You should carry your intellect the way James Dean carried a cigarette. — Penn Jillette

Feng Shui and the Tango in 12 Easy Lessons by the DeAmicis duo contains a variety of odd theories in which the authors take great pride. However, facts fail to agree with their theories.

“Facts don’t agree?” you can imagine the authors saying, shrugging their shoulders. “Then, so much the worse for the facts.”

The book is nothing more than another heavy-handed sales pitch that supports faulty conclusions.

This analysis covers only a few of the many egregious errors in this book; it would go on for pages, but you’ll get the idea from these samples.

What They Say Reality Check
” [Feng Shui] is a deep field with an ancient history rooted in the mystery traditions of many cultures. “(Note)
Or maybe the term is “modern mystical schools” to reflect learning that came from China during the Cultural Revolution. (page 189)
Sounds reasonable enough, until you reach “mystery traditions.” This term appears regularly in the book but there’s no definition. That’s because a definition would deprive them of wiggle room — and they definitely need plenty.

Turn to any unabridged dictionary, look up mystery, and you ask: do the DeAmicis mean “mystery traditions” as a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand? Yet daily people learn how to use a compass (Luopan) and master the calculations; it’s knowledge imparted by teachers, not by mystical revelation.

Does their meaning of “mystery traditions” refer to any of the 15 events (as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, or the Assumption) serving as a subject for meditation during the saying of the rosary? After all, “mystery plays” with these very religious themes constitute a “mystery tradition.”

Or perhaps they’re using “mystery traditions” to mean a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to an initiate? Could “mystery traditions” mean the specialized practices or ritual peculiar to an occupation (as in the craft techniques of medieval guilds, which were called mysteries)?

I assume they use “mystery traditions” in the sense of one of the minor meanings of the word: a work of fiction. Feng shui, like astronomy, was considered proprietary information of the Chinese government. Proprietary government information — like the list of corporations that crafted the energy policies of the Bush administration — is hardly a religious viewpoint or a mystical revelation. To quote Arthur C. Clarke,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Profiles of the Future, 1961)

As Ole Bruun documents in Fengshui in China, no “modern mystery schools” (or “old mystery schools” for that matter) left China during the Cultural Revolution. A few people with feng shui knowledge were able to escape the turmoil, but most could not, and some simply would not leave — and most who stayed behind paid a terrible price.

feng shui is known by many names around the world; any culture not using it fails to prosper or possibly survive (page 6) Feng shui is an ethnoscience that began in China. Documentary evidence and archeological remains prove that the history of feng shui spans several thousand years (the earliest writings related to feng shui are dated to the Shang era and appear on jiaguwen or oracle bones). Archeologically its use can be implied more than 2,000 years earlier than its first written mention.

Feng shui works only for settled cultures. It has similar names throughout Asia in the cultures that adapted it for their use (Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, for example). No cultures outside those influenced by the original Chinese science have been documented as having and using feng shui or anything remotely similar. Cultures outside the range of influence of the science cannot provide evidence of any connection.

Vastu Shastra, although younger than feng shui by a few thousand years, is entirely an Indian creation. It is noticeably different from feng shui.

Cultures and empires wax and wane, just like yin and yang (for a modern view of this cycle see Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers). China is the one human culture that has withstood the ravages of time — and even it has experienced its waxing and waning. To say that cultures either “use it or lose it” when it comes to feng shui is ridiculous. The majority of cultures at any time in history did not know anything about feng shui. In more recent times, powerful cultures (Europe and the US in the 19th and most of the 20th century) knew about it and largely shunned it.

The authors reject traditional feng shui and ignore the opportunity to use their bald assertions to uphold principles of authentic practice. They would rather invent inferior products, embrace questionable ideas and practices, and attempt to pass off unsavory and outdated Western ideas as the “wisdom of the East.”

If we took the DeAmicis’ statement at face value, and we know anything about the history of the world, we would have to say that it’s obvious feng shui is native to China because it’s the only culture still thriving relatively intact thousands of years after its beginnings.

