You may have read, recently, that your astrological sign has changed. Or that there’s a new zodiac sign, and astrology’s all in a muddle. And while a lot of it is true, it’s certainly not new. It’s all because the Earth wobbles a little bit in its orbit, and the sun now rises in different constellations than it did two thousand years ago when astrology was first devised. Parke Kunkle, an astronomy teacher in Minneapolis, mentioned this in a newspaper and it quickly went viral, with people worried that they are now a different sign and now surely the world will end in 2012.
People will believe anything, it seems.
Let’s clear the air, shall we? Astrology is bunk. There has never, ever, been any credible scientific proof that it works. Yet blogger and social commentator Mia Freedman called upon author and astrologer, Yasmin Boland, to explain it all to her readers. Why Mia felt the need to propogate a myth I’ve no idea, but that’s what she did. And – I’ll give her credit – for the most part, Yasmin did a pretty good job explaining the science of why the sun no longer rises in same place as way back when. There’s a lot more to it, when you consider Milankovitch cycles and so on, but essentially she got it right. This video from NASA may help explain it. But what worries me is how Yasmin tries to justify astrology. Not only does she offer no evidence, she seems to dismiss the need for it with a shrug: “it just works”.
No, Yasmin, it doesn’t. What Yasmin means when she says “as horoscope fans will tell you, it just works” is that lots of people believe it, therefore it’s true. Lots of people believe in homeopathy, but that doesn’t mean water has memory. The reason lots of people believe in astrology? They read their ‘personality type’ for that particular sign, and are amazed that it works for them. Note that they know their star sign first, and then they read the profile for that. I wonder if you could find someone who didn’t know their star sign, and you got them to read all the personality types in the zodiac and pick which one matched them, would they pick the right one? I doubt it. People agree with their zodiac sign because the signs are deliberately ambiguous, vague and match most people. We all like to think that we’re friendly, kind, generous, lots of fun and intelligent. Most people are a little bit selfish, sometimes stubborn, sometimes care-free, and sometimes cranky. Everyone’s a little bit of every star sign. But when we know we’re a certain sign, and read what that sign’s ‘personality’ is like, we are more likely to believe it – it’s called confirmation bias. It’s clear from her conclusion that Yasmin has little interest in science or evidence. It’s riddled with so much common New Age rubbish that it almost reads like a cry for help. “The zodiac is one of life’s mysteries.” she writes. “Just as the Law of Attraction is”. Oh please. Law of Attraction? You can’t be serious. What she’s talking about, folks, is ‘The Secret’. The belief that “like attracts like’ – thinking positive thoughts (like “I will become rich and famous”) makes it happen. It’s the belief that just changing your thoughts and mental attitude to something, like losing weight, makes it mysteriously happen. And I shouldn’t need to point out, that there’s no credible evidence for it.
“No one has all the answers, least of all astrologers or scientists. Scientists regularly have to admit that the Universe is actually billion of years older or billion of light-years bigger than they thought,” says Yasmin, linking to a Google search for “universe older than previously thought”. And she’s right. Scientists are constantly finding new evidence, developing new theories and making new discoveries. That’s what makes it so amazing and brilliant. Science brings us closer, every day, to seeing the universe for how it really is. Through science, we can truly appreciate reality. As Phil Plait once said, “the universe is cool enough, without making crap up about it”. Yasmin finishes by saying that life’s mysteries are part of what makes life beautiful. I disagree completely. Life’s mysteries are what fuels us to keep exploring, to ask questions, to do experiments.
What makes life beautiful is not what we don’t know, but what we do know. I’ll leave you with an optimistic word from one of the 20th Century’s great scientists, Carl Sagan.