OK, there, I’ve written it and I will not take it back. Astrology is a crock, to be polite. It’s right up there with reading tea leaves and sheep entrails to tell the future. Except for possible contributions of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” phenomenon, astrological predictions are about as accurate as pure chance. Astrologers claim that there is either a mystical force that science cannot examine, or else a physical force that has yet to be discovered that somehow affects the human psyche and personality. Yet the four well-known and highly investigated forces of nature have no such effects, and despite intensive investigations, no other forces have ever been discovered. There is simply no evidence that astrology works as claimed.
Many believers latch onto predictions that prove perfect through chance and hold them up as evidence of the truth of astrology, all the while ignoring the many more instances in which chance disproves the prediction. We humans have a large and undisciplined capacity to believe what we want to believe and ignore anything that contradicts it.
Years ago I read of a study synopsized here: “In 1979 Michel Gauquelin put an advertisement in Ici-Paris offering a free horoscope. Recipients were asked to reply saying how accurate they and their friends found the horoscope. Of the first 150 replies, 94% percent said it was accurate as did 90% of their friends and family. Unfortunately, they all got the same horoscope, that of Dr. Petiot, a notorious mass murderer.” (from “What do you mean, ‘test’ astrology?”, although I read of it originally in Science and the Paranormal, George O. Abell and Barry Singer, ed, Scribners, 1981).
Intrigued, I performed a similar experiment in one of my introductory college astronomy classes, distributing a horoscope to all students. Unfortunately I do not recall the exact numbers, but an impressive number of students, well above what would be expected by chance, felt that the horoscope was very accurate. And as in the example above, they all got the same horoscope, one as I recall for Ted Bundy the serial killer.
The bottom line is that astrology only seems to work because people want it to work. As such it is a very poor source of guidance, and can be a downright dangerous — not to mention stupid — way to order a human life.
But what really got me riled up here is the recent (Jan., 2011) media frenzy over the “new” astrological “sun signs.” An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune stated that the “sun signs” were off by about a month, as if this trivial fact, well known to astronomers if not astrologers, for hundreds of years was of any importance. Thus people who were born in early June, as I was, and who always thought that they were “Geminis,” were suddenly thrown into turmoil to learn that in fact they are “Taurus’s!” Oh, dear!
Astrological sun signs divide the year into 12 time periods named after the 12 constellations (more or less) through which the Sun passes during the year. Thus when these signs were conjured up two or three thousand years ago, the Sun was passing through Gemini in early June. Hence people born in early June were known as “Geminis,” and were thought to have all the traits and foibles incumbent on that sign.
However, a very slow wobble (“precession”) of the Earth’s rotational axis causes the Sun’s apparent position among the stars to drift through the millenia. Whereas when the astrological sun signs were devised, they at least represented an astronomical fact — the Sun indeed did pass through Gemini in early June. However, today the Sun’s apparent position has shifted and it appears in the direction of Taurus in early June.
This is not news. Astronomers have known about precession (or”Precession of the Equinoxes”) at least since the time of Aristarchus of Samos in 280 BC. The Sun slipped from Gemini into Taurus (with similar shifts throughout the year) hundreds of years ago, and astronomers knew it, but they also knew that it had no importance except in slightly and slowly shifting what constellations were visible in the night sky. Astrologers, who imputed much more importance to the positioning of the Sun and stars, apparently missed or discounted this fact (although some did realize it but did nothing to adjust thier prognostications).
When this story showed up in the Star Tribune, it was a bit like reporting the end of the Revolutionary War. Not news, and not important at this point. But what really annoyed me was how the media picked up this bit of pseudo news and — ignoring input by the astronomer who brought it up in the first place that there was no mystical connection between the Sun, stars and Earth — blew it across the planet with the importance of the Second Coming… or maybe just the importance of a confirmed alien landing.
It is not so much the falseness of astrology that bothers me here, but gullibility and irrationality of the public, and the failure of the media to know what is news and what is important.
We need more clear thinking, more rationality and less cow-herd mentality.