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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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Predictability horizons (continued from page 2)
It may seem from what I have written above that from a process point of view, prediction is impossible. However, this is not the case. It all depends on the level of specificity one hopes to achieve.

As an analogy, consider weather forecasting. The behaviour of the weather, like human behaviour, is highly complex. When a meteorologist forecasts rain in two days time, it is based on knowledge of the movement of weather fronts, wind directions, atmospheric pressure levels, etc. Usually, the forecast is right, and it does rain in two days time.

However, the meteorologist cannot predict exactly when it will start raining at a particular location, or for how long, or how much rain will actually fall. Also, the long term weather forecast can only be made perhaps five or six days in advance, and the success rate for the forecast will diminish the further into the future one tries to predict. There is much investment within the development of meteorology in increasing the amount of detailed information which can be fed into powerful computers in order to extend the forecasting time frame. But ultimately, no matter how much information is used, it can never be enough to provide certainty, because extremely small errors become amplified during computation. The longer the time frame, the larger the error becomes.

Astrology is not the some as weather forecasting, but the analogy is useful. In the same way that meteorologists can identify the existence of dynamic weather patterns (order), so too can astrologers see rhythmic patterns in system dynamics which correlate with astrological indicators. On a general level, the 'astrological climate' during a particular period can be readily identified for a system (i.e. person, business project, or whatever). This reveals what kind of 'archetypal' or fundamental principles are going to emerge within the dynamics of the system. If one has an understanding of the system context (e.g. knowledge of human behaviour, the circumstances of the person's life, etc.), one can start to make predictions about the future qualitative unfolding of possibilities in the system. In other words, how the system is likely to behave. But as with the weather forecasting analogy, the specificity of the prediction is limited by various factors. The more contextual information that is available, the more specific one can hope to be in one's predictive statements. However, one can never have sufficient information to approach certainty - there is a predictability horizon beyond which efforts to predict are likely to end in failure.

The horoscope and a spatial metaphor
The horoscope can be visualised metaphorically as a 'potentiality landscape' (a symbolic map of the event-space). The symbolic patterns in the birth chart represent features in this landscape - the equivalent of hills, valleys, flat plains, forests, and so on. A person's life can be visualised as a journey though this landscape, which has the magical property of changing in accordance with how one moves through it. From a teleological point of view, the person is heading inevitably towards a specific point in this landscaped event space which represents death. During their life, different periods will find the native drawn through different parts of the landscape. For example, at some point, the individual may be moving through the valley known as the Saturn Complex (e.g. at the Saturn Return). But where they enter into this valley depends on their past experiences and behaviour. In fact, the very shape of the valley is constantly changing in time as the person moves towards it. Only when the entry is made does the valley assume its form.

What this ametaphor implies is that the more one knows about the client's past experiences, the easier it is for the astrologer to 'see' how the Saturn Complex valley is being approached. Are they going to be taking the high road, the low road, the path through the forest, etc.? There are many ways through the Saturn Complex Valley, and the particular route to be taken whenever the journey happens is not defined at birth. On the other hand, according to astrological traditions visits are to some extent scheduled to occur at certain times in life. For example between 28-30 years of age during the Saturn transits, or during transits of other planets to Saturn.

While it may be fated for an individual to move through the Saturn Complex valley at age 29, the quality of experience of the journey is not fixed. It is a consequence of interplay between fate and the exercise of choice in a contextual situation which may be more or less fluid. In this sense, to say that one reaps what one sows is close to the truth.

Predicting the future according to mechanistic thinking is based on knowledge of initial starting conditions and the laws and 'equations' which govern the behaviour of the system. Because the system is considered closed, the future is implicit in the internal dynamics of the system. If this were true for astrology, it would mean that the future is given by the horoscope itself, and knowledge of initial conditions (i.e. knowing it is the chart for a person, a business, a horse race, or whatever). This is the astrological equivalent of a very strict determinism - the unfolding of destiny is not negotiable.

According to process thinking, the behaviour of the system in the near future is implicit in the present. The dynamics are leading in a particular direction, and the field of possible future events is narrowed down to a high degree in the short term. The present state is built on the past behaviour. Thus the more one knows about the history of the system, and the more contextual information one has access to, the more predictable the system's future behaviour becomes. (This may have relevance for conceptualizing clairvoyance, and overt divinatory techniques such as horary - the probable near future can be seen in the present, if one approaches the situation from a non-rational perspective.) At all times though there are limits to what one is able to predict - somewhere, one eventually meets the predictability horizon. This is defined by various factors - the amount of contextual information, knowledge of the history of the system, the skill of the astrologer, the level of specificity required, etc.

What I'm trying to describe in this essay is a way of looking at the phenomenon of astrology through the conceptual imagination of one of the leading edges of 20th/21st century consciousness. It does not eradicate the validity of other ways of perceiving astrology. What it does do is provide the beginnings of a conceptual framework that might appeal to astrologers who resonate strongly with the contemporary cultural movement away from strict adherence to themes of fixity, absolutes, permanence, certainty, etc. I personally need to be able to make sense of my experience of astrology in contemporary terms, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Others find less cerebral frameworks more satisfying, and this is fine too. However, I do think that one of the advantages of re-visualising astrology in these terms is that it enables communication with currents flowing in the broader collective. Communication and dialogue using metaphors drawn from the mainstream facilitates mutual understanding, which may then lead to acceptance.

Copyright 1998 Bill Sheeran        | page 1 |  | page 2 |  | END |