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The Moon On Deck

...or, How The Sky Comes Up Through Your Feet...

By John Townley

Some time ago, at a party on board one of my favorite tall ships, I was standing on deck as the full Moon rose, listening to a self-absorbed engineering-B.S. type wax on about how “scientifically” we couldn’t possibly be influenced at all by things in the sky because of Newton’s “inverse square law.” [that is: gravitational attraction is proportionate to the size (mass) of the objects involved and the square of their distance] Why, my goodness, he himself had more gravitational effect on us right there sipping cocktails than anything that far away in space, he boasted. It seemed so authoritatively reasonable the way he put it, and everyone nodded accordingly without refutation, but by the time he had finished his lecture on the official physics of life along with a couple more drinks, we all had been raised a full foot-and-a-half higher than when he started, and along with us the boat and everything on it. The Moon, it seems, wasn’t listening to the conversation, or was at least ignoring his intellectual point, if not his physical position. In the unspoken debate, Q.E.D., Moon wins.

When you’re looking for a physical basis for astrology, this may be the first place to start. In the most arrogantly egocentric way, we look for a direct, one-on-one cause-and-effect link and think we have proved something when we can’t find it. It’s kind of like saying that if God doesn’t listen up and answer you directly, there must be no God. Not exactly a scientific argument for or against anything. Perhaps we’re missing out on a number of steps and levels in the bigger picture that may actually connect us with those far away but very large and very old orbs circling around us. Perhaps the effects we are looking for don’t reach down and grab us by the throat, but rather encircle us in a slow and ineluctable grip handed down through billions of years of repetition, penetrating our very inner setup from the core of time. If time has a core, that is (which would make it three-dimensional, more on that later). Perhaps, yet one step further, we are so interpenetrated with that ancient rhythm that it’s ruling us from the inside as well as from without.

But for the moment, back to the Moon. We know that along with the Sun, it governs the tides, and together they both power and regulate the life cycles of every thing here on earth. Not just living things, but all connected and seemingly unconnected events – earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, ice ages – all are the direct result of simple gravity inexorably grinding along, that inverse-square force that allegedly doesn’t affect us individually. And that’s just if you’re hanging around the surface of the earth. There’s a bigger dimension, on the solar system scale, that dwarfs the meager tides of the Moon. The planets themselves are locked together in a monstrous pecking order determined by size, distance, and revolution. Jupiter is the biggest player, and though you may think that king of planets doesn’t affect you personally, it shifts the entire earth in its orbit, and you with it, by 150,000 kilometers each year and has done so since before life arose on earth beneath its steady pulse billions of years ago. And, this massive gravitational tension interacts with those from other planets, varying from relaxed to highly unsettled, depending upon their angular relationships to Earth (and thus those aboard her) at the time, which in space science are described by the sixty-degree Lagrange stability points, but in astrology correspond exactly to the hard and soft aspects.

Entrainment and Mode-locking  

In the midst of this gigantic, gravitational tussle between the Moon and planets at varying scales, there’s a single phenomenon that occurs from top to bottom, larger to smaller, right down to you and me on deck and even further down into the microscopic and atomic world, and that’s called entrainment. Like gravity, it’s always been with us (Newton only described gravity, he didn’t discover it), but only recently has it been described mathematically, though it’s not yet as precisely understood or formulated as the inverse square principle.

Entrainment (sometimes also called mode-locking) occurs when two or more objects moving in a regular cycle or rhythm tend to gradually come closer into phase until they’re moving in lockstep, usually in time with the largest, most influential object of the lot. It was first noticed/described as such by Seventeenth-century Dutch inventor-mathematician Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), right after he had invented the pendulum clock, which itself went on to give us the rapidly successful but terribly isolated modern scientific approach we have today. More about that later. But the story goes, after Christian had built himself a few of his clever new pendulum clocks, while lying in bed he noticed something he called “odd sympathy”: the tendency of two pendulums to synchronize, or asynchronize, when mounted together on the same beam. It appeared that two pendulums, mounted together, will always end up swinging in exactly opposite directions, regardless of their respective individual motion. As clock shop owners have often since noticed, if left to their own devices, a whole room full of pendulum clocks will eventually all sync up by themselves.

