« Video Game Films | Main | Bloggers and Health Insurance »

July 06, 2007

Astrology is Bunk

James Joyner:

I caught a few minutes of the Diane Rehm Show on NPR earlier and the host wished a happy birthday to President Bush and the Dalai Lama, both of whom were born on July 6th.

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page quipped, “What does that say about astrology?”

July 6, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

It says absolutely nothing about astrology. Being born on the same day of the year as someone else, or even on the same day of the same year, doesn't make your horoscope the same. In order to criticize astrology, or anything else, properly, you first have to understand it. My understanding (which may well be imperfect) is that astrology claims that astronomical cycles make the sky like a complex clock, which allows one to read off what we might call the psychological weather patterns in individuals' lives. Astrology. like meteorology, is susceptible to statistical testing.

Posted by: mijnheer | Jul 6, 2007 3:03:01 PM

It might say something about God having a sense of humor... but as mjinheer points out, it says nothing about astrology (though it does tell you a little bit about putting too much faith in a Cancerian, possibly). :)

Posted by: weboy | Jul 6, 2007 3:06:11 PM

You should cross-post this to MyDD.

Posted by: Steve | Jul 6, 2007 3:12:07 PM

Astrology should be criticized -- because it's such obvious bunk, on a par with the belief that the sun circles the earth. It may be very old bunk, but it is nonetheless. (And because it's been around so long, the constellations of the zodiac have moved due to precession of the earth's rotation -- something astrologers don't even take into account.)

Gravity and momentum control the movements of the planets and stars. Not some mystical force that somehow also controls whether you'll win the lottery.

It amazes me that so-called reality based people are into such woo.

Posted by: idlemind | Jul 6, 2007 3:20:59 PM

Lots of things should be criticized, idlemind; that doesn't ruin their usefulness. I'm amazed that millions of people think a knocked-up virgin gave birth in a barn to the savior of all mankind. We all have our crosses to bear. :)

Posted by: weboy | Jul 6, 2007 3:26:47 PM

Astrology is absolutely idiotic, and can say so all by itself, without reference to either Bush or the Dalai Lama.

Seriously, some divine being arranged the stars so that dimwits in discos would be able to figure out their personalities? And did such a sloppy of job of drawing the figures that you can't tell what they are with a map? Everybody born on the same date gets the same personality and future?

Well, I'm glad we got that straightened out, because there are people out there so deluded as to imagine that genetic endowment and environment are the big factors in determining personality.

Posted by: RLaing | Jul 6, 2007 3:28:35 PM

Bunk is the idea that being born on the same day during different years has anything to do with astrology. Nice way to provoke people though. :)

Posted by: elsa | Jul 6, 2007 3:29:56 PM

In what way is astrology useful? I suppose you could say that any kind of nonsense is "useful" in the sense that it can be entertaining.

Posted by: JasonR | Jul 6, 2007 3:31:26 PM

For the astrology believers, here's a nice review of the science on astrology. Short summation: it's complete and utter bunk.

Posted by: Cain | Jul 6, 2007 3:37:34 PM

If your awareness of astrology stops at the horoscope column in the daily paper then, no, I doubt one would necessarily see a usefulness to it. I don't think anyone's claiming that a "divine being" arranged the planets just so as a way to explain astrology, either. Let's at least work with the right straw man before batting at it, shall we?

Posted by: weboy | Jul 6, 2007 3:40:02 PM

If your awareness of astrology stops at the horoscope column in the daily paper then, no, I doubt one would necessarily see a usefulness to it.

I don't think astrology is "useful," period, except in some trivial sense, like giving people a laugh. It's nonsense, and nonsense is usually A Bad Thing.

Posted by: JasonR | Jul 6, 2007 3:47:06 PM

Astrology is bunk, but it's worth getting the details of the mythology right. For example, I've always been confused by the Chinese zodiac, where it would appear that everyone born within a certain year would have a certain personality. But apparently, 'accurate' Chinese fortunetelling needs the year, month, day and hour you were born.... but it's still bunk.

Posted by: Klug | Jul 6, 2007 3:57:39 PM

It's nonsense, and nonsense is usually A Bad Thing.

lol, that sounds boring.

When they start teaching mandatory astrology drills in schools and using star signs to assign grades, then I'll worry.

Posted by: twig | Jul 6, 2007 3:59:34 PM

It's worse than bunk. Bunk at least knows it's bunk. Astrology is Magical Thinking, which has given us creationism and most forms of alternative medicine. It's at odds with scientific reasoning and it puts the practitioner squarely in opposition to the tradition of The Enlightenment. It's no joke in this country. But at the risk of being a crank, let's stipulate for the record that Young Ezra is a Taurus. So just for Shits And Grins:

Taurus is the second sign of the Zodiac and associated with material pleasure. Individuals born under this sign are thought to have a calm, patient, reliable, loyal, affectionate, sensuous, ambitious, and determined character, but one which is also prone to hedonism, laziness, inflexibility, jealousy, and antipathy. In terms of anatomy, Taurus is said to rule the vocal chords, tonsils, palate, throat, neck, ears, and lower jaw. Generally, there is something distinctly sensual about the appearance.

Yeah? Yeah? Totally.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jul 6, 2007 4:04:30 PM

So what's the 'usefulness' of Astrology, weboy?

