 370).

Figure 3. Applying the same approach to other areas of astrological inter­est. Left: Tests of astrologer agreement avoid all concerns about data accuracy and criterion validity because such things no longer matter. As before, the plot is shaped like an inverted funnel, but the observed mean effect size, although positive, is barely 0.1 whereas perfect agreement = 1.0. Astrologers may read the same books but they cannot achieve the 0.8 generally recognized as being desirable for psychological tests applied to individuals. So if you ask for a second opinion on your birth chart, it is likely to differ substantially from the first. Right: Clients are unable to pick their own chart reading from several (typically 3–5) when cues such as sun sign meanings are absent, but are more successful when cues are present. So any success seems to be due to cues and not to astrology. Source material for Figures 1–3 is from Dean et al. (2016).

The above results seem to contradict McRitchie’s conclusion that reliable evidence against astrology does not exist. But they do not deny our view that there is more to astrology than being true or false. Nor do they deny that future studies might uncover effects that are both useful and replicable, which is the challenge that McRitchie has to meet if astrology is to achieve scientific acceptance.

3.3. Hidden Persuaders (Cognitive Biases)

Perhaps McRitchie’s most curious response concerns hidden per­suaders, our name for cognitive biases that people are generally unaware of but which can make even wrong readings seem amazingly accurate. They can easily generate perceived correlations between birth chart and person where none actually exist, which of course does not deny that genuine correlations may exist. Examples are the Barnum effect, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, illusory correlation, magical thinking, hindsight bias, selective memory — there are dozens more, see Dean et al. (2016, pp. 423–46). None require astrology to be factually true but all are pervasive in astrol­ogical classes, conferences, and consulting rooms. As a result, the astrological correspondences that generations of astrologers have seen as completely valid could easily be completely false, in the same way that the phrenological correspondences now known to be completely false were seen by generations of phrenologists as completely valid (Dean, 2012).

Together with the almost universal failure of astrologers to apply controls, hidden persuaders easily explain the universal experience of astrologers that astrology works for approaches that are mutually incompatible, and even for wrong charts (Dean et al., 2016, pp. 414–6). Thus, when hidden persuaders are controlled, the same astrology fails to work regardless of the approach. In reply, McRitchie claims our ‘argument provides no evidence of this’ (2016, p. 153), as if the six examples on our p. 181 did not exist. In fact hidden persuaders provide the only ‘theory of astrology’ to have successfully survived international attempts at disconfirmation (Dean et al., 2016, pp. 445–6). McRitchie concludes:

A more open-minded attitude would be to consider that positive astrol­ogical findings are simply counter-intuitive, like the countless intriguing observations encountered throughout science. To astrologers who study and use the astrological environment, astrology can be wonderfully counter-intuitive. (McRitchie, 2016, p. 176)

To test this idea let us consider quantum mechanics, which is one of the more well-known and counter-intuitive observations in science. No one denies the existence of strong replicable evidence for quantum mechanics. And the scientific literature is full of critical evaluations of competing theories. But both features are totally absent from the astro­logical literature in general, and from McRitchie’s article in particular. If he were to substitute the role of hidden persuaders for what he sees as counter-intuitive, he might genuinely advance astrological research. At which point we move on to look at studies that appeared after our original 2003 JCS article.

4. Additional Astrological Studies Relevant to Consciousness and Psi

Our article led Storm (2007) to explore the possibility that astrology relies on anomalous (ostensibly paranormal) processes, so ESP and astrology might be related. But if the effect is shown to be very weak then clients of astrologers ‘should exercise some caution’ (p. 50). In the same issue Ertel (2007a) suggests that erratic results in matching tests might be due to psi, but not in Gauquelin’s (1988) Mars effect where no ‘mind’ could make births coincide with planetary positions or predict future professional success. Douglas (2007) suggests that psi could be a proxy for the neurochemical effects of geomagnetic activity. In reply Ertel (2007b) finds no support for a geomagnetic influence on the Mars effect.

Of the additional studies reported by Dean et al. (2016), none showed that psi or claimed psychic ability conferred a detectable benefit on astrological outcomes. Nor was there useful support for the claimed ability of birth charts to tap the future. So the possibility of a potentially useful link with precognition (which Marwaha and May, 2016, suggest is the only form of psi because it can explain other forms), and thus the possibility of on-demand testing, seems very unlikely.