“…the role our bodies play as vehicles for our spirit.” (page 6)
“…secret language that your body speaks to your environment in [sic]…” (page 10)
“Our bodies are much more in touch with our feelings than our minds.” (page 11)
“Your animal body doesn’t care about…your conscious mind.” (Page 12)
“Your mind will lie to you….but your body won’t.” (Page 12)
“The body’s design is much older than the logical mind, and its criteria are much simpler.” (page 107)
“When your conscious, logical mind overrides…the sequential part of intellect…” (page 177)
We are affected by our lives and “react to things we don’t consciously see, based upon [our body’s] ancient programming” (page 190)
“survival systems” in the subconscious “override the conscious mind” (page 190)
The DeAmicis’ thinking is infected with the Cartesian cut, a Western dualistic worldview.
Daniel Dennett wrote

…our ‘intuitive’ ways of thinking about consciousness are infected with leftover Cartesian images, an underestimated legacy of the dualist past.

Thanks to cognitive neuroscience, consciousness studies, efforts in AI, and the works of outstanding scientists like Maturana and Varela, Antonio Damasio, Candace Pert, and researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, we know how much of Descartes’ thinking was built on the folk wisdom of his day (he was born in 1596 and died in 1650).

And most of that folk wisdom was Platonic philosophy, picked up again by Romantics and spiritualist movements. Plato taught that humans must live in their mind because that’s where the true life is. The human body, he said, is “common with that of brute beasts.”

The DeAmicis substitute animal body for “brute beasts” but otherwise the philosophy is unchanged.

Basing a feng shui book on ancient Western philosophy is fairly typical in New Age circles (New-Agers are an extremely conservative and reactionary crowd, no matter what their marketing says). What’s intriguing is the DeAmicis’ dogged insistence on the relevance of outmoded Western duality to a science from a culture that never conceived the world as a duality.

Your mind is part of your body

As Antonio Damasio explains,

Within our brain, we have a virtual body.

This is proven by studies on people who can sense limbs that have been amputated, and on people undergoing brain surgery. He adds

Emotions are collections of chemical and neural responses, forming a pattern. In this line of reasoning you can find evidence of emotion in a fruit fly.

Your mind is as animal as your body

Like it or not, 98 percent of chimpanzee genes are identical to humans’. Only people uncomfortable with the fact that our close relatives are apes and we share genetic material with a banana have difficulty acknowledging our complete animality. Studies on culture in bees, parrots, primates, prairie dogs, and other creatures show that we’re not the only species to apply so-called “higher” forms of reasoning. We’re not even the sole “tool-using animal,” because chimps, parrots, dolphins, and crows are well documented as tool-users.

Where is the logic area? Next to the fame corner

There’s no evidence that your body is older than your “logical mind,” whatever that may mean. There isn’t a so-called “logical” area of the brain, although certain sections process kinds of information that some people would characterize as “logical.”

Cognitive scientists caution against self-deception: people are rarely as “logical” and “rational” and “sequential” as they believe themselves to be. According to a brain imaging study presented in Science, even if an ethical problem is posed in strictly rational terms, people’s emotional responses guide their solutions.
Studies prove that people in fact do not react to things they do not consciously see — probably because we’re not conscious more than 90 percent of our waking lives. (How do you know you aren’t conscious in a particular situation? If you’re not self-conscious you’re actually unconscious — one of the weirder facts of cognitive science.)

Humans are generally not aware of environmental details. We perceive and remember only what we concentrate on (this is a function of the human brain called inattentional blindness). In one famous study titled “Gorillas in Our Midst,” which documents change blindness, scientists learned that when a gorilla was standing in plain sight in front of test subjects they could not see it.

All the mindless chatter the DeAmicis provide about the subconscious ignores the fact that, as Candace Pert says in Molecules of Emotion, “the body is the subconscious mind.”

The DeAmicis believe that humans carry terrifying “genetic memories” of saber-toothed tigers (pages 12, 119, 178 and 190)
“predator-tigers” (115 and 117)
and “genetic memories” of claws (177, 178, 180)
There’s no such thing as “genetic memory” — it’s a typical misunderstanding of genetics, bordering on pseudoscience — but it is a common component of racist propaganda.

Why racist ideas in a book on feng shui? Because the DeAmicis believe it.

