Attention conservation notice: I have no taste. I also have no qualifications to opine on the history of Renaissance astrology.
Cardano's theories were not so obviously superior to rival ones as he would have liked. Accordingly, he buttressed them with replies to potential objections. To the argument that a given star should affect not a single city or state but everyone living anywhere on the parallel over which it passed perpendicularly, for example, Cardano replied with qualifications. The star would have such effects only if it had reach that position on the data when the city or state in question was founded, at noon, and in conjunction with the sun. What technical arguments could not achieve, the language of somber threat and mystification might. Cardano gave his readers not only clear, easily applied rules of prediction which anyone could easily grasp and use, but also rules of interpretation as rich in predictive force and slippery in practical application as any master of astrology could hope to provide:In every geniture there is a best position, which controls all good fortune, and a worst one, which controls all misfortune. The best place is the tenth house, or the first one, or a luminary, if there is joined with these fortune, or a propitious ray, or that of the other luminary, or a fortunate star, so that the good fortune is doubled. Thus the place of misfortune is misfortune multiplied twice.Anyone who could grasp the method laid out here --- and work out exactly which planetary and stellar positions must be taken into account in applying it --- obviously had access to a powerful tool for determining the effects of a given configuration of the planets unequivocally.
Equally obviously --- or so it seems now --- no one could hope to use rules like these as rigorously as one could apply Cardano's instructions for determining the time at night or the position of Venus. The doctrine itself was complex: the multiple possible ways of applying it ensured that the results could turn out as seemed best, in a given situation, to the astrologer. [pp. 63--64]
As so often, Cardano's astrology lends itself to parody when seen in retrospect. Like good economists, the ancient author [Ptolemy] and his modern annotator [Cardano] explain in chorus why their discipline matters to humanity even though it cannot, and supposedly does not try to, predict specific outcomes with absolute certainty. Much of Cardano's practical advice --- like the suggestion that one travel in as large a group as possible, since if most of the passengers on any given ship are not foredestined to die in a wreck, the danger is lessened --- has all the precision and intelligence of a modern discount broker's newsletter. [p. 143]
The contrast between Cardano's practices [in mathematical and observational astronomy] and normal ones [of astrologers] was sharp. Most astrologers used their tables as social scientists sometimes apply software packages: they treated these paper devices as black boxes, understanding little or nothing of the principles on which they rested and having little or no ability to compensate for their defects. Their nasty remarks about their competitors rarely rested on a demonstrated mastery of astronomical materials and methods. [p. 61]
Cardano... never saw his own experiences of the autonomy of politics and the power of change [sic; read "chance"?] as reasons for rejecting astrology, either in the political or in the personal sphere. Though he sometimes explained particular events in terms that denied belief in occult influences, he consistently resorted to astrology, as a practice, a well-used set of tools, worn and polished by the use of decades. Even though some of his late comments sugges that he had less faith in astrology than in medicine, he still used it... to organize his last substantial work, his autobiography. Cardano's ability to wield other, radically different tools at the same time should occasion little surprise. Many scholars nowadays use computers to write and fax machines to submit the conference papers in which they unmask all of modern science as a social product, a game like any other. Though they hold that the laws of fluid dynamics are only one way, no more valid than many others, of describing the motion of air over wings, they take airplane trips to participate in the self-congratulatory discussions that ensue. Compared to the sterile credulity of the modern arts of analysis. Cardano's arts of prediction look bright, warm, and solid enough to explain their appeal to the wide range of intelligent readers they attracted and informed. [p. 176]
Nicole Oresme observed [in the 14th century] that it took millennia for celestial phenomena to recur even once; some never did. The astrologers, who had been working for only the few thousand years since Noah's Flood, could not possibly have derived their rules for interpreting the effects of conjunctions and oppositions from observation. They simply had not had enough time. [p. 51]I highlight this one because it applies, mutatis mutandis, to the macroeconomists.
Posted at April 30, 2018 23:59 | permanent link