Some of these additional studies were accounts of encounters with fortune-tellers. Hans Holzer (1975) interviewed eighteen leading US astrologers, and singled out Gar Osten (1923–1991) as having an exceptional psychic sense. His eight pages of Osten’s predictions include the prediction that by 2024 ‘astrology and the psychic will both be highly respected areas of study in all our universities’ (ibid., p. 106). Check again in seven years’ time. Peter Holt (1998) visited India in search of Indian predictive supremacy, and found that ‘day-to-day life in India is almost totally influenced by the planets’ (p. 20). Virtually all of the dozens of seers he met claimed that humanity was headed for a global war starting on 20 May 2000. In fact the nearest thing to a war started in October 2001 when the US and UK began their liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban. Nothing significant happened on 20 May 2000. British investigative journalist William Little (2009) visited the world’s top psychics and astrologers (and as a precaution the world’s top sceptics and parapsychologists) to discover the truth about their claims, and was disappointed: ‘Not one of my many [predicted] futures… has been consistent or foretold something that has taken place’ (p. 308).

4.1. Eight Levels of Consciousness?

For his PhD thesis at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Armand Diaz (2011; 2014) derived a questionnaire to test 20 psychic mediums mostly in north-eastern USA (their fees in 2010 were typically $100 an hour) and 27 astrologers from three continents for the eight levels of consciousness hypothesized by Jenny Wade (1996). Her theory assumes mind–body duality, karma, wholes encoded in parts, awareness that probably starts before conception and continues after death, and eight levels of consciousness corresponding with a progressive ‘unfoldment of being’. (Her theory is not mentioned in the compendiums of consciousness published in 2007 by Blackwell and by Cambridge.) Diaz measures each level by five items on a 10-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Here are his example items (he does not say which item applies to which level):

–     The most important thing to me is safety and security.

–     The right choice to make varies depending on circumstances.

–     I rarely feel guilty when I break rules.

–     Ultimately, all options are equally good and correct in any situation.

The results for both groups were similar. But there were no controls and no factor analyses to show that the responses actually conformed to the structure hypothesized by Wade. So it was not possible to tell if ‘strongly identifying with higher levels’ meant exactly that or actually meant something like ‘strongly being led astray by artefacts’. How­ever, when the individual scores for six psychic mediums (two male, four female, typical age 50s) were independently converted to a correlation matrix and factor analysed, they gave the three-factor structure shown in Figure 4, not the hypothesized eight-factor structure.

Figure 4. Factor structure of responses to Diaz’s questionnaire by six psychic mediums. Above: A sample of only six is of course far too small to give results that can be reliably applied in general. But the questionnaire responses for this particular sample do not reduce to Wade’s eight hypothesized levels. Instead they reduce to a much simpler structure, namely three levels with a less esoteric interpretation than a progressive ‘unfoldment of being’, which with the % of variance explained are: Factor 1 = first two Wade levels together (‘aware of environment’) 67%; Factor 2 = next four levels together (‘does own thing’) 22%; Factor 3 = last two levels together (‘believes in hidden realities’) 11%. These results are from Dean et al. (2016, p. 297).

Diaz wondered what was happening during the process of divination, and doubted that answers can be found. When interviewed, all six psychic mediums recognized the spiritual value of religion but felt it was disadvantaged by rigid beliefs. All referred to their spirit guides (and to Lemuria, Atlantis, and other unproven beliefs) as casually as most people would refer to the person next door. Most had more than one spirit guide. They described their spirit guides as mostly angels, ascended masters, or discarnate spirits of dead humans. They felt that spirits were able to have some physical effect. All believed in reincarnation, and in an afterlife as a temporary state, not a permanent one. Diaz comments:

The belief that the psychic has privy to definite and perhaps immutable information from a higher source beyond human control is not supported by anything any of the participants said during the interviews, and in fact they all acknowledged both human freedom in general and their own fallibility in particular. However it is possible and even likely that… some people live by what a psychic says. (Diaz, 2014, p. 127)

All six viewed their work as a helping profession. All were highly independent in thinking and lifestyle. All were cautiously optimistic that their kind of work would eventually gain official recognition. And perhaps unsurprisingly all saw no need to convince critics of their abilities.

4.2. Psychedelic Experiences

In Olivetti (2015), psychiatrist Stanislav Grof and philosopher Richard Tarnas describe their days together in the 1970s and 1980s at Esalen, a non-profit US retreat centre in California founded in 1962 to support alternative methods for exploring human consciousness. They were unable to explain the differences in psychedelic experiences between people, and between experiences for the same person. The MMPI and various projective tests were not helpful.

