Thrifty Brains and Predictive Astrology

(Astrology Explored) What does the art of prediction and solving a daughter’s wardrobe crisis share in common?

My college age daughter came into my room with a belt.

“Can you fix this, mom?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t get the buckle to hook into the belt”

In other words the prong (some people call it the post) was not in the right place. Or was it?

I examined it for a few seconds and considered the options. To get the prong in position to slide into the holes in the belt I’d have to bend it so it would slip into the correct position on the other side of the frame of the buckle. But how did it get in the wrong position in the first place? Both the prong and the frame were sturdy and not amenable to bending. Something was wrong with this picture. I then looked at the belt and realized all I had to do was to turn the belt back through frame of the buckle and all was in the right place.

“Is this how it is supposed to look?”

The daughter looked at me as if I was some sort of magician.

“Yes,” she said.

“Time,” I said, “for you to improve your pattern recognition skills. Its time for you to learn astrology.”

She tossed her head at this ludicrous suggestion.

“You are the family witch, not me,” she replied.

But it wasn’t witchcraft that got the daughter’s belt back in working order, but how the human brain works. And how the brain works suggests how the prediction of future events is possible.

There are people, including some astrologers, who assert that prediction of future events is not possible. But as it turns out that the research of neuroscientists have suggested that the human brain is a prediction machine.

We already know that animals and humans are hardwired with the ability to recognize numbers..

Andy Clark in his article “Do Thrifty Brains Make Better Minds” tells us:

. . . perception, understanding and imagination, which we might intuitively consider to be three distinct chunks of our mental machinery, are inextricably tied together as simultaneous results of a single underlying strategy known as “predictive coding.”

. . . A version of this same trick (of data compression) may be helping animals like us to sense and understand the world by allowing us to use what we already know to predict as much of the current sensory data as possible.

What is marked and passed forward in the brain’s flow of processing are the divergences from predicted states: divergences that may be used to demand more information at those very specific points, or to guide remedial action.

Pattern recognition goes hand in hand with the brain’s ability to “encode” just the juicy bits, filling in the background with what it already knows.

In terms of the predictive arts:

With an ever-shifting sky above us, astrologers who are adept at extracting and synthesizing meaning from astrology charts have the ability to match patterns from material previously learned. Thus, for example, when one is presented with a natal and a transit chart showing that transiting Uranus is conjunct natal Venus we realize that this transit is similar in meaning with an individual who has this combination in their natal chart. They have a need to do things differently. With a transit with Uranus conjunct their Venus there suddenly is a need to do things, you guessed it differently.

This view of how the human brain works coincides, in this astrologer’s opinion, of Carl Jung’s concept of Synchronicity.
Wikipedia tells us:

Jung coined the word to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” Jung variously described synchronicity as an “acausal connecting principle”, “meaningful coincidence” and “acausal parallelism”.

As a concrete and real world example, the first Saturn return at age 28 or 29 often coincides with a young adult’s assumption of real world responsibilities, getting married, having a baby, buying a house or a car. It is a time of crisis for many people, when they realize it is “time to grow up and be an adult.” In the concept of synchronicity Saturn returning to the place of it natal position doesn’t “cause” a person to do any of these things. Saturn’s and human life cycle converges, which grants the first Saturn return this particular meaning.

It appears, then, that the human brain has a fundamental need to assign meaning to events in order to pare away “background” information from the “juicy bits” to be stored in a thrifty manner in the brain.

Why is it important for the brain to operate in this manner? Let’s take a look at one of my personal real world experiences.

In my day job career I was responsible for the operations of the database of a commercially licensed computer program that handled among other things our customer database. This database literally changed customer by customer day by day. Problems with the program kept cropping up, with our day end processes taking hours instead of minutes to complete. This wasn’t merely inconvenient. Strange anomalies kept cropping up in customers accounts, deducting money that shouldn’t have been deducted and adding money that never should have been added (sometimes in thousands of dollars). As our programmers did battle with the company who owned the program, what we found out that in computing the customer balances the program the day end process started from the first day of each customer account and added and subtracted every single customer transaction every single time the day end process was run. While theoretically there shouldn’t have been any computation errors, as the amount of data the program handled grew so did the errors.

Imagine then if we processed every single detail of everything we learned before we did anything. We’d never get anything done! We’d be so incredibly slow, we’d be like a sloth in the rainforest. And with our pathetic bodily makeup, we’d be food for the lions before our brains signaled to us to run!

The need for survival fueled the development of a brain that could act in a more speedy, thrifty manner, encoding the “juicy bits”, assigning meaning to past experiences and predicting the rest of the information with the meaning given to past experiences.

This model of how the brain functions also explains why so many different ways of practicing astrology, Western, Vedic, Uranian, Hellenistic, to name a few, can each be a valid practice. As long as we can codify meaning in a consistent manner that system is going to work.

With this insight into how the brain works, not only is prediction possible but a necessary and central part of the human experience.

Photo published under a Creative Commons license from user Robert Couse-Baker as described by Flickr.

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