Astrology: Fact or Fiction?

It’s Professor Dave, I’m a cancer. What about you? After getting through all of the astronomy
concepts in this series, we’ve found how it’s quite easy to put certain common beliefs
into perspective, like our analysis of the flat-earth model that we just went over. Are there any other concepts like this that
ought to be investigated? I can think of one more. A significant percentage of the global population
believes in astrology, which is the notion that the positions of the planets and stars
in the night sky have influence over events that take place on Earth. According to western astrology, the locations
of the planets along the ecliptic and their spatial relationship to the twelve constellations
of the zodiac is not arbitrary, as science would suggest. Their positions at your birth determine aspects
of your personality, and their positions on any given day determine things that will happen
to you. Can this be true? Can the validity of this claim be tested? It absolutely can. Let’s go through an examination of astrology
now, and see if we can straighten this out once and for all. This analysis will occur in two parts. Later, we will look at what’s in charts
and horoscopes, but first, let’s see if we can find a mechanism of action. Astrologers claim that the positions of celestial
objects affect us. If so, then how? Thousands of years ago, when these planets
were regarded as gods, it may have sufficed to simply say magic, or divine action, and
then go about your day. But in the modern era, we have science. We have instrumentation. We have the ability to learn all about the
universe, so if there is something happening here, we should be able to detect it, measure
it, categorize it. So what kind of influence is being exerted
by these planets and stars on the earth and the people on it? Well, let’s see. There are four fundamental forces, the strong
and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. The nuclear forces operate on the dimensions
of an atomic nucleus, so those are out for sure. Electromagnetism and gravity on the other
hand, have no limit in terms of distance, so let’s take a closer look at those. Keep in mind, we understand these two forces very well. We have equations that allow us to calculate
the magnitude of the electromagnetic force or gravitational force between two objects. These equations are indisputable, they predict
the behavior of objects down to extreme levels of precision, and with repeated flawless accuracy. These equations describe the universe. Now if we try to plug in some numbers, like
the masses of celestial objects and the distances to them, we find that all the stars we see
in the night sky are so incredibly far away, that they just can’t affect us. Even the nearby planets in our solar system
have a very limited effect. The abnormally powerful magnetic field of
Jupiter has dramatically less influence on human beings than that of a toaster oven in
the next room. The gravity of these far away objects pulls
on us less than the car in your driveway. And not just by a little. By several orders of magnitude. So if either of these forces are proposed
to be the mechanism by which astrology operates, then case closed, it’s bogus. The math doesn’t lie. But that’s not the only problem. Even if the magnitude of these forces was
significant enough to affect us, as is certainly true of the gravity exerted by the sun and
the moon, and to a much lesser extent, Jupiter and Saturn, due to their size and proximity,
how can gravity dictate your personality at birth? How can gravity, the force of attraction between
all matter, determine something as subtle as your disposition? In the biology series, we learned about genetics
and gene expression, so how can astrology fit with all of that? The answer is simple. It can’t. Astrology predates biology. It predates all of modern science by a longshot. And that’s the point. Astrology is a collection of things that we
thought of before we knew anything, in a time when we thought the earth was the center of
the universe. But the retrograde motion of a planet is not
a deity turning around in the sky. It’s just the visual effect of one planet
passing another in their respective orbits. The signs of the zodiac don’t actually mean anything. They are just imaginary pictures we made up
by playing connect the dots, with stars that are strewn about at random. We made water constellations to remind us
about stormy seasons at sea, and Virgo with her sheaf of grain to remind us of the harvest. These were simple mnemonic devices that had
mystical connotations painted upon them by ancient generations, who were seeking meaning
in a universe without any. We have been replacing mysticism and pseudoscience
with real science since the time of Galileo, and astronomy is one such science. Of all the thousands of astronomers around
the world, people who study planets and stars for a living, there are precisely zero that
believe in astrology. Just let that sink in for a moment. Ten out of ten professional space scientists
agree, astrology is not a thing. Once you learn enough science, the pseudoscience
inevitably gets the boot. Now let’s say you’re still not convinced. Perhaps you don’t know about these equations
