Everyone wants to be open minded.
Whether or not we put it into practice, the term can conjure images of deep conversations with interesting-looking strangers, trying colourful, challenging new foods, and of course, the staple of self-discovery – standing atop a mountain, arms raised in celebration of the free spirit that brought you here.
All you have to do is keep an open mind, give life a “Yes, and…”, and it’ll do the rest.
Then life mentions that your star chart isn’t looking too promising for September.
You rub your temples and sigh. Better pack away the mountain gear.
What’s “astrology”? I’m a Virgo, so I’m naturally uninformed.
With Mercury’s retrograde now in the rear-view, astrology’s been making its rounds in 2018. The study of how celestial bodies influence events on Earth, you’ve probably come across modern astrology’s more personalized tinge in identifying the personalities and futures of its most impressionable inhabitants.
The centerpiece of astrology is the birth chart; a “snapshot” of the sky and the precise alignment of the planets in our solar system at the moment of your birth. This alignment is purported to classify your “sign” from twelve corresponding symbols, known colloquially as your Zodiac sign.
From those signs, astrologists infer anything from the innate jealousy of Scorpios and sexual prowess of Taurus’ to your best skin care regimen.
Astrology sounds like “astronomy”. That makes it a science, right?
Astrologists (both practitioners and observers) have a nebulous relationship with science. On one hand, they seem to crave the credibility that the “science” label invokes: They reach for veritable fields like astronomy as a long-time friend, no matter how many times astronomers push the hand away.
Astronomer Dave Kornreich, founder of “Ask an Astronomer”, had some indictments to share on the link between the two. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam,” he wrote. “They do not subject their work to the intense scrutiny required of a scientific discipline.” Kornreich adds that given the nature of their claims, the burden of proof lies on astrologists – proof he says they’ve emphatically failed to deliver.
Lifelong astronomer and author Andrew Fraknoi isn’t too fond either. “It’s hard to know how to respond politely to someone who takes this ancient superstition seriously,” he lamented. “Many well-meaning people develop an interest in astrology because of its constant play in the media.”
On the other hand, there’s a profound rejection of everything on which that coveted label is based. Proponents often concede that trying to measure their study using standard methods of research is like trying to measure where the sky starts – it’s all relative to you, Star Child. Indeed, almost every recorded instance of putting astrology’s claims to paper or practice have left the study looking a little gaunt. Even the prized birth charts, which astrologists point to as the basis of “true” personal astrology, seem to crumble under scrutiny. In testing, the combined research found that astrologers couldn’t even agree on what a birth chart was supposed to represent.
Alright, so astrology’s not a science. Does that mean it isn’t real?
Let’s play by its rules. If we can’t in good conscience test it with science, what’s left is personal experience. Anecdotal evidence. Oh, wait… don’t open that link. It’s an academic excerpt decrying the use of anecdotal evidence alone as the foundation for conclusions. Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance…it’s kind of science-y.
I can tell you with a reasonable degree of certainty that the traits associated with my sign are hitting a 50% at best. The same is true of my group of friends (a Sagittarius, a Capricorn and a Libra), whose personalities I dutifully cross-referenced with the most cited sources on astrology and zodiac-signage (Astrology Zone, Astrodienst and Astrology.com). The resulting traits ranged from the lofty heights of “sort of accurate” to “I’d like to speak to a manager”.
“But wait!” you might exclaim. “You can’t say astrology is bogus because your sign doesn’t describe you. You can’t just use your personal experiences to draw sweeping conclusions like that!” I trust the irony is intact here.
It begs the question: What good is a practice if there’s no verifying if it’s right or wrong? If Tim says his star chart is bang-on (that he’s an introverted extrovert whose demand for perfection sometimes causes him to be imperfect) and Sarah’s couldn’t be more wrong (it says she’s acutely attentive, but she’s just lost her third ficus to neglect), what on-or-outside-of Earth was the point of the exercise?
Even if we were to afford astrology a generous 50/50 balance of wrong to right (half of us Sarahs, the other half Tims), we still end up with a ratio that looks awfully similar to random chance.
So why do they print those horoscopes in newspapers if it’s not real?
Geez, you’re impressionable.
I’m struggling to bite my tongue here. I don’t want to say I have a pet theory about the rising popularity of astrology at a time where the concept of identity has been brought so sharply into focus. I don’t want to say that perhaps some of us are a little too willing to forego reason to foster a sense of self through the superficial and the mundane. So, I won’t.
I will, however, say this:
Astrology’s core conceit is that it claims you’d be nicer/less nice, more/less driven and more pragmatic/idealistic if only your parents had the foresight to conceive you a month earlier than they did (thanks again, you two). That’s not a statement you get to make without evidence – and especially in the information age, this just isn’t going to cut it.
Maybe that’s just my Pisces talking, though. We’re cranky this time of year.