The Case against Reality

There’s a theory going around – formed a couple of millennia ago – that at one point the Earth was a dark, formless void from which light sprang forth. This was good. There was night and day, and there was water and dry land, and that was good too. For light, the Sun was created for daytime and the Moon for night. That was by Day Four and by Day Six, God had created all living beings, especially us. On the seventh day He rested. That must have been Sunday. (Note 1) According to some Christian creationists, this took place less than 10,000 years ago, but they may be wrong.

Scientists today entertain a variety  of complex theories about evolution and consciousness, springing from relativity, quantum and string theory. They posit multiple universes, backward causation (where the future influences the past), information (rather than matter/energy) as a universal substance – it gets complicated. But most agree that our universe was created 13.8 billion years ago, and a lot has happened in the intervening time.

The Jewel Beetle
I need to immediately confess that the title of this article is stolen from Donald Hoffman’s book of the same name. It’s worth checking out his TED talk about how evolution favors not seeing reality as it is, but seeing reality as what is useful to know. (Note 2) As an example he mentions the Australian jewel beetle. The female beetle is flightless and has a shiny brown surface with small nodules on it. Unfortunately the male Australian human likes beer which comes in shiny brown bottles with small nodules on. For the male jewel beetle it’s easy to locate these bottles thrown away in the outback, and they proceed to mate with them. It’s much easier after all, and they don’t try to wriggle away either. The problem is that they nearly went extinct. No bottle-beetles were created. The Australian government had to ban these containers completely to save the beetle from the bottle. (Note 3)


The point here is that these beetles, which have successfully reproduced for untold thousands of years were threatened when what had been useful to know became insufficient. Had vision, touch or smell guided them, it would have been OK – but something else is at play. Evolution gives us an interface which guides us towards survival. When the beer bottle appeared, the interface was hacked.

For the world to appear actually as it is to us would be overwhelming – like seeing all the electronics in a computer when we just need to know how to write a Word document. We interact with the interface, not the deeper reality. And our interaction is just on a need to know basis.

Enlightenment Burnout
This point was made in the Bhagavad Ghita, which is a Hindu scripture from about 200 BCE. The god Krishna was charioteer for his disciple Arjuna, and Arjuna begged Krishna to reveal his true nature – “Make thyself visible, Lord of all prayers!”. And Krishna did:
“Suddenly within the skies, Sunbursts of a thousand suns”. It was an overwhelming experience for Arjuna who – after witnessing Krishna in his divine form – begs him to return to his earthly form: “Dear Lord. For pity’s sake, thine earthly shape, which earthly eyes may bear, be merciful and show the visage that I know.” (Note 4)

If we were to witness reality as it really is, and not as the interface we have evolved to interact with, we couldn’t take it. Perhaps that is why in Buddhist tradition, no enlightenment is reached without transmission through a teacher and the teacher’s lineage, or why Christ said “I am the way… no one comes to God but through me” (Note 5.)

To navigate the fabric of reality, we have over millions of years evolved to perceive what we need to know for survival through our senses: vision, touch, hearing, smell and taste. But it’s not that we actually see, feel, hear, smell or taste what is there. Experiments show that we extract information from what we think we perceive, and we easily get things wrong.

Our eyes have 130 million photoreceptors – about 10x more powerful than an iPhone camera – but the signals thereafter sent to the brain are processed by billions of neurons and trillions of synapses. What are they doing? They are creating in real-time what we need to see to best survive. As our eyes sweep the scene in front of us, we create just what we need to know as they move. A third of our cortex is devoted to this job alone. Film makers are profoundly aware of this, using the minimum amount of visual props to seduce us into their cinematic reality.

Mercury illusion

Neuroscientific experiments have shown that all experience is constructed in real time by the brain. For example, when someone loses an arm, the brain still has an exact representation of the fingers, and the sensations that would have been in the fingers are moved to some area of the body like the shoulder or face. This is why amputees suffer from real pain in amputated limbs – the phenomenon known as phantom limbs.



