Why Science Says Astrology Lacks Meaning and Evidence
BY S.K. ARUN MURTHI ON 30/10/2017
If astrology is about how planetary positions influence humans, then what exactly does the ?strength? of a planet mean as far as humans are concerned?
S.K. Arun Murthi teaches philosophy of science. His areas of research include epistemology and metaphysics of science, Indian philosophy and political philosophy.
Vasudevan Mukunth?s article, ?How Much of a Problem Is an Astrology Workshop at IISc??, urges us ? rightly so ? to think about what will eliminate one?s vulnerability to beliefs in astrology. The reason why such superstitious beliefs take root, even among the so called educated, is due to a fear of an uncertain and insecure future. And this fear makes one forsake evidence and meaning as a guiding principle of our thinking. This, among other reasons, makes one vulnerable to astrology.
Peter Achinstein, a philosopher of science, has written a book titled The Book of Evidence. The book delineates the different conceptions of evidence and meaning analysis, particularly with respect to the relationship that an experimental observation has to a scientific hypothesis. Whatever the concept of evidence that Achinstein was trying to describe, the idea of evidence seems to be lacking in the obscurantist beliefs of astrology. The idea of meaning also seems to be absent.
If astrology is about how planetary positions influence humans, then what exactly does the ?strength? of a planet mean as far as humans are concerned? This is not made clear. Meanings in such cases have to be made clear in empirical terms ? by deriving meaning from observational correlations.
For example, there is a certain astrological concept called shukra asta, a period of around two months or more during certain parts of the year. According to astrological traditions, no auspicious ceremonies are to be performed during this period.
An internet search revealed that, according to astrological texts, planets come very close to the Sun at certain times of the year. As a result they lose their brightness, or lustre, with respect to the Sun. This is symbolic of a planet losing its strength, resulting in shukra asta (Sanskrit for ?combustion of a planet?). The implication for astrology is that shukra asta robs the beneficial effects of the planet.
From this, we can infer that a planet?s strength stands for the intensity or brightness of its light, and such strengths or brightness symbolises certain good and bad effects for human lives. However, this explanation is puzzling because no planet has a light of its own. It only reflects the light of a star. Thus, to speak of the brightness of a planet being blunted because of its proximity to the Sun is empirically meaningless.
There are many people who have been exposed to school-level science and who attempt to provide a rational defence of astrology. Their superficial argument of how planets influence human beings, stemming from an evident lack of understanding, goes typically like this: Planets (in astrology, this includes the Sun and the Moon) influence Earth. Therefore, they influence water bodies that, in turn, influence the lives of living beings. This is essentially an appeal to Isaac Newton?s and Albert Einstein?s laws of gravity.
But this is demonstrably na?ve. Of course, the gravity due to one object influences every other object ? but the assumption is that these objects ought to be quite heavy for their effects to be perceptible. Second: the attractive force between two massive bodies is a physical force. So the question arises: how can the gravitational force exerted by a planet be able to affect out love lives, matrimonial prospects, business affairs, etc. ? in other words, the typical issues that astrologers deal with? Can astrologers or astrological texts establish a literal causal relationship?
The flyer for the workshop proposed in the IISc campus (which stands now cancelled) described astrology as ?a scientific tool for individual progress?. Individual progress is a matter of human activities (such as those listed in the previous para) and aspirations. Other animals that we inhabit our Earth with do not have to bother with these things and so astrology does not matter to them. Then again, this is precisely the point: how can there be natural influences on our socially constructed practices and behaviours, the evaluation of which is also socially constructed?
For example, to be successful at something is to achieve a specific set of outcomes that our society has evolved. So planets guided by natural laws can?t have any say in whether a person will achieve those outcomes. In fact, any such connection in this context will either be completely alien to us or, of course, simply meaningless. The astrological texts that do claim to make this connection will have resorted to metaphors. There is, as a result, a complete lack of meaning and evidence.
Such analytical demand for meaning and evidence is usually met by appealing to something unquestionable, such as a tradition. However, the excuse of a tradition is easily invoked as a shield whenever beliefs like shukra asta are threatened by rational sensibilities. If a tradition is taken as ground for belief ? a ground where neither reason nor empirical thinking operate ? then tradition becomes connected to ignorance, such as is the root of all superstitions some people adhere to in the name of tradition. It is time that a society guided by such baseless traditions works to right itself, and that TV channels stop airing nonsensical programs on astrology.
Tradition is mostly a construction of beliefs that have been handed down over a period of time in oral or written forms. Unfortunately, very little of the knowledge that is passed down bothers to remember the rational or empirical components involved in the original construction of the beliefs. This is the thing about tradition that people clinging to outdated and irrational notions fail to understand.
