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Why Astrology Doesn't Work

In this collection of essays I hope to show that the belief that planets have an influence over human behaviour is a myth of the most ignorant kind.It is true that the planets have an insubstantial gravitational influence,but the effects that they are supposed to elicit in terms of conjunctions or auspicious occasions due to relationships with the 12 constellations cannot be true for the following reasons.

Barnum Statements
There are multiple ways of showing astrology is bunkum.Not least is the Barnum statements method,where astrological readings are shown to be statements that could apply to anybody and still be true. "You would like to get on with people more,but there are some things you would prefer to keep private.Although capable of dealing with confrontation at a pinch,you would like to avoid it if you can.In company sometimes you find being the centre of attention uncomfortable and feel the need to let others take the lead" Just stick the birth sign of your choice over the top and give it to someone as a reading.Hey presto! Accurate most of the time,but not at others!

In Principle
There's the IN PRINCIPLE objections.The planets cannot possibly have any effect because any force they apply is too weak to counteract the force applied by the mass of the doctor present at birth.If only astrologers understood Newton's Mass/Gravitation laws,they would realise what claptrap they were spouting.

Then there is the STATISTICAL method.There are as many people who are typical TAUREANS or whatever as not,thus showing that the 12 houses are irrelevant.

Astronomical objections
Then there is the ASTRONOMICAL method,whence Ophiuchus becomes the 13th sign of the zodiac,because the astrologers don't understand what they are dealing with.Plus the fact that the constellations of the zodiac aren't real constellations,they only look that way to us now. Some of the stars are light years away from each other in 3D space,and because of the time that the light takes to travel to us,some of the stars don't even exist.So how can a none existent star affect anyone huh? Go figure.
In the following article a scientist was chastised for taking issue with Astrology, what follows is a rebuttal from an advocate,followed by a retort of David Whitehouse the original orator.

Are Scientists prejudiced against astrology?

In short scientist's scoff,because like all pseudoscientific pursuits no proof is ever forthcoming and as soon as any scientific work is done that shows the belief up for what it is-a belief and not fact,those who adhere to the belief through conviction or an act of faith continue in their belief,rather than update their views accordingly. Scientists get annoyed with this,because they have to update their views,no matter what they would like to believe,when faced with facts.The basic lack of understanding and unwillingness to follow the esoteric symbols of mathematics and the physical laws,means that astrologers and their pseudoscientific counterparts never come to terms with real facts, instead they surround their own beliefs in their own symbols and claim it is just as good for being shrouded in as many symbols. Strangely they are always quick to accommodate new advances in science and integrate them in a half understood mix of mysticism,belief,and ignorance.The historical ascent and decline of astrology is annotated here by Philip J Davis and Reuben Hersh in "The Mathematical Experience" which shows why anyone with an ounce of understanding has intellectually dispensed with it.

The Mathematical Experience - Astrology

One might wonder what astrology is doing in a mathematics book.Of course the natural philosophers of yore,studied all kinds of things,even Newton studied alchemy,this is often used a rouse to validate astrology or the pseudosciences, by saying that if some of the things that were studied in the past are still workable today ,then they all are!
 Of course,this tends to suggest that there is no way of telling which things work and which don't and it is merely up to an individual to decide what works for them or that one system is as good as another.The claim is often made that science is just one discipline and that other forms of enquiry have as much validity,in the following article Jacob Bronowski author of "The Ascent of Man" explains the history and development of science and its antithesis the mystic view which claims that we are as flotsam and jetsam and scientific knowledge is relatively useless,whilst proferring a view which controls nature. As he shows far from trying to subvert nature,scientists seek to work within it,it is mystics that try to get nature to do their bidding,by praying,chanting or casting spells or runes or indeed,looking to the planets and thinking that they have anything to tell us with auspicious portents of the future.

