A rational defense of astrology and how it helps science by being its opposite.
| by [hollyhedral] first published on Medium
Not long ago, Mercury went retrograde and something predictable happened — memes. In both astronomy and astrology, retrograde describes the visual spectacle of a planet that looks as if it’s moving backwards. Hard to describe, easier to visualize.
Imagine two cars at different speeds, moving in the same direction. As the faster car climbs ahead of the slow one, the slow car appears to be moving backwards. The illusion of the car moving backwards while it’s driving forward, is basic retrograde. This motion confused astronomers so much that they named the planets for it. The Greek word planan means wanderer.
Planets were a terrifying mystery, once upon a time.
Eventually, we realized the earth revolved around the sun; and soon after, that retrograde was an illusion. Back in antiquity, astrology was united with astronomy. They tracked the motions of the sky and interpreted the meaning for human affairs. In those days, astrology was number one and astronomers worked to make a better Zodiac. Today, we know astronomy is central to understanding our place in the universe.
Astrology is a proto-science because it interpreted the natural world before modern scientific methods. Today, continued practice is labeled pseudo-science. Skeptics use science to reject astrology, but scientific methods are an irrational evaluation. Astrology deserves a better reputation because of its integrity and continued relevance to science.
Full disclosure: I’m an astrologer.
It’s an awkward hobby because I study science and philosophy. It stings to see the ignorance associated with this ancient practice. My unique viewpoint allows me to analyze the relationship between the two with some fairness, because the conflict is strong within. Let’s start with the claim that astrology is pseudo or junk science.
Pseudoscience threatens public health, such as with vaccine phobia and homeopathic medicine. These manipulate people into self-harm by deceptively claiming sound science. RationalWiki defines pseudoscience as:
A belief system that uses science to claim false legitimacy.
The skeptics website uses vaccine phobia, homeopathic medicine and astrology as examples of pseudo-science and harmful practices.
Concealing and controlling this knowledge is a corruption ancient beliefs can usually avoid. There’s no central bank — it survives as one of the longest running traditions we have.
Yes, astrology uses concepts of math and science that predict the motion of the planets from a geo-centric [meaning from-earth] perspective. This prediction of the movements is a math-based science because it can be replicated. Astronomy can replicate the same thing that astrology software does. Though there is one important difference that both agree on:
The meanings astrology gives to describe our cosmic connections is entirely separate from astronomy!
Astrology wants you to use your experiences — not science — for belief. It identifies as personal. There is no legitimate astrologer or astrology website saying astrology is real because of math and science.
If your astrologer doesn't know Astrodienst, RUN!
Astrodienst is among the biggest, most popular and recommended astrology information portals and birth chart generators on the web. If anything, this bandwagon is a good representation of popular indoctrination. Its intro reads:
Astrology sees mankind as being not only influenced by hereditary factors and the environment, but also by the state of our solar system at the moment of birth… By interpreting the roles of these players (the planets) and their qualities (the elements, signs and houses) and creating a synthesis, astrology is able to present a complete and comprehensive picture of the person and his potential, based on the natal horoscope.
It may include disputable details, but without backing them up with scientific claims. Reputable astrologers present their work as the interpretations of data by a traditional belief system. Science is inflexible; using rigid systems and structures to produce reliable results. Entertaining wild ideas or speculating the divine isn’t meant for science; but it’s not better than belief — simply opposite.
It’s impossible to know and understand everything because we’re human and there are shrimp that see over four times as many colors than people. Humans are limited, so is science, and that’s okay. We can’t quantify every meaningful thing that happens to us, do we want to anyway?
The best scientists and philosophers are certain that certainty is an illusion. Just like the best churches and spiritual organizations embrace science, and some of the best science searches in places we don’t know how to describe yet.
It’s impossible to know and understand everything because we’re human and there are shrimp that see over four times as many colors than people.
Humans are limited,
so is science and that’s okay.
A creature of [beautiful] nightmares.
Astrology is the most public-domain belief system to exist. People make money off of it because it takes time and patience to learn about it — a rare, intuitive gift indeed.
Its repeatability makes it easy to access using tools across a variety of sources, languages, websites and software. Several reputable astrology sites, including Astrodienst, offer free chart drawings and interpretations, just not complete charts because that requires a person’s efforts.
But it’s worth nothing that most astrology websites freely provide all the information necessary for someone to do it themselves.
The entire practice uses a transparent method, anyone can learn the process. Astrologers are not gatekeepers of their knowledge; they’re asking to be compensated for the extensive time to analyze an entire chart. Compared to any other belief system, astrology is accessible, transparent on its method and does not rely on manipulation, social engineering or financial exploitation. People wanting to get paid for labor is fair. Concealing and controlling this knowledge is a corruption ancient beliefs can usually avoid. There’s no central bank — it survives as one of the longest running traditions we have.
Duality is a common theme across religions and cultures, also in philosophy. Without darkness how can we distinguish light? Heat with cold, happiness and melancholy. Aristotle’s Golden Mean suggests that everyone has their own balance of things right for them. From one extreme to the other, we should strive for balance. Aristotle might say astronomy and astrology are completely value neutral; becoming a problem with extreme use or reliance.
Philosophy can act as protoscience, and is a fitting companion to scientific breakthrough. Thinking beyond what we already know is how we discover things, but rigid methods must stay in-the-box to be consistent. By design, science needs help in order to know what might be discovered.
Using scientific study to discredit astrology has problems. Astrology discovers clues on how to work on oneself and navigate life. It does not try to replace free-will. It stresses that any ‘fate’ in a chart can be changed with personal action, but it’s tested as strictly deterministic.
