Week 11b- Oresme against the Astrologers

Most of you will not be in class on Wednesday.  [To be clear... I will be there.  Those who show up will get some extra credit of some sort.]  Clearly NYU didn’t foresee this debacle of a schedule.  Normally, this class time would have been the wrap-up for astrology.  So, let’s make the best of it….and… have a great Thanksgiving.

Please comment on Oresme’s thoughts and/or any of the astrological readings and/or our guest speaker’s thoughts from Monday.  Suggestions.  Describe how much of astrology you find credible and how much you don’t.  Where do you draw the line?  Refer to our readings and speakers.  Describe what you discovered in this unit on astrology and astro-harmonic stuff.  Describe a way to verify astrololgy.  What methods would you use to determine whether or not astrology has something to say about reality?  Describe how astrology and religion could coexist peacefully.  What does religion need to concede, and what does astrology need to concede?  Go back to the Week 11a comments and attempt to answer a question or two from your or another student’s list of questions.  Our guest speaker got to some of those questions, but not all of them.

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8 thoughts on “Week 11b- Oresme against the Astrologers

  1. I was incredibly impressed by Mary Adams on Tuesday, and have a new-found respect for astrology as a field of work. The description of how souls and spirits were brought into the world was explained clearly, and she was able to simplify concepts that are confusing. Though I am still somewhat confused about how birth charts work, for example, Tuesday’s lecture clarified many of my misconceptions and also showed me that the use of astrological signs to learn about oneself is still commonplace. One of the topics we discussed was being able to predict the future using astrology. Both Oresme and Adams showed the lack of usefulness astrology has in this realm. Oresme writes that astrology is useless in predicting events like death or weather, and also that people born at the same time have different fortunes. This leads into what we were discussing about free will. Making room for free will after reading your birth chart, for example, presents a dilemma. How are we to know if we are predestined to be a certain way, or if our interactions with our environment are random and chosen by us at a given moment? This is still unclear to me. In terms of religion, during the lecture I was thinking about how the church would feel about astrology’s views on conception. It reminded me of the church’s teaching that we always exist, even before we are born, but it is the moment of conception which brings us to earth from heaven. In this sense I think they could coexist peacefully, but I can’t imagine that the church liked the idea of multiple constellations ruling the actions of humans. I imagine they would have compared it to early polytheistic religions.

    • Indeed, I was interested in both Oresme’s insistence on how free will overrides any astrological prediction and with Mary Adams’ resistance in getting predictive/prescriptive.
      In modern terms I wonder if the heavenly forces of astrology (as Oresme views them) act more like gravity than like an either/or necessity? Gravity pulls things, but doesn’t necessarily make everything ball up on massive objects.. for example the earth itself. If everything were dead and had no “voluntary motive power” everything would simply settle into a big ball, reflecting the radial 1/r^2 force of gravity. But our existence denies this tendency. We human beings don’t always go down towards the center. Sometimes we jump up or run across or even launch ourselves to the moon. We choose to override gravity. I wonder if Oresme were around after Newton’s theory of gravity, if he would have found this analogy useful in his description of astrological forces.

      The similarities between Platonic soul theory mixed with astrological theory and Christian theology is certainly interesting. A fellow named William Lilly wrote a book called “Christian Astrology” in the 17th century. It might be worth a look…

  2. After Mary Adams’ wonderful lecture and reading Oreseme I think I have a good understanding of how free will works in astrology which was one of the questions I had asked before the lecture and have always wondered about. Astrology has always been something I have been brought up with as it is very common in Indian culture to work with astrologers and have been looking at charts and getting readings done since I was a child. However although most of the time they were very on point it always confused me as to how my personal choices and decisions would affect these outcomes. What Mary Adams explained when looking at birth charts and how cosmic alignments affect earthly bodies with by bringing up different ‘energies’ per say will cause for different scenarios whether good or bad it is how the individual faces such situation is what makes for randomness and individuality. I think today astrology might have a reputation for making predictions for ones immediate future such as love, career, family outcomes which might not be the best way to use this tool. After reading Oresem too it seems that astrology has great value for looking at bigger pictures rather than immediate predictions. What Mary Adams said about using birth charts to understand why something is happening rather then what is going to happen seems to be the most valuable. Although the concept of how free will plays into this all is much more clear to me now I still wonder if the choices one makes can totally change an outcome having a domino effect changing all other outcomes. Can what we do on this earth outpower what is ‘aligned in the stars?” is that even possible? If that even makes sense…

    • How similar are western astrology and the Indian versions that you know about? Mary Adams clearly made space for free will as did Oresme. I am very impressed that you noticed how Oresme doesn’t categorically deny astrology. His criticisms are very much in line with our suspicions today. In fact, many of the questions you all asked in the blog on Monday were dealt with by Oresme. I am constantly amazed by Oresme. I’d love to hear more about Indian astrology and your experiences and impressions.

