Written in the stars?
Astrology is a system based on nonsense
Since there has been so much recent news about the matter, my wife urged me to write an article about astrology.
The study of the influence of the stars on nations and human affairs is as old as civilization, and the predominant school of astrology used in the West can be traced back to Babylon in the third millennium B.C.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could not give this subject its due; however, I will give you thoughts on the matter.
I became interested in astrology as a teenager when some girl I was going out with introduced me to it. It was a lot of fun comparing the traits of people we knew based on their sun signs.
At the same time, I had a strong interest in astronomy, which, at the scale of the solar system, used the same “game board and pieces” as astrology. It seemed like a natural match for me.
While I never gave the fortune telling element of astrology any credence, I did think that perhaps there might be something to the aspect of personality traits based on the time of year a person was born.
I reasoned that a child born in January has a much different experience in their first three months than a child born in June. A January child would leave the hospital bundled up, be exposed to very little sunlight, and taken to an environment that is artificially heated and probably not well ventilated. The June child, on the other hand, would wear minimal clothing, have plenty of sun, and be outdoors more.
I thought that these differing experiences would have made an impression on a newly-forming human psyche. Each month of birth, and the months to follow, would have its unique environmental impact on a newborn, and, I continued to reason, these influences could be correlated to a sign in the zodiac. For a while, I was able to rationalize some legitimacy for astrology with this notion.
Things began to change when I met my wife, astrology being the least of them.
She had done some reading on the subject and had delved far deeper into the mechanics of astrology than myself. My wife had even begun to do individual charts. What I learned from her was that lunar position was more important than the sun sign, and that a true personality reading must take into account the moon’s location in the zodiac, along with the zodiac sign that was rising at the moment of one’s birth.
Secondly, my environmental theory started to unravel when I realized that people living in the Southern Hemisphere should have personality traits that were skewed by six months with those of their northern counterparts. There was no data to support any of this.
In addition, I realized that the seasonal changes a person experiences at 50 degrees north latitude were far different that what would be experienced at 30 degrees.
These revelations blew my environmental theory out of the water.
Thirdly, I had bought my wife a book entitled the “The Coffee Table Book of Astrology” by John Lynch, which contained tables for ascendant signs and moon signs. With the information in this book, I thought I would take a stab at doing my own chart.
I decided to employ some astronomical tables, to which I had access, in pursuit of this endeavor. I found out rather quickly that the sun was not in the constellation of my sun sign at the time of my birth. In fact, it was a whole month off, in the adjacent zodiac sign.
The truth of the matter is that when the Western astrological tables were originally prepared, the first day of spring occurred when the sun crossed the celestial equator, moving north, and entered the constellation of Aries.
Over the intervening millennia, due to the very slow wobble in the Earth’s rotation called precession, the sun now crossed the celestial equator in the constellation of Pisces, on the first day of spring, and has been doing so for approximately 2,000 years.
On top of all of this, astrology has had to deal with the inclusion of three additional planets over the last 230 years: Uranus in 1781, Neptune in 1846 and Pluto in 1930. I have even read that some of the minor planets are now included in charts.
What did this mean for all the horoscopes, profiles and prognostications prepared during the previous 3,000 years? Were they invalid, or erroneous?
The late Dr. Carl Sagan made some of the strongest arguments against the validity of astrology. In his series “Cosmos,” he argued that a pair of twins, born minutes apart, should essentially have the same horoscope and future. If one twin were to die early in life due to disease or accident, their futures could not be the same, thereby proving that an accurate forecast of one’s future was not possible.
Sagan went on to say that Mars was in the sky at the time of his birth. Since he was born in a windowless room, no light from Mars could have reached him, and therefore, the only other influence that the planet may have had would be gravitational.
Sagan pointed out that the gravitational influence of the attending obstetrician would have been greater than that of the planet Mars. The planets have no measurable affect on the human body.
Anyway, by the time I was in my early 20s, I viewed astrology as being merely an interesting diversion with no more validity than the insight that might be provided by a Chinese fortune cookie.
At some point in the distant past, it may have been based on actual observation of celestial movements and tied to real events, but those data, on which it was based, were long out of date. The connection to any events was coincidental, at best.
The whole astrological system reminds me of the old computer programming axiom, “garbage in, garbage out": A system based on nonsense cannot therefore provide any usable information.
The real truth about what is going on in the night sky, and that is not being told, is that we now live in the golden age of astronomy, not astrology. The discoveries that have been made over the last 40 years, and even now at an ever accelerating pace, are truly amazing.
But that’s a story for another time.