Pendulum clocks aren’t the only things that do this. In fact, perhaps everything does. Entrainment is the reason our Moon turns only one face to us. It didn’t always, but over time its rotation and revolution periods became mode-locked by the larger Earth. Similarly, on the larger scale, Jupiter’s gravity has shepherded a whole set of “Jovian asteroids” into locked positions just sixty degrees ahead and behind its orbit at resonance positions called Lagrange points. Entrainment happens all the way down at the atomic scale: it’s how crystals line up together in response to radio waves in a crystal radio. Even the purely biological realm displays it, especially in the familiar behavior experiments showing that the dominant female entrains the menstrual cycles of her working group.

All in all, however, it still seems to boil down to clocks and timekeepers. At the astronomical level it’s easily described by formulas of gravity and tidal friction, but as the players concerned get smaller and closer together, particularly at the intermediate sizes and distances we humans function at, the immediate linkage is sometimes harder to find. When we think we know the linkage, we call it “sychronization.” When we don’t, we call it “synchronicity.” One is obvious, the other mysterious, due not to itself but to our knowledge of the parts involved. How do larger and smaller systems sync up? Is there a universal principle that links them all together?

Inner Clocks, Outer Clocks

The behaviour of “biological clocks” may point to the key. Most life on the planet is directly synchonized by the rhythm of the Sun. When we travel quickly to a place a few time zones away, we experience jet lag and have trouble sleeping and much else until the Sun’s local daylight rhythm slowly resets our clocks. The fact that we have jet lag at all, however, attests to the fact that we have our own internal clocks that keep our critical shorter biological rhythms like the 90-minute endrocrine cycle, breathing, and heartbeat stable (all of which have to reset when we jet-lag). We have our own internal operating system, subject to constant readjustment by the larger ones. If it gets dark or we move, we can run on our own for a while, but not forever, and there is a constantly-changing interface that describes our finer adjustment to the changing seasons, which we notice most when daylight davings time cuts in and we’re suddenly…jetlagged. But before long, by the unexplained wisdom of our own organism, we’re back in sync and running as usual, sometimes a little ahead, sometimes a little behind, depending on our metabolism and what we input to it. Billions of years of evolution have made us very sensitive to exterior timing signals we can’t even describe, but we survive by the grace of it.

All this suggests that the rhythms of the sky, especially the daily, monthly, and yearly patterns of the Sun and Moon in relation to the Earth serve not only as lifegivers of heat, light, and the circulation of the waters and air which sustain them – they are also our primary clocks, and the reset mechanisms which control and regulate our temporary but robust biological timepieces. It’s safe to say that biological clocks and cosmic clocks run in tandem, as is the case with all instances of entrainment, with the larger and older the dominant shepherding force. The scientific observation and experimental evidence for this over the past century has progressed from anecdotal evidence to an overwhelming preponderance, though the many details and connections within and across countless species including humans will continue to be collected for generations to come.

Could other big solar system players like Jupiter have comparable input to our lives? That’s hard to tell, considering the way we look at the possibility – essentially that their rhythmic input (even though it may shift our whole planet by tens of thousands of miles), is too small compared with the Sun and Moon. Somehow, their input would be overcome by the general “background noise” here on earth. At any moment, that might seem to be the case, but when you pull back in time across the ages, you realize that as a repeating aggregate, they are the background, the only pulses of energy effecting earth that do not vary. All else is like dust in the wind by comparison. The biological beats of earth are light, frenzied, high-frequency chatter next to their eternal, pounding rhythm track of entrainment, eon upon eon. The Sun and Moon’s daily effects are certainly the most obvious to short-scale events, but the planets move at the timescale to set the pace of earth itself, and earth in turn sets ours, up through our feet, so to speak.