As humans have evolved with the same sensory apparatus, we all agree on what we see, hear and feel. Those who see a rattlesnake and think it is something to pick up and play with died out a long time ago. Dying is the loss of this sensory apparatus and dissolution of an illusory sense of self.

According to Buddhist teachings, when we die, each of the senses subside in the following order:

  • Physical sensation corresponding to the Earth element, when strength leaves the body.
  • Emotions, connected with pleasure, pain or indifference corresponding to the Water element, fade.
  • Warmth corresponding to the Fire element disappears affecting memory and smell.
  • Breath corresponding to the Air element leaves the body with loss of awareness of the outer world.

Religious systems like Buddhism, Islam and Catholicism describe a purgatory experience that then arises after death. Because, when we were alive, the brain carefully calibrated sensory experience – things were not too bright, not too loud and not too heavy – and the brain is now out of action, then dying can be quite terrifying as the sensory experiences are generated by mental processes alone in a state where linear time no longer exists. It can be heaven and it can be hell. If when alive our mind is preoccupied with negative thoughts, then the after death experience is correspondingly frightening, and vice-versa.

In Buddhism it is taught that at the end of the after-death experience, rebirth takes place. Most astrologers are attracted to this idea, not least because the birth horoscope is so descriptive of character and subsequently fate, and that character is present in its essence at birth. Psychologists – who would lose credibility if they officially embraced reincarnation – struggle to explain how character has evolved, relying on nature and nurture arguments, genetics, and parental influence. Those who believe in reincarnation see a continuation, with the individual consciousness gravitating, at the end of a purgatory phase, towards a mother and father figure best suited to their previous actions and future trajectory. Because our actions impact reality at every moment, there are consequences which we know as karma. Buddhists believe that the impact of our behavior creates impressions on the fabric of reality. On rebirth we face the consequence of this impact and are re-attracted to the people and environments, which we earlier impacted.

Individual Consciousness
As humans, we filter the fabric of reality through our senses. But as individuals we modify even this limited representation of reality through our character – a character which is clearly mapped in the personal horoscope. We create another layer of personal meaning, tinged by emotions and associations shaped by planetary patterns, which is an overlay on what was anyway just a limited interpretation of reality.

For example, if someone has a Moon-Pluto conjunction in the 4th house, then their emotional security will have been undermined by anxiety stemming from the mother and home environment. This will affect subsequent behavior: a tendency to sabotage domestic harmony, to uproot and relocate, to be reluctant to forge attachments – a whole spectrum of behavior which affects destiny. If the Moon-Pluto conjunction was in Scorpio, then sexual undercurrents would be strong, leading to a repression of memories and irrational or unconscious fears that affect behavior. Pluto in each sign would show modifications of the varying interpretations of experience depending on collective trends at the time of birth.

Planets Filter Experience
As astrologers we work with these personalized modifications of sensory experience, so clearly reflected by planets, signs, aspects and houses. Each planet both shields us from the burning energy of the Sun, and presents us with an opportunity for enlightenment.

Mercury is the master of illusion, weaving first this way then the other way never straying far from the Sun. To grasp truth, all we have is our mind, but Mercury conceals as much as it reveals, because thoughts and identity (the Sun) are so intertwined, that we cannot separate them. The truth cannot be grasped through rational analysis. We have to quieten the mind to get closer to the light.

All impressions arriving from our sensory apparatus are immediately processed by the mind – Mercury. It’s probably really the other way around though: our mind “pings” the outer world just like a dolphin uses sonar, then processes the result. Energy follows focus, and our focus is our ping.

Once the result is processed, we do one of three things. Either we like it, we dislike it, or we are indifferent to it. This is what Venus does. In the space of a millisecond, our preferences sort through experience as if we were a Tinder app.

Attraction between beings is primarily to produce offspring. There are some universal evolutionary factors in this sorting process, for example research shows that in choosing a human partner, the size and clarity of the pupils and iris are crucial. Hence eye makeup. It is the sign position and aspects to Venus which then go on to modify our choices. If Venus is in Sagittarius, then it’s a plus factor if the potential partner is wise and worldly – a teacher perhaps. That’s an evolutionary positive criteria. If Venus then is trine Saturn in Leo, a bit of status or fame would be the icing on the cake.

