Kary Mullis: Surfing Scientist, Nobel Laureate, Friend of Astrology
by Jan Severson, © 2006
This article was first published in the February 2007 issue of Dell Horoscope
(See Kary Mullis’s Natal Chart at end of Article)
I recently read the book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field.1 It is a quirky, humorous and somewhat autobiographical collection of musings by the colorfully eccentric scientist Kary Mullis. Mr. Mullis won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1993).2 Much to my surprise and pleasure, Mr. Mullis (a Capricorn, with major overtones in Sagittarius) devoted a small chapter of the book to his positive and affirming experiences with astrology. He even gave his birth information along with the declaration that, through astrology, the reader could know more about him, from just that small amount of data, than from reading his entire book! 3He unabashedly declares his opinion that there is definitely something to astrology that is worth exploring, and he verbally thumbs his nose at scientists and psychologists who dismiss it without experiencing and investigating it for themselves.
Dancing Naked . . . was an enjoyable and humorous read, made all the more interesting for us astrophiles by having access to the author’s natal chart alongside his book. As suggested by the title, he reveals quite a bit. Tarot enthusiasts may be reminded, at times, of the satiated “wine, women and song” character from the “Nine of Cups” card¾not an outrageous manifestation of impulses and desires for someone with an Aries Ascendant, and Mars, his chart ruler, conjoined Mercury, in Sagittarius, in the adventure-seeking ninth house. Mercury and Mars share the same degree and are in a tight trine to the Aries Ascendant. Mars and Mercury, joined at the hip, are also one leg of a stimulating T-square with the Moon and Jupiter. Although these squared off planets challenge each other, they are still very much in collusion with each other through dispositorship; Mullis’ nurtured-by-variety Gemini Moon always checks in and confers with opposing Mercury, since Mercury is this Moon’s dispositor, and Jupiter is the dispositor-kingpin-godfather of both Mars and Mercury in Sagittarius. The fiery energy in Jupiter’s T-square in Mr. Mullis’s chart seems perpetually ready for a game of “Truth or Dare.” And astrologers are familiar with the Sagittarius/Jupiterian zest for adventure and love of partying.
With only enough science to spur fascination and to support his rebel-rousing points of view, his book is an interesting potpourri–even including his very personal experience with subjects such as astral travel and possible alien encounters. He garnishes this diversity of personal stories with wit and humor — his miraculous healings, attention-seeking inventions, his open-minded curiosity-driven mental meanderings, and some rather opinionated ranting and ravings.
Scientist-prankster Kary Mullis has an interesting writing style. In his past, he had exercised some liberties in his experimentation with LSD, prescription and concocted-in-the-lab drugs. This may explain the interesting contortions¾mind-expanded? deranged? but entertaining!¾by which he leads the reader from point A to point B. For instance, consider the way he introduced the chapter “Fear and Lawyers inLos Angeles” which describes his take on the legal system from his vantage point of nearly having to appear as an expert witness for the O. J. Simpson murder trial defense team:
Winning the Nobel Prize for PCR put me and my surfboard on the front page of nearly every newspaper in the world. By the time nightfall had swept once around the planet, a conservative estimate placed 328,716 small caged birds directly above my picture, flicking little greenish droplets rancid with uric acid. [ . . . .] Add the further indignity of chicks, kitties, puppies, wrapped fish entrails, and the unknown dark fluids deep in tropical dumpsters. It gave me the creeps.
(Mullis’ jovial, yet humble, Jupiter in Virgo often tethers his ninth-house Sagittarian hot air balloon!)
Then, from the image of hundreds of thousands of caged birds pooping on his picture, to a description of the extinction of the dodo bird by “the arrival on Mauritius of European fools with firearms,” and through a brief lesson on evolution and the missing link, Mullis starts narrowing in on the chapter’s eventual subject (our increasingly flawed legal trial system) by pointing out collective humanity’s noticeably ape-like behavior throughout the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “If we hadn’t been already, then there we made apes of ourselves.”
Once the chapter’s topic is unfurled, readers learn a variety of interesting things along the way, such as how two of O.J.’s lawyers, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, were law professors from New York who had been using DNA evidence to get innocent people off death row. The then newly developed DNA tests —made possible by the replicating process that Kary Mullis invented and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize — established the innocence of one out of four of those death row prisoners convicted of unconfessed murders.
