The Newtonian Merry-go-round
Astrologers’ attitudes to research methodologies
and the implications of these attitudes
for modern western astrological culture
by Bernadette Brady
THIS PAPER looks at the issues raised by a questionnaire completed by a small group of professional astrologers concerning their approach and attitude to astrological research.
The questionnaire revealed that there is a high level of ambivalence amongst professional astrologers towards research. Furthermore, there is a tendency to believe that research could only be scientific and quantitative and that any other form of research is insignificant and of little value. In order to understand this ambivalent and, at times, even antagonistic attitude, this paper also explores the history of astrological research in the 20th century through journals and other publications. This research suggests that the astrological community has been obsessively concerned with legitimising itself according to the scientific model of research even in the face of continual poor performance in this method.
The interviews and journal research also showed that the majority of the astrologers had little or no knowledge of qualitative research methods and that their antagonism towards the scientific method possibly caused their inability to see, listen to or accept research methods from other disciplines. Whatever the reason for this ignorance, in reviewing the published work of many of the interviewees as well as other professional astrologers, it is apparent that the astrological community has independently developed its own non-standardised, non-discussed and non-recognised methodologies on an ad-hoc individual basis and that these astro-methodologies do largely reflect major elements of the qualitative research methodologies of the social sciences.
The paper further proposes that the astrological community could improve its ad-hoc qualitative research methods by incorporating some of the developments in methodology which have taken place within the social sciences and at the same time begin to acknowledge the importance of qualitative research within its own community.
In summary, by using interviews and the examination of astrological research papers as well as other publications, this paper attempts to document the history of the astrological community’s thinking and current attitudes towards research. It suggests that these attitudes have had a detrimental influence on the western astrological culture and concludes by recommending a possible solution.
In defining culture, UNESCO cites the work of Elizabeth McKinley and Subrata Pattanaik:
Both McKinley and Pattanaik settle for rather broad notions of culture. For McKinley, culture refers to the way that people live together, interact, and co-operate together with how they justify such interactions through a system of beliefs, values and norms. For Pattanaik, the cultural determinants of human well-being include political and social factors (e.g. participation in communal and political life and immunity from discrimination) as well as intellectual and aesthetic factors1.
Within these definitions of culture is the theme of how actions are taken and how people in groups or as individuals interact with each other within their systems of norms.
Western Astrological Culture
One definition of astrology is that it is humanity's dialogue with the heavens. This is a true dialogue, for the work of an astrologer is to read the unfolding patterns of the heavens while at the same time encouraging negotiation with this unfolding movement. This negotiation is achieved in the east by chanting mantras, wearing precious stones and making offerings to the planetary deities, as in Jyotish astrology, while in western traditions the dialogue is achieved by focusing on and improving areas of the client's life or client's attitudes which are potentially going to be touched by a future celestial event.
Thus for the purpose of this paper, western astrological culture can be considered to be the traditions, publications, teaching bodies, conferences and customs of astrological thought which work together to increase awareness and understanding of the implications of celestial events in the everyday life of people.
Therefore in order to sample this culture, professional astrologers were interviewed and research journals, conference programs and astrological publications were scrutinised.
A questionnaire Survey of Some of the
Publishing/Lecturing Astrologers of the 21st Century
In order to explore the attitude that professional astrologers have towards research, I created a simple questionnaire. Only a small group of astrologers were sampled but all of these are influential in the astrological culture through teaching, lecturing and/or published work. All of these astrologers have undertaken qualitative research and published this work in books, journals and/or lecture presentations. I sent out ten questionnaires and received back a total of eight. I am an insider in the world of professional astrology, so all the interviews were undertaken in the spirit of one insider to another. All the interviews are given in full in the appendix.
The first question was:
Do you conduct astrological research? If not, then please go to question 6.
The purpose of this question was to measure the astrologer's attitude to the concept of astrological research. The option to go straight to question six was a subtle way of giving the interviewee an opportunity to distance themselves from the whole subject.
Two of the astrologers chose to say NO to this question and moved directly to question six, two other astrologers replied MAYBE, while the other four astrologers stated that they did do astrological research. Therefore, of this small but influential sample, half of the astrologers chose to distance themselves from what they believed to be the concept of astrological research.
Of the two astrologers who answered MAYBE to this question, one indicated that their work was too "small" to be considered research, while the other indicated that she wanted to say "no" but she did, in fact, do empirical research. In other words, one could assume that these two astrologers were unsure or uncertain as to whether they wished to be engaged in astrological research.
The second question on the questionnaire was:
What type of research do you do?
a) Research into cycles.
b) Multiple Case Study research (People or History).
c) Single in-depth case study research (People or History).
d) None of the above – Please define the type of research that you do.
Six of the astrologers answered this section, the four who stated that they did do research and the two "maybe" answers. The astrologers were free to select all or none of the above points in their answer.
Two astrologers indicated that they worked with cycle research, four selected multiple case studies which could also be classified as looking for an astrological signature in a set of selected charts and four also selected the Single in-depth case study option. In addition, of the four astrologers who said that they did research, all four astrologers said that they used qualitative methods with one astrologer indicating that she also used quantitative methods.
Questions three, four and five asked about the areas and methods used in their research and will be discussed later. Question six of the questionnaire, to which two of the interviewees moved directly to, the questionnaire asked:
Do you think that astrology needs to be concerned with research and could you briefly give your reasons?
This question had been placed at the end of the questionnaire so the astrologers had the issue firmly placed in their minds by the time they came to answer this important question. All eight astrologers replied answered this question.
Five of the astrologers answered that astrology did not need to be concerned with research and two indicated that if research could provide answers, then it was a good thing for astrology to pursue. However, the overall sentiment of five of the eight astrologers was that astrology had suffered in its credibility due to its pursuit of scientific justification and that furthermore, it was a body of knowledge which was not suited to the scientific model. This can be noted in the following excerpts from the interviews:
I don't think astrology needs to be concerned with research particularly. I am almost anti-research except for the empirical kind. But it depends what one means by research and what its purpose might be. I am certainly not interesting in "proving" astrology to the general or even academic public. I doubt whether this is really possible anyway with the current resources available - both human and financial.
later from the same astrologer:
When I was at University I studied Psychology and did the usual modules on statistics etc. I noted then (and still note now) that there are the odd pieces of research that do yield unexpected results in their given field and have been helpful. But on the whole, I feel research yields very little information for the amount of effort involved.Another response:
I also think that most research can usually be shown to be seriously flawed. It is usually impossible to create research programmes that can involve anything other than the most basic variables.