But a visiting astrologer suggested they look at transits, the relation that planetary positions on any given day bear to the planetary positions in the birth chart. At the time they saw astrology as just a superstition. But when they compared their transits with the records of their own LSD sessions over the years, ‘We were astonished to see the precision and the consistency of the correlations. What was happening in our sessions under those transits were archetypally potentiated versions of the more everyday experiences that were described in the [astrology] texts’ (ibid., p. 110). It meant that the transits were not concretely predictive but archetypally predictive. Thus a Mars transit would not predict concrete Mars things like bullying or trading in knives but only archetypal Mars things like energy and assertiveness whose concrete nature could be known only after the event. That is, it gives ‘a range of possibilities that all make astrological sense, but astrologers cannot tell exactly which of them will manifest’ (ibid., p. 112).

Here a critic might point out that the vaguer the prediction the better the hit rate, so should anyone be surprised? Furthermore there are snags for the unwary, for example the archetypal god of war was Mars to the Greeks but the Sun to the Aztecs (Phillips and Jones, 2006). But Tarnas (2006), then as now a professor of philosophy and conscious­ness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, puts his claims to the test in a 569-page book, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, based on thirty years of research.

4.3. Thirty Years of Research on Archetypes

Tarnas’s examples involve two kinds of comparison — historical events versus aspects between the five outer planets Jupiter through Pluto, and also the lives of prominent people versus their birth charts. (‘Aspects’ are angular separations, here especially 0º, 90º, and 180º; and ‘orbs’ are their permissible inexactness, large for events, smaller for lives.)

In each case he explains what the particular planetary archetype means, and shows how it can be discerned in the events or births that are coincident with it. For example for Uranus–Pluto aspects the archetypes are Uranus change and Pluto intensity, indicating radical social change and rebellion against authority. Conjunctions (0º) occurred in 1845–1856 (upheavals throughout Europe, women’s suffrage, radical socialism, travel breakthroughs e.g. railroads), and 1960–1972 (women’s lib, black civil rights, Mao’s Little Red Book, space exploration). Oppositions (180º) occurred in 1787–1798 (French Revolution, abolition of slavery, start of feminist movement, continua­tion of Industrial Revolution), and 1896–1907 (upheavals in America, Boxer rebellion in China, suffragettes in England). It was the fit and precise timing of these astrological events that seemed to require ‘a fresh assessment of the ancient astrological vision of the universe, far beyond what conventional modern explanations could provide’ (ibid., p. 204). No matter that these are concrete events rather than the mental events in his LSD experiences, or that the archetypes ‘continue to unfold… well after the alignment is over’ (ibid., p. 466). In other words, relevant archetypal events can be observed regardless of whether the aspect is within orb, which would seem to make his claims impossible to falsify.

Similarly for archetypes in birth charts. Thus transiting Uranus opposition birth Uranus around ages 40–44 indicates sudden changes or bursts of creativity, for example Descartes published his Discourse on Method, Newton published his Principia, and Freud began writing his The Interpretation of Dreams (ibid., p. 112). Tarnas discounts the possibility that such events might occur anyway at such ages because both the timing and correspondence with the archetype were so exact. But this seems unremarkable given the generality of archetypes, the diversity of events, and his very large orbs of 5º (1º is more usual) that make the aspects apply for ten years or more. Nevertheless Tarnas was convinced that astrology promises ‘a new, genuinely integral world view’, one that ‘can reunite the human and the cosmic, and restore transcendent meaning to both’ (ibid., p. 490).

4.4. A New Worldview with Transcendent Meaning?

If his claims are true, the world of consciousness and psi might never be the same. But his approach seems problematic. First, an arche­type’s meaning has to cover so many possible outcomes that it reads like an entry in Roget’s thesaurus. Thus Tarnas’s ‘brief summary’ of the Jupiter archetype expansion requires more than 80 words, while Saturn limitation ironically requires nearly 200. Indeed, when multiple pairs of planets apply, as is often the case, the resulting collective archetype requires many pages to even briefly describe the possible outcomes. If this plus nonfalsifiability seems too problematic to bother with, it gets worse.

Tarnas picks the factors to be examined and ignores the rest, a clear example of selection bias. Similar work by other astrologers is generally ignored (it might have alerted him to the problems described below), as are scientific studies — thus Gauquelin’s (negative) results for transits get no mention. Statistical studies are dismissed as ‘methodologically inadequate for entering into the archetypal frame of reference’ (Tarnas, 2006, p. 76) with no further explanation, inadvert­ently supporting the view of American philosopher and former physicist Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) that ‘It is… easy to be certain. One has only to be sufficiently vague’.