Some of the very best of scientific prediction that’s possible. This Spaghetti Plot represents a four-day projection of Hurricane Irma (2017). Each line is a predicted path from the top weather services across the globe. [photo from weathernerds]
Meteorology is a prediction science. It has the best of science, technology and global cooperation, yet is still difficult and inexact. Science asks astrologers — using ancient interpretations, without global academic support — to predict several life outcomes autonomously and accurately. All within the same chaos that coordinated scientists cannot predict further than ten days into the future — at best.
Astrology is a self-proclaimed belief system that recognizes free will and justifies itself with personal experience. The scientific method as astrology’s only answer to skepticism will humiliate it every time.
More akin to philosophy in usefulness, astrology lends theoretical value to science because it doesn’t operate by the same rules and contemplates extraordinary claims. Science doesn’t have the same freedom of creativity and imaginative thinking, but it can cherry-pick relevant ideas and discard the rest.
The best use of astrology — or any protoscience — is for inspiring investigative science and technology.
Axis precession is probably the number one claim made by skeptics to refute astrology. This uses the constellation Ophiuchus on the Zodiac elliptical as proof. In Ancient Greece, our sun signs were determined by which constellations were behind the sun at the time of our birth. But the earth has been shaken up a few times in the last two-thousand years while revolving around its axis and orbiting the sun.
Precession means that our angle towards the sun isn’t always exact, it moves and shifts over time, slightly varying our length of day and year. The Farmers’ Almanac is a popular guide for these changes. Yet once, again — the almanac make unscientific predictions from scientific data. Another mixture of science and belief.
How do you make an astrologer roll their eyes? Tell them there’s a 13th sign.
Astrology uses genuine science, so practitioners are well-aware of the wobble. Eastern and Vedic astrology have a 13th sign, taking precession into account. In an eastern horoscope, your sun sign would likely be different. Western astrology operates a little differently, keeping the classic signs. Here in the United States, we use what’s called the Tropical Zodiac.
Ever hear of the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn?
The tropics mark the suns position on the first days of northern summer and northern winter — aka the solstices. The sun has an exact 90° angle to the latitudes on these days; and for 24 hours, the sun’s path across the globe can be traced along the entire tropic. These points of latitude mark about 23 ° North and South of the equator, respectively.
Why are there horoscope names for something that sounds like science?
It really comes down to stars being useful navigation markers in the sky. Like the Zodiac signs, the Tropics were named for which constellation was behind the sun during the solstice. Not eager to change the names every era, we stuck with the OG constellation names for the latitudes. Tropic Zodiac signs formed around this system, borrowing real science for unscientific purposes.
So in western astrology, when the sun has a 90° angle on the Tropic of Cancer, it marks the sun moving into the sign of Cancer. The same is true when the sun makes a right angle to the tropic of Capricorn in December. Every 30° from these points starts the next sign. After 12 signs it completes the full 360° of the Zodiac elliptical. The ancient sky is theoretically, right here on earth.
Like the Zodiac signs, the Tropics were named for which constellation was behind the sun during the solstice.
The Tropical system developed in Astrology because many believed seasonal changes affected us more than distant constellations. Timekeeping was another use of astrology, as Oxford points out.
Since it marked time here on earth, the belief isn’t necessarily that stars cause great Gemini traits. More like the stars point out the time of year when babies are born with the Gemini good-stuff. The tropical system was created for adapting to change and more precise measuring — not unlike science.
Skeptics giving astrology a bad rep isn’t a big claim to make, being useful to science is another story. Science is likelier to prove unicorns than astrology these days, and I share extreme skepticism that physicists are checking their horoscope for ideas. Yet, astrology can say ‘called it’ more than a few times. This might be important because the human mind is capable of incredible ideas far ahead of its time. Sometimes belief systems can keep mystical breakthroughs alive long enough to be studied.
It’s impossible to know if and how much belief systems have aided science; but it’s probably worth considering. According to some research, many ideas from astrology turned out pretty accurate. Dare I suggest astrology was onto something when claiming the time of year we’re born means something later in life?
A growing body of science is correlating birth months with life outcomes. Whether the forces of Jupiter makes autumn-born Sagittarians restless is debatable, but science has discovered the forces of gravity from other planets have consequences on earth. As for the outlandish claim of faraway planets being physically connected to life on earth, quantum entanglement is trying to figure out how two connected atoms have simultaneous movement across galactic distances. Precise particles don’t prove that Virgos are meticulous, but the heart of astrology’s wildest claims get investigated. The scientific method deters outlandish claims, so science always finishes last, and it should. Meanwhile, as long as mainstream astrology keeps citing belief instead of quantum mechanics for why Capricorns are diligent — I think we’re okay.
Astrology asks people to think critically about their lives and how it impacts their choices and behavior. Its wealth of information and tools are free for anyone with internet access and time for a hobby. Astrologers perform a transparent labor without relying on exploitative tactics or vulnerable people. It uses legitimate math and science but asks to get verified through experience and names people as responsible for their own life’s outcome. For a belief system claiming Libras are virtuous, it operates with discernible integrity and it continues to be the epistemic origin of amazing discoveries.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” — Carl Sagan [photo by Anja on Pixabay]
Astrology and astronomy work apart in harmony; these astro-twins were our first guides to the universe, and neither are leaving us soon. Science is our most reliable system of discerning the truth and it has gifted us with all of modern life, but it’s not always the best way to understand things. Neuroscientists probably enjoy falling in love without defining it in terms of Dopamine and Oxytocin.
Rationality can coexist with restrained esoteric belief. I can think about my pattern of tumultuous work experiences regarding late-stage capitalism and my sixth-house stellium. The fundamental message of ancient astrology is that we are intimately connected with the cosmos and thanks to modern astronomy, we know we’re made of stardust.
[ hollyhedral ]