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James Lovelock's Sense of Beauty
This article was written & published in April 2006
James Lovelock is the scientist-inventor who proposed the Gaia theory, which is the idea that the Earth is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in a stable state over millions of years, wherein the evolution of life and the evolution of the planet are a single, tightly-coupled process.
Whilst this view of our home planet is not alien to those who live close to nature, to scientists it has been controversial. In fact, Lovelock says that he is proud of the fact that science magazine Nature wrote that no-one had irritated more scientists in the world than he has!
James Lovelock's birth chart
In James Lovelock's birth chart there is only one planet in an Earth sign: Venus. In scientific terms, Venus is associated with homoeostasis, which is an organism's capacity to maintain equilibrium within a changing environment. Venus rules Taurus - the first Earth sign - and Libra - the sign of equilibrium.
The sign Venus occupies is Virgo. Virgo represents order out of chaos, as does the name 'Gaia' (in Greek mythology Gaia was the Earth goddess that was born from Chaos, accompanied by Eros a god of love - and so we are back to Venus). Virgo is a sign that makes intelligent adjustments, that aims for efficient functioning, that alters and refines the material plane so that it is fit for purpose.
NB Lovelock's time of birth is not available so it is not possible to calculate the exact position of the Moon, or the house cusps. The houses are therefore not shown in this diagram, and caution should be exercised when looking at the Moon's placement in this chart. We can be certain, however, that the Moon is in Cancer.
Virgo symbolises the interacting parts and processes that make up a whole - a well-designed unit. Corrective feedback is a Virgoan activity par excellence, and it is this that forms the basis of Earth systems science: how do all the different components work together to bring about smooth operation of the whole system?
Interestingly, Venus in James's chart is almost completely unaspected: the only aspect it makes is a tenth harmonic aspect to Neptune. This singles Venus out - quite literally - and in a way makes it a purer expression of the planet. It was by comparing Venus and Mars to the Earth that led Lovelock to wonder why Earth is different to them, and it was that train of thought that led him to Gaia. (Note: other astrologers use wider orbs for aspects, and would say that Venus is in sextile to Mars, for instance, but even using wider orbs Venus would still be less integrated into the chart than the other planets are).
Sense of beauty
As well as homoeostatis, Venus is associated with beauty, along with Neptune. As a scientist, it is not surprising to find that James was born when Mercury was conjunct Saturn, which often correlates with academic or professional lines of work (Mercury-Saturn opposite Uranus - an unorthodox thinker who upsets the establishment order, no less!). If we look at the midpoints of this Mercury-Saturn conjunction, what do we find?
Mercury-Saturn = Venus/Neptune
This means that if we work out the halfway point between Venus and Neptune, we will see that Mercury and Saturn are located there. Astrologically this forms a link between the four planets: scientific endeavour, and beauty.
In his book 'Gaia: A new look at life on Earth' James has written about beauty, rejecting the idea that it must be linked with romantic love (Virgo is opposite Pisces, and romantic love is a Piscean perspective; Saturn on the Venus/Neptune midpoint represents grounding love in the material world rather than in flights of fancy). Instead, he sees it through the eyes of Gaia, the Earth:
"Part of our reward for fulfilling our biological role of creating a home and raising a family is the underlying sense of satisfaction... We are equally and painfully aware of a sense of failure and loss if for some reason or other we have missed our way or made a mess of things."
Here we see an expression of Venus in Virgo's appreciation of order versus disorder. In this next passage, Lovelock 'speaks his chart' very clearly:
"It may be that we are also programmed to recognize instinctively our optimal role [Virgo] in relation to other forms of life around us. When we act according to this instinct in our dealings withour partners in Gaia [partners = Venus, Gaia = Virgo], we are rewarded by finding that what seems right [Virgo] also looks good [Venus] and arouses those pleasurable feelings which comprise our sense of beauty. When this relationship [Venus] with our environment is spoilt [Virgo] or mishandled [Virgo], we suffer from a sense of emptiness and deprivation [Virgo]. Many of us know the shock of finding that some peaceful [Venus] rural haunt of our youth where once the wild thyme blew and where the hedges were thick with eglantine and may, has become a featureless expanse of pure [Virgo] weed-free [Virgo] barley."
He further writes of a Virgoan sense of beauty, involving objective measures, clarity, and lack of ambiguity:
"Let us set beauty as equal to such a measure of life. Then it could follow that beauty also is associated with lowered entropy, reduced uncertainty, and less vagueness."
Birth of the Gaia theory
The seed moment of the Gaia theory happened when Lovelock was working for NASA in the 1960s. He had access to those now-legendary first images of the Earth from space. That was the moment when the human race began to take a 'God's eye' view of the whole Earth; rather than being blinded by the microscopic, we began to see the planet as a whole and it changed our perspective. James Lovelock was a lightning conductor for that alteration of perspective:
"For me, the personal revelation of Gaia came quite suddenly - like a flash of enlightenment. I was in a small room on the top floor of a building at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California [USA]. It was the autumn of 1965 ... and I was talking with a colleague, Dian Hitchcock, about a paper we were preparing ... It was at that moment that I glimpsed Gaia. An awesome thought came to me. The Earth's atmosphere was an extraordinary and unstable mixture of gases, yet I knew that it was constant in composition over quite long periods of time. Could it be that life on Earth not only made the atmosphere, but also regulated it - keeping it at a constant composition, and at a level favourable for organisms?"We can look at where the planets were in September 1965, when this inspiration struck:
Uranus (breakthroughs, radical changes of perspective, controversial ideas, 'aha' moments) and Pluto (resurrecting deep instinctive wisdoms, shaking things up, taboo subjects that disturb the status quo) were conjunct in Virgo. We have established by now what Virgo represents, and you can probably guess where this Uranus-Pluto conjunction was located: exactly conjunct Lovelock's Venus! In addition to this, transiting Saturn - a major Earth element planet - was directly opposite his Venus. To complet the picture, transiting Neptune (vision, inspiration) was within two degrees of a sextile to his Venus.
From the planets to the stars
To conclude this look at James Lovelock's chart, we'll bring in the stars.
Parans are a way of connecting a star with a planet, just as aspects are a way of connecting one planet with another. Parans work slightly differently in a technical sense, but in terms of interpretation they work the same way: they blend two celestial objects and provide us with meaning about a person's psychological make-up.
James was born during a period of the year associated with the stars Rigel and Ras Algethi. Rigel is about using words or actions to bring order to chaos. Ras Algethi is about searching for natural truths that are simple. So already we have an appropriate connection with his chosen field, but this would apply to anyone born within the same fortnight at the same latitude as him. However there is more.
In his chart, James has the Sun and Mercury in paran with the star Ras Algethi. This would only apply to those born on the same day, at the same latitude. Having the Sun in paran to this star reinforces the desire to look for and find the natural order of life, and to live in a balanced way within that order. Mercury in paran to the same star links his outlook, his interests, his mind and his words with that search for natural order.
Astrological research about Ras Algethi states:
"This star is linked to the natural order of things, the natural and correct attitude of humans in awe of the gods or goddess [Gaia, in this case]. In our modern life this could be a respect for nature, a caring about the planet, a desire to have all things in their place, that is, the correct order of nature, life and the heavens. There is a natural need to submit to or honour something larger than yourself. This can give a sense of purpose to one's life."
What more appropriate words could there be to sum up James Lovelock's Gaia theory?
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