Mullis’ fetish for sharing the happy trails of his thought processes and the results of his humorous and sometimes exaggerated calculations of the incalculable might be the particular combination of his Jupiter, Moon and Mercury T-square involving the gabby, witty, storytelling third-house Gemini Moon and the teachy-preachy, adventure seeking and in-your-face ninth-house Sagittarius Mercury-Mars conjunction. The “empty leg” of this T-square, representing a possible constructive outlet that can smooth the effects of the T-square, is in Pisces and the twelfth house¾home of the collective imagination. And because the lively and clever trickster Mercury is involved, Mr. Mullis’s details and calculations are far from boring; they are usually a conglomeration of data, logic, imagination, and leg pulling.
Kary Mullis’s Gemini Moon luminesces in the third house while his Sun radiates from the opposite ninth. Those houses, with their focus on curiosity, communications, and the acquisition of knowledge about things both near and far, at hand and in the abstract, are responsible for the forest of his book, while his active 6th house, especially his Virgoan 6th-house Jupiter¾his fun-loving penchant for details, analysis and critique¾provide the trees.
Mr. Mullis’s sixth house is pivotal in his chart, literally. His two very tight T-squares each involve a luminary, the Sun or the Moon, and each pivot on either Jupiter or Neptune from within the sixth. One manifestation of these two T-squares, anchored in the sixth house, is the entertaining stories he includes of the challenges, frustrations, and hazards of the workplace and of the employee/employer relationship–the sixth house domain.
As a scientist, Mullis is an employee, often in the service of either large companies or universities. The lab, with all of its noxious and hazardous materials and coworkers, is his workplace. This particular fact of life is a prominent source of both irritation and humor for Kary. Luckily, with his luminaries so prominent, and with so much energy in fire and air signs and houses, he can laugh and write about it. With Mercury to lighten up and diffuse his volatile Mars, and with grounded-yet-jovial Jupiter in an earth sign, he gets it off his chest in an entertaining way in his chapter entitled “A Lab is just Another Place to Play.” It is entertaining to read of the personality clash between Kary and the lab safety officer, a.k.a. the slaphappy “danger officer” whose multitudinous danger stickers and warning labels significantly impaired vision, safety and common sense. There didn’t seem to be a problem until this “guy who used to empty the isotope disposal buckets became the safety officer and suddenly got a staff, an office, and power.” Their biggest battle? Mullis keeping his lunch and beer in the same refrigerator as his radioactive isotopes. Apparently the problem was solved when the safety inspector finally took the safest way out of this dispute ¾ he stopped searching the refrigerator.
Also, since the sixth house is the house of work and servitude, perhaps it is the dual effect of Jupiter and Neptune residing there that the billions of dollars that his PCR invention would eventually reap, legally belong to his employer, not to Mullis. In any chart, Jupiter’s house position signifies the area of life where abundantly big things happen;Neptune’s position in a chart often discloses the area of one’s life where some beautiful bubble may burst, and the muck that remains trickles through one’s fingers. But Jupiter’s house is also where one recognizes opportunities, whileNeptunepaints a vivid imagination. Mr. Mullis is not left crying in his beer. Jupiter’s blessings are often the result of recognizing the opportunities that come one’s way. Kary realizes that having been awarded a Nobel Prize opens almost any door, at least once–and that it’s up to him what sort of guest he becomes once he crosses each threshold.
The shape of Mullis’s chart most closely resembles the locomotive pattern.4 A locomotive-shaped natal chart suggests a “human dynamo” by its configuration. The locomotive personality, as described by author and astrologer Tracy Marks, is characterized by an energetic, self-driving, determined individual who single-mindedly focuses upon achieving his or her purpose. The midpoint of the empty space of a locomotive-shaped chart points to that purpose or goal. This midpoint, in Mullis’s chart, falls in his twelfth house and in the sign of Aries. Accordingly, the focus or purpose toward which scientist Mullis’s dynamism would be directed is adding to collective knowledge and stirring the pot of imagination (twelfth-house attributions), in very individualistic, mind-or-action-oriented, uninhibited, instinctual, spontaneous, pioneering and passionate ways (qualities of Aries). In Mullis’s particular chart, Uranus serves as the engine of the locomotive, and Venus as the caboose. By definition, in the locomotive-shaped chart, the engine and the caboose trine each other (are 120° apart). The engine, the way he pursues his purpose or focus, is described by Uranus in Gemini in the second house. This explains much about how he comes across in his book; the way he goes about his life seems so much more bristlingly Uranian than Capricorn-cautious (his Sun is in Capricorn). Less confined by tradition. More individualistic. A pusher of envelopes.