I have mixed views; research is always valuable and sometimes yields interesting results. But ultimately I don’t regard astrology as a quantitative science and when we fragment it into separate factions of research we always seem to lose something by not placing it in context of the wider picture. I find this a very difficult question to answer briefly – but it would be similar to trying to prove scientifically that a powerful dream (say, about losing teeth) has a specific meaning. Yet there is enough broad evidence to show that such dreams can be highly relevant and helpful when analysing anxieties, and generally have a common slant. Still, no specific dream will mean any specific thing in scientific terms.And from another astrologer:
Astrology will never be conclusively proven or disproven using statistical research methods, because each symbol of planet, sign, house, and even aspect has a range of significations, and it is not a quantitative process that allows the astrologer to make the correct judgment of which one of the many is applicable in a given instance.One astrologer (when asked about performing research) indicated that:
….. For statistical research to work, Mars has to always signify the exact same object or event in each and every case, and it doesn’t.
I perform small studies that cannot be considered research under defined research methods.And later…
If astrology research can produce answers that will validate the use of astrology, then yes we need to be concerned with research.This excerpt indicates that this astrologer also considered that research had to be of a precise structure or nature.
The overall tenor of the opinions from these quotes is that the astrologers considered the idea of astrological research by definition implies quantitative statistical methodologies as in the scientific method and that they suggest and/or conclude that astrology as an epistemological body is not suited to this type of research. Furthermore they are prepared to take the public stance that research should not be done in astrology.
Another approach to research was indicated by one astrologer who, in reply to the question of whether astrology needs to be concerned with research, stated:
It doesn't need to be. The evidence is that most astrologers survive perfectly well without it. While I do research I don't use the term because it is too associated with research into the validity of astrology's claims, and I am more concerned with its use, nature and implications. I also like to use the words study, scholarship and education.This is a quotation that indicates a general acceptance by astrologers that the purpose of research was to prove astrology rather than to explore astrology and that the word "research" was therefore loaded and best avoided altogether.
One of the astrologers was unbothered by the scientific endeavour to prove astrology and considered research to be not so much about proof but more valuably about insight. Her reply to the last question was simply:
Yes, because I believe in the words of Socrates….Research was not a difficult topic for her, possibly because her background is in the arts and she is used to doing community issue-based research. However, this astrologer was an exception to the norm.
"The unexamined life is not worth living."
There are many questions that arise from this small but, in my opinion, representative sample, questions like: Have astrologers always had this attitude to research? Why do astrologers tend to think that research can only be by scientific research? Why are astrologers so focused on achieving success in the scientific method? If astrologers do consider the scientific method to be the only useful method of research and they have had little success in the method, then how does astrology expand its knowledge base?
In order to consider some of these questions, the concept of methodology needs to be addressed. According to the New Shorter O.E.D (1993:1759), methodology is:
1) The branch of knowledge that deals with method and its application in a particular field. Also, the study of empirical research or the techniques employed in it. 2) A body of methods used in a particular branch of study or activity. (My underlining)This definition can be extended to the actions used by a social group to perform simple daily activities like food preparation, garment making, tool construction and hunting or indeed even economic survival. These actions create methodologies which give a political and social shape to the group, helping to define its members within the parameters of a particular culture. Undeniably, the way in which a person undertakes a task or activity is reflective to a large extent of his or her culture but at the same time this is a reciprocal activity in that, as the individual performs tasks by a particular method, these performances help to create a sense of belonging to a particular culture. In other words, methods used and the culture to which an individual belongs are interlinked. This statement is true not just from the anthropological perspective of observing cultures but also from a sociological perspective in observing what Charlene Spretnak calls Homo economicus in his or her modern environment.
As the OED implies in its definition, methodologies may first be developed as a problem- solving tool but these methodologies, if they yield successful results, quickly become standardised within a group in order for that group to compare, discuss and debate. To belong to a particular group is to adopt that group's methodologies. Culture and methodologies therefore do become intertwined. Industries and bodies of knowledge talk of their culture and methodologies as being a vital part of each other; culture is defined in part by the collective use of certain methodologies.
For example, Boston University in advertising its Research Internship for the 2003 program states:
... The program does not offer course credit, but provides opportunities for gifted science students to experience the culture and methodology of a research environment2.The California Institute of Technology in its advertising states:
Students will work with Caltech students and faculty in multiple areas of science and engineering to experience the culture and methodology of the science professional3.The Society for Political Methodology and the Political Methodology Section of the APSA. on its web site makes the following statement:
This is the home page of the Society for Political Methodology, the Political Methodology Section of the American Political Science Association, and the central web site for the political methodology community4.Social groups and communities arrange themselves around methodologies and, in doing so, reinforce the methodologies’ importance to the extent that these methodologies can begin to function like cultural insignia. This concept was elegantly satirised in Jonathan Swift's 18th century novel, Gulliver's Travels where, in Book I, the inhabitants of two islands were at war over their respective methods of eating a boiled egg. This may seem a trivial example but Swift is considered a satirical genius and all four books of Gulliver's Travels cast a searing light onto the politics and social reform movements of his day. He shows that, in human society, one of the ways human groups or even nations are defined is through the methodologies that they use for problem-solving and functioning in everyday life.
Research methodologies are a particular type of methodologies that focus on the discovery of knowledge. A general definition of research is given by Phelps, Farrara and Goolsby in their work on research into music where they state that research is:
.. a carefully organised procedure that can result in the discovery of new knowledge, the substantiation of previously held concepts, the rejection of false tenets that have been widely acclaimed, and the formal presentation of data collected. (1993:4).The development of research methodologies is thus the development of procedures for discovering new knowledge and the testing of the tenets or beliefs of different subjects. These research methodologies have different forms and are listed by Phelps as philosophical, aesthetic, qualitative, quantitative, descriptive, historical and experimental (1993:8)
Arguably the most successful of these research methodologies has been the scientific method as it has resulted in the continuous unveiling of the workings of the physical world. This success has acted as a beacon, a towering light with all manner of different epistemological groups seeking the comfort of legitimacy within the illumination and cultural brightness of scientific methodology. But for many of the human sciences this acceptability has been gained at a high price.
