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Sam Reynolds on Talking Astrology with Bill Nye

Sam Reynolds on Talking Astrology with Bill Nye

In episode 109 of the podcast astrologer Samuel Reynolds joins the show to talk about his recent appearance on the new Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World in order to defend astrology.

During the course of the episode we discuss some of the different arguments that were made for and against astrology, as well as what Sam learned from the experience.

For more information about Sam’s work see his website: UnlockAstrology.com

Below you will find the show notes, followed by links to download or stream the recording of this episode of the podcast.

Sponsors and Giveaways for May

At the top of this episode I briefly talk about our sponsors and giveaway prizes for May:

  1. A copy of the popular desktop astrology software program Solar Fire 9.
  2. A copy of the mobile astrology app called Astro Gold, which is available for both iPhones and Android devices.

Listeners of the podcast can get a 15% discount on Solar Fire when they use the promo code AP15 when purchasing the program through the Astrolabe website.

For more information about the giveaway and how to enter see the May description page.

Episode Outline

Here are some of the points that we touched on during the course of the episode:

  • New Netflix series called Bill Nye Saves the World
  • Released April 21, 2017
  • Wikipedia description: “The series focuses on science, and investigates its relationship with politics, pop culture, and society. The first season explores topics such as climate change, alternative medicine, and video games from a scientific point of view, while also refuting myths and anti-scientific claims.”
  • Sam appeared on season 1, episode 11: Malarkey!
    • Panel with Sam: 9:25 – 18:00
  • Episode primarily focused on issues related to confirmation bias.
  • Sam was on a panel that featured him + three other skeptics.
  • The focus of the panel was pseudoscience.
  • Nye throws out several different statements right from the start, which confuses the discussion:
    • “You know I don’t believe any of it?” “Do you know why?”
      • “It just never has anything to do with anything”
      • “You’re telling me that there is only twelve types of people”
      • “What about the wobbling of the earth, and what used to be a Sagittarius is now a Capricorn” Referring to precession.
      • Ophiuchus/the 13th sign is brought up.
  • Sam says that he doesn’t believe that astrology is a science, but argues that it is a language.
  • Discussion about whether astrology has any objective validity, and Sam’s position about the objectiveness of reality in general.
  • Discussion about the term “science” being used as a stand in word for “truth”.
  • Various other topics.

Listen to This Episode

You can either play this episode of the podcast directly from the website or download it as an MP3 to your computer by using the buttons below:

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  • Thanks for a really interesting and, I think, brave episode on both your parts. These issues are relevant not just to astrologers but for those of us who practice any form of divination (I come from a tarot background). It’s relevant, too, for those of us who find ourselves in need of defending the humanities!

    I was really impressed by the way Sam lays out the case for astrology as a different method – one among many – of truth-seeking. How can we dispute the human need to seek out meaning in one’s life? And why wouldn’t we expect subjectivity be a part of that, if not central to it? Why is it that we are able to find meaning (and “accurate,” if you will, meaning) in everything from yarrow stalks to cards to coffee grounds to tea leaves to lines on the palm? Must it not have to do with the particular human capacity to discern truth and meaningful patterns out of randomness (or to impose it – though that is another question)?

    At the same time, I see the sense in your arguments about empiricism. When an astrologer conducts a study testing for a given effect in a set of birth charts, or when I track my card draws for years and break down their frequency of iteration to look for statistical patterns (which I do), that is empirical testing. And correlation is not a dirty word – Scientists test correlation all the time and regularly present correlation-based results to the public. And they don’t consider the results “anecdotal,” even if the study groups are small and the margin of error great.

    My own feeling is that the kind of pattern recognition we do in divination is actually *so* complex and so sophisticated that it is, if anything, considerably beyond what science can test – in the same way that science still relies on human senses to discern patterns in, say, neuron structure (as in the crowd-sourcing Eyewire game), or in the same way that Captcha technology tests for human presence. What we do is like that, but even moreso. And while science may have an answer to the question “why does it work?” someday, I doubt it will be in our lifetimes. The question isn’t “Will it have an answer?” but “Does it need to?”

    Thanks as always for your good work. I’m a relatively new listener, but I’ve really been enjoying the show.