Re: Astrology Lacks Meaning By: AwakeTooLong / Knowledgeable
Post # 2 Oct 30, 2017
As explored above, physical forces utilized to explain astrological influences are typically lackluster when considered with a scientific understanding. But the astrological influences that are considered are not born of science as we know it . They were born of pseudo-scientific mysticism that understood the patterns and movements observed in the sky, but attached to them a spiritual meaning and depth that was/is believed to exert influence upon us in a manner comparable to the theoretical influence of divine beings, spirits, and other such entities. Planetary bodies, constellations, and other such celestial presences were believed to be just that: presences. They were believed to possess a sort of divine sentience and will, that waxed and waned with their presence in the heavens.
Once astrology is explored within that context, of course it lacks evidence. Any evidence regarding the spiritual is almost wholly circumstantial or anecdotal, at best.
But to suggest it lacks meaning?
Scientifically, perception is not a universal truth. Neuroscience has demonstrated to us that individuals can view the same object in the same conditions and experience wholly different brain patterns before describing that object in different ways. Perception, and meaning, are in the sacrosanct realm of the individual, regardless as to whether they are rooted in reason or emotion, logic or imagination. While it is not wrong to attempt to dispel willful ignorance and the efforts of some to indulge in fantasy as though it were reality, there is often value in spiritual belief to the individual. Again, this can be measured objectively through medical studies and the like. If nothing else, spiritual belief can calm the mind, alleviate stress levels, assist in overcoming depression, and otherwise provide numerous other psychological and psycho-somatic benefits.
If astrology is a part of this to some? Well then, who are we to say it does not have meaning?
There are also other angles of thought that don't seem to be acknowledged or explored. For example developmental psychology in comparison to the yearly timing of the planetary cycles.
For example, a child born late in the year may have the first few months of their lives spent mostly indoors, with little travel to differing places, short days, cold temperatures, and mostly indoor interactions. The surroundings would be more static, and the parents would be less active. These first impressions of 'winter life' being also the very first experiences on the infant mind could create later patterns of thought and habit influenced by those first experiences by forming a sense of security in the familiar.
Meanwhile an infant spending the first few months of life in early summer might be taken out more as the parents go outside, visit friends, travel, and otherwise live more actively and exposing the infant to changing environments, more stimulation and light, and more people. This could lend towards a comfort and familiarity with being around 'strangers', opening the subconscious way for a more extroverted personality.
The correlation that one is a virgo (introverted and organizational) and another might be a leo (social and tendency to leadership) might not matter in that regard.
other thoughts include that the forces of the planets do have actual measurable effect on the environment of the solar system. gravity, among the many different planetary forces, is actually scientifically recognized as one of the very weakest of the energy fields. yet the sun's gravity holds the planets to their paths, the moon changes the oceans (and people are mostly water too), and though subtle the other planetary bodies do generate some measure of force around us. even if it is a subtle, insignificant level of force it is still there, and it does vary even if slightly depending on our mean distance from those other bodies individually and also collectively. Though I readily admit that just because those forces are there does not necessarily mean they affect us in a measurable direct way. but it still bears thought and examination.
There are also a lot of misconceptions out there in Astrology, on how it is used, how it is calculated, and how it influences the wide variety of applications.
The very first (and most rampant) misconception is the idea of absolutes. IE; the idea that "You have 'X' sign energy so you have 'Y' personality and 'Z' situation will happen to you when you turn 30." Nothing in life works that way. I think Linda Goodman put this one best ( and most succinctly) by saying, "The stars incline. They do not compel."
Second, is the commonly quoted "So there are only twelve possible personalities?" Which of course suggests that people want to treat the twelve basic sun signs as the complete story of one's personality, and then this limited framework is posed as argument against the diversity of personality in humanity. However this argument falls apart when any astrology scholar starts breaking down the complexity of a full natal chart.
A full look at someone's astrological influences involves developing a summary of multiple influences that act as complimentary, suppressive, or additive to each other. Each aspect also tends to relate to a different level of thought, action, and habit. (Outward/expressed personality, internal/personal personality, reaction habits to adversity/challenge, naturally challenging personality traits meant to be worked over/learned from, Natural predispositions/favor towards patterns of thought, learning habits, etc)
For example someone might be born as an Aries, and so through that primary sun sign is likely to have an active, outgoing personality. An instinct towards seeking and expressing truth/fact, a vulnerable ego, and a general overarching personal quest for freedom of action and thought, and identity. However they might seem flighty or impulsive, constantly jumping from one new idea to the next. Growing bored quickly, having trouble with stillness and focus, or 'completing' projects that have been begun. Emotions can be explosively fast (but cool just as quickly), and a tendency to want the influence of being in charge, but free of the long-term responsibilities of that leadership.