In discussing the impact of positivism in research into human perception via the human eye, Gunther S. Stent in his article in Science vol. X, “Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man,” states:
...by limiting inquiry to such factual observations and allowing only propositions that are based on direct inductive inferences from the ray sensory data, positivism constrained the human sciences to remain taxonomic disciplines whose contents are largely descriptive with little genuine explanatory power.Such a statement is reflected at the student level in the colloquial definition of psychology as nothing but "Rats and Stats". But why did the human sciences seek shelter under the brilliant but unsympathetic light of scientific methodology?
The need for epistemological groups to seek legitimacy
In 1956, Tamotsu Shibutani defined what he called Social Worlds where he saw the concept of commitment as the basis of social groups and social action. According to Gieryn (1995), this theory can be extended to suggest that people form groups based not only on commitment but also on common motivations and interests. These groups may be for sports, religious, political or epistemological purposes. Gieryn further advocates that such worlds display three major properties. Firstly, any social world has the potential for division and segmentations into sub-worlds. Secondly, a social world will have points of intersection with other worlds. And thirdly, social worlds have the desire to legitimize themselves through definition and enforcement of standards and boundaries.
This third property can express itself in epistemological social worlds by the development of methodologies within the group which can act as a means of standardising the group’s research and/or practice, thereby re-enforcing the group's culture as well as bringing legitimacy to the social world in the eyes of outsiders. In the area of the social sciences, the development of their methodologies has only come after a period where legitimacy was either sought or generally failed to be obtained in the scientific method or the subject was never suited to the scientific model. The methodology developed by the human sciences can largely be defined as a qualitative methodology where, in general, hard values are not placed on observations thus rendering the results unacceptable to scientific statistical rigour.
This legitimacy was also sought within the social world of astrology. The first astrologer known to have campaigned for astrology to adopt the scientific method was the Benedictine monk and mathematician, Placidus de Titus (1603 – 1668). Having studied Rene Descartes, Placidus tried to develop a scientific astrological theory. His theory was an attempt to accept and to bring into astrology Descartes’ mechanical view of the heavens, thereby distancing astrology from the occult philosophy in which it was embedded. His astrological theory was based on the belief that there was a causal relationship between the measurable light of the stars and planets and the events on earth. He developed his thinking in his two major works, Quaestionum physiomathematicarum libri tres published in 1650 and Primum Mobile published in 1657. He also developed an elegant argument for a time-based house system based on Cartesian philosophy5. This house system is now known simply as the Placidus house system and its popularity has carried Placidus' name into the culture of modern western astrology. He lived, however, one hundred years before DeMoivre discovered the equation for "normal distribution", now called the bell-curve. The importance of the bell-curve is that it provided the foundation for statistics which is the vehicle by which one can successfully generalise repeatedly from data. Hence in his attempt to bring astrology into the new emerging scientific ways, Placidus never had to prove his theory via the rigours of statistics. Instead he used the well-established system of astrological case studies with over thirty birth charts to "confirm the truth of things" (Placidus 1983:xiii).
The monk Placidus may have been the first astrologer to bend his knee to science but he has not been the last. Like all other social worlds, astrologers naturally wanted to legitimize themselves as a body of knowledge. Logically this legitimacy would enable them to claim a rightful place in intellectual society, establish their definition of self, strengthen their cultural identity and maybe even dare to attempt, like Placidus, to construct a theory of astrology. Nevertheless it took over two hundred years before astrology seriously approached the world of scientific research and statistics. It did this with optimism and excitement, eager to finally show the world that astrology warranted acceptance by the scientific community.
Reviewing astrological research in the 20th century
In an attempt to understand the sentiments expressed in the questionnaires and at the same time seeking to triangulate the data, I examined astrological research publications of the last eighty years.
The early 20th Century - the time of optimism in astrological research6
At the turn of the 20th century, astrologers believed that theirs was the Sacred Science, the source of all other sciences and therefore were optimistic about achieving the scientific imprimatur. This optimism is nicely expressed by Doris Chase Doane in her work reviewing thirty years of astrological research where she states:
Ideas that go back through ancient Chaldea and ancient Egypt to Atlantis and Mu can be explained in terms of the most modern discoveries of material science. (Doane, 1956: ix)
In order to show that these ancient ideas could be proved by way of the rigour of modern scientific method, astrological research journals were established to aid the discussion and advancement of this most important and potentially legitimizing work. One of these journals, and probably the most prestigious, was and indeed still is Correlation, an arm of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, published twice a year in the UK. It first appeared in the autumn of 1968 through to summer 1970 when it was published with ISAR (International Society for Astrological Research) from Ohio, USA. It then ceased for a period of eleven years, then resumed in June 1981 and has continued to be published bi-annually since that date.
In the first issue editor, Simon Best, shows this optimism and willingness to form a partnership with the scientific community, even suggesting that astrology was prepared to change some of its tenets, that is to say rearrange its boundaries and definitions in order to gain the benefits of being accepted into the world of 20th century science.