The Time Dimension

But how does it do that?   That’s where the persistence and growth of memory comes in…

We often say that time is the fourth dimension, but we don’t often use it to measure things that way. We say the volume of a cube, for instance, is the measurement of its three dimensions multiplied together. If each side is 2mm, then we say that its volume is 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 cubic millimeters. But not all cubes measure up equally. Can you compare a sugar cube which melts in your coffee or a cube of salt which melts in your soup with a cube of basalt that lasts a billion years? Of course not. How would you include time to make it a more equal measurement? Is a millimeter of space equivalent to, say, a minute of time? They’re both very small. If so, if your sugar or salt cube has a lengthy 5-year shelf life before you dissolve it or toss it to melt in the garbage, it would have a time/space volume of 2 ½ million time/space units. Bigger than you might have thought, for such an ephemeral thing. But a cube of basalt with its enormously greater time dimension would have a time/space volume that by comparison to the sugar/salt cube is as big as the earth itself. There’s nothing like hanging around for a while to put you at the head of the pecking order.

The idea of temporal dimension adding to the overall heft of an object is not new. It’s at the heart of why there is such a thing as inertia, and Einstein believed that time should, by all rights, make things have greater inertia. Well, on the human scale, we experience just that – the older something (or somebody) is, the slower it moves and the harder it is to get out of the way.

Things at the planetary scale may work just that way, in relation to short-termers like ourselves. The slightest perturbation of earth’s orbit (not to mention 150,000 kilometers) repeated billions of times amounts to a heavy, implacable presence compared even to huge, but shorter rhythms like those of the Moon and tides. It may not be noticeable during one evening’s cocktail hour, but it probably has a lot to do, in lengthy detail, with the fact that you came to exist to have one. You may not feel it, but the earth does, and you’re locked in as a result, not just at the moment but all the nuances of your development across history. That Jupiter tug, for instance, is periodically joined by Saturn and all the rest of the planets, alternately slowing or speeding the earth in its orbit and changing the lengths of the seasons, rhythmically, over decades and centuries. And, because the entire solar system is self-resonant, these rhythms over time take on a life of themselves.

There’s a metaphor that might make this more accessible. Imagine yourself mostly submerged in a still bathtub full of water. If you start to move your hands ever so slightly back and forth sideways, at first nothing happens. Keep doing it for a while and pretty soon the water start to move in synch with your hands. The longer you keep it up, the greater the motion until the whole tub is sloshing back and forth, the result of your tiny but persistant motion. Then, step out of the tub, and it continues without you, by its own gathered inertia. That is exactly what happens in a resonant system such as the solar system, where the weight of time makes as much difference as the spatial dimensions of its participants. It’s a clue to the memory which time and space possess, and it’s another reason that bodies in the sky have more power than Newton’s law might suggest. Because they’ve been around for eons, their effects on you are immeasurably bigger than you think. You are, so to speak, on the very tip of their very old fingers and they’ve got a hold on you from the inside out, right back through your ancestors to the moment when life first appeared on earth.

Compressions and Accretions

Being part of it all, however, we small creatures are not to be outdone. In our own briefer and lighter systems, right down to the ultra-light level of information itself, we do precisely the same thing. Take language, for instance. Talk is cheap, but if it could freeze up over the winter like in the Paul Bunyan story, when it melted there would be a torrent to deal with. You might think our current set of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are the original, indestructable building blocks of language, but you would be wrong. Every individual word we speak is the crushed and compressed remnant of what were in fact whole phrases hundreds of years before. The latest, controversially-hip phrase you’re using now, if it has any lasting relevance, will be elided into a single word a few generations hence and would be virtually unrecognizable to you, were you to show up then. That is the very reason we barely understand Middle English and truly struggle with the real meanings of the ancient languages. Ultimately, we’ve forgotten where they came from, but we are moment to moment functioning and communicating with their fossilized, inertial essences which we have inherited during our own short cycles of existence. What we think and speak is simply our own addition to the evolving variations on the fossil bedrock of our understanding, made up of layered generations of communication compressed, stretched, folded and recompressed like sedimentary rock. All repetitive, all compressed and scaled down, like the massive time and repetition of the planetary rhythms at the larger scale, containing our ancestry and shaped by it…

So, with a small stretch of the imagination, it’s not hard to see how four or five billion years of relentlessly driving rhythms would lock themselves down, one step at a time, right into the level of our personal lives. Indeed, it might begin to look like there was no free will at all and we are cemented into the past like a straightjacket in even the finest detail.