Once we have decided what we like, dislike or are indifferent to, we set out to act accordingly. Acquiring the object of desire, or combatting a threat is the job of Mars. How we set about doing this is reflected by the sign position of Mars and the aspects it makes. If we have set our sights on a famous teacher, and Mars is in Scorpio, we might employ hidden strategies to get him or her into our magnetic field, then seduce them and obsessively undermine our rivals. If Mars and Uranus closely aspect each other, then we might just destroy our lovers if they later prove to be unfaithful.

The beliefs we choose to embrace become very dear to us and define our identity. Jupiter with its four massive moons (and 75 minor moons) sorts through all our thoughts and feelings processed through the Moon and inner planets, and probably refined by the thousands of asteroids in-between, to coagulate around a set of convictions which we rarely diverge from. Jupiter in Scorpio square Pluto in Leo would incline a person to feel they lived in a world ruled by powerful and shadowy forces. Perhaps they embrace a conspiracy theory that leading Democrats are part of a pedophile ring. Try arguing with that. Dropping a belief leads to a crisis of identity, because the state of mind invoked by Jupiter cannot easily contemplate being wrong.

The last visible planet, Saturn, represents the limitations that set the boundaries for our life experiences. On an unconscious level these are the karmic laws that dictate who we need to meet to address the cosmic balance sheet. It feels like an inner conviction of what we can do and what we can’t do, often dictated by the prevailing circumstances in society. Saturn in Aquarius might show someone born into a time of social responsibility, so actions will always be measured unselfishly against what benefits the community. If Saturn squares Uranus in Taurus, then dealing with selfish greed cloaked as individual freedom would be a major challenge.

The relatively recent discoveries of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto also correspond to areas of the human psyche. Uranus opened up new dimensions of space through the telescope, the microscope and through flight. Neptune expanded the world of imagination through film and the world of compassion through hospitals and unions. Pluto revealed the hidden worlds of the atom and electromagnetic radiation, and opened new psychological horizons. Each discovery in the outer world has a correlation in the inner, and in reality there is no separation between the two, because there never was. It’s only individual consciousness that makes the separation between subject and object.

A Direct Approach
The intricate web of astrological patterns in a horoscope can describe the individual character and destiny of everyone on Earth, with all the subtle variations that make each of us so unique. Everyone has a share of challenges and blessings. Even though it may seem that we get further and further from enlightenment as we go down the vortex of each planetary combination, the journey may be more circular than linear.

As a metaphor you can imagine all the dimensions of reality going from the Big Bang, to galaxies, stars, planets, molecules, atoms, particles, but at the level of string theory they are all connected again in a circularity, because the same energy is at their core. When working with the horoscope, behavioral patterns as shown by planets and aspects, are a modulation of the original energy coming from sensory input. Instead of seeing behavior as a problem, you can see it as a manifestation of energy. A clear awareness of the behavior itself provides the energy to get back to an enlightened source.

The technique for doing this is to embrace the sensations connected with wanted or unwanted behavior. These will be some kind of body feeling. With a difficult aspect like say Moon-Saturn, the person may describe feeling “depressed”. But this is a word describing a sensation of feeling heavy somewhere in the body. The heavy sensation in the body IS the energy of Saturn. By exploring and deepening the sensations, the energy will reveal its true nature which is enlightening, not depressing. Dealing with the core energies of astrological patterns through body consciousness is a transformational experience. It’s alchemy – turning lead (Saturn) into gold (the Sun) and circling back to the starting point.

Adrian Ross Duncan
16th April 2021

  1. Check out Genesis 1-31. I’m not making it up.
  2. Donald Hoffman:
  3. Check out the jewel beetle on YouTube:
  4. Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 11.
  5. New Testament, Gospel of St John 14.6.