Breathtaking Modesty

I’ve been reading the Introduction to Astrology, Science and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon, by Roy Willis and Patrick Curry. Patrick Curry teaches in the astrology programme at Bath Spa University College which you may have noticed in Flashback. The introduction is truly fascinating, in the way a gangrenous wound might be fascinating to its owner. I’ll quote from it a little, so that you can see what I mean.

Very little in the debate about astrology is entirely new. The word itself means the ‘word’ (logos) or ‘language’ of the stars, and is now customarily
contrasted, as a pathetic remnant of primitive superstition, with the academically respectable science of astronomy. This latter term means
‘measurement of the stars’, and accurately reflects Galileo’s famous contention that only that which can be measured is truly real. Quantity is primary, quality secondary. This book maintains the converse proposition, daring to privilege sensory quality over a row of digits, and is devoted to investigating and recovering a stellar language of apparently immemorial antiquity; a mode of communication that is part of our common heritage as human beings..This is a primal faculty that seems to be embedded in our genes, ironically the very entities now commonly presented, in the current version of reductive materialism, as the sole and invisible masters of our personal and collective destinies (cf. Dawkins 1989).

That’s in the first paragraph, and it’s admirably representative of what the introduction is like. The self-attribution of ‘daring’ for instance. Always check your wallet when academics start telling you how brave and daring and bold and fearless they are. The chances are good that that’s the preface to a piece of nonsense. And then that ‘row of digits’ – oh that’s clever. Original, too. I used to say things like that in the 4th grade (and the 7th, and the 10th, and the 12th) to explain why I was so stupid at math. I didn’t want to think it was just because I was stupid at math, now did I.

And then the absurdity about this ‘primal faculty’ that seems to be embedded in our genes. Eh? It does? It ‘seems’? To whom? You? And anyone else? You just made it up, that’s all. So where does the ‘ironically’ come in? First you invent the idea that chatting with the stars is ’embedded’ in our genes, then you say how ironic when genes are usually such a horrid reductivematerialist item on the scientistic agenda. And then what do you mean ‘sole’? And what’s ‘invisible’ got to do with anything? And what do you mean ‘destinies’? Nothing; you don’t mean anything; you just want to take a very hackneyed slap at a usual suspect.

Another bit. I’ll leave you to ponder its wonders for yourselves.

Here let us note certain fundamental consequences of our dialogical
reading of human nature. In its essential, necessary openness – the
inherent duality of dialogue which is also, and most fundamentally, a
many-voiced plurality – this reading permanently guarantees us against
any possibility of collapse into monolithic solipsism. However, it also
means we must perforce abandon for ever all ambition to theoretical
closure, the dream – or nightmare – of a final, all-embracing theory of
everything, the breathtakingly arrogant project so dear to materialist
and reductionist science.

Openness and many-voiced plurality, hurrah; materialist and reductionist science, boo. Isn’t rhetoric great?

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