Black and White Magic

As Jacob Bronowski says contrary to what some people might suggest, presuming that the stars are a means to diving the future is not just a "bit of fun".For there are those who once it is put to them that astrology is bunk,shrivel and say "Well,I never thought there was anything in it anyway,it's just a bit of fun isn't it?".This is an obnoxious and insidious idea. It means that those who ply these things as truths have an audience,and that some people even President's may make world changing decisions upon an authority with no basis.It also means unelected people have control over representatives in authority,and advise them according to their own misguided beliefs,that a certain day can be a "good" or "bad" for them,negating the fact that good and bad are value judgments and what might seem like a "good" day for an astrologer can be seen in a quite different light by those with greater vision.In the following article Richard Dawkins explains what is wrong with this meddling with things that are thought to have influence upon people,and why it is wrong to say "It's just a bit of fun".

Tricksters who exploit Crystal Balls

In this article we see how language is manipulated to make people think there is something to it,by exploiting the technical sounding words of science.One would have thought that if mystics and astrologers sought to lend credence to their beliefs the last thing they would do is borrow scientific terms.But no,they merely dumb down and warp scientific ideas to suit their own ill-conceived views. In a all of this it may sound like only spite and mistrust is talking and that there is some particular axe to grind just because a scientific view finds it "hard to understand".This is not so,as with other paranormal or pseudoscientific phenomena it would be remiss of science it were merely overlooked as foolishness. Such things are studied and have been, on an ongoing basis,but the result of experiment after experiment is "There's nothing in it".At any other time,say,when investigating another phenomena,a scientist would give up the ghost,so to speak,and just sees no extra need to keep chipping away at something for which there is no evidence,or for which evidence has been found which refutes the beliefs of the claimant.There is little point in flogging a dead horse,and astrology,like God and all other unprovable beliefs,is a dead horse.
The discipline of mathematics shares a heritage with astrology,being part and parcel of the system that the natural philosophers used in their proto astronomy and semi religious beliefs about the universe. Indeed,astrologers use a fair amount of mathematics and computers in trying to lend credence to what they do. Merely tacking on the trappings of science only serves to shoot it in the foot and undermines an anti-scientific position.
One might,have thought then,that mathematics might be a good arbiter of the legitimacy of astrologer,being both the basis of science and sharing a history with mysticism. As "The Mathematical Experience" shows,astrology is not held in intellectual repute,and no serious mathematician of any calibre would lend it any credence,partly through understanding the laws of the universe.In the next article,mathematician John Allen Paulos explains why pseudoscience and astrology can be seen in terms of a basic innumeracy on behalf of advocates and believers of a mystic persuasion.Invariably,such people have a very bad understanding of risk,chance,serendipity and coincidence,and read things into situations,which are merely their own emphasis on unrelated phenomena. You might think that the hieroglyph ridden area of mathematics can say little about the psychology of people's acceptance or denial of given circumstances,here John Allen Paulos shows that, on the contrary,it has very much to say,and perhaps is even the foremost authority when it comes to making sense of what we think is the case.

Innumeracy - Coincidence and Pseudoscience

John goes on to explain the cultural and psychological reasons why it is that there is such an affinity with pseudoscience,and a revulsion of a scientific explanation, mostly citing the "cold hard mathematics" as being the domain of a mundane technician,and the propensity of people wishing to feel special or indeed not to be picked out. The UK lottery advert with a finger saying "It could be you" perhaps exemplifies this message of people seeing chance and likelihood playing parts in their lives.It is odd then that they do not turn to the doctrine of chance- statistical mathematics in order to familiarise themselves with it,but instead turn to purveyors of speculation and misunderstanding for help.It is the blind leading the blind.Moreover it is paradoxical,since a life ordained by the stars and decamped into only 12 categories devalues individuality or the means to be special.It actually makes a person just like others of their kind,and suggests that a future is set in stone (contrary to the investigations of our most capable intellectuals).Why then do people listen to the mumblings of people wearing dayglo woolly jumpers or baubles trinkets and crystals,in preference to people who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of knowledge? Perhaps this is because of a basic distrust of science,perhaps based in CP Snow's "Two Cultures"-the basically artistically creative person-the romantic,as opposed to the trained rationalist.Perhaps many have a romantic side,an emotional side,that finds hard truths unpalatable and offensive to their humanity,they see explanations as diminishing.Maybe this is because they have been spoon fed Reductionist science,which as much makes them a human automaton as does astrology make them a "victim of venomous fate". Perhaps the mystic has been brought up in a peer group of people who worship gods or nature and see science as an antithesis by default.

