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Process thinking and feedback loops

Appendix to a talk given at the 15th Iberic Astrology Conference, Vilanova, Galicia June 1998

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(comments on fig 1c. cont.)
If the astrologer is considered part of the client's context, it follows that a mutual influence is possible. The interaction is dynamic, and can evolve in the course of a consultation or during a more prolonged client-astrologer working relationship. The astrologer can learn from the experience.

Similarly, the client is seen to have an open relationship with their horoscope. The horoscope describes patterns of archetypal or fundamental principles which will find form in the client's life as time passes. But as the client experiences life (i.e. signified in the scheme by the dynamic coupling of client and context) the relationship with these archetypes can change. A Saturn/Moon opposition natal aspect or transit may be experienced quite differently at 15 and 44 years of age, depending on how the client has evolved and developed during the intervening period. At the same time, the client will still find themselves experiencing circumstances appropriate to the domain of meaning defined by the Saturn/Moon archetypal theme. In an open system like this, the client is able to pro-actively and consciously (or reactively and unconsciously) influence the ways in which the archetypal symbolism can manifest within their life, for better or worse. The meaning of the horoscope is not fixed or determined by its structure.

Most interestingly, this scheme indicates how the coupling between the horoscope and context allows for cultural input into the conceptualisation of astrological principles. In other words, the structure of the astrological language and the way it is applied is not fixed either.

The implications of feedback coupling for causation and prediction
A system which exhibits feedback coupling is characterised by mutual influence. To revisit the analogy of the hammer hitting the nail, the latter would no longer be considered negligible, but to have influence on the hammer. It's as if the nail, as it moves during the process of being hit, influences the hammer in terms of how the next hit will be applied. Although the hammer causes the effect of the nail moving deeper, the effect itself then becomes a cause. The outcome of this, especially in more complex systems, is that effects and causes can't be separated. This makes the investigation of how systems work - the explaining of mechanisms - extremely difficult.

Feedback coupling allows for evolution and growth in the system, as well as a degree of self-organisation. This makes specific prediction more difficult. For astrological prediction, the astrologer needs to be able to assess how evolved the client is in their relationship with the archetypal symbolic pattern in their chart. The only effective route to assessing this is through dialogue with the client. Some clients are much more predictable than others, and are usually recognisable by their tendency to externalise personal responsibility (thereby learning nothing from their challenging experiences, which makes evolution much slower); their preference for living their lives reactively rather than actively; and their instinct to resist change.

The resistance to change surfaces in the model under discussion as 'negative feedback'. This tends to dampen down the evolutionary dynamic and return the system back to its usual ground state. It is a move in the direction of consolidation. For example, a client might feel anxious about some aspect of the status quo. On visiting the astrologer options for appropriate actions are discussed, given the astrological picture. However, fear prevents the client from following up on these options. This negative feedback has a very positive function in life through maintaining equilibrium in the face of fluctuating environmental factors. However, if it dominates too much, the system stagnates, and eventually dies. Or if the contextual turbulence increases beyond a certain point, the system integrity breaks down. Negative feedback speaks very loudly of Saturn symbolism.

On the other hand, positive feedback is in the direction of novelty and change. It tends to amplify energy levels rather then dampening them down. The effect of positive feedback is to precipitate reform in the system. However, unless counter-balanced by appropriate negative feedback functions, such amplification can increase to the point where it blows the system apart, thereby also leading to death. Usually, a dynamic equilibrium emerges from the interplay of positive and negative feedback coupling. Astrological symbolism can easily be mapped onto these fundamental aspects of system dynamics.

When feedback loops are operating in a complex system, the system can engage in self-organisation. In other words, it can become involved in the unfolding of its own destiny through the consequences of its dynamic exchange with its environment. This is not the place to go into great detail, but such self-organisational systems tend only to exist in a state which is described as 'far from equilibrium'. In this state, much energy is expended in maintaining a dynamic equilibrium. 'Nutrients' are actively imported from the environment, and waste products are exported, all of which requires energy. Should this exchange start to fail (for example due to the failure to eliminate toxic waste products), the system rapidly moves towards a static equilibrium, which is a state of death and system disintegration.

In such complex systems (which are the norm in life), small causes can have very big effects. They are amplified . through the system's positive feedback loops. From an astrologer's point of view, this presents a big problem as regards prediction. Small changes or developments in the context of a person's life can have huge consequences. Leaving the cap off the toothpaste can result in a divorce if the system (marriage) has reached a point of self-organised criticality.. The problem is that the level of contextual information required to make secure specific predictions is virtually infinite, and effectively unachievable. In this sense, complex systems have an inherent unpredictability to them.

Astrologers spend most of their time trying to map astrological symbolism onto complex systems, whether it be a person's life, politics, the world of finance, etc. All these show great sensitivity to contextual factors. They are open systems open to evolution through feedback coupling, self organisation dynamics and so on. Astrologers need to come to terms with the implications of this truth for the practice of their craft, and escape from the inadequacies of closed system mechanistic thinking.

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