Initial Conditions

But, that locking rhythm has a play of its own that is so incredibly us that it makes you glad to be alive – and it also encapsulates the other, equally important, foundation of both astrology and hard science. Astrology’s fundamental claim, beyond that we are eternally synched-up with the larger cycles because of their greater physical presence in space-time, is that the evolution of any organized subsystem (like a person, a country, a corporation, or even an event and its implications), is described by the set of initial conditions of each and develops in a predictable way, based on the environment around it. Boats, planes, companies, nations, events, anything that has a definable beginning has a horoscope. Therefore, it’s really about systems – and people only to the extent that they are little centers of systemic organization that are, for a time, recursive and self-sustaining.

And, if it’s about systems, then the oldest and most fundamental cyclic inputs are the ones which will remain as the bare bones of everything. And that is just what a horoscope is: a skeleton, a crystal, a set of extremely primal initial conditions which reflects and carries with it all of the inertial vectors of time and space of a particular instant, and which is subsequently fleshed out by the individual or event until it ceases to visibly sustain itself. It is a snapshot of a moment and its implications, which are locked into and move along loosely together with the fundamental rhythms that brought it there to begin with. This explains both astrology and “synchonicity” (proposed as “seriality” by biologist Paul Kammerer in 1919 as natural law, and later confused by Jung with human-centered “archetypes,” from which recent astrology has suffered greatly). There is nothing “acausal” about it, contrary to Jung. It’s just a process of perpetual synchronization, where sometimes you see the immediate causal link, sometimes you don’t, because it’s fundamentally about systems running in interactive tandem. Free will and destiny, walking hand in hand. If you know the starting point, and you know the direction everything is going in, you know what’s going to happen. Pretty simple science.

Of course, the devil is in the details. But, comfortingly, in astrology you have the ever-containing general rhythms to back you up as you look at them. The whole swirl of reality happening at the moment you were born, which carries you along with it as long as you’re individually participating and adding to that swirl, is described in the larger framework by the original drivers that continue to power it – the larger bodies of the solar system. And, in a natal horoscope, it’s divided up between the larger and smaller, from the big, monster bodies like Jupiter, Saturn, and the outer planets whose input has a longer reach right down to the momentary changes of the tides that the Sun-Moon-Earth system describe right down to your individual location and the tidal and light effects in your environment that continually synch up your inner clock. It’s a top-to-bottom view that includes frameworks from virtual eternity right down to the moment, all encapsulated in a single snapshot. Pretty heady stuff.

Short Memory

Why isn’t all this more obvious? Well, now and then it is, when we get a particularly visionary view of things that inspires a culture or a religion. If it weren’t occasionally clear to us we wouldn’t be here, because we require that sort of vision to lead and organize us. But if we saw it all, all the time, we wouldn’t be here, either, because we’d be overloaded with information. Part of what enables us to survive is shortsightedness, which is a useful evolutionary mechanism in itself. We’re built to keep a maximum of seven to ten relevant thoughts in active consideration and the rest is consigned to an ever-increasingly stacked and compressed memory, most of which is not even retrievable except instinctually. That is just as well, as we couldn’t process it all. When you learn to walk, you think about it all the time, but once you master it, you forget about it and that focused learning becomes residual – otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

But, all that information is still there, both across your individual lifetime and across your evolutionary development, and a lot of it may account for our astonishing and “unexplained” abilities to sense things that are going to happen, or at least might – those little bifurcations of reality where we have to choose (ah, the lion was behind that bush, and we escaped, and reproduced, and remembered). It’s not really a “sixth” sense, it’s just extraordinary processing of the usual five, with a lifetime (maybe a genetic lifetime) of mostly “dark” but critical memories to draw on. Just like language is a stack of historical idioms eventually compressed into verbs, nouns, and modifiers, then expanded back into idioms and then recompressed again, so is the rest of our experience. We don’t forget – try taking a large dose of lecithin and you’ll see the tiniest childhood details come flooding back, not to mention your entire life flashing before you when you die. And for those who want even earlier, evolutionary memories to flash back, psychedelics are renowned for it. Whether or not we directly access it, at every scale, we just compress and store, and that makes up the very bones of our identities.