and you don’t trust scientists in the first place. That’s fair, we should be able to make up
our own minds, so let’s come at this from a different angle. Let’s say astrology is true. Let’s say that the planets and stars do
influence events on earth, and we just can’t understand how. It is beyond our ability to comprehend the
mechanism of action at this point in time. If this were the case, astrologers still ought
to be able to make predictions that end up correlating with reality. If the positions of celestial objects are
indeed relevant, we should be able to do some experiments and collect some evidence that
demonstrates this relevance. Well as it happens, a wide variety of experiments
have been done. Some experiments have asked professional astrologers
to match people to their respective natal charts based on their psychological profiles. They never succeed in a statistically significant
way, beyond what random chance would allow. If astrology was true, wouldn’t people who
study it be able to apply its tenets as consistently as scientists apply science? Well, perhaps they are bad astrologers, one might say. They don’t know what they’re doing, so
that doesn’t prove anything. Very well, then what if we gather huge amounts
of data on certain sets of people? Some studies have taken hundreds of people
all born within a couple minutes of each other that are now adults, and examined a huge variety
of their characteristics. Disposition, income, profession, relationship
status, and dozens more. The planets were in the same positions for
the births of all of these people, so there should be some kind of similarity between them. Something, anything. And yet, no trends can be found whatsoever
for any of these traits and circumstances. They are no more alike than any random assortment
of people of similar age. Still too many variables, you say? Unreliable reporting of time of birth, too
much distance between the locations of birth… alright, no problem. Let’s get even more specific than that. Two people born within seconds of one another
in the exact same location. Fraternal twins. According to astrology, these children have
precisely identical charts, and should therefore be essentially identical people. Same sky, same planets, same constellations,
same location, everything is the same, so they necessarily have the same chart. If you haven’t been convinced of anything
yet, then no further study can be cited to convince you, so use your personal experience. Go ahead and think of all the fraternal twins
you have ever known. Are they identical? All of them? Definitely not. Some are rather similar, and some couldn’t
be more different. Just like all siblings. But astrology would require that these similarities
exist, without exception. That fraternal twins do not have precisely
identical personalities is definitive proof that astrology is false. Maybe you’re still not satisfied. Let’s say you don’t have a twin, and never knew any. How can you verify things for yourself? Well, you have a sun sign, you have a natal
chart, and horoscopes that should apply to you. So what about individual horoscopes then? Studies have been performed whereby test subjects
with birthdays scattered throughout the year are given horoscopes, and are told that they
are highly specific to their sign. High percentages of the subjects reported
that their reading was very accurate and insightful, despite the fact that everyone got exactly
the same horoscope. How can the same horoscope apply to everyone? It can’t. That defies what astrology proposes. We should all get different horoscopes and
natal charts. So how can everyone identify with the same
one? That’s very easy to answer. Most horoscopes and charts are vague, listing
more positive traits than negative ones. Everyone wants to believe that they are compassionate,
creative, intuitive, wise, or other such traits. Even weaknesses listed are usually pretty
easy to swallow, like overly trusting, or too humble, or having high standards for oneself,
things that have a positive spin to them. Most people will agree that they are these
things even if they objectively are not. Furthermore, on any given day, look up your
horoscope from ten different sources. If astrology is true, they should all agree
to an extent. But you can bet a lot of money that they will not. Some will tell you to be careful with money,
some will tell you to take a chance today. Nothing said will mean much, and none of them
will correlate. Horoscopes are just too vague to have any
real meaning, as they do not predict things as concretely as science does. Science says that if you throw this object
at this angle and with this initial velocity, according to this equation, it will land on
this precise spot at this precise time. And lo and behold, it does, every single time. The equation therefore must correlate with reality. Horoscopes do not say anything so falsifiable. If they said that today a man named Kyle Evans
will ask you if you want half of his tuna sandwich and then a car horn will honk three
times before you find a two dollar bill under a mailbox, and that highly specific event