  • Very cunning of Nye to bring this guy to his duel, to (mis)represent our field. Very clever to get a guy with a knife to agree to his gun fight! I have a few points I’d like to make here:
    1. A great number of renaissance and early enlightenment scientists – many famous ones taught in schools – were astrologers as well, like Kepler and Newton.
    2. In the west, we have had the benefit of the classic Liberal Arts education model for at least 1500 years. Many scholars have argued that much of the technological and scientific understanding we gained, which gave us such advantage in the world since the Roman Empire, would not have been possible without the Liberal Arts education process. For those unfamiliar, it’s divided into two sections. The first teaches HOW to think. It covers the subjects of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric, and is called Trivium, latin for “three roads converge.” The second, called Quadrivium, teaches the uses of number to understand the world around us, and includes: Math (basic functions of numbers). Geometry (number in space). Music (number in time). And finally Astronomy, which is number in both space and time. I bring this up to illustrate that Astronomy was the last step in this very advanced and effective system of learning. Also I would like to remind others that this system was taught at a time before enlightenment scientist wished to separate themselves from Astrology, which happened in the late 1700’s. When this system was at it’s height, it was understood that astronomy was the measure, but astrology was the meaning, but both were known as astronomy.
    3. Astrology is most definitely an occult field. However, Occult is a word that means “hidden from view” or from direct perception, and is in fact a Greek term from their system of optics as described in Chris’ Hellenistic Astrology course. Some things in life can be directly perceived, and therefore the connections to other things are obvious. But with Occult fields this is not the case. Metaphor isn’t required to describe the blatantly obvious, and would actually be a waste of time used that way. But metaphor is very useful for describing what cannot be directly perceived, and is even used the same way by science when their models aren’t obvious! In either case however, these metaphors and stories aren’t used as proofs, as they can’t prove, but can only describe.
    4. When someone challenges my use of Astrology, I always consider the source. I ask them what they know about Astrology, and what they’ve read. I ask how long they’ve researched the field (when appropriate). If the person has serious questions with an open attitude, I may discuss where I’m coming from and what my experience has been, and why I find benefit to practice. However, if the person is antagonistic, has already made up their mind ahead of time, and has done no serious research at all, I politely decline discussion. Sometimes I’ll explain that if I challenged their field of work, without doing any research into it, that would make me an ignorant and disrespectful challenger, and one not disserving comment.
    If we respect ourselves, our field and our time, why cow-tow to those that have no respect for us and yet have not even the most basic understanding of what we really do? What possible outcome but a kangaroo court could even be expected? No. like Newton did, tell them “You have not studied it sir, I have” recommend that if they want to be taken serious, they should respect the field enough to understand it. Then if they still disagree, at least we can debate with them on serious issues.
    5. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Sam’s Natal practice is the only experience he brought to the table. This is a shame, as Astrology has provided so many benefits to man and his civilizations all the way back, in fact preceeding all known languages. It is a shame that he missed the opportunity to explain how the tropical zodiac measures the relationship of our Earth to our Sun during the course of the year. It’s a shame he didn’t take the opportunity to explain how the foundation of the entire art was based on thousands of years of observations made by the Chaldeans and others. How they observed the night sky and events in their communities, including weather, during the day and over many thousands of years, observed correspondences proven over time. Will we ever credit our ancestors for this great project undertaken throughout most of our history? It’s a shame he didn’t ask questions like: If Astrology is false, why was every important structure in every advanced civilization known, built with foundations intentionally aligned astrologically? Where they all just superstitious? Then why were they so advanced in every other way for their time? If Astrology is false, why were whole systems of mathematics developed to produce charts and ephemerides? Why do all that work if it’s all just a con? I guess astrologers are so stupid we just do all that extra work because we’re not smart enough to just fake it? I’m not trying to be hard on Sam here, and I know it’s hard in the moment when you’re under attack to even say anything clearly. I feel for you. I just don’t see anything constructive coming out of such a venue.
    6. Last thing. I have an idea, one way to deal with this mess, with the accusations of “the scientists” (is Nye even a scientist, or is he an actor? does anyone know?). Why don’t we take the challenge to them? I think Astrometeorology would be perfect for this. We find for our side an experienced Astrometeorologist, with about 20 years of experience. Someone versed in Peirce and McCormack. The scientists can pick their own meteorologist. They can both use whatever tools are common to their practice. At the time of the challenge, three dates and locations are given, one after another, each finished before the next one is given. They have an equal amount of time chosen beforehand. The first is for a time two days after the event. the second one for a month after, and the last one for six months after the event. Or, whatever is considered appropriate. We want to know whether the temperature will be above, below or average and how much. Same Idea for Humidity, barometric pressure, and etc. If this were taken seriously and agreed to, I think it could illustrate a predictive reality to astrology in a respectful way using an original and ancient modality. Judith Hill could be a great help in setting up the actual protocol to the specifications of the scientific model if she were interested in the project.,
    Please let me know what you think.

