Thursday, November 17, 2011

Astrology: Darkness in the Age of Light

I see so people today utterly convinced that the stars have something in store for them and that special folks with the ability to interpret and predict the future exist. Welcome to the world of astrology- probably the most pervasive and intellectually dampening pseudo-science today. Astrology believes that the sun and the planets, not to mention other stars and their respective positions are of tantamount importance in determining what kind of a future you will have. Let's break down a few points and ask ourselves a few questions.

How does it work?
Astrology, in all its flavors (Western or Eastern) gives no scientific explanation as to how the planets and stars influence the lives of the mortal. Is it gravity,mass perhaps? Without a sound, scientific basis, there is no foundation at all. So needless to say, anything further built on it is nonsense.

"The charts look so complicated"
The charts have many squares and loads of numbers and annotations in them. "They look so complicated and intricate, they must be some truth to it!", one would think. No. It would be the same as believing an actor in an energy drink commercial , decked in white lab coats and spouting absurd terms like "Nutrient Mineral technology".

Science sounding, but not science
Many pseudosciences including astrology tend to use scientific sounding terms which may seem to lend credence, but in fact do not make any sense at all. Terms like energy, waves, quantum and such are scientific terms, but mean absolutely nothing when used in context of reflexology, reiki or other pseudosciences.

"But that prediction came true!"
Pure statistical chance. Also remember that the claims made by the astrologers are still very much in the realm of possible occurrences. Think about it. If an astrologer says your child will become a doctor, is it not possible to become a doctor? Is it so ridiculously improbable that the child will not become a doctor? No, of course not. If the astrologer says, something like Alien autopsy scientist at Roswell and then that happens, even then we need statistical proof before we can link correlation and causation. Which brings us to....

"My lucky shirt"
On days you wear your lucky green Nike T-shirt, you seem to have a great day. You see a pattern emerging. And so one day you declare that the correlation ( good days and lucky t-shirt) must be caused by wearing the T-shirt. WRONG. Many intelligent people make the mistake of attributing causation to an event when it really isn't so. You didn't become a doctor because the astrologer said so. You probably wanted to emulate your childhood role model or perhaps you had other noble reasons to do so. Just because you happened to fulfill the prophecy (detect sarcasm, people), doesn't mean the prophecy was real to begin with.
It's just that you happen to remember only the good days when you had the shirt on and be hazy recalling good days that you had without the lucky shirt, you're guilty of confirmation bias- wherein you recollect events that reinforce your ideology and neglect the ones that threaten that standpoint. This is also a good reason for why religion has stuck around for a long time. People tend to ignore the bloodshed, rape, genocide and misogyny in their holy texts that would normally sicken any person and stick to ideas that reinforce their belief in that deity or ideology.

A few thought experiments if you're still not convinced-
The case of identical twins- If time and position are really everything, why are the lives of twins so different, when it should really be the same, astrologically speaking?
The case of the camel at the zoo-  Hypothetically speaking, if I were to provide an astrologer with data like latitudes, longitudes and other relevant data, he must be able to tell the future. What if I were to tell him that I just gave him the birth details of the camel at the local zoo? Will his prediction of the candidate going to medical school still hold true or will I have to tell the camel that his chances of becoming an orthodontist are slim?
Why do astrologers disagree? If you give the same chart to two, three or N number of astrologers, each of them come up with a different outcome. Why is that so, when the basic given data is the same? Of course astrologers hasten to add that they use corrections, different methods and that the astrologer is not a "true" astrologer. Kind of like a catholic abhorring a protestant and whom both accuse Mormons to be untrue Christians.
Show me the math!- The astrologers have no scientific basis of proving what they say. If someone gives you something delicious to eat and doesn't reveal the recipe, how can you be sure of what you just ate, was what he said it was to be? And even if they come up with vague explanations of "houses" and "charts", they hold no scientific backing. At the end of the day, the exact reason as to why the stars affect us is not disclosed!
It applies to everyone-  The horoscopes in the paper for Scorpio applies equally well to a Libra or any other horoscope. How exactly is " Your boss will have a surprise for you", or" be careful with finances" specific exactly for people born between September 18 - November 22 and not for those born between November 23 to January 7? And think about it, it's kind of racist in a way to club people with established characteristics based just on their date of birth?
You think you know your Sun sign?-  The Earth wobbles like a top. Therefore the sun rises on your birthday in a different constellation that what you'd imagine. So you're not really a Scorpio and if you thought you were sexy and enigmatic because of that, guess what, you aren't.

We are advanced life beings with an amazing plethora of information at our command: we have sent Man to the moon, we have invented nuclear weapons and we are closer to understanding and combating deadly diseases. Yet, the curiosity to see the future trumps all reason and common sense and we are slaves to irrationality in all its forms. We must arm ourselves with critical thinking and educate others about the same. It is difficult and ego-wrecking for someone who is a slave to astrological influences to admit they're believing and investing in Grade A bullshit. But it's something worth pursuing: to view all of life through skeptical lens.

1 comment:

Seeker of Truth said...

Speaking of the 'It-applies-to-everyone-claim' of astrology aficionados, the so-called 'Forer Effect' can explain why this belief is so compelling to many. This article by a rationalist blogger with similar views on astrology mentions that in passing:

PS: Please ignore earlier comment with residue from my clipboard!