Science, in its painstaking way, is gradually coming to conclusions that promise to make astrology respectable. However, astrologers, from their intuitive viewpoint, should not be too patronising, their own subject being too imperfect not to need the help that science can give. (Autumn 1968: 9)
What then follows are eight volumes of Correlation where only quantitative research projects are undertaken, none of which managed to fulfil the early expectation of that first editorial. By the summer of 1970 Dennis Elwell states:
If a scientific astrology is to be developed, meticulous attention must be paid to its language. Modern science has been conditioned by linguistic philosophy and the semantic discipline. (Vol 8, 1970:3)
The next publication of Correlation was in June 1981. The journal now had a slightly different approach in that it considered the failure to perform within the scientific method as the fault of the astrologers and not the fault of astrology. This is best expressed in the words of Professor Hans Eysenck in his article titled, "The importance of methodology in astrological research":
For the past few years, Dr David Nias and I have been looking closely at the literature which has been accumulating with respect to the scientific testing of astrological hypotheses. We found much of the material interesting and suggestive, but we are most impressed by the weakness of the scientific methodology employed by most of the authors. (Vol. 1/1: 11)John Addey picks up this theme in the same issue of Correlation in his article titled, "The True Principles of Astrology and their bearing on astrological research." In this article he discusses the importance of harmonic analysis and makes the statement:
I have to begin by saying, regretfully, that I am more or less convinced that the astrology of the text-books is, to a considerable extent, in the nature of an elegant fiction. (Vol. 1/1: 26)And later in the same article:
Research in terms of houses has produced very little of value; whatever value they may have, they are limited, limiting and unscientific concept and seem stiff and unmanageable in contrast to the harmonic idea. (Vol. 1/1: 33)The beginning of despair - 1981 to 1991
By December 1981, the cultural impact of the inability of astrology to draw convincing results from the scientific method was being felt and astrologers were facing either the total rejection of their tenets or the rejection of the dream of a scientific astrology. Rather than accept the scientific negation of his social world's tenets, Michael Shallis took up the challenge of defending astrology's boundaries in his article titled, Problems of Astrological research:
Modern scientific research and astrology are different kinds of activity. Astrology is derived from given Principles, research from theory and empirical data. The author argues that the two activities come from different world-views and one cannot validly be regarded in the light of the other. (Vol. 1 No2: 41)And later in the same article he challenges Addey's abandonment of astrology's main tenets in his eagerness for scientific acceptance by saying:
Astrological researchers seem to want to choose only those parts of astrology that succumb to their methods and to reject or ignore the other parts. Hence, Addey entices researchers to abandon the astrology of the text-books and apply his method in order to increase their results ten-fold. Such results, however, will only reveal information about the approach taken to astrology and not about its Principles at all. (Vol. 1 No2: 45)This is an important point made by Shallis as it draws a line in the sand. The social world of astrology, having faced the disappointment of failure to be proven by the scientific model, would rather have "life" than legitimacy, would rather hold onto its tenets than accept that all it consisted of was the chance for a few statistically interesting results that offered no significant validation to the experience of the astrologer's consulting room and the astrologer's world view. Addey died before he could reply to Shallis's challenge and to this day this debate lies unresolved.
The movement away from the Holy Grail of science – 1991 onwards
Correlation continues with yet another ten years of quantitative research. Michel Gauquelin (1928 – 1991), a French psychologist who began to find statistical support for astrology, published his work in this period. Gauquelin became a saviour of the astrological cause, with many astrologers seemingly happy to make him their champion rather than thinking about the fact that his positive results were not, in fact, validating their daily astrological practice. However, the slow corrosion of his research results and his tragic suicide in 1991 mark a turning point in the attitude of astrologers best described in the words of Patrick Curry in his in memorial to Michel Gauquelin:
It was certainly predictable; whether inadvertently or deliberately, Michel had wandered into the sights of the scientific apologists trained on a favourite target. Nor did he really have the support of many astrologers, who were understandably chary of yet another successful scientific operation in which, unfortunately, the patient did not survive. (Vol. 11/1: 9)The optimism which had turned into despair and doubt in the early 1980s was now, in this memorial, expressed as anger at both the scientific and astrological communities. Curry captured the problem squarely in his memorial: The vitriol of the "scientific apologist" and the apathy or disassociation of the astrological community. This anger is probably the seed of the disdain and myopic views displayed by some of the interviewees concerning research.
Indeed this myopic view was also stimulated by the editorial attitude of Correlation where, for nearly twenty years from 1981 to 2001, no form of research other than quantitative was published. This is a strong indication that astrologers were ignoring advancements being made in qualitative research methods in the human science fields. Unmistakably the astrological community was only interested in what was considered the Holy Grail, that is, for astrology to be seen as the original sacred science and to be accepted by the current scientific community.
The editorial by Rudolf Smit in the winter of 1995 stated:
The AA set up Correlation as a platform of scientific research into astrology, hoping that it would help create an astrology based on fact rather than on assumption. To a large extent this has not come about – despite many published studies, and despite occasional hopeful findings we seem to be no nearer our goal than when we started. ( Vol. 14 /2 : 1)Yet if one returns to the first editorial in 1981, Best stated the purpose of Correlation thus:
Research into the basic hypotheses of astrology, as opposed to research within astrology by astrologers, has been on the increase world-wide in the last few years. For some time there has been a need for a journal in which to publish experimental results, discuss theoretical issues and permit communications between researchers of all persuasions. (Vol. 1/1) (My underlining.)Clearly scientism had stolen and soured the hearts and minds of the astrological community. Blinded by the obsession of Gauquelin and almost desperately seeking the cultural safety of the mechanistic Newtonian world, the astrological community has failed to see or even look for other research models to help define their boundaries and cultural identity.
This sterile and limiting view that astrological research could only be legitimate if it followed the scientific method was also supported by the work of Geoffrey Dean who published Recent Advances in Natal Astrology, his review of astrological research, covering the period from 1900 to 1976. In this work he discusses and discredits over two hundred separate astrological experiments, all of which are quantitative research projects endeavouring to prove astrology by the scientific method.
Towards the end of his work he reviewed an experiment where some supportive results were found. He talked of five experiments based on astrologers doing blind readings where they were asked to link charts to keywords or traits. When the astrologers were questioned they indicated that they might have used their intuition rather than getting all the information from the horoscopes. Dean then dismisses the results:
Whatever the explanation it is clear that the significant blind trials have not demonstrated that astrology works but only that astrologers work. Hence to adequately test astrology the participation of the astrologer must be eliminated. (1977:554)Dean implies here that science would be happier to admit to the phenomenon of intuition rather than accept any proof of astrology. This point aside, to most astrologers Dean's statement is similar to announcing that to truly discover the role of music all musicians must be eliminated, to understand language we must eliminate all speakers of that language, to understand art we must eliminate the artist. Yet such a reflex reaction reveals, whether astrologers are aware of it or not, that astrology is probably more suited to qualitative methodologies where the human element is required and embraced rather than neutralised or eliminated.
In the face of such prolonged criticism and failure with the world of science, it is understandable that most astrologers would strive to distance themselves and their subject from this reductionist approach. Unfortunately, in their apparent distaste they also distanced themselves from the fertile world of qualitative research. Other epistemologies had turned from the scientific methodology and developed their own methods. Indeed the sheer volume of methodologies in not only the social sciences but also in computing, economics, political science, management, information technologies and commerce show the success of the concept of a methodology as a tool in a social world for generating its own knowledge while at the same time legitimising and defining itself within the arena of other epistemological groups.
Consequently the lack of standardised methodologies, indeed even the apparent lack of debate concerning methodology within the astrological community can be considered a major weakness of this community. Inevitably this leads to a lack of definition but more importantly, this epistemological world has no mechanism or ability to critique its own subject, its own authors and the writings and papers of its own scholars.
