This is a topic I've wanted to cover for some time, and over the last weeks I've had 4 people I know mention astrology, it was clear they put some value and faith in this "system".
It motivated me to blog on this subject with the hope to clear things up, especially for the people I care about. Astrology can have negative effects and offers no benefits. If you want to read why first scroll down to: So what's the harm? It's all in fun, right?
The following is a short breakdown of the history, how it supposedly functions, why your horoscope describes you, conclusive evidence it does not and a look at it's possible negative effects.
The first form of astrology was invented by man as far as 5000 years ago and many have been created since that time. The western tradition is the dominant one in Canada.
Some forms are; Agricultural, Arab, Persian, Islamic, Babylonia, Burmes, Celtic, Egyptian, Hellenistic, Judician, Mayan, Medical, Medieval, Meteorological, Tibetan and the list goes on, you can view all of them here; astrological traditions.
How does it influence us?
Astrology operates under a very broad assumption: there is some sort of force from objects in space that influences us here on Earth. There are lots of different attributions for this force (some say gravity, some say electromagnetism, some say a force that cannot be measured), but it all comes down to the planets and stars having an effect on people.
Let's see if there can be any effect from the objects in space, as astrologers claim.
Planets are big balls of ice, rock, metal, and other stuff. Their ability to affect us is weak because they are pretty far away. As far as we can tell through science, there are only four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and two forces called the strong and weak force. Those last two only work (more or less) on the nuclei of atoms and subatomic particles. We know the last two cannot affect us from a distance of less than a millimeter!
That leaves gravity and electromagnetism. It can't be gravity because we know closer or bigger objects have more effect on us then farther or smaller objects. This means that the moon has more effect on us than all the other planets in our solar system combined! Even though it is smaller the others are so far their effect is less than the moon. Since planets and stars are what affects us that eliminates gravity as the possible agent.
Could it be electromagnetism? Some planets have no magnetic field, in our solar system Venus has none. We know a magnetic field has little range, in our solar system the Sun's magnetic field is the only one that reaches us and does affect us, it caused the blackout in Québec in 1989. Since astrology states all objects affect us, we know electromagnetism is not the cause.
That leaves some "unknown force or energy or whatever", basically something we have not discovered. Then how can people use it if they don't even know what it is ???
Even if they could in some unknown way "feel" this force ask yourself this question, astrology was created with the planets & stars known at that time, since then we've discovered 100s of planets and TRILLIONS of stars. Don't forget the billions of asteroids in our own solar system! How come they don't affect us?
My horoscope describes me!
This is often the primary response form individuals. Yet many studies have shown that this is simply a psychological effect, people WANT to believe in it. This creates a confirmation bias, they'll open a book on their sign and will easily attach to what fits them, all the other stuff in the book will be forgotten. I know I was doing it myself until I read the same books again with a critical mind, I discovered that 25% of the books did have some of my personality, I had totally forgotten the 75% that did not!
Astrologers rely on our inability to remember when they are wrong, and our almost unfailing ability to see patterns in random noise (in other words, to pull out something that may just possibly kind of vaguely resemble something that describes us).
Also, it's exciting the idea that something mystical is in the "air", that's another reason we apply confirmation bias. I've discovered our known universe is far more exciting !!
Evidence & studies:
Let's assume that despite all the scientific evidence against astrology, there really is an effect on us by the planets. If it exists, it must be measurable, and for astrologers to be able to use it to cast horoscopes, their claims must be consistent. After all, if a force cannot be measured, it cannot have an effect on us, and if astrologers say such a force exists, then all their claims must be based on that force, and should be consistent with each other.
- Astrologers do no better than people guessing when giving them a persons astrological chart and placing it with the proper person based solely on their birth (astrology is only supposed to need your birth date).
- Astrologers could not even do better than people who guessed if a person was an introvert or extrovert, even when they knew their date of birth.
- Long term studies of divorced couples has shown no correlation that people who have "compatible" symbols have a lower instance of divorce.
- Long term studies of people born less than 5 minutes apart have shown no hints of similarities between the two.
- The type of work or lifestyle has no bearing on astrological signs. ex: pisces are supposedly big dreamers and artists, yet they are no more numerous than any other symbol in the field of arts (writing, acting, music, etc...) or less numerous in technological fields.
So what's the harm? It's all in fun, right?
First, it's estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on astrology every year in the United States alone. That's real money, wasted on something that doesn't work. That money could be going towards more important things in one's life; a kids education, books, saving up for a nice vacation, retirement fund, a beautiful play, etc...
Second, astrology promotes the worst thing in the world: to ignore critical thinking. The more we teach people to simply accept anecdotal stories, hearsay, cherry-picked data (picking out what supports your claims but ignoring what doesn't), the harder it gets for people to think clearly. If you cannot think clearly, you cannot function as a human being.
Third, astrology takes away from the real grandeur of the Universe. We live in an amazing place, this Universe of ours, and it's quite fantastic enough without needing people to make up things about it.
Finally, if people make decisions based on a concept shown to have no bearing on who they are, it could influence them in choosing their type of eduction, refuse employment that could have been their dream job and the one thing I see most often, people are judged and categorized by their sign! This influences how they think and feel about this person. Once we label a person it stays in the back of our mind, it's very hard to eliminate this preconception even if we've known the person for years. As well if you believe in astrology you will always look for behavior that fits this person's sign, you might miss out on discovering the real person he or she is...
- Phil Plait on Astrology.
- The Skeptic Dictionary's entry on astrology. Highly recommended.
- Scientist/skeptic/media guy Dr Karl Kruszelnicki briefe take on astrology.
- Articles by James "The Amazing" Randi about astrology.
- The article Is Astrology Relevant to Consciousness and Psi?" by Dean and Kelly.
- The article "The Concepts of Modern Astrology: A Critique" by Ivan Kelly.
- A fun test showing how astrologers cannot agree.