did indeed happen to every single person for whom that horoscope applies, then astrology
would be in business. But this is never the case. It’s always something along the lines of:
there will be an important opportunity. Or, you will reconnect with someone. Or, you will have to make a decision today. These are things that apply to pretty much
everyone, every day of their lives, and that’s what makes astrology a pseudoscience. It does not regularly make rigorously falsifiable
claims, and when it does, they are immediately falsified. Anyone that is being honest with themselves
must admit that these results demonstrate that there is no validity to astrology. When something makes falsifiable claims, which
are then repeatedly falsified, that model must be rejected. If someone asks you to think of a number from
one to ten, and then attempts to guess it, claiming that they are psychic, if they then
proceed to guess incorrectly many times in a row, we would conclude that they are not psychic. This is how science works. For a theory to be valid, it must correlate
existing data and make predictions. If those predictions don’t work out, the
theory is discarded. So the fact that astrology has stuck around
is due to confirmation bias, plain and simple. If the psychic guesses your number only two
out of seven times, they are not psychic, they just guessed correctly two times by chance,
just like any of us might. But if someone reads their horoscope every
day, and two times this week it correlated vaguely with events, they may still believe
in astrology if they use those two days to confirm their bias and ignore the rest of the data. An equation that only predicts events two
out of seven times is utterly useless in science, as it can’t have a reliable correlation
with reality. Therefore, neither do horoscopes. You can demonstrate this to yourself by comparing
your experiences with others that have the same sun sign as you. Try to objectively assess whether there is
a correlation. If you’re really serious, find someone born
on the same day of the same year as you. Even in the same region. The two of you would absolutely have to be
dramatically similar, as the tenets of astrology would apply to both of you. If the reality is anything less than this,
astrology can’t be true, because in order for it to be true, its predictions must hold
at all times, not just when things work out by chance. So what’s the big deal, you may be asking. Even if astrology isn’t true, who is it hurting? Well it’s more harmful than you may think,
especially when people in power subscribe to it. When Ronald Reagan was in office as the president
of the United States, first lady Nancy Reagan hired an astrologer whose advice was quite
influential on decisions made by the administration. Can you imagine if America was to declare
war on a nation because an astrologer advised it? It doesn’t even have to get this catastrophic. In general, when large segments of the public
allow themselves to entertain pseudoscience and mysticism, it clouds their ability to
apply reason and logic, which are needed to make informed political decisions. In short, we all need to agree on the nature
of reality if we have any hope at unification against potential oppression. So things like astrology, while they may not
be specifically immoral, are still counterproductive in the grand scheme of human development. So that’s all there is to it. Astrology is undeniably, inarguably, completely
and utterly false. The positions of the stars and planets at
the moment of your birth have no correlation with anything whatsoever regarding who you
are and what happens to you on a day-to-day basis. It is nothing more than a stubborn relic from
ancient times, when mysticism and science were one, and it has only survived for one reason. It’s fun. People like it. They like the idea of it, and how it makes them feel. The notion that the universe and everything
in it is deeply intertwined with the trivialities of humanity is comforting, that can’t be denied,
but it’s also absurd. It’s hubris on the grandest scale. So while it may not be such a big deal to
read your horoscope for fun, it would be far better for us to grow as a species and leave
this relic behind for good. There are those who would argue that something
would be lost in discarding astrology, an appreciation for the magic of the night sky,
but they are just plain wrong. When you leave this primitive construct behind
and actually learn about these objects, absorbing what astronomers have come to understand over
the centuries, as we have done together throughout this astronomy series, your reverence for
these objects is necessarily magnified a thousand fold. Planets, stars, galaxies, the infinite potential
of the universe, which calls out to us, begging us to grow up and tame it. The deafening silence that is our unknown
future is smiling down at us in the guise of a billion twinkling stars. These worlds are ours for the taking, but
only if we rise to the challenge, and set our efforts on the acquisition of real knowledge. For those of you that take this road as your
own, I’ll see you next time, no matter which chapter is next for you.

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