Here possibly is the consequence of over 80 years7 of astrology's obsession with the scientific method to the exclusion of all else. All of the astrologers who answered the questionnaire are astrologers who have, in the past, and will probably continue in the future, contributed to the body of knowledge of astrology through different forms of qualitative research, yet more than half of this group indicated their lack of comfort around this word "research." Given the astrological community’s failure to create its own astro-methodologies then, in the view of social worlds theory, they have not only failed to create a meeting point for encountering the human sciences but they have also failed to win legitimacy in any forum. Astrology seems to stand isolated from the established mainstream world, discredited by the academy and aloof from the occult pre-Cartesian world.
Two natural questions arise from this infatuation with the scientific method and resulting cultural isolation. One question is whether letting go of the scientific ideology and the acceptance of a position among the human sciences may be too big a shift in definition for the astrological social world. The far right, anti-astrology Christian group, Reachout Trust8 suggests that astrology seeks to be considered a science to avoid having to be called a religion. One senses that while the question is far more profound than this simple black and white statement, it is nonetheless a valid question to raise. However, defining a body of knowledge as a religion or as a set of religious beliefs does largely depend on the position of the person making the distinction.
It is apparent now, after hundreds if not thousands of quantitative astrological research projects, that astrology does not belong in the world of Newtonian science9. Notwithstanding its label by some as superstition or religion, a viable alternative position could be that astrology is a catalyst to new ways of thinking in future-science. Indeed it is entirely possible that by exploring other types of research options, astrology may be helped to discover its future form. Allowing it to reject Descartes’ philosophy and accept its non-Newtonian nature without needing to be a religion or to consider itself as just another branch of a social science such as psychology.
The second question that arises from astrology's non-performance in the scientific model is: how do astrologers cope with the stress of non-definition and with little potential for legitimisation of their subject?
Gary Phillipson captures this question elegantly in his article "Astrology and the Anatomy of Doubt" in Mercury Direct, where he stated:
What is the astrologer's wound? What else but doubt - the fact that so many of our fellows regard our interest as signifying nothing more than naïveté and gullibility. Perhaps we, as astrologers, should take our own advice and learn from this wound; perhaps the scepticism that so often seems burdensome will bring growth and learning, if we are prepared to really look at it. (2002 Aug/Sept: 2)Phillipson suggests that astrology is a body of knowledge that will not allow itself to be tested, measured and dissected and that we may need to return to the ancient and traditional idea that astrologers themselves are required to partake in the unfolding of astrology by way of their own purity of heart or holiness, suggesting that astrology may work best when approached as a sacred art, science or not.
This suggestion, that the astrologer is required to be present in the performance of the astrologer's craft, is mirrored in one of the replies from the astrologers surveyed:
That faculty (the astrologer's judgment) is where astrology becomes art rather than science and comes from divination (foretelling the future which knowledge comes from the divine, the Latin divinare, divinus) a direct mind-to-mind communication with the deity.If both Phillipson and the interviewee are correct, then the logical style of research that needs to be undertaken in astrology is qualitative rather than quantitative. The only alternative position is that astrologers accept Dean's statement that the act of astrology does not require the astrologer10.
Indeed in considering the style of astrological publication of the last twenty years, astrologers are already using qualitative research methods in the same manner as the social sciences. However, unlike the soft-sciences the astrological social world has failed to acknowledge this and standardise its methods. One could argue that this failure is due to the astrological community’s inability to define itself but it is a circular issue, for the lack of definition is exacerbated by a lack of standardised methodologies. We begin to see the Newtonian merry-go-round.
It would seem therefore that astrology does not really know where it stands in the modern world. Having failed to align itself with the scientific community, it still holds on to its legacy as a sacred science, instinctively sensing that it is too large or holy a subject to be simply placed as another "ism" in the social sciences. Thus it moves forward with the exploration of its subject using the tools of qualitative research but turns a blind eye to this practice, either by denying that it is research, as expressed by several of the interviewees, or at other times simply refusing to borrow from or observe the qualitative methods of other disciplines – possibly considering them less worthy or less sacred.
The style of qualitative research which is published by astrologers
Qualitative research is the product of the social sciences and in social world theory it is one of the ways that they justify their position, maintain their cultural boundaries and allow themselves to establish credibility as a human science. This style of research is the collection of information that generally cannot be expressed as units that can be measured, weighed or calibrated. The value of this information is in its richness of detail and often consists of detailed interviews with a few members of a particular social group. The richness of the information gathered provides a record and documentation of human life which may or may not be generalised. There is no onus of proof.
In many ways most astrological texts and lectures use a style of this research method, for it is common practice for astrologers to use detailed case studies to justify or explain an astrological point of argument.
Case Study Methodology
As previously stated, Placidus used a series of thirty case studies in his attempt to prove his Cartesian theory of astrology and in perusing conference lectures, articles and other publications, one could safely estimate that up to 90% of all astrological qualitative work fits into the case study methodology. Case study methodology is quite broad in that it is a detailed exploration of a particular issue within a given group or set. It is generally conducted to gain information concerning how a group is dealing with or using a particular situation.
A case study is an empirical inquiry that: investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident (Yin 1994:13).In astrology, however, such studies are not designed to bring new insights but seem to be used more as an explanation or example, rather than as a genuine research endeavour. By examining astrological books and articles, it can be shown that in producing work (a lecture or a publication) the astrologer will search to find particular horoscopes that fulfil the conditions where the individual has already displayed the desired behaviour pattern or experienced the desired event.
When answering the question concerning whether they do astrological research, one of the interviewees mentioned above talked of this particular style of methodology:
I am tempted to just say 'No' here but that wouldn't be strictly true. I do do empirical research. Sometimes I have done this purposefully in order to discover something (i.e. looking at 120 comedians’ charts) but more often I stumble across something in my work. For example, there are several disease 'signatures' that I am sure I have discovered - just by virtue of seeing so many clients.This answer also shows another common form of astrological case study: the method of taking a group of charts that all have a common theme or lifestyle, in this instance the one hundred and twenty comedians’ charts, and looking for a common horoscopic theme.
In a sense this type of research is trying to discover a genotype (the rules by which complexity or life unfolds – which in this case is the horoscopic signature) from a given phenotype (the end complex product after the basic rules or genes have unfolded – in this case the occupation and or lifestyle of a comedian). Unless there are only a few variables in both a horoscope and how a person lives their life, this is an extremely difficult process. Indeed the current encrypting methods used to protect the global financial world markets are based on the premise that this is a near impossible feat11.