Polly Toynbee reviews Everyman-Astrology

 Whatever the reason,assuming there is one,it can be no explanation for shutting off and reviling a scientific explanation on its own merits.Find fault with it,yes,but don't just gripe that you don't like it,prove it isn't true,or show that there is any greater or at least as good evidence for a counter-claim.
It's insidious that in a technological culture that has reached the moon and landed craft on Mars to think that the planets affect us in any more than to be targets and aspirational drives for a conquest of space.Such attainments were done by following a rule which has its basis in rationalism and mathematics,not in superstition ,belief and hearsay.It's incredible then,that as John Allen Paulos says over half of the most technologically advanced nation on Earth believes in such hogwash.More bizarre still is that in "the nation of shopkeepers" is a propensity to be taken in by such ignoramuses and show people as Paul McKenna and Uri Geller.It perhaps is no shock that footballers succumb to this nonsense,but that they should be sacked from  their jobs for listening to such baloney is only a fitting end to ignorance.At every turn from Mystic Meg on the lottery to morning television, from CEEFAX to the internet,from tabloids to broadsheets,the hokum and fraud and even convicted belief of astrologers pervades.So much so that people often confuse the legitimate science of astronomy with it,and if for no other reason,we should see the last of it.We are now in a new millennium and ought to start as we mean to go on,without ignorant superstition.The apocalyptic thinking that seemed to mar the end of 1999,should not be allowed to continue.

Fatal Attractions

Zodiac now 13-strong as Ophiuchus signs in


THINK YOU'RE a Pisces? Think again, because the star sign you thought was yours may be incorrect. That's according to an astronomer who has discovered there are 13, not 12, zodiac signs.

The internet exploded last week when Parke Kunkle discussed the newest sign, Ophiuchus, in an interview with American broadcaster NBC, propelling the topic to "trending" status on twitter for several days.

Kunkle, a professor in the Minnesota Community and Technical College, talked about how a wobble in the Earth's axis had caused a change in star constellations. As a result, there is a new sign, Ophiuchus - better known as the serpent holder - that wasn't present 3,000 years ago when Babylonians introduced zodiac.

Prof Luke Drury, head of the astronomy and astrophysics section of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, explained the process, known as "precession".

"If you think of the Earth as a wobbling or spinning top that is not quite vertical, the spin top moves around in a shape a bit like a cone. The Earth spins exactly the same way," he said.

"Astronomers have known about this for a very long time. It has been one of the constant criticisms of astrology, which isn't a science and doesn't allow for it."

While the sign many people were born under may change, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to remove that scorpion tattoo just yet: some astrologers, particularly in the western world, use a system that is Earth, not star, based.

The new zodiac dates are: Capricorn: Jan 20th - Feb 16th. Aquarius: Feb 16th - March 11th. Pisces: March 11th - April 18th. Aries: April 18th - May 13th. Taurus: May 13th - June 21st. Gemini: June 21st - July 20th. Cancer: July 20th - Aug 10th.

Leo: Aug 10th - Sept 16th.

Virgo: Sept 16th - Oct 30th.

Libra: Oct 30th - Nov 23rd. Scorpio: Nov 23rd - Nov 29th. Ophiuchus: Nov 29th - Dec 17th. Sagittarius: Dec 17th - Jan 20th.

The Irish Times - Monday, January 17, 2011


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