And what are astrologers claiming about the arrangement of the stars? By what mechanism, however absurd, does their arrangement concretely impact our lives?

What constitutes, to your mind, an appropriate 'awareness of astrology'?

Posted by: RLaing | Jul 6, 2007 4:07:28 PM

Astrology may be bunk, but I see no reason to believe it's "Magical Thinking". Like the phlogiston theory of combustion, it may be a testable (and therefore scientific) but false theory.

"By what mechanism, however absurd, does [the arrangement of the stars] concretely impact our lives?"
By the same mechanism that the hands on my watch make people in the U.K. drink in pubs or put their children to bed at the time I'm writing this. Read my first post: the sky is a clock. There are no claims about magical effects, or concrete impacts. People need to understand astrology, or the French health-care system, or whatever, before they start criticizing.

Posted by: mijnheer | Jul 6, 2007 4:21:05 PM

By the same mechanism that the hands on my watch make people in the U.K. drink in pubs or put their children to bed at the time I'm writing this. Read my first post: the sky is a clock.

Which is to say, no mechanism at all. The hands on your watch do not make people in the U.K. do anything.

You're right about one thing. To the extent that astrology makes empirical claims, it is testable, at least in principle. It fails the test miserably.

Posted by: JasonR | Jul 6, 2007 4:29:06 PM

Well I think one could plausibly make the case that when our species were hunter/gatherers that babies born at certain times of the year, e.g. say mid-to-late summer, would have better nutrition in their first months after being born, leading to overall better growth, health etc. As these (and similar effects at other times of the year) would be relatively reproducible from year to year just like star patterns, and that from these observable patterns, a mystical, superstitious congruence of the two patterns would lead to astrology-like pseudoscience. Given that present-day US is quite far removed from being a hunter/gatherer society, there would no longer be observable correlations.

Posted by: BillCross | Jul 6, 2007 4:37:33 PM

Astrology is Magical Thinking, which has given us creationism and most forms of alternative medicine.

I would say that doctors who don't care and charge $700 for a band-aid and a disinterested glare are responsible for most of alternative medicine.

Also, astrologists and creationists really don't, uh, hang out much.

So what's the 'usefulness' of Astrology, weboy?

It's fun? Like fortune cookies and tarot cards. The symbolism and iconography can be really pretty, and generally it tells me something I should probably be thinking about anyway - "Be Careful with Money" or "Be Open to New Possibilities."

Posted by: twig | Jul 6, 2007 4:41:01 PM

what's the 'usefulness' of Astrology...

Babies, the lot of you. Tiny little baby whippernsnappers. *sigh*

Back when I was a pretty young junior at UF, one could count on at least five guys asking what one's sign was. I haven't been to a "meet market" in a while, so I have no idea what the equivalent ice-breaker would be today--something to do with Macs and PC's, perhaps, or a question about software and hard drives?

Anyway, I still smile when I remember my best friend Bonnie's standard retort: she's a Libra and I'm a Virgo--hey, let's f*ck! Sent them scurrying away every time, the poor things.

Posted by: litbrit | Jul 6, 2007 5:00:23 PM

the world is full of mysteries and connections in nature of which we understand nothing.
....activity on the sun can affect our televisions sets...lunar cycles affect many things...
who is to say that the configurations of stars and planets have no effect on life amd birth.
....who knows what mysteries are in those reflections of light.
....i could never look up at the stars in an arizona sky, when the sky is so clear that it is white with starlight, like snowshaker, when an infinity of stars are visible...and say that i understood any of the mysteries or possiblities held in that dome.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jul 6, 2007 6:10:53 PM

the world is full of mysteries and connections in nature of which we understand nothing.

Yes, but we can map those connections by examining correlations.

Astrology has none that pass statistical muster. It's bunk.

And as regards Bush and the Dalei Lama - both are heads of countries, both have never held a successful job outside that, both believe they have a special religious role. Of course, one of them may be right about that latter.

Posted by: Phoenician in a t ime of Romans | Jul 6, 2007 6:17:36 PM

Mirabile dictu, I agree with JasonR for a change!

In the confessions, Augustine makes a similar argument against astrology, telling the story of a rich man and a slave who were born at the same moment in the same house, but obviously followed quite different paths in life. It's the most elegant refutation of astrology that I know.

And I say this even though, as a Taurus, I happen to share the classic Taurean trait of stubbornness, in spades! :-)

Posted by: Kathy G. | Jul 6, 2007 6:19:58 PM

who is to say that the configurations of stars and planets have no effect on life amd birth.

Well, clearly they do have some effect. The sun and the moon produce tides, for example, which influence the behavior of many species. And some species of birds use the patterns of stars in the night sky to navigate. But there is absolutely no evidence that the positions and motions of the planets influence the lives of human beings in the way astrologers claim, and no remotely plausible hypothesis for a mechanism by which such an influence could be transmitted.

Posted by: JasonR | Jul 6, 2007 6:22:17 PM

I don't ever remember seeing this level of hating on the I-Ching.

Hey I do not believe, but astrology is old enough to possibly be empirical. IOW, Chaldeans noted that persons born under certain alignments behaved in such a way, and accumulated evidence. The causal link to the stars is not necessary. Hey, maybe it's magnetism or Martians.

There is a lot of science that is accepted despite a not completely clear causal explanation. If you believe in causality at all.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 6, 2007 6:55:09 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.