However if the ascending sign (or moon sign even) were to be in virgo, that might suggest a more suppressive influence to the more impulsive traits. Giving a cooling measure to Aries' fiery temperament and coaxing a bit of planning or even organisation out of the usual chaos. It might also balance out some of that attention-seeking command and replace it with some needed willingness to accept the responsibility part of being a leader. And so it would potentially add to a greater disposition towards being a naturally effective person in leadership, with a temperament that would support creating ideas, inspiring others, and following up on them to see them to fruition.
Calculating a person's chart is like putting together a story, with the individual at the center, and the different planets and other bodies filling in the details of tendencies, predispositions, possible habits, and patterns of activity. Then also considering both the positive, and also the negative possibilities of each of these traits which can be affected by the individual and their choices and experiences.
Through all of this, meaning is gained by creating a mirror out to one's underlying personality and habits. By becoming aware of these influences we are then capable of consciously changing them. This is what Astrology is actually about. Not 'predicting' your best love or helping you avoid unlucky days or finding the most profitable job. You -can- do that, but those are functions of gaining these understandings of your personality and its influences. When you understand your strengths, you can play to them to inspire yourself in what you can do in your life that you will be inclined to enjoy (and so gain value and success). It also helps point out places where you are naturally a bit weaker. Likely bad habits to be conscious of. Instinctive reactions to different events or experiences like emotional challenges, mundane challenges, interpersonal interactions, etc.
Astrology does not define your love life or professional life or spiritual destiny. It serves to -identify- the personality traits and factors that influence those scenarios and interactions. If your method of coping with emotional challenge is through aggression, and your potential partner responds to emotional challenge through withdrawl, it's basic logic that the relationship could become a domineering, one-sided affair. If one person has a habit to think analytically and logically, and to favor security and stability, and another person favors adventure and travel, and cares little for planning ahead or having contingencies, then there could be a lot of friction as the two battle between security and freedom. But. it can also mean the two, with enough work and effort, can play off of each other's strengths to balance each other out. One protecting the other from problems arising from lack of looking ahead. the other helping the first to come out of the shell and find the value of adventuring and exposing one's self to new things.
Oh, and getting back to the 'diversity' argument, the most modern method of personality typing in psychology that is used and accepted in the scientific community is the Myers-Briggs personality archetype, which is a set of oppositional traits; introverted vs. extroverted, sensing vs intuition, Thinking versus feeling, Judging s perceiving. The maximum number of variations allowed through this is sixteen, only 1/3 more than through the -basic- sun sign consideration. Yet it is considered to be diverse enough to represent the varying personalities of human nature by the scientific and psychological communities. This psychological model is in actuality far simpler, and far more restricted of nuance than astrology ever was.
This just hit me, but it is a fascinating thought that hit me after pondering this topic some.
i wonder if anyone has done a comparative study by first going through each of the basic sun signs, and applying their described personality traits to the equivalent Briggs archetype. And then done a large-sample comparison of atual people born under the twelve signs, measuring their personality archetype, then collating those results with the 'expected' personality archetype of their respective signs.
IE; Aries as a sign might be defined as ENFP. Using that base, personality type a thousand people of mixed ethnicity gender and religion who are all born under the Aries sign, and compare how many match up, and if any significant patterns develop. Then repeat for the rest of the signs.
The results of such a study could bear some interesting fruit.
I'm a Pisces and I can say that yes, some of their stereotypes apply to me- creative, imaginative- but I'm not shy, whimsical and a head-in-the-clouds person like they're described as. I personally can't see how the stars can affect someone's dominant personality traits, but whatever.
My best thought on this is we take reality for granted as well as science but what if it was all non existint along with what we see and feel and what if reality is nothing but an illusion made by someone or somthing to search for the best of us just my theroey
Anyway, I like to see both sides of the coin. First of all, yes, big space things have little affect scientifically, but there is also a mystical and faith-based aspect that people have come to rely on for meaning and truth to their lives that can sometimes be overlooked.
There's no evidence of God (no church bashing or I will report you), yet Christiantiy/Judea/Islam re some of the most popular religions in the world. People FEEL this fatherly presence around them but can give no scientific explanation for this.
Most of things like Astrology are taken on faith, as their meaning is. I'm a believer in Astrology, so long as it's given from the right source.