Book Review: The circuitry of the self: astrology and the developmental model (Reviewer: Mike Harding)

Author: Bruce Scofield
Abstract: Review:
Astrologers of the reviewer’s generation, who drew on the works of Addey, Harvey and Ruperti, will at once recognise the central theme of Scofield’s thesis: that an understanding of planetary cycles is an essential prerequisite to an understanding of human development. But there is an important difference: the Platonic/Spiritual ideas that informed these writers are substantially replaced by the demands of biology. Scofield asks us to consider whether biological development in both human and non-human subjects is causally entrained with the planets. He proposes that the cycles of the planets actually trigger developmental changes within us in a factual, rather than a symbolic manner, and offers a variety of evidence to support his claim.

In doing so, he draws mainly on the developmental theories of Freud, Piaget and Erikson, but also includes Percy Seymour’s work on resonance, Bowlby’s attachment theory, and also the work of Timothy Leary. This is a heady and complex mixture, which Scofield acknowledges. Although the psychologists frame much of his argument, they are far from a solid foundation. Freud’s psychosexual stages, as originally described, have very little use within current psycho-analysis, and in his later years Freud was far more interested in the seven-year dentition cycle, with which he associated his own creative process, and also constantly returned to Wilhelm Fliess’ hypothesised 23/28-day cycles, which were the precursor of biorhythms, and which Freud believed could predict illness and even death. As the moment of birth determined the start of these cycles, they should hold an interest for astrologers. However, with so many models on offer, there is a surfeit of cycles. Erikson’s extension of Freud’s epigenetic principle postulated eight developmental stages, beginning with Trust vs. Mistrust up to age one, to Integrity vs. Despair at 50 and beyond, and mixed biological functions with more culture-dependent interpretations. While Piaget makes more precise observations, and has tighter time periods, there are still stages such as the Intuitive Phase, from four to seven years, which gives an enormous orb of time relative to the child’s age, and for which a wide range of planetary cycles could be invoked as causal agents. Jung’s work is also drawn upon, but profound as it is, does not really lend itself to temporal analysis, as concepts such as ‘youth’ and ‘middle-age’ are open to endless re-definition.

While those influenced by Freud and Jung have their own interminable arguments, they do share a central theme, echoed by both Erikson and Piaget: that of the developing ego, or self. Here, Scofield readily admits that there is a philosophical problem at the core of his work: there is no real understanding of what might be meant by ‘a self’ (the development of which is the theme of his book), and here seems to come down on Adler’s side, who suggested that the concept of an ego may not be needed. Freud, Jung and Adler each owed a debt to Nietzsche, who first suggested that the concept of the ego was primarily a consequence of language, that we are now stuck with – an observation taken to heart only by the Lacanian and Existential schools of psychotherapy. However, nothing illustrates this problem better than the oft-repeated claim that the planets revolve around the sun: the classic ego symbol. In truth, they revolve around an empty space, the centre of mass, which the sun occupies for erratic periods. As good a symbol of the ‘self’ problem as one could hope to find.

Leaving such observations aside, Scofield’s picture is a challenging one. The cycles of planets literally switch on various developmental processes as they resonate to their natal positions, much as the function of a gene may be switched on by a chemical agent. With so many personality variables, and so many different ways of developing, we must be in train with innumerable cycles, some of which may coincide with others and bring early development, or slip out of phase and delay growth, depending on the specific natal arrangement. While this thought may offer a reason for the wide time frames observed by the psychologists referred to above, it also raises a perplexing question: why has Scofield omitted any reference to the work of John Addey, even though he uses the term ‘harmonic’ and asks us to pay attention to phase angles? This is particularly puzzling, as Addey’s method of work would seem to offer an ideal template for exploring the complexity of interlocking cycles. Interestingly, Addey was pursuing a similar direction – the possibility of a relationship between astrology and genetics – and was studying for an MA in genetics at the time of his death.

All of the above might suggest that the reviewer has great reservations about this book. Not so. Scofield has had the courage to engage with a massive raft of influential ideas, many of which have never been properly addressed by astrologers, and which form the basis of acceptable theories of human development. No less a figure than Darwin acknowledged that many creatures have lunar-related developmental periods. He felt that the full moon made successful mating more likely, and thus this factor became selected. For him (and for Freud) current examples are the product of evolution, which are now genetically embedded. If the moon were to disappear, the rhythms would presumably remain, for they are not currently caused by the Moon but are a consequence of evolutionary history. In the field of chronobiology, such arguments continue. Do we have inbuilt biological clocks, or do we actually respond to external factors such as the sun, moon, or the rotation of the earth? Scofield’s thesis pushes this discussion towards the astrological paradigm with commendable honesty, recognising that his book is ‘work in progress’ and that he may ‘have published too soon’. But such is the case with many scientists; indeed the constant re-drawing of ideas is virtually the paradigm for scientific exploration, and should be no less for the astrologer.

This is a book that will provoke many thoughts and reactions – as it has done here – for it opens up new ways of thinking about the astrological paradigm, and it does so with a clarity that is admirably ‘waffle-free’. I would urge all astrologers to read it for themselves, and engage, thoughtfully, with Scofield’s ideas.
Publication: (Correlation journal of research in astrology)
One Reed publications, Amerherst 2001.
Issue: Vol 25 Number 1
Dated: 2007
Pages: 58 – 59

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