THE ART OF SYNTHESIS

by Terry Dwyer
(This is an excerpt from the full article available as part of the Starword documentation)

Adapted from a lecture given at the 1982 conference of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, with 1992 comments added, in [square brackets] 

Although this article describes the making of a computer program, it is non-technical and is as much about a different topic: namely, how should a natal interpretation be tackled? Which chart factors are valid and which are not?  Above all, perhaps, how do we resolve contradictions in the birthchart, and how do we balance them, emphasising what is important, and playing down what is not? Hence the above title.  [Computers were still new to most people in 1982, and some astrologers quite suspicious of their use, even for chart calculation.]  

I have written a computer program, called STARWORD, which accepts input of only the usual birthdata, and 20 minutes later [nowadays much less] has finished printing out a complete verbal interpretation of the chart, in words not too far removed from the sort of thing an astrologer might write. My motive for starting this project was the idea of lightening the heavy burden an astrologer faces when he sits down to work out an interpretation  - perhaps through an inverted form of laziness. I say inverted because it took the best part of two years' full-time, exhausting work to write this program, at least to the point where it was working pretty well and turning out results which are sufficiently good for me to feel that something has been proved: mainly the point that computers are capable of making a good job of interpretation; but also a number of points about what should or should not go into chart analysis, so that, in the event, this project involved a great deal of research into what was and what was no valid in delineating personality.

Perhaps not the least of the issues this program throws up is that if you want to clarify in your own mind what you know, try teaching it to a computer. Computers being completely lacking in intelligence, they have to be told everything in great detail. Although I had to teach my computer astrology, I nearly called this article "What my computer has taught me about astrology" [Charles Harvey favoured this title] because of the way I was forced to define in my own mind exactly how astrology works - or at any rate natal interpretation - before I could begin.   The method I use to write a personal analysis is that devised by Margaret Hone, and taught by the Mayo School, and I think it is basically a good one. For those who are not familiar with it, it works as follows:  Stage 1), list all the chart factors in a fixed, systematic order, and write against each one all the points of interpretation that it gives rise to. Also against each interpretation write in the margin the name of the Category heading that it will later come under (e.g. mentality, personal relationships, career, and so on.)   Stage 3)  Take the first Category heading (probably General Character) and find all those interpretations that belong in it, writing a number of paragraphs which synthesise these factors together. And so on, through all the categories. End of job.  But you'll notice that Hone left out Stage 2, which I have always found essential. Before writing up the final synthesis under headings, one needs to group on a separate piece of paper all the interpretations that relate to each category, and sort them into a logical order, so that we bring together what belongs together. For example, the chart might have Moon square Neptune, suggesting, amongst other things, domestic sloppiness; and also Saturn in Virgo in the 4th house, suggesting the opposite. It would be essential that these two conflicting tendencies be brought together at Stage 2, so that the astrologer could weigh up the final outcome, and write one comment covering both.  [A full exposition of the correct method is included in my book How to write and Astrological Synthesis, published by Fowlers.]

Calculation versus intuition
In reality, some kind of points system is needed, to cover everything I have just mentioned.  Certainly the idiot computer needs one, but in my opinion a great many astrologers, particularly students, would benefit from one, however laborious it may be. Here I imagine some readers will be saying to themselves, "I'd never fiddle about with a points system; it would reduce astrology to a mechanical business.  I prefer to use my intuition." Now one is always coming across the word intuition in astrology, and in my experience the word has a different meaning for almost every person that uses it.  In some contexts, "using one's intuition" means drawing on psychic ability, or picking up subliminal clues from a client's behaviour; in other contexts it seems to mean using judgement based on experience; and I fear that in the context of assessing relative weighting of chart factors it all too often means guesswork, giving results which vary with the weather, what one has had for breakfast, and how much attention one has paid to the birthchart in the first place. Rarely do people seem to use the word intuition to mean what I understand by it; namely an instant, lightning understanding of a principle or situation, especially a complicated one, without the least idea of how one got there, or the ability - yet - to explain every detail.  The hallmark of proper intuition is, though, that it is utterly correct, and some time later it should be possible to prove it so.  A good example is Newton's sudden grasp of the principle of universal gravitation, brought on, we are told, by the simple stimulus of an apple on the head. [Charles Harvey also liked my definition of intuition, and even asked my permission to use it in his own lectures.]

So having assessed what a human astrologer should do, I knew that this is what a computer would have to do. The difference is that a computer can be relied on to be consistent; to follow its rules without forgetting anything or making a mistake in the adding up. Previous computer programs had never attempted all this. They worked on the principle that Moon in Aries means so-and-so, and therefore everybody with Moon in Aries gets exactly the same paragraph to read. It is really not an interpretation (least of all a personal one) but an essay on the theoretical potentialities of this planetary placing. And so on for all the planets. I sent for one of these computer readouts out of curiosity, and soon found the contradictions. Here are two quotations from my own chart analysis: "You will have many sincere and fortunate friends from whom you will obtain benefits in more than one way... You will undoubtedly acquire the favour of many persons of authority and wealth who will serve as great aids in the course of your professional career." Now the computer knew it had to say that because it detected Jupiter in the 11th house. Fair enough you may say. But as it happens, I also have Saturn in the 11th house... Two pages later I read the following: "You're an individual with few friends and even there you will find that some of them will assist you with advice rather than with actual physical help in times of peril.... Your smallest aspirations will have to confront many obstacles in order to become accomplished even in a small degree." Too bad that, when the computer wrote about the one planet, its didn't seem to know about the other! We may smile at this, but more subtle contradictions can happen all to easily with humans interpreting a birthchart.

How the STARWORD research worked
I want to make clear how most of my research for the program proceeded. I had a list of about 30 people (myself, family and friends) of whose characteristics I believed I had a fair idea, but also who were prepared to look at my preliminary findings and report back to me just how accurate they were. Some of these friends were astrologers, by the way. I'm told by psychologists that in spite of the apparent reliability of various standard personality tests, the most reliable of all is the simple method of self-assessment, checked by a friend, and that was precisely the method I adopted throughout. Though the number 30 may seem small, the fact that I got quick feedback at every stage of experiment gave me the confidence to continue. Besides, if I had tried to use 3000 or even 300 people, I might have got results which would satisfy scientific critics, but not till the year 2000, for I was testing the whole chart, not just one factor.

Planetary strength
The first question that needed resolving was "How do we assess the strength of a planet?" because until that was achieved, there could be no scoring system for the computer to work on. A very interesting book which bears directly on this question is Volguine's "The Ruler of the Nativity", in which the author declared that we should not automatically accept the Ascendant ruler, but treat the strongest planet as the chart-ruler; and the book expounds his methods of evaluating just how strong a planet is...

HOW STARWORD WORKS
The STARWORD programs work as follows: after the chart and all aspects have been calculated, the angularity strength of each planet is evaluated, using rules based on the Gauquelin researches. Houses as such are not used in Starword, but Placidus cusps are calculated, and each house further divided into 6 equal sectors, in order to facilitate the scoring of angularity strength.   Each aspect is also evaluated according to three criteria: 1) strength of the two planets, 2) closeness of orb, 3) hierarchy of aspect types. Next, the Ascendant and the first 7 planets have meanings derived from their Zodiac sign.

(This was just a an excerpt of the article, part of the 40 page Starword documentation that goes to great depth in explaining the research behind, how it works and how you amend it by applying your own choise of text.)