Data Coding methods – Positive Coding and Grounded Theory
Once the qualitative data has been collected, the social sciences have developed different methods for analysis of the raw data. One particular method is called positive coding where number values are assigned to key concepts that are revealed in the interviews or questionnaires. Positive coding has a long history in astrology. Indeed it is possible that astrology was the first to use positive coding of qualitative data. The method is well documented from the time of Ptolemy and is called almutens. By the 9th century the Arabic astrologer Omar of Tiberias raised positive coding to an art form with what is now called compound almutens - positive coding incorporating previous positive coding.
The author has used this technique in the area of sports predictions.
In "Twelfth Century Castle Besiegement in Sport" (AA Journal Vol. 39 #3 : 27-44) Brady analyses the horoscopes of every cricket match played between England and Australia since 1882. This date was the commencement of the series known as The Ashes. Every horoscope was examined for the features described by Guido Bonatti in his Tractatus Sextus and each feature was allocated a number value. The winner of a particular match was the team that achieved the highest number score within the match's horoscope. By grounding the scoring system in the historical data, the outcome of every match of the (then) forthcoming 1997 series was successfully predicted.
Here the horoscopes and the results of the historical matches were the qualitative raw data. Bonatti's analysis was used to code the data. If a horoscope had certain astrological features then using positive coding, a number value could be assigned to the data, thereby enabling a quantitative judgement to be applied.
Grounded Theory can be thought of as a hybrid between quantitative and qualitative research. It is an endeavour to apply rigour and standardisation to qualitative data in order for theory to be developed directly from the data.
Originally developed by Glaser and Strauss in the 1960s, its purpose is to develop a theory about phenomena. As the theory had to be grounded or rooted in observation and it draws its name from this process. In brief, the research begins with broad general questions which helps to guide the research but is not intended to restrict it in any way. As the researcher begins to gather data, they begin to identify core theoretical concepts and make provisional linkages between theory and the data. This early phase of the research tends to be quite open and can take months. Eventually by constantly referring back to the data, a theory begins to develop and is then applied.
Grounded theory consists of the following stages:
a) Collection of case studies – The raw qualitative data.
b) Saturation of data – Triangulation of the data through other sources of information, such as publications or additional interviews.
c) Collection of notes and memos – Examining the raw data in great detail and the jotting memos, notes and keywords until a theory begins to form in the mind of the researcher.
d) The development of theory – The application of the theory back into the raw data to test for its rigour.
e) The application of that theory into new cases.
In 1998 the author published a book (Brady 1998) on the meanings of fixed stars within an astrological framework and later, in 2002, released a software package with these meanings expanded. These meanings were discovered using a form of grounded theory13. Biographical notes linked to horoscopes were used as the qualitative data and employed the astrological functions under consideration as a filter to select which people's lives were to be examined. Each selected group contained fifty to one hundred people and the sheer volume of information propelled the author into developing a methodology which strongly resembled Grounded Theory.
Demetra George in her work Asteroid Goddesses also produced work which astrologers consider to be a new cosmology in that she presented new information regarding the meanings of asteroids in a horoscope. I interviewed her by email on the method she employed in this research project. (Her entire reply is given in the appendix).
George took a similar approach. First she would saturate the data with the historical or mythical information concerning a particular goddess whose name was linked to a specific asteroid.
I would read everything I could about that figure or family complex - like Athena includes Medusa, Metis, Jupiter, Zeus, Poseidon, etc. And then try to piece together the story taking into consideration the historical layers.
Once she felt that the data was saturated, she looked for horoscopic examples. She then looked for links between the mythological stories of the goddesses and patterns in the lives of her selected group. Having formed a theory grounded in the lives of her sample group, she then field-tested her theory in the horoscopes of people who visited Greece with the desire to see the various sacred places.
In these two examples of astrological research, both have successfully (from the astrological social world point of view) and independently formed a type of astro-grounded theory that could be standardised and used by other astrologers.
Pattern Matching – Cycle research work
William Trochim, in his article "The Theory of Pattern Matching"14 described this method as:
Pattern matching always involves an attempt to link two patterns where one is a theoretical pattern and the other is an observed or operational one.Trochim refers to the methodology of Pattern Matching as either soft science or hard art. This is due to the fact in some forms of the methodology, there is a great deal of emphasis on the mathematical methods employed to match the patterns, yet it is still a qualitative method. These different ways of either finding a pattern to match or linking two patterns together led to the creation of variations within the methodology. These variations are tuned to suit the particular area of the research being undertaken. However, regardless of these variations, the basic principle of the methodology of pattern matching is to link an observable pattern to a less understood or overt pattern for the purpose of gaining information about the latter. Trochim defines a pattern as:
…. any arrangement of objects or entities. The term "arrangement" is used here to indicate that a pattern is by definition non-random and at least potentially describable.And then later in the same article Trochim talks of the predictable potential of pattern matching:
The inferential task involves the attempt to relate, link or match these two patterns….. To the extent that the patterns match, one can conclude that the theory and any other theories which might predict the same observed pattern receive support.
The astrological community has a strong tradition in this style of research known as cycle research work. Astrology has no difficulty in finding an observable pattern. It has the heavens and all the measurable, repeatable and predictive patterns of the sky. Indeed some of the interviewees referred to this style of astrological research:
I search for moments of great historical significance that have good historical sources for times and dates, and which form parts of identifiable series, such as invasions in the Second World War. Then I look for aspects (conjunction, square, opposition) between the sun, moon, angles and one or two other selected planets, usually to within an orb of 2 degrees.And then another:
With research into cycles I like to apply it both in multiple case studies i.e. applying a premise and see if it holds up for a number of cases over a period of time; and single in-depth, taking one cycle and seeing its evolution and expression over a significant slab of time.There are numerous articles published within the astrological community using this style of methodology and provided the research is performed in a thorough manner, it yields good results of a predictive nature. There are many notable examples that could be quoted but a historically interesting one is the article published by Robert Hand in The Mountain Astrologer (August, 2001). In this article, which he wrote at Easter 2001, he examines the historical events around a particular astrological cycle. He starts his article with the following paragraph, referring to the time period of August to September, 2001:
If you live in New York City or on the West Coast of the United States, you may be reading this article by candlelight because of electric power shortages. What you won’t hear about in the media is that an astrological configuration – occurring about every 35 years – perfectly symbolizes the breakdown of the power grid.He then continues to lay out the historical references for his statements, matching an astrological cycle with historical events and then using the pattern thus established to run the astrological cycle forward to show the timing of the reoccurrence of the same historical themes. Thus by matching these two patterns (planetary cycles with history), Hand made the following statement later in the same article:
This brings us to the present group of aspects, where Saturn opposes Pluto from August 5, 2001 to May 26, 2002.This methodology, which is a variation on Pattern Matching, is probably the most successful and therefore widely used in mundane astrology15. Indeed the results that astrology gets regularly from this type of research would greatly surprise opponents of astrology, yet the astrological community seems to have failed to develop this methodology which potentially could be one of its flagships.