    • Hello both of you. I also found the interview interesting and poignant. I did feel very disquieted and uncomfortable listening to the dialogue; it was difficult not to feel that Sam was getting a roasting. It was very intense hearing Sam have to defend himself, and I could not help feeling that he was somehow being pulled into line. The reference to previous conversations to conversations with Kelly and Austin made me question whether Sam was conscious of having met a wider circle of disapproval, and frankly I couldn’t help feeling rather alarmed. A feeling I experienced when D. Houlding pulled Chris over the coals in a previous episode. That being said, I felt that both parties failed to mention clearly that phenomenological research (similar to that used in psychology and sociology) may be the way forward as it would provide a rigour and methodology that has been tried and tested and that holds it’s ground against empirical science and helps develop interpretative understanding whilst developing and maintaining method. I’m wondering if it something that you would both be interested in exploring. Thank you both for being so bold and confident in your craft to allow this debate to be aired. You are both amazing in your different ways and I admire you both greatly.

      • I hope that I did not come off as if I was being too hard on Sam or overly critical. I did have some issues with some of the things he said on Nye’s show, and we talked about it a little bit and I outlined most of the major points that I wanted to make before we did the recording, so I wasn’t ambushing or blindsiding him with anything. In the responses I got to this episode so far on Facebook and Twitter it seems like the reactions to the discussion often depended on whether the listener agreed with Sam’s argument that there is no objective validity to astrology. Those who disagreed with that position seem to have been ok with the discussion because they did not feel that that was an accurate representation of their views, while some people who agreed with his argument felt that I may have been overly critical or haranguing him.

        While I can’t speak for Sam, I thought that despite our strong disagreement on a few points that we were still able to maintain a level of mutual respect and understanding so that no one walked away from the discussion feeling personally offended or something like that, and we hung out and talked for a little bit at the Northwest Astrological Conference in Seattle last week.

        I should point out that we were having some audio issues where there was a strange 3 second or so delay on Skype after one of us would stop talking and the other would hear it, and this threw off the conversation a bit. My editor tried to fix it in post-production, although I think that it still resulted in it sounding like our statements were overlapping or interrupting each other a bit more than they were at the time, and that may result in a slight disconnect between the way the discussion felt between him and I when we recorded it versus how it comes off at points when you listen to the recording. Probably not a major contributing factor, but perhaps worth mentioning nonetheless.

    • Its a shame you are so convinced that you would have been allowed the time and uninterrupted moment to rattle off all those juicy facts and ask any or all of those juicy questions had you been in his shoes. And its a shame you feel the need to tear sam down to channel your anger and frustration over the show not going where you think it could have gone. You could have told us how you would have done it without intentionally shoveling a pile of shame on sam foe the way he handled it.

  • (It’s almost funny hearing an “expert” speaking about Ophiuchus these days.)

    I just wanted to say that in the end, if we look at the big picture, all this hate toward astrology is a good thing. It means astrology matters. It would be far more concerning if people just ignored the topic.

    The best strategy going forward may be to just keep teaching and sharing what we know about astrology. And to keep learning, because let’s face it, we are just at the beginning of understanding (again) what astrology really is.

    In the coming years, there will be many Aquarius transits (Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto): the near future definitively looks exciting for astrology.

  • It was mentioned in this podcast and the previous one that it was great to have someone who was a full-time astrologer representing astrologers instead of someone who does astrology on the side. On the one hand, I understand the rationale behind this statement. On the other, one must consider that – perhaps – even though a person isn’t a full-time astrologer, they may still have something to contribute to the field. In addition, not everyone has the financial backing to just up and leave their full-time jobs and become astrologers. Part-time astrology work is just as valid (to use a word that came up frequently in the podcast).