All of which seems fatal, as when Tarnas looks at the ‘archetypal dynamics’ of aspects between the five outer planets using very large orbs of up to 20º (ibid., p. 148), and their concurrent historical events. If correspondences are found (they are always found) then astrology is proven. They confirm how astrology ‘can play a crucial role in the positive unfolding of our collective future’ (ibid., p. 489). He con­cludes ‘that there does in fact exist a highly significant — indeed a pervasive — correspondence between planetary movements and human affairs, and that the modern assumption to the contrary has been erroneous’ (ibid., pp. 68–9).

4.5. ‘Methodologically Inadequate’ Statistics?

Among five outer planets there are 5C2 = ten possible pairs, from which Tarnas considers six. Their motion is sufficiently regular for the probability of a contact to be calculated by simple arithmetic. With his large orbs, and regardless of the historical event chosen from an almost unlimited supply, there will nearly always be several pairs in aspect to compare it with. Thus for his chosen six pairs it can be shown that an orb of 15º produces at least two pairs in aspect 98% of the time and three pairs 90% of the time. For the ten pairs from which Tarnas has chosen six, an orb of 20º produces at least five pairs in aspect 99% of the time and six pairs 95% of the time. Since a whole pageful of words may be insufficient to describe the archetypal possi­bilities of each pair, finding a correspondence will be even easier than finding faces in clouds.

Similar problems arise when Tarnas looks at birth charts, where his chart interpretations routinely break astrology’s Golden Rule, perhaps the only rule that astrologers other than newspaper astrologers have ever agreed on, namely no chart factor shall be judged in isolation. That is, only the whole chart can mean anything, just as we cannot extract tomato from a pizza and conclude it is tomato pie. A complica­tion here is that astrologers, having agreed on their Golden Rule, immediately disagree on what the whole chart should consist of. One astrologer might specify N factors while another might specify 10N factors. And they can also disagree on everything else, for example Eastern astrologers (who currently outnumber Western astrologers by an order of magnitude) use a different zodiac and exclude planets beyond Saturn, so three of Tarnas’s five are now off-limits. But Tarnas seldom looks at whole charts however defined, or gives actual charts or even birth data. Checking his astrology becomes a major undertaking.

Controls are of course essential and would have avoided such problems, but they were not allowed to threaten his findings. Fortu­nately we can guess the outcome from cases where astrologers unknowingly use the wrong birth chart, or have to match birth charts to case histories as in Figure 2. The results indicate that even the best astrologers can match wrong charts to people and events just as effortlessly as they can match right charts to people and events (Dean et al., 2016, pp. 368–73 and 414–6). Conclusion: astrology 0, hidden persuaders 1.

Tarnas’s views are echoed by his former PhD student Kieron Le Grice (2009), who asserts that archetypes cannot be tested because they cannot be tested, which explains the lack of scientific evidence for astrological claims (i.e. such evidence is not possible in the first place, which presumably will be news to McRitchie). Nevertheless Le Grice’s speculations suggest that archetypes offer ‘a relatively coherent view of reality’ (ibid., p. 303). But if archetypes cannot be tested and thus falsified they have no practical value other than as psychological chewing gum.

5. Does Our Previous Conclusion Still Stand?

The studies we previously missed and those that appeared after our original 2003 JCS article have required no changes. Therefore our previous conclusion (that the performance of astrologers has no useful implications for consciousness and psi) still stands. Nevertheless, despite McRitchie’s (2016, p. 176) unrelenting focus on our supposed ‘closed-mindedness… evasion of potentially useful evidence, con­tempt for the astrological corpus, and disdain for peer review’, we would be delighted to be proven wrong. To paraphrase Alcock (2003, p. 48), it is easier to persuade critics of the factual validity of astrology than to dissuade astrologers.


We thank Wout Heukelom, Arthur Mather, David Nias, and Rudolf Smit for helpful comments on earlier drafts.


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Storm, L. (2007) Psi, divination and astrology, Australian Journal of Parapsychol­ogy, 7 (1), pp. 47–51.

Tarnas, R. (2006) Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, New York: Penguin Viking. For extreme opinions for and against see the Wikipedia entry for ‘Cosmos and Psyche’ [26 Jan 2017].

Wade, J. (1996) Changes of Mind: A Holonomic Theory of the Evolution of Consciousness, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Watt, C. (2004) Psi wars: Getting to grips with the paranormal, Journal of Para­psychology, 68 (1), pp. 175–180.*

*     Editorial note: JCS will not be considering further papers in this particular debate. However, this paper will be uploaded to the JCS blog following publication (http://www.imprint.co.uk/category/jcs-blog/), where the authors concerned (and JCS readers generally) can continue to discuss the topic further.

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