If you want Jungian “archetypes,” here they are, the vestigial projections of our evolution. In our bodies, it’s in the bones we shape and later bury. In our civilizations, it’s in the stones we craft and later unearth. The memories reside – and provide – as we proceed. And the background pulse, from the beginning and still with us throughout, is provided by the planets. They are not merely residual history we tread upon, they are ongoing and hold us from the inside out as well as the outside in. By strength not only of their size but of their temporal dimension, they hold us in the palm of their hands, because it is from them that we arose to begin with. We have been manufactured according to their molds, across time.

What astrology gives us is a window upon all the various scalings of our manufacture, from endlessly long to breathlessly short. At the shortest, micro-level, every decision we make has a life of its own, spiraling outward from us in ways that make our responsibility fearful if we look too closely at it. It’s what makes Jain devotees sweep the path in front of them so they won’t step on a bug. At the greater levels, it’s what allows us to see the enormously large picture we’re only a part of and don’t really have the choices to influence or alter except in our recognition and appreciation. At the day-to-day level, it gives us a greater chance to see where one meets the other and what the opportunities are to break out of the big picture without trampling on the smaller one. You want free will? That’s what astrology is all about, as is every other pursuit of knowledge. Why would anyone consult an astrologer except to exercise it? Otherwise, you’d just sit back and wait.

Extra Dimensions?

And then there’s those extra two dimensions of time we promised to mention. All these proposals about astrology are elevated by the simple idea of taking time as an extra dimension of existence, using it in the same way you would measure volume or mass. But why only one dimension of time? How unbalanced. Why not three, just like space? Do we not, as we exercise this inner evolutionary knowledge of free will, sense those choices always looming right ahead of us – several different universes awaiting, depending upon the move we make? That lion behind the bush surely exists in only one of our options, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to tell about it. If you live in the now, every moment has infinite and cripplingly overwhelming options.

The implications are enormous. You could go sideways, or up and down in time. Well why not? It’s in the language, like we know it already, fossilized in our experience. The phrase “the depths of time” or “an ocean of time” are common enough. That’s 3-D, not an arrow. Perhaps “Time like a never-ending stream bears all its sons away,” but we can cross its Jordan river (itself 3-D) and find ourselves on the other side. Maybe that lion-behind-the-bush moment is about a choice to step sideways in time to avoid a literally dead end, because your life would look more like a envelope than a straight line in this portrayal. And, with two more dimensions added, the planets take on even greater stature because of their age. At first look, it seems crazy, when you imagine it – every possible physical universe stretching out from every temporal instant into eternity. But that may be an overly-psychedelic image. Familiar space by itself doesn’t do that. In fact, most of space isn’t even full, but wends its way around fractal shores with Golden Section proportions to make the dramatic but limited world we see in any freeze-frame. Surely 3-D time must do the same, willowing through small, delicate shapes and doorways, expanding into elegant proportions in some places, and nearly absent at others, but perhaps thick in areas we least imagine or observe where space gets less in the way. Most of space is empty, and perhaps most of time is, one giving way to the other, with light-speed at the center (if we are to believe even a little of E = mc²). Perhaps that is the ultimate inverse-square law. The paths that both time and space occupy may largely be described by what we barely observe as the greater planetary bodies around us cutting a swathe for us to occupy in their shadows, as echoes of their presence, themselves in an even larger galactic and cosmological dance, already cast from the edges of time.

Just so, at cocktail hour as the Moon rises, the tide with it calls, and calls. It’s not so far away. It’s not way out there in space, and it’s not hidden deep within your spirit. It’s right in front of you, all over you. And what’s more, you already know it, or you wouldn’t be here.


...excerpted from the forthcoming book The Language of the Stars, © 2007 by John Townley

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