Dealing With Horoscopes

Since about a quarter of people in the US and even more in some countries in Western Europe continue to believe in the powers of astrological prediction, it makes sense to some degree that the blog website Patheos would start up an astrology section in their spirituality section. And since, according to one post there, Saturn the teacher is moving into Scorpio today, I’ll talk a bit about this.

First off, the planet Saturn is currently not in the constellation of Scorpio today, tomorrow, or any time soon. It’s really not, go check for yourself.Right now it is in Virgo, which isn’t even adjacent to Scorpio in the Zodiac. So why this astronomically wrong statement? There is the system of precession of the equinoxes, the movement of where the sun in on the equinoxes relative to the constellations. It is due to the wobbling of the Earth in a 26,000 year cycle. It was first discovered by Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BCE, though this is better known through the works of the great ancient astronomer and astrologer Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria (2nd century CE). And it was around this time that the fixed system that did not track the actual stars of the visible constellations. So when astrologers talk about Scorpio, it is not the actual constellation, but instead the sign of Scorpio, which happened to conform to the position of Scorpio ~2000 years ago.

That’s all a bit strange, but it is derivative of the idea that the position of the equinoxes is what assigned domains in the sky, each with their given properties and powers, so the signs (what used to be constellations) track the movement of the equinoxes. So, signs =/= constellations, you can’t just look up but you need some calculations. I highlight this since skeptics will point this out as if astrologers don’t know about precession.

But this can be rather pointless if astrology doesn’t make accurate or even precise predictions. Fred Clark of the same blogging network has a simple testing procedure:

When someone asks what your sign is, tell them you’re an Aries (unless you really arean Aries, in which case, tell them something else).

If they respond with a detailed description of why that’s appropriate and why, yes, you do seem to embody the classic characteristics of an Aries, admit that you were lying. Tell them you’re not really an Aries, but actually a Gemini (unless you really are a Gemini).

If they tell you that lying about your sign was a very Gemini thing to have done, and then explain how this just confirms that you really are such a total Gemini, interrupt to say that you were once again lying.

In theory, you could keep this up, repeating the process 11 times. My personal record was four rounds.

The same point was stated by Hemant Metha and nicely made by astronomer Neil deGrasee Tyson:

The basic point is that newspaper horoscopes and other Sun sign astrologers very blatantly use statements that can fit anyone yet feel specific (see the Forer effect). So based on the things said, you are just as much a Gemini as much a Taurus as much an Aries, etc. But even the “good” or “real” astrologers are not less guilty of this. Worse though, if you test them, they will fail. That I made a point of in my own video some time ago:

So, in honor of Saturn, I have completed my Sunday education round. And I get to do some more on Monday, though it will deal with real science.


10 thoughts on “Dealing With Horoscopes

  1. I could not agree with you more. Astrology is nothing but barnum statements for the mass market. And that’s the worrying thing: the market for horoscopes is so large. It’s just devastating that in these days of leptons, fermions, hadron colliders and red shift, that there are still individuals who prefer to find truth in stone age mythology…

    • I certainly wish the money that goes in the horoscope market was redirected into other areas. Including my paycheck. Fortunately, though, in the US the belief is more limited; I do wonder if as people become less religious they may go more towards these sorts of things.

  2. Aaron – would you mind if I reposted this on SIN / A tippling Philosopher. WE’re getting really good hits at the mo so should be good publicity for you! It fits perfectly within the context of skepticism!

  3. Hi.. Nice post and I really like it. Though I must share with you how it goes in India as well. The moment you are born, your astrological chart is drawn up by the family astrologer (yes it happens in EVERY family) and you can be certain that with this your fate is sealed. Right from deciding your name to choosing a career path for you, everything is dictated by your horoscope. Millions of people are unable to marry whose they are in love with because their horoscopes do not “match”. And this is the case with even the most educated and elitest class of the population.

    • Wow! I had no idea that astrology was so prevalent in India. That must give the skeptical organizations in the subcontinent a lot to deal with. I have to wonder how such divination is wickedly popular there but has become a backwater in the West.

      • Yes, the skeptical organizations are really up against a mammoth opposition. And it is not an easy task. We claim to be a secular country and yet we define secularism as “inclusion of all religions” whereas in truth it should mean “freedom from all religions”.
        You rightly said that astrology might have become a backwater in the west, but here, it is a given that everybody follows it.
        Basically stems from the need to know we have some sort of control over the happenings in our lives. Even though we certainly cannot know anything, we take heart from the fact that we “think we know”.
        Even I am personally fighting someone close to me who is trying to apply their “knowledge” of astrology to me, but they have no idea how ridiculous their claims are.

  4. Pingback: Talking About Astrology | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s