OCCAM'S RAZOR


Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 20:02:00 -0600
Subject: Re: [Centaurs] One-Degree Orbs; Hierarchical Precedence

Some weeks ago I wrote a few comments on this in another forum. Since I don't have in my site yet, I would like to summarize it here. It is a little disordered for the moment, since it is a collection of several different posts.

William of Occam, "the Invincible Doctor" (1285?-1349?):

<<Essentia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem: beings or essences are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.>>
[Joseph Campbell's translation]


I.

Occam's razor is the reflection of a principle of organization in all structures, organic and inorganic, physical, psychological, spiritual. If you cut in the right place and in the right way, you will open a crack and "enter", and when you do that, everything else becomes peripheral and unimportant, and can be cut away for the purposes of the specific analysis you are doing under a specific set of circumstances. This involves all branches of astrology, not only the "divinatory".

There is a big difference when astrology is conceived as some sort of "knowledge" about the relationship we have "with the heavens", and when it is seen as a tool and a discipline for analysis. Since "analysis is analysis", we have to make it in a structured way, and this means that it is always "vertifical". When the main signature or signatures are identified, the rest becomes unimportant and can be dismissed.

When one uses a set of tools in order to open e.g. a safe box, once it is open, you can forget about the tools. And the tools you use depend on what is it that you want to do. If we imagine an astrological chart as a toolbox, then obviously, depending on what you want to do, there will be many tools there that are not needed or important at all. What is important and what is not, depends on the situation.

For example: when doing horary astrology, one uses a method that is adapted to the nature of horary astrology and to the inquiry or question itself; when doing an astrological consultation, you use a method adapted to what your client needs; when doing a written report, you use another method for tackling the chart, and when you are trying to find the astrological characteristics of an asteroid that does not even have a name, you use still another method which could never be used for any of the others.

All of them will require a different way of using Occam's razor, but they are all "a method or a technique".
 

II.

Any entity or phenomena (an event, a chart) has an astrological signature when it is examined hierarchically, or vertically, in what Marc Jones called a "vertifical" approach to astrology. Life is organized this way. This hierarchical analysis could become a very subjective proposition based on personal values, but in astrology, there is a method or a technique which allows to find "signatures" with more objectivity, based on focal determinators and a particular and consistent application of Occam's razor.

The signature is not a formula that can be easily and indiscriminately applied to all other cases. However, I believe that the genius of astrology is the fact that, when one sees it again under very different circumstances and symbols, one "knows" that the two things or sets of circumstances are related in some important way. Through the manipulation of symbols by the mind, astrology has established an important link between 2 unrelated things, and the mind becomes aware of unsuspecting relationships that can completely transform or allow us to reinterpret reality.

In other words, an astrological signature does not mean mere repetition of circumstances, it is something far deeper and more significant.
 

III.

Occam's razor, to me, does not have anything to do with "simplicity". It is a matter of prioritizing. If you have what is most important, the rest is unnecessary and only contributes to the loosing of focus. It is a method of analysis that comes as a result of the fundamental property of all structures: stratification.

An astrological chart is not a horizontal structure where everything is flat. It is organized hierarchically. That's why an analysis of the "whole" chart is never needed. There is no denying that a perception of the whole is necessary, but this perception is qualitative and belongs to a different process altogether which is the opposite of analysis.

Not everything in the chart has the same level of importance. It is never necessary to interpret the whole chart. Once you have what is essential, the rest needs no consideration because it will be already included, or will come out by itself only when it is needed.

The razor is applied as a method of analysis, cutting away what is unnecessary. The question is how is it decided what goes and what remains? For example: If a significant asteroid (it has to be significant first!) is in a less than 1 degree conjunction or opposition to the Sun or Moon, and Jupiter is 3 or 4 degrees away and separating, it is Jupiter, not the asteroid, that goes away. To dismiss an asteroid beforehand, even if it is in an obvious critical position of the chart, simply because it is an asteroid (which really means "too small" in the mind of the majority) and not "a planet", is prejudice, not Occam's razor.

In other areas of intelectual analysis, the establishment of the main foci or of what is essential may be quite relative or subjective and therefore open to question, but in astrological analysis this problem tends to disappear if you follow a consistent set of rules or principles --established before hand-- with which you can determine where the focus can be found.

Unless I have it all wrong (I hope I may be corrected on this), I think Occam's razor must be seen as a mental discipline necessary for all analysis, not a theory, nothing to do with "simple vs. complex". It is a method that protects against error, and it is as far as you can get from an error-inducing simplification of things. If you focus your mind in what is essential, even if you are ignoring the rest, you will not be wrong.
 

IV.

Occam's razor is a tool for analysis, not an excuse to ignore or dismiss the new. There is a generalized tendency to think that the razor wipes away the use of asteroids, which is one of the many a priori prejudices against their use.

