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Happy anniversary, Moon landing

BY COLIN GILBERT | JULY 22, 2009 7:15 AM

I enjoy checking my horoscope in the paper. They’re fun, I can’t deny that, either by way of an occasional creepy bull’s-eye or wildly missed marks. But there are among us, sadly, those who take it a bit far. I’ve heard them coolly reel off lines like “I knew they weren’t going to last — he’s a Sagittarius.” Or worse, and thankfully a little more difficult to find, describing how Jupiter in the third house makes someone such a great communicator.

This is about more than just the castoffs of the daily horoscope: I’m talking astrology.

I will now explain exactly why astrology is utter nonsense.

When I try to discuss the validity of astrology with die-hard adherents, the ones who proclaim the delicacy/accuracy/agency of the “practice,” I always get something like this: “Don’t you believe there’s something out there beyond our comprehension?” If there were, there obviously wouldn’t be a science with which to understand or utilize it. That’s what beyond-comprehension aspects of the universe are. There are no in-betweens, only sciences we understand and fictions we craft. That’s why an artist has a truly noble practice; art changes things, has no “answers,” it allows us to play amidst our cold, solid world of science, it’s why we dream (chicken, egg). But we have to remember that they’re dreams, perhaps marvelous, but dreams, and attempting to solidify them as otherwise by manipulating charts and numbers makes me think of crazy people. You can find pattern and process in anything, folks, if you look at it the right way — cocked head, squinted eye — but then that’s the defining point, isn’t it? If you want answers badly enough, you’ll find ways of getting them, even if it takes perverting a science you don’t understand only to confuse art (“fiction”) with prophecy (“delusion”).

To be fair, astrology and astronomy were until recently the same thing. Science worked with correlations instead of causations because that’s all we had, limited as we were by history, technology, and precedent: If all anyone ever knew of the building blocks of existence were Sun and Moon, Earth, air, fire, and water, obviously these “elements” must have had further-reaching implications, even applications. But somewhere around, oh, 1620, scientists began to realize a more deductive approach to existence. And then we actually stood on the Moon.

Why do people still believe it so fervently? Augmenting the trust in the science-ish bit of astrology is a powerful hallucinogen: symbolism. Not only do planets align and seasons change, but the stars draw pictures in the sky. (And we’re not done discovering planets, and we weren’t when astrology was born, either). That the Solar System’s ecliptic passes through certain areas of visible space doesn’t mean that the constellations and planets found there have relational values. What, exactly, about all these objects relates to humankind, and how far will astrologers go to incorporate all the possible Keplerian and fundamental interactions we — real scientists — are still discovering? It’s one of the hallmarks of a pseudoscience (read: lie) that instead of re-evaluating a conclusion based on new evidence, the new evidence is wrenched into frame to support the original pattern. Two things I’m sure of: Human beings are cowed by complexity, elevated by mythology.

But back to the horoscopes. Back to the gentler, less offensive side of astrology (and it actually is extremely offensive; believe what you want, talk to your god, decorate statues, keep the faith, but don’t you dare commit a rape of science to justify it). Horoscopes have a place in the modern world, symbolism, mythology, storytelling, all of it is valuable. We have a common cultural reference, one of our many in art, literature, music, and lives. But keep this in mind: people have a similar fascination with complicated strings of mathematics, or overhearing speakers of foreign languages. Part of the curiosity is in their being so alien and inscrutable. Another major part is trusting others can decipher their meaning, that they even have a meaning which is simply hidden to us. The difference being, with math and language, there is.


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