I suspect this topic will be contentious.
Around about the year 2000 I recognised that I was struggling through extreme moods. These extremes would last between a few days to ten and were separated by several weeks of minimal moods. It was during this year that I reviewed my life to find that this was not a recent phenomena, it had just got to a level that was interfering with my life enough to do something about it.
The first thing I tried to do was to map it. When did these peaks occur and what could I correlate it to? I was working on the premise of “know thyself”. I figured that if I knew more about these moods, I could start to address the critical factors that affect me. I had ruled out medication at this point in time as a solution.
I found a regular pattern to my moods. They tended to peak when the moon was full. The bad ones where in the month when mercury was in retrograde (or more to the point, the nearest full moon). There may have been some confirmation bias in this or self-fulfilling-prophecy, but I took quite a bit of care to minimise the likelihood of these. This correlation allowed me to plan ahead and avoid putting into my calendar critical things, like applying for jobs, or caring for people. Initially all I could do was manage the symptoms and hold on, knowing it would end in time and life would return to “normal”.
I came up with many hypothesise for my observed correlation. Perhaps it was the light of the moon reflecting on the atmosphere changing the ionic charge of the world, or the combination of the alignment of the sun/earth/moon gravity, or some kind of light sensitivity I had and so on. I thought up many excellent, seemingly reasonable explanations on how the correlation could be a causal factor. Under examination, they all failed. Especially trying to figure out mercury gong into retrograde (where it seems to go backwards in the sky to it’s usual path of travel due to orbital mechanics and point of reference). Perhaps my moods were causing the moon’s phase cycle and mercury going into retrograde? Not likely either.
It was tempting to discard the correlation because of this in ability to find a causal link, yet it was a powerful predictive tool. It let me time things for when I was less than able to cope. There were times when I failed in my timing (because I don’t control everyone else) and had to suffer through my extreme mood while trying to perform some kind of task. It was hard. Discarding this useful tool seemed idiotic.
Similarly trying to find a causal link seemed foolish too, although that didn’t stop me trying. After all, if I could figure out the cause, I could address that cause instead of managing symptoms. I never did figure out “the cause”. Instead, like most things in life, it was far more complicated than that. I addressed several stressors (I’ve written about that in the past) and the combined effect of these strategies was to mitigate my extremes of emotion giving me a far more regular mood pattern (still more passionate than most it seems, but not out of control). I no longer needed to predict vulnerable times, as I had learned not to be vulnerable.
Time for an analogy, and time seems like a smart thing to use. I get hungry several times a day. I can find a pattern to that hunger and find something that I can use to predict my hunger. It seems when my phone’s clock (lets just call it the clock, okay?) indicates it’s between 7-8 in the morning, I tend to get hungry. Sometimes it’s a bit later, sometimes a bit sooner. Frequently between 12 and 1 in the afternoon I get hungry again. Sometimes that goes as late as 2-30, but it is usually around 12. I get a small hunger around 3-4, but that isn’t always universal. I also become quite hungry around 6-7, and again this can range up to 8-9. The correlation isn’t tight, but it is a great predictive tool. I can try to figure out a causal link between the two, such as electronic emanations, light levels and so forth , but that will all prove faulty upon examination. Perhaps my hunger is changing the time on the clock? Clearly not, there are other clocks beyond my range and many that existed before I was born and my hunger doesn’t seem to shift the time that appears on my clock. Does that mean I should discard my clock simply because I can’t find a causal link? That seems foolish. I don’t understand the mechanism, but as a predictive tool, the clock is very useful for planing my activities such that I can address my hunger.
Just recently I experienced one of those extreme moods. I recognised it for what it was – a mood with no source. Nothing happened to directly trigger the mood I was in (such as a nasty confrontation, winning a million dollars, a death etc), and the basic emotion was consistent for several days. This had all the indicators of being one of my old extreme moods. Once recognised I knew what to do about it – I minimised my responsibility to others, put my work mask on, deferred critical tasks, prioritised things ‘things that must be done’, and held on until it passed. It’s better, but not gone yet.
It’s been several years since I’ve had one this bad. I can come up with lots of hypothesise to explain why this one was bad, but really, who knows? It disturbs me that I am still prone to these. Kind of like an ex-alcoholic who has been drinking responsibly for years waking up after a drunken night out. There is a level of disgust at what I have gone through again and dismay that it may never go away.
One of my friends who studies and works in occult fields pointed out to me that this Friday is a full moon. Oh, and by the way, mercury is in retrograde. Well, gee. It’s been years since I have felt the need to track the phase of the moon, and I can never remember when Mercury is going to be in retrograde (it happens 3-4 times a year), so clearly this wasn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy. There have been many times that Mercury went into retrograde that did not prompt a significant extreme mood (at least, not extreme enough for me to check), so the correlation is not rigid.
To some extent I’m a bit annoyed that this correlation still works. I am also relieved to note that it still works – I got that feeling of “oh, no wonder” when I was told about the astrological/astronomical phenomena. Does this mean that the moon and Mercury did this to me? I have no evidence of that. Nor do I have evidence that it didn’t. So long as I accept that it is just a correlation, I can use it as a tool.
I should also be careful not to turn it into a false correlation too. How many times has my mood been out of whack, that I dismissed because the moon was not full, or Mercury was not in retrograde? How many times was the moon full and I didn’t have a strong mood? We humans find patterns all the time, whether they exist or not. It is a part of being human.
Tim Minchin has a line in one of his songs “Storm” – ‘Do you know what we call alternate medicine that works? … Medicine’. From this, do you know what we call magic that works? Science. What this misses though, is the transition stage where scientists are looking at the alternate medicine that works to find out how it works such that they can make it more reliable, and the same transition stage where a series of events that are considered reliable magic are examined and the causal links are teased out and incorporated into the fields of science. So many previously considered fields of magic have been systematically investigated, understood, and are now labelled science. So many fields of magic have been shown to be faulty. There are still many more to be investigated.
It is an error to dismiss the consistent result because the mechanism is unknown or the current explanation is faulty. I covered this in the post Logical Fallacy Fallacy. It is an error to attack the person who tries to explain how they think something works just because it doesn’t line up with what you know. That was also covered in the post Logical Fallacy – Ad Hominem. It is an error to assume the correlation is causal – covered in the post Logical Fallacy – Mistaking Correlation with Causation.