  3. A few parts of the Oresme reading stuck out to me. I thought it was weird when he was talking about how Ptolemy said the further North and West you are the less knowledge you can have of astrology. And likewise you are more apt for it if you are from the southwest. Are there racist connotations here? I likes Oresme’s point that if one can tell the future of fortunes with certainty, then who cares? Because there is no way to change it. And if someone can change fortune, then there is no way to know it. He sets up a sort of impossible scenario for astrological predictions to matter.
    Parts of this reading remind me of ancient Greek plays, where the actions and outcomes seem to be completely dictated by the fate of the gods. Oedipus slowly learns of his fate, but there is no way to change any of it. It is sort of frustrating to observe as a modern audience. I also liked when he talked about knowing history as a way to know the future. This seems like an applicable concept in a lot of areas of life and science. In astronomy, you can learn a lot of about the future of space, by knowing the past. In a completely closed system of absolute knowable laws you can theoretically know the future from the past and the past from the future. I thought he did a good job of ascribing meaning back to astrology by saying that even though we cannot know the exact future from it, it is still good to know part of something divine and great, than all of something small and insignificant.

    • I don’t doubt that there are some racist connotations in some of Ptolemy’s observations. I looked over the passages cited. They are in Book II, section 2 of Tetrabiblos. This section was included but not assigned in the PDF from last week. It starts on p. 121. Feel free to check it out.
      I too love Oresme’s power of reasoning in that section on p. 492. Why bother knowing the future if we have no way of changing it with the decisions we make? And if we can alter the future, it cannot really be predicted, now can it. That is a great part! It’s sort of a climax in the reading.. all of his points come to bear on that little bit of logical analysis.
      You also noticed that great part towards the end of the reading on the awesomeness of studying the heavens. Oresme is interesting in his reticence to categorically diss astrology. His points are totally reasonable even in our modern context. It is rare to find a writer from 700 years ago who doesn’t require tons of qualifications to help him out. Oresme is pretty amazing.
      I like how you related it to Greek lit. There might be a paper topic there.

  4. I genuinely enjoyed listening to Mary Adams speak on Monday. As Amy mentioned, she did an impressive job of presenting astrology (often associated with bullshit) in a manor that was no only impressive, but endearingly realistic. I felt that she struck a universal chord (pun kind of intended) when she said that while all we can really do is live and work in the present, learning and understanding the patterns of the cosmos and how they miiiight have an effect on one’s life can be, at least, encouraging. In her words: “this too shall pass.” I was inspired by the notion that we all choose when to incarnate, we bring the tools we have, and we do what we can do for the world. It’s like we all chose to be here together. It’s cute.
    The one question that lingers for me, is, what is the point? What are we all working toward down here on the world? Good experience? Happiness? Peace? Do we win a prize if we somehow manage a perfect world? Am I an asshole to assume we need to be “working” on something? I also wondered if–when we are stars–we get to pick which couple to be born to, or if it’s randomized and we just go to any random “opening.”
    In terms of Oreseme’s opinion on Astrology, I found it to be highly amusing. He at first seems to be offended by the idea of earthly men trying to figure out the world via the cosmos, but by the end seems charmed by Astrology. The differentiation I could find was between his frustration with the men who “believe in” and ascribe to Astrology as a science, and men those like himself–who don’t have faith in Astrology’s accuracy or predictions, but who appreciate that God gave created the breath-taking cosmos (apart from being beautiful to look at) as motivation to contemplate the meaning of our existence.

  5. While listening to our guest speaker, Mary Adams, on Monday, interesting questions arose that I had not previously considered about astrology. I asked her, in class, what we were suppose to do with this information: information about our astrological sign and our time of birth, etc. How is this information suppose to be applied to my life. Somehow, her answer seemed to dodge the question. I suppose I should have asked, how is this relevant? How is it helpful to be told about character traits that apply to oneself? Yes, I’m a scorpio. I know what scorpios are “inclined” to do, how they are to act. But none of this actually seems appropriate for my life. Nor does knowing that mars is in retrograde… In terms of credibility, I find it all to be an accident if it truly applies to people and their lives. The only thing I can compare it to is the idea about epicycles – The math was done in such a way that it seemed ALMOST perfect when mapping the movement of planets. This was one way of getting around a problem. In terms of astrology, I think that there could very well be forces in the universe that dictate certain aspects of humanity, but it becomes an incorrect application that happens to apply to certain things. When reading the document by Oresme, I was inclined to say that religion and astrology do not interact well. In general, Oresme seems to negate the option that astrology could predict things, such as the future. This, obviously, conflicts with God and religion, which is why Oresme has ruled it out. I appreciated reading, on our blog, about these celestial laws in relation to the law of gravity. I think this relates back to my idea about the assumptions made in astrology being fairly accurate in the same way that epicycles are accurate. It is one way to look at the forces in the universe through the visual heavens above, but it does not exactly address the source and the true forces.
    My favorite moment in Mary Adam’s discussion was when she explained our souls’ journey from a star down to earth. I find it a lovely idea: we’re all born from a star. Still, it is just as likely as anything else, so I find it to be very left field.

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