This bona fide yet eccentric scientist’s outspokenness and his uncommon curiosity and friendly open-mindedness toward astrology are certainly reflected in his chart. The prominent roles of Uranus and Venus in his locomotive chart contribute to this. In addition to the molten-tongued Mercury-Mars conjunction (outspokenness indeed!), his curious nature is represented by his third-house Gemini Moon, which, like Uranus, also forms a trine with Kary’s astrology-friendly eleventh-house Venus in Aquarius. In fact, this friendly, objective, diplomatic, democratic, egalitarian-styled Venus mediates the opposition between the Moon and Mars-Mercury. By way of a trine and sextile, Kary’s 11th-house Venus provides a social and sociable outlet for the tensions and conflicts that may arise from his various squares affecting communication (third house), work (sixth house), beliefs/philosophies/bigger picture “truths” as one intuits them (9th house) and ego/identity and professional arenas (Saturn rules Capricorn, the sign of both his Sun and Mid-heaven, and Saturn is in a T-square, opposite the Sun). Venus’s influence is also demonstrated in Mullis’s love of parties, which is well documented in Dancing Naked in the Mind Field.
I imagine it was somewhat stressful for Kary’s mother, while raising this flesh-and-blood precursor of the infamous cartoon character Bart Simpson. Kary desired his first chemistry set so that he could create explosions. His first “cool” success occurred at age seven. And that is when he decided that “Science is going to be fun.” Considering the volatility of the Mars-Mercury conjunction — in a fire sign (Sag), and trine the Ascendant in Aries, another fire sign, while opposing the air-sign Gemini Moon, and that Mars-Mercury combo as the third leg of a T-square with the largest planet, Jupiter — perhaps the fact that Kary’s Jupiter is in the sign of Virgo was a saving grace, offering lots of luck (Jupiter) by providing just enough attention to detail and craft (Virgo) to modify, yet satisfy, Kary’s particular taste for adventure and desire for firsthand knowledge.
It may be that his mother shared and appreciated Mullis’ curiosity (Moon in Gemini) and perhaps was very busy at work (squaring or 90° from and so conflicting with Jupiter in the 6th house of work) or in the neighborhood or community (Moon in the 3rd house), thereby having been spared some knowledge of what her little prankster might be getting himself into. The particular “maternal image” suggested by his chart would suggest that sort of scenario–the mercurial Moon in its particular third/sixth/ninth house T-square and Venus’ trine with the Moon, and both in social and community oriented houses and signs.
There is no mention whatsoever of his experience of his father, although Mullis mentions his mother quite often. The “paternal image,” viewed here through the Sun, Saturn, and Mars, looks confrontational, challenging, yet nebulous. (The Sun is at the apex of a yod formation, also known as a ‘finger of fate” or “finger of God” planetary pattern, with outer planets Uranus and Pluto; Mars is opposite the Moon; the Saturn-ruled Sun is opposite Saturn, and both of those are in a T-square withNeptune.) As an astrologer, I would like to know the story and issues involving his father: absent or missing? illness and death (T-squares converge in the sixth)? the wounds of war? confrontations and divorce (Mars opposite Moon, Chiron in Libra)? abandonment? alcoholic? workaholic? Or, was he just that dull that he wasn’t mentioned at all? I doubt that very much.
The “cool” explosion, concocted at age seven, was only one of several reckless and fearless “achievements” mentioned in Dancing Naked … , a little unusual for a cautious Capricorn Sun-sign, although a perfect representation of the Sun’s position as the apex of his natal yod configuration. I use a wider orb here, than is customary for a yod, given the nature of the planets involved, and that this yod has a built in “trigger planet,” Saturn, in Cancer, the sign of its detriment, opposing his Capricorn Sun.