Conventional genealogies conceal how rapidly genes get diluted down the generations. You inherit directly only half of your father’s genes, a quarter of each grandfather’s, an eighth of any great-grandfather’s. And with ancestors much further back, you may share no more genes than you do with a random stranger met in Times Square.  — Nicholas Wade: “Cheney and Obama: It’s Not Genetic.” New York Times, October 21, 2007)

And what about the crackpot concept of “ancient programming” of our bodies—who did this “programming” and when? How? Why?

You can’t help but think of the aliens who sent our monkey forebears the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey—cue the music!

The wonderful book Monster of God mentions sabertooths (feline and marsupial) in addressing humanity’s relationship with predators. It explains all predators’ hold on the human psyche as cultural transmission—we are, after all, prey animals. We were a yummy feast for eagles before and after we walked out of Africa, just as monkeys still are today.

Professor Cavalli-Sforza reminds us in The Great Human Diasporas that culture

tends to remain unaltered and change occurs only with difficulty. (page 214)

Geomancy, they say, is a “Western art used for thousands of years to place and design buildings” (page 7).
Geomancy dates “back to the Great Pyramid” which “has defied dating.” (page 184)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, geomancy appeared in vernacular English in 1362 (vernacular English at this time was the language of the lowest classes and middle classes; Latin and French were spoken by the upper middle class, gentry, and nobles).

Geomancy’s first mention is from Langland’s Piers Plowman where it is unfavorably compared to the level of expertise a person needs for astronomy (“gemensye [geomesye] is gynful of speche”). In 1386 Chaucer used the Parson’s Tale to poke fun at geomancy in Canterbury Tales:

What say we of them that believe in divynailes as … geomancie …

Geomancy has always been a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or how handfuls of dirt land when you toss them. It was explained as divination (in the same sentence with pyromancy and hydromancy) in the best-selling Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1400); as “geomantie that superstitious arte” in a book of alchemy (1477); and defined in a book of Agrippa’s magic (1569) as a form of divination “which doth divine by certaine conjectures taken of similitudes of the cracking of the Earthe.”

Can you take the DeAmicis seriously about the Great Pyramid? They prefer the mental masturbation of cranks and ignore the reality of people like Ny Swt Wsrt. And saddest of all is the classic flaw in their logic of claiming geomancy dates from the time of a structure that they believe cannot be accurately dated.

something called horizon-based astrology allegedly shares the same foundations as “the Asian Compass School of Feng Shui” (page 8) There’s no clear definition of this horizon-thing in Tango because the DeAmicis require ambiguity to spin their tales.

One or two sentences to promote a falsity is much less demanding than explaining in depth. It takes quite a bit of work to explain why this claim is false, but consider it unlikely that the DeAmicis can provide as detailed an explanation for why it should be considered to be true. That’s because you are expected to accept their ideas without questioning and without any corroborating evidence.

Their horizon-thing apparently refers to the circular diagrams used by modern Western astrologers to plot charts. The circular diagram shows planets’ positions with respect to the horizon.

Three Zodiacs, Not One

The Western zodiac favored by the DeAmicis differs appreciably from the Vedic (Indian subcontinent) and the Chinese.

The 1997 symposium honoring the Ancient Beijing Observatory featured speakers that explained the differences between Western, Vedic, and Chinese astronomy and astrology. Dr. Ramatosh Sarkar emphasized that the Vedic system absorbed more Greek influence (thanks to the conquests of Alexander of Macedon and the formation of the Seleucid Empire) and it’s based on the ecliptic, like the Greek version. However, ancient Chinese astronomy (like modern Western astronomy) focused on the celestial equator.

Ancient Greeks and Chinese lived in the same latitude and saw the same stars but few of their astronomical myths share common themes. Ancient Chinese organized the sky like the terrestrial community and society, centered on Beidou (the celestial clock and season-marker) and the pole star (the emperor). Greek astronomical myths show no systematic organization and focus on individuals. What few mythical themes the cultures share aren’t ones that most people know. For example, both cultures used conflict to explain the antipodal positions of what Westerners call Orion and Scorpius.

How on Earth did the DeAmicis decide that artifacts of modern Western astrology share the same “foundations” as the primary tool of feng shui?