So, what can we expect in the upcoming year, based on our experience of these aspects in the 20th century? Looking at the times of the aspects, we can see three major themes that seem to correspond with these configurations. Several of these patterns have coincided with recessions or depressions – the one in 1931 was especially harsh. Those that did not come with recessions coincided with wars, ranging from extremely severe (World Wars I and II) to less so (Vietnam) to the kinds of strife that border on war but also have the qualities of civil unrest (Suez Crisis, Hungary, the urban riots of 1965—66 in the U.S.). And since World War II, there has been a marked tendency for these Saturn-Pluto aspects to coincide more or less with unrest in the Middle East, especially involving oil.
There are many other qualitative methods but as this paper has shown astrology has already paralleled the social sciences in its methods of case study, positive coding, grounded theory and pattern matching.
Methodologies that could be adapted for the exploration of astrology by astrologers
As discussed, astrology has been more strongly focused on trying to justify its position rather than on exploring its own subject matter. It seems that where astrologers have produced work of a qualitative nature, it has been in an improvised manner with no common platform of methodology. The work succeeds or fails depending on the quality of the research work behind it. In all instances the final work may be discussed within the community but never or rarely is the methodology challenged or debated. The astrologer's chosen method of qualitative research is largely uninformed, isolated, ad-hoc and random, thereby frequently producing, in worst case examples, totally useless or at times even ludicrous results16.
It would appear, therefore, that the problem for astrology is that with no standardised astro-methodologies, the astrological community has no method of critiquing or even challenging poor work produced by its professional members, let alone the amateur. This vacuum allows free reign to its critics. Sadly the resulting outsider criticism seems only to fuel the obsession for acceptance within the scientific model, driving astrologers even further from the rich and unexplored fields of qualitative research work. This is the Newtonian merry-go-round which astrologers have been on since Placidus bought them a lifetime ticket.
However, since astrologers do already use some forms of qualitative research, it would require only a small step for the community to turn these into a series of astro-methodologies. Common to each methodology is an understanding of the reliability of the birth data as well as comprehensive knowledge of the subject being researched. (Comedians, for example, perform in different genres and have different motivations and reasons for being a comedian; therefore, logically a researcher needs to look for more than one possible astrological explanation). The following are a few suggestions based on the work covered in this paper:
Astrological Case Studies
This is the most common of methodologies but it is generally used in astrology to demonstrate a theory rather than to explore or create one. A possible variation that astrologers could adapt to their case study method is to, firstly, select a particular horoscopic feature or what is called a signature and then collect a number of people with this signature in their horoscopes. Once the group had been collected, then the astrologer could conduct interviews with these people, loosely focused around the suspected expression of the horoscopic feature but broad enough to allow for the unexpected to emerge. With this raw qualitative data the astrologer could then proceed in a positivist, interpretive or critical manner17. Any results would be considered action research because it would potentially be of real value to other astrologers in understanding the examined horoscopic feature18 and provide a platform for other astrologers to conduct further qualitative studies which in turn would lead to the basis of a common platform of discussion amongst astrologers, as well as a bridge to other social worlds.
This methodology of positive coding of horoscopic data could be usefully applied to any situation where the researcher was looking for a simple yes/no or correct/incorrect answer from a horoscope. Therefore this type of astro-technique could be applied to many questions on predictive work or simple statements such as possible chart signatures. For example, a new astrological experiment is currently being set up for left handedness19, where a simple distinction is made with regard to left or right handedness. This information is then linked to the person's horoscope. Positive coding methods could be very useful with this type of research. This particular experiment is an example of the need for standardised methodologies as it fails to consider that dominancy of hand use in humans is not a bipolar statement but rather a sliding scale.
The key to good positive coding is the necessity for the values to be derived from and well grounded in historical or interview-generated data.
This methodology is one highly suited to any astrological research that required the creation of original theory or new thought in astrology as in the examples previously discussed. There would need to be a sufficient amount of qualitative data available in the form of text or interviews and this data would need to be saturated. The case studies method could be enhanced with grounded theory if generalisation was the goal of the research. Nevertheless this type of method would not suit all astrologers and the quality of the results would depend on the experience and insights of the researcher. However, it is one of the few if not the only non-scientific methodologies that can lead to generalisation.
Developing standards with pattern matching would probably bring astrology its quickest results in terms of legitimisation, simply because of astrology's strength in this area. Standards could be set for sampling historical data and for the pattern recognition to be well grounded in the data. In addition, there could be guidelines established around the frequency of the astrological cycles used and the ethics of representing all occurrences of the cycle in the research. Where possible the historical research should draw on a variety of sources. In the case of historical global events the research should be grounded in different publication sources or in the case of an individual's life, from interviews, diaries and even other family members. Such guidelines would also need to stress that the original theory being explored through pattern matching was broad enough to allow for the unexpected to be noted, thus allowing the researcher the potential to reveal new insights into the subject.
The astrological community has been in limbo since the time Placidus de Titus attempted to create an astrological theory in order to gain acceptance in the new world of science. Furthermore the community has perpetuated the situation by seeking justification in the eyes of science exclusively and obsessively. As a result the community is ignoring or ignorant of other methodologies which could empower them to explore astrology rather than prove astrology. With no research astro-methodologies the community has as a consequence been unable to take upon itself what is the right of any epistemological group –to critique the work of its own professionals. This is a serious weakness which has resulted in the community and therefore its culture being vulnerable to, and damaged by, severe outsider criticism.