My approach is: you use your own discipline, the one that works for you. Certainly not everything is worth putting in a chart. The main problem here is trying to apply a paradigm which is the result of traditional astrology working with a limited number of clearly established and sanctioned elements (that you always put in a chart), and pretend to apply it to something it is not made for: the availability of a myriad of elements. This requires a totally different approach to the chart, one which may be more adapted to the myriad of possibilities open to people of the 21st century. Order, rigor, and sobriety are always necessary for a good analysis. That doesn't change. I always work with a very strict application of Occam's razor.

But how you apply the razor is what varies, and it depends on the relative value or weight you give to the different elements. In the case of asteroids, as far as I am concerned, the biggest mistake is to weight them according to size, which is a result of a Newtonian paradigm very alien to the way astrology works.

The selection of which bodies or asteroids to use is made on 2 levels:

1- In terms of research: what bodies to study, in which bodies will I concentrate my investigative resources. Once the research is made or advanced enough, then a certain number of them will now be "significant" generally speaking. But how did I make the decision to study these only?

2- In practical terms when working with specific astrological cases (clients, biographical study, mundane astrology, etc.). In these cases, once I have a "pool" of significant asteroids I can work with because I understand them, I apply Occam's razor and choose only the ones that are very focal.

The bottom line is that it is the structure of the chart and the particular way in which I apply Occam's razor what dictates which asteroid to use and which to ignore, according to the rules of focal determination. In my view, if the chart is weighted free from all the prejudices (and actual ignorance) that make people dismiss a priori the asteroids, then the problems with level 2 disappear. It is not an issue particular to asteroids but to methods of chart analysis.

The issues of level number 1 are complex, mainly because astrologers normally either ignore or refuse to be explicit about how they have made the selection. In my opinion lack of clarity in this is like a building that crumbles easily once you confront the selection with all the others that were dismissed.
 

V.

You use the bodies that are focal, meaning less than one degree conjunctions or oppositions to the Sun, Moon, nodes and perigee/apogee axis, angles when the time is known with enough precision, very tight orbs of 1 degree or less, including squares sometimes when there is an axis, etc.). There are many ways in which weighting can be done, depending on the particular way of applying Occam's razor.

The point is that you have to change the way of looking at a chart, the mind has to be re-educated and the methodology used to work with only 10 planets must be replaced. Otherwise, things look very absurd. The prejudice of size as a measure of importance must go away first. I think Pluto makes this very clear. The prejudice caused by their great numbers must go away second, in my opinion, since it is a question of methodology only.

I understand people's prejudice about the use asteroids. Very often, they are used in the most trivial and petty manner, and without any weighting of their positions in a chart. Their use is just for entertainment, very untranscendental. But this talks about the attitude or superficiality of the astrologer, not about their potential importance in a chart or a person's life.

I feel that the approach to asteroids was more profound when there were only 4 of them available. I still think that the ideas put forth by Eleanor Bach in her "Planet Watch", or Esther Leinbach and others like them are of a higher calibre than most of what is written today about asteroids, the reason being that the mind can be better focused with only 4 than with 64 or 7000 of them. But this is not a reason to dismiss them; it is a reason to re-think our approach, re-educate ourselves, and develop new methodologies and new ways of understanding not only an astrological chart, but the solar system itself.
 

VI.

The phenomenon (the super-abundance of information) is not unique to astrology. It is something a serious mind has to tackle with in all areas of knowledge today.

Most astrologers rest comfortable with an over-simplified picture of the solar system that astronomers have begun to leave behind in the last decades, thanks to their awareness of the importance of minor planets within the structure of the solar system. If the solar system is a metaphor for every other organism or system, such as a person's life, I think there is no valid reason to pretend that the asteroids are not there, or that they are not important.

Our immunology system is very small, practically invisible, physically insignificant, and yet is composed of myriads of individual cells without which you cannot live. And these cells are not indistinct. There are different types of them, with different properties or functions, as there are different types of asteroids. Slow-moving asteroids taking 90, 190, 500, or 1200 years to complete a revolution around the Sun have very different qualities than those that circle the Sun every 4 years or less. This type of orbital thinking is fundamental in astrology, and is the main reason why, apart from size, Saturn is different from Mercury.

This distinction is often not made in asteroids work, and is one of my main criticisms of it.

I like to distinguish between asteroids and centaurs. Centaurs, as well as transneptunians, are a new category of bodies, very different from what is normally thought of as "asteroids". They move 20 to 200 times slower, have a different origin, a different physical constitution, are generally much larger (specially the kbo's), and have very dramatic cometary orbits, almost the opposite of what you find in the majority of the "normal" asteroids. They refer to very different levels of life and of nature as Neptune and Pluto are to Venus or Mars.

It is not easy to make good use of something of which the mind is not clear what it means or how to use it. But this is a result of the lack of experience, and is what one should expect when someone is learning. And in terms of asteroids, everybody in astrology is learning. I don't think that ignoring the asteroids is the way of the future; I prefer to think that astrology's future is in our ability to face the new and the unknown, and develop new paradigms and break with tradition, in consonance with what is happening all around us.

Juan