(Astrology Explored) I’ll answer questions on Quora; Not every astrology question, but ones that catch my eye. And this morning this one showed up in my email:
Is astrology backed by any scientific facts or are horoscopes basically “random” generic phrases?
Oh geez. But I had to answer it anyway. And here is my answer:
The answer to your question about whether or not astrology is backed by scientific fact is more complex than it appears on the surface. I’d like to discuss here general assumptions about what make up scientific fact and how astrology fits into the scheme of that. But first I’ll answer the question “Are horoscopes random generic phrases?”
I’m assuming that what you mean by horoscopes are the type of horoscopes seen in the newspapers. Your question seems to touch on the validity of this type of astrology, called sun sign astrology. Sun sign astrology is based on the position of the sun at the time your birth. Since that kind of astrology is only based on one astrological point of discussion, yes, it is a very general type of astrology. It is not generic, because what happens to a Gemini, (or how that Gemini perceives what happens) is not the same as how a sun sign Scorpio will perceive what happens. But it is by no means specific to an individual because all the planets in the solar system have