    • Yeah, that is true, especially since most astrologers probably do it part-time. I should clarify that what I had in mind with that statement was another show or documentary a year or two ago where someone was interviewed to represent the astrological profession, but it seemed like they had only been studying the subject for a short time, and their primary focus was something else. I had instances like that in mind when I said something about being glad that the person being interviewed this time was someone who did it as their primary profession, with the implication that Sam had been doing it for a while now, and it wasn’t just something he got into recently.

      • Thanks for the clarification. I’m new to your podcasts so I wasn’t sure what prompted that comment.

  • What a gutsy interview, even gutsier that being an astrologer on a skeptics show. Chris, you have mastered the art of distinctly disagreeing with someone, backing up your disagreement with information and then allowing him to rebut you, and then going back in with more clear statements to further strengthen your point. Beautifully done, something most professional talk show hosts and interviewers can’t do these days. Very thought provoking about validity of astrology. I tend to side with Richard Tarnas who says that astrology contains too many elements to break down into discrete statistical tests.
    But since there are more astrologers living today than have ever lived at one time in the past and they have the best tools ever invented, who can say what kinds of validity tests might be devised? Thanks for this program.

  • At the moment Astrology is an act of faith or belief. As far as I know no Astrologer has passed a normative test, picking the right chart, after exposure to the person directly and/or events from their lives, from a set of 3, 4, 5….. , achieved a statistically significant or eyebrow raising result. If an Astrologer tried this and failed it would only mean that Astrologer can’t do what they usually claim to be able to. This applies to the 3 main, more ‘academic’ , branches of Western Astrology. Naturalism, Psychological and Divination . Mr Reynolds seems to have acknowledged this in the chat, and hopefully conveyed this to Bill Nye. I liked the way Mr Reynolds kind of admitted this but stressed that, even though the Astrologer or person with an accurate or not time/place and date of birth (without having passed the ”normative test” the Astrologer won’t be able to know if it is accurate!), the experience could be of immense value or meaning to both parties involved. Currently many Astrologers let themselves down, and have always largely done so, by arguing what they do works, without qualifying that they don’t mean works, has Objective Truth, in the way a DNA test or fMRI scan works. Of course in the event of an Astrologer being able to pick the right chart, another discussion begins as to how this has been possible.

    • Astrologer Judith Hill did in fact match biographies and natal charts successfully when tested. Here is a quote from her website, and a link:
      “Judith Hill is an internationally recognized Astrologer, researcher and award winning author of many books with a lifetime of experience in all fields of the art.

      She accepted a 1986 NCGR sponsored skeptic’s challenge and won(!) by successfully matching 5 anonymous biographies to 5 birth charts. Her scientific research projects in astro-genetics and astro-seismology have received international attention.”

      She also did a very good study on Mars in the charts of red heads. Sounds funny, I know, but she did this study twice, both with significant results.
      Here are two links to articles I found very informative and well worth reading whichever side of the fence you find yourself on:)

      Unfortunately because this issue involves world views colliding, it’s difficult for either extreme to remain objective. I agree that most astrologer’s mean effective more than true, to describe experiences in consultation. If only some Astrologer’s would learn scientific testing procedures and some scientist would study Astrology deeply enough to effectively test it. Though that isn’t necessary for us to successfully practice, I think some amazing things could be discovered.
      Ultimately though, I stand behind my original comment on this page, and believe that weather prediction may be the most effective venue to test, since the outcomes are truly objective and the temperature and humidity will either go up or down. No opportunity to fudge the data.

  • I am obviously biased, but Bill Nye only has an undergrad right? He is just a speaker… or a hypocrite calling the kettle black

  • At around 25 minutes in, I just wanted to chime in on something that would be a great compliment to Reynold’s points on the scientific approach. Lawrence Krauss the theoretical physicist on the JRE podcast recently brought up a fantastic example where he says everyday we believe in 5 things that aren’t true to get us through the day, like telling yourself you’re smart or pretty, with Joe as the comedian playing devil’s advocate. So that’s why I think Reynold’s is okay saying astrology is an art because it at least does not act infallible or at the least is a more inclusive picture of what drives the mind.

  • Excellent debate! Sam thanks for mentioning my research. I do think that a more rigorously empirically based astrology is rapidly developing and, as Sam anticipates, it looks very different from what we usually think of as astrology.