The place: Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
The time: 7:30 P.M. MST, April 22, 2009
The astrological ombudsman: Dr. Nick Campion, Sophia Centre of Cosmology in Culture, University of Wales
Last night at the Steward Observatory one of our own, Nick Campion, spoke to a gathering of astronomical and/or Shakespearean students, the general public and hard core astronomers about the astronomical/astrological references used by the Elizabethan bard in his plays and sonnets. For the International Year of Astronomy, it could not have been better. Dr. Thomas Fleming oversees the public lecture program for Steward Observatory and from personal conversation I can affirm he is one open-minded astronomer and very interested in the cultural and social influences of astronomy.
As the evening began, I had a brief chat with Dr. Jarita Holbrook, a UA researcher and a participant in the upcoming Sophia Centre event in the U.K. about the logistics of a talk I’m promoting for Nick in Tucson next week. Behind me sat a cluster of old time astronomers and spouses. One of the astronomers asked Dr. Holbrook what topic Nick presented for her students earlier in the day. When she replied, “The history of astrology,” that was greeted by a response of, “Oh boy!”
That’s what I thought at first, too. Nick, whose first degree was in history, jumped right into with Shakespearean quotes and how his thinking was influenced by not only Elizabethan culture and contemporary politics but most likely Plato, Aristotle, generally the stoics and Copernicus. Since Shakespeare seemed to argue both for and against astrology, especially in King Lear, the grumbles diminished.
The gent behind me, who Nick later relayed came to the University and worked the Gerard Kuiper – the astronomer who co-proposed the existence of the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt in the 1940’s only to be rebuffed for such thinking – asked Nick how astrology changed when it became clear, due to the cosmological model shattering observations and conclusions of Copernicus and Kepler, that the solar system was heliocentric, not geocentric. Great question, to which Nick delivered an on point answer: it didn’t change at all. Behind this interrogative lies an even greater question: Why not? Even to this day the question remains, riding the ghostly whispers of great astronomers who also knew astrology. Why does astrology fail to expand to include what we know to be true about our Universe? It makes one seem “foppish,” to borrow a favorite word from the bard.
Anyway, back to last night’s delightful evening… A question was raised by one attendee, wearing a “comet hunter” t-shirt, about the potential cultural consequences of the use of optics of the time to create effective telescopes and more. Again, the gent behind me spoke up, referring to the previous question posed by David Levy. David Levy? Yes, the comet guy. The guy who along with the late Eugene Shoemaker discovered and observed Comet Shoemaker-Levy… the one that blasted into Jupiter in July 1994 in a most unforgettable light show. Also in attendance were other highly notable astronomers. Nick and David Levy enjoyed quite the exchange. To a casual observer it would seem a philosophically founded friendship was in the making, warming the cockles of any astrologer’s heart.
Walking the halls of astronomical academia and enjoying a view through the University’s telescope after the presentation and finding the young astronomers so eager and enthusiastic to share knowledge warmed my heart. These young people dig, delve and research with impressive dedication, having locked onto the pulse of the Universe in their way. This morning as I read through the array of astrological forums I frequent, I prayed that astrologers would adopt some of the spirit of astronomical types instead of posting material that asks for someone else to provide an answer, whether obviously available or not, or issuing a dissertation that lacks any semblance of background investigation… the byproduct of Internet inspired lethargy. But if astrologers assumed the diligent dedication offered as a model by fervent upcoming astronomers, perhaps the reunion between astronomy and astrology may occur more swiftly than nay sayers suspect.
I, for one, believe such a reunion is not only inevitable, but essential for cultural and social evolution. Hail, Dr. Nick! Oh yes, get his books on the history of astrology.