Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Astrology is not science

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
-- Wm. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I.

I was born on October 15, which means that according to the astrology of the ancient Greeks, my star sign is Libra.

And everything in the preceding paragraph is meaningless.

The concept of astrology holds that the path of a person's life is dependent upon the particular arrangement of astronomical bodies, both at the person's birth and through that person's life.  Because of rigorous study of the subject by actual scientists, applying the scientific method, it can be safely said that astrology is utter bunkum, a pseudoscience that preys upon hopeful and desperate minds.

A survey released today by the National Science Foundation found that 58% of young adult Americans, those aged 18-24, believe that astrology is either "very" or "sort of" scientific.  I suppose some of that number can be chalked up to ignorance, and some of it can be explained by immaturity.  For some people, a certain number of trips around the sun--obviously a larger number than 24--are required for them to figure out the way the world works.  Some of these people are the same ones who believe that you can make big money stuffing envelopes (just put $20 in an envelope and send for our pamphlet on how to do so) or who buy universal life insurance policies at inflated rates from questionable companies (no health questions asked!).  That is to say, they have a certain level of gullibility that will almost certainly wear off once they've been burned a few times by experience.

But can we really blame them?  The daily horoscope can be found in almost every daily newspaper, on countless websites and Facebook apps.  The fact that it so available must mean it has credibility, right?  I mean, if it were fraudulent, the government would shut it down, right?

There is a point at which critical thinking has to become a required skill for living.  As an exercise in critical thinking and investigation, I went a few minutes ago to and clicked on "Libra."  This is what it told me to expect, along with the approximately 583 million other humans who share my star sign:

Success and good fortune might be in the wind for you today, Libra. Whatever it is will probably have you feeling especially elated and satisfied with your accomplishments. You'll want to tell everyone, but this could prove frustrating since some of the people you want to tell might not be reachable today. Hold off on spreading the word until you can inform those closest to you. You'll need and want their support.
Note the use of "might" (twice), "probably," and "could," all of which make this "prediction" utterly incapable of being wrong.  If I don't experience success and good fortune today, then that is meaningless, because the horoscope merely said it was possible, not that it would definitely happen.

And this astrologer couldn't even be bothered to be specific about what was going to happen.  "Whatever it is" could be that I will win the Powerball jackpot, or it could be that I will have an exceptionally satisfying bowel movement.  I must admit, however, that the latter option is unlikely to be the subject of this particular horoscope, because I can't think of anyone I would want to tell about that.

You know what I'd like to see?  A newspaper that prints yesterday's horoscopes alongside some statistics that show how accurate it was for those to whom it applied.

The reality is that astrology tells us nothing about the future; it tells us nothing about our personalities or our tendencies.  It is so nonspecific that it could literally mean anything, as my horoscope today proves.  Does anyone really think that it's possible to make a correct prediction that would apply to more than a half-billion people (but only them), or that such a prediction would be genuinely meaningful?

Astrology survives, and apparently thrives, because of the number of people who are unwilling or unable to think.  That's genuinely sad.

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