Yet the rewards of adopting different research methodologies, aside from the compilation of a corpus of qualitative work, could be larger than one may dare to anticipate. The newly emerging science of Complexity Theory has as its central tenet the discovery that complex systems exhibit a tendency to organise themselves into patterns. Thus at the heart of Complexity is a recognition that, when there are a number of variables that can all react and co-react in the same world, then instead of unpredictable chaos there will be a natural order. In other words, such systems tend to organise themselves into established patterns.
The astrological community shares much in common with this thinking. They also believe that complex systems will evolve into established patterns, whether in the life of an individual, the history of a nation or the behaviour of non-living systems like weather. Indeed the astrological community is in its strongest position when talking of cycles, for at the heart of their culture is the measurable and predicable cycles of the celestial sphere and the planets.
Whether such a meeting between Complexity and astrology will prove fruitful is just speculation. Nevertheless it can be argued that if the astrological community can shake off its obsession with wanting justification in the eyes of Newtonian thinking and begin to explore, undertake and give credence to qualitative research projects, it may well find itself legitimised in the eyes of other epistemological bodies and, more importantly, may even start to discover a new future form. Then perhaps the doubt which was expressed in Gary Phillipson's article may be doubt they no longer need to have.
2 From the Boston University Research Internship Program, web site
http://physics.bu.edu/bu/hsprograms/hshp.html 12th March, 2003
3 From The California Institute of Technology web site http://www.msa.caltech.edu/YESS2003/yesspage1.html Accessed 8th March, 2003.
4 From The Society for Political Methodology and the Political Methodology Section of the APSA web site. http://web.polmeth.ufl.edu/ Accessed 26th April, 2003
5 The basis of Placidus’ theory was that the light of the stars was the causal agent within astrology and if this was the case, then if a star could not be seen, it had no astrological influence. Consequently as the stars rose above the horizon they began to have an influence. Therefore, he concluded, it is time alone which separated the celestial influences and thus it is by time, not space, that the houses should be delineated.
6 Rather than paraphrasing the words of research astrologers in the past, I have made use of extensive quotations so that we can hear their own words, their own optimism and their own despair.
7 This figure is based on the fact that Doane's book reflects backwards for 30 years from the 1950's and the first qualitative research work is not published in Correlations until 2001. This is an article by Rudy Bes titled Forecasting Political and Economic Cycles. Thus there is 80 years of quantitative research.
8 Based in Surrey, England. The question of astrology and religion was raised on an audio tape set they produced for the purpose of denouncing astrology.
9 Quite a few astrologers would disagree with this statement, believing that is it really just a matter of designing the right experiment or collecting a big enough database. However, this is really the only logical conclusion that one can reach when reviewing the last 80 years of astrological research.
10 This is an unresolved question amongst astrologers and is a question that lies at the heart of the debate concerning the nature or definition of astrology.
11 Encrypting is now generally done using the PGP method which is based on the multiplication of two large prime numbers. To unlock the code one must know the two primes used in making the key. This process is called factoring and there is no known mathematical method that can untangle the two primes except by trying every possible variation. If the two primes are of sufficient length, then the factoring process can take more than a million years for the world's most super computers.
12 Grounded theory methodology received its first systematic formulation in Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory (Chicago: Aldine, 1967).
13 Brady worked with over 5,000 horoscopes with biographical notes. When generated and stored in a database the particular star and planet combinations for each horoscope yielded a total of nearly 100,000 star and planet combinations. This was the raw data. For every star and planet combination that needed to be researched, the data base was scanned for horoscopes with the particular star and planet set. This gave a possible 50 to 100 horoscopes with thus 50 to 100 biographies to be analysed.
Each biography was analysed and notes were attached to each one to aid the coding. From these notes memos could be written about the particular personality features or events that seemed to be clustering around the star/planet combination. Often additional reading was required to gain greater biographical information or additional mythological information about the constellation or star. A core concept would emerge from this process over a period of weeks and, at times, months. This concept would be developed into theory and then tested in the original data. Often this testing showed the weakness or inadequacy of the theory and it was then necessary to revisit the coding and memo stages. If the theory, which in this case was the astrological meaning of the star planet combination, was well grounded and thus supported in the data, then it was tested in the field via clients and the general astrological community. In a few cases the meanings needed to be refined.
The entire process for 64 main stars linked with 10 planets took a little over five years to complete.
14 This publication was accessed on the web at http://trochim.human.cornell.edu/kb/pmconval.htm in March, 2003.
15 Mundane astrology is the astrology of countries and politics, peoples and nations.
16 In the early 1990s an Australian TV station in New South Wales asked an astrologer to go to the races with them and use astrology to predict the outcome of each race. The astrologer agreed and of course failed to predict the winners of any races. This was then hailed by the media as an indication of the foolishness of astrologers’ claims. Unfortunately astrology could not rebuff this foolish experiment because it has no agreed methodology for this type of research. Yet this type of research may respond well to positive coding of horoscopes, grounded strongly in historical data, a methodology which regrettably the participating astrologer had not used.
17 According to Myers (1997) there are three basic ways that qualitative data can be analysed:
1. Positive coding assigns number values to key concepts found in the interviews. These are then used generally to test a theory.
2. Interpretive studies generally seek to understand phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them. Interpretive research does not predefine dependent and independent variables but focuses on the full complexity of human sense-making as the situation emerges.
3. Critical studies assume that social reality is historically constituted, that it is produced and reproduced by people and is focused on opposition or conflict within the data. It seeks to find and eliminate the causes of difficulties.
18 Action research is concerned with actually enlarging the stock of knowledge of the particular social science community conducting the research.
19 This is used as an example because I recently received emails asking me to partake in a research project within astrology which simply wanted the birth data of left-handed people with no other information. The naïve simplicity of this approach is an example of the lack of methodology within the astrological community. Received on the 11th May, 2003 from firstname.lastname@example.org, titled "Left-Handed Research Data":
“The Investigators” need accurate birth data for “lefties.” If you are left-handed or know people who are, we would welcome your data. Please only submit data for people whose birth time is certain. This is for a statistical astrological research project, and we need data for at least 1,000 people.
I could not comply because I write with either hand, although preferring the left. My mother however is so dominantly left-handed that all carving knives, scissors and kitchen utensils in my childhood home were left-handed instruments, a factor which may have influenced my left-handed preference. Therefore the design of the experiment which assumes that one is either exclusively left or right handed, displays an incomplete knowledge of the subject matter – i.e. hand dominance in humans.
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