A natal yod, especially with a personal planet so affected by outer ones, indicates periods of stress, instability, or insecurity. Yods present confusing situations with seemingly unsolvable problems and major life detours, which, if one is lucky and can see them through, bring about unforeseen adjustments, after which previously latent talents may express themselves. Growing up with his Capricorn Sun at the apex of this extreme example of a yod, being taunted by two quincunx angles to shocking Uranus and power lord Pluto, brings this image to mind: a defiant adolescent, sprouting goat horns, and sporting a huge weighty chip on each shoulder. Had the orbs of this yod been any tighter, would Mullis have been around today, on the earth plane, to tell his tales? I am reminded of the plot in the song called “A Boy Named Sue,” performed by Johnny Cash. After a lifetime of fighting and holding his own in bar room brawls, the boy named Sue realizes that the man he’s winning a fight against at the moment is his father, the man “who went and named him Sue” — the one, often absent, wandering, yet still in a way, responsible for his son’s legacy of strength, power, achievements, his ability to wind up on the top of the heap.
Age seven coincides with transiting Saturn’s first square. Note that Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn, Mullis’ Sun sign, opposes Kary’s natal Sun, and would have been transiting natalNeptune, the apex of his T-square. This T-square has wired Kary for testing both the boundaries of authority and the limits of reality. His rambunctious Uranus, the locomotive engine, and the powerful Sun-Uranus-Pluto yod (with natal Saturn opposite the Sun as a permanent trigger) explain why Kary’s natural method for dealing with authority is to challenge, push, and sometimes attempt to escape its limits and boundaries.
Chiron, a prominent and unique asteroid named for mythology’s wise centaur and wounded healer, is in the sixth house and the sign of Libra in Mullis’s chart. It is part of that paternally important Sun-Saturn-Neptune T-square. In fact, Chiron, by its conjunction with and position midway between both Jupiter and Neptune, has a way of tying Kary’s two major T-squares together, and anchoring both. Perhaps any wounds and wounding around issues of archetypal “father” and lessons around practical and daily (sixth house) balancing, getting along, and relating (Libra) are at the crux of his initial challenges and his ultimate successes. Perhaps the “wounded healer” Chiron, seeker of wholeness, with its initial wounding effects, is a hinge upon which swings all of the energy of those conflicting planets in Kary’s chart, playing a large part in his destiny, growth, and fulfillment¾the hinge upon which those stumbling blocks of the T-squares turned into building blocks; the fuel that, combined with his hard work and talent, helped lead to this maverick’s notable achievements in the disciplined and authoritative arena of science.
With the South Node in Capricorn and the tenth house, and the North Node in Cancer and the fourth, the general direction of his ongoing evolution is moving away from pushing to achieve and contribute to the outer world and toward the nurturing of his own immediate family and/or his inner self, and to an increase in the attention paid to a search for meaning via his own personal, inner and subjective experiences, his soul-nature, if you will. The timing of his receiving notification of his Nobel Prize coincides with the transiting Uranus-Neptune conjunction (at 18 degrees of Capricorn) on his tenth-house South Node in Capricorn.4 His South Node was at the exact midpoint of these conjoined planets, which were only five minutes apart (or one-twelfth of one degree), perfectly straddling the South Node. Transiting Jupiter, the great benefic, had just graced the Descendant (23° Libra) and made its grand entrance into the seventh house. It had just ended its canter through the lower, more private hemisphere of the natal chart to begin its adventures through the public sector. Transiting triggers, Venus and the Moon, converging on natal sixth-house Jupiter, arrived just in time, of course, to share in the celebration of his lifework accomplishments. Given that entire scenario, I believe that his Nobel Prize was a culmination of South Node-influenced achievements, and he is now more free to heed the call of his North Node. By the end of the book, a more settled Kary is happily married to his fourth wife. Private family life and exploration of his less rational, less measurable, and more mysterious interests may begin to hold more fascination for Mullis as time goes by. Given the time and inclination, astrology could be right up his alley.
The midpoint of the empty space of his locomotive-shaped chart, described earlier, and the outlet for both of Chiron’s T-squares fall in Aries and the 12th house¾a possible signature for a fearless pioneer and warrior for the unexplainable and immeasurable. The allure of Kary’s North Node in Cancer in the fourth house will coax him to delve further, beyond bimolecular intricacies, into the chambers of his own soul, and perhaps, if we’re lucky he will surface from time to time to take a South Node breather and share his discoveries of the below and within, with society-at-large yet again.
Here, I am reminded of the words of another Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Albert Einstein (Sun in Pisces): “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”