They made it up! They didn’t check their ideas against the facts — or if they did, the facts got in the way. Remember, so-called Form School and so-called Compass School both use compasses, though different models.

The drawing used in Tango to illustrate this odd belief looks like a crude imitation of one in Dr Edwin Krupp’s Echoes of the Ancient Skies, which shows an ancient astronomer (not an astrologer!) making a precise observation. However, Western astrologers haven’t studied the sky for nearly 3,000 years.

The Problem with Western Astrology

Western astrology stopped skywatching sometime around 500 BCE.

As NASA says, “the ‘sign’ assigned to each month in horoscopes is not the constellation where the Sun is in that month, but where it would have been in ancient times.” The sun used to enter Cancer at the moment of the summer solstice but as of 1990 the sun enters Taurus at the summer solstice — that’s two constellations away from the position that astrologers assign to people born on June 21.

John Mosley of Griffith Observatory chides

If you were born during the first two weeks of May 2600 years ago, you were born when the sun was in both the sign and constellation of Taurus. Now during those weeks the sun is in Aries. Astrologically speaking, you are still a Taurus; astronomically speaking you are an Aries. Likewise, most Libras are really Virgos, and so on. (And to add insult to injury, most Sagittarians are really Ophiuchi.) Of the 366 possible birthdates, the signs astrologers use correspond to the astronomical constellation 14 percent of the time. The astrological sign is off by one constellation for 84 percent and by two constellations for the other 2 percent.

Consider how precession affects the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn: they need to be updated to the Tropics of Gemini and Sagittarius.

Now you know why astrology doesn’t get any respect. Read on to learn why a feng shui compass has absolutely nothing in common with Western astrology.

Western Zodiac

The Western zodiac is a Greek invention based on the drifting of the sun (“tropical time”). Ancient Greeks created it from the constellations used by Babylonian astronomers. In fact, the Greeks owed nearly everything they knew about astronomy to the skywatchers of the Fertile Crescent, who started making horoscopes around 500 BCE. (Notice the connection between the fossilization of skywatching and the origins of horoscopes.)

The Greeks invented what we know as “Western astrology” — that is, astrology for the individual. They transmitted to history their belief that the planets actually influenced life on Earth. Ancient Chinese and Babylonians thought only that celestial phenomena were messages — instant-messenger postings from the gods. The postings were commentary, not a physical influence.

The constellations used in Western astrology range within 8 or so degrees either side of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun). The sun’s path was known as Pidnu sha Shane (Furrow of Heaven) to the Babylonians. They kept track of heliacal risings of the Directing Bull (Taurus, but especially Aldebaran) to mark the beginning of their year. But before Aldebaran/Taurus assumed this key function the marker-star of the year was Orion—the constellation of Osiris.

Ancient Chinese knew the belt of Orion as the constellation Shen.

Not all constellations that fall within the Western zodiac are used by astrologers. The sun actually passes through 13 constellations. Serpent Holder, Ophiucus, is conveniently omitted — possibly a superstitious hangover from medieval Christianity (Christians have longstanding problems with the number 13).

There are more constellations to consider if you step away from medieval Christian ideas of the heavens: Jane Sellers notes that Al Jauzah was considered by the Arabs (the inheritors of Greek science) to be part of the zodiac. Al Jauzah is composed of the stars of the constellations Gemini and Orion. Depending on your criteria there are at least 21, possibly 24 constellations in the Western zodiac.

Keep in mind that the ancient astronomers of the Mediterranean and Near East looked to the east for their observations—that’s why we use the term “orienting” (which is really “easting“). While modern astronomy advises that you face south for the best observations, the ancient skywatchers of the West “easted” themselves.

For westerners east and west were up and down. That’s why the equinoxes assumed importance in Western calendars (beginning with Babylonians, who celebrated their New Year near the spring equinox).

Vedic Zodiac

The so-called Vedic zodiac (Nirayana) is based on sidereal or “star time.” The Vedic calendar is based on astronomical observations at the equinoxes and solstices. Vedic astronomy and the Vedic calendar originated in Neolithic cities in the Indus Valley but they contain influences from further west (probably because, at one time, the language spoken in the Indus Valley was spoken as far west as modern Iran). Even the numbering structure of yugas in Indian astronomy was borrowed from Babylonian astronomers.

You can see the cultural connections in the constellations. Subhash Kak notes that

constellations in the Rigveda and the Brahmanas, such as the Rikshas (the Great Bear and the Little Bear), the two divine dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor), the twin Asses (in Cancer), the Goat (Capricornus) and the Heavenly Boat (Argo Navis), are the same as in Europe.

The original diagram used to create Western horoscopes matches the diagram used by Vedic astrologers in North India. This occurred because of the cultural exchange between Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Indus Valley. According to Subhash Kak, “We don’t know who the authors of the Vedas were,” but Western science dates the Vedas to 1500 to 1200 BCE — a time that matches the archeological record for Indian trade colonies in Mesopotamia. (In Egypt this is the era of the New Kingdom; in China this was the era of the Shang.)

The diagram used in Southern Indian Vedic astrology matches the diagram used for Ziwei Doushu (Purple Glow North Star Calculations). No doubt this influence also occurred in cultural exchange along trade routes — likely during the Song era (960 to 1279 CE) — because tradition holds that Ziwei Doushu originated with Master Chen Duan, a Daoist from tenth-century Huashan in Shaanxi.

Chinese Zodiac

Chinese astrology is like Babylonian astrology only in the original use and the number of signs, not the actual signs or the cycles of time charted in them.

Babylonian astrology calculated the future of a country, not individuals. It shares this focus with Chinese astrology, which originally calculated horoscopes only for rulers and nations. The Greeks created the need for individual horoscopes.

Ancient Chinese “astrology” has always encompassed a great deal more than Western astrology. Consider the job of the astrology official known as the Bao Zhang Shi who observed the effects of space weather to provide predictions for flood, drought, good harvests, famine, and other portents. Modern scholarship has determined that the “vapors” watched by these court officials were what we call the auroras.

Neolithic Chinese discovered sunspots and carefully observed them through safety lenses. At least by the 14th century BCE (during the Shang era) the Bureau of Astronomy established the solar year at 365.25 days (still found as degrees on a Luopan, thus measuring time as an angle), and lunation at 295 days.

Shang-era astronomers recognized the two cycles (Metonic and Calyppic) Westerners mistakenly believe these were discoveries of Greek astronomers who lived nearly 1,000 years later. Shang astronomers also recognized the saros cycle. The sexagenary (ganzhi) cycle of time probably did not begin with the Shang, but oracle bones record its common use. All these cycles are found in feng shui computations.

The so-called Chinese zodiac is based on “Jupiter time” and the cycles it tracks are shorter and longer than those in Western astrology. The “signs” of the Chinese “zodiac” are animals associated with the 12 directions and 12 double-hours (the Earthly Branches) and largely function as mnemonics. Ancient Chinese, like modern astronomers, used equatorial astronomy; Western astrology follows the ecliptic.

The Branches derive from the 12-year orbit of Jupiter (Sui) — actually the orbit takes 11.86 Earth-years, but the Chinese rounded it off to 12. In Chinese science, a “month” in the Jupiter cycle indicates an Earth year. Five multiples of 12 branches indicate the Jupiter cycle of grand conjunctions with Saturn (5 x 12 = 60).

A more precise version of the Branches consists of 24 points within the meteorological cycle used by Chinese (and found on a Luopan as the 24 Mountains).

These points coincide with other points 15º apart on the ecliptic. It takes about 15.2 days for the sun to traverse a point, creating a cycle of 365.25 days (and thus each degree on a Luopan ticks off a day). See page 48 in my book for the relationships between the jieqi and zhongqi, Gregorian dates, and solar longitude.

The Heaven Center Cross Line, also known as the Red Cross Grid (the red cords on a Luopan) are the warp and woof of heaven. The Cross Line indicates the axle of the universe — in other words it marks Hamlet’s Mill, because some old Shipans featured a drawing of Beidou where the needle housing (the Central Pool of Heaven) now sits. The red strings or cross markings are used on Luopans to read direction and meaning, but they also indicate the equinoctial and solstitial colures.

Do you see any connections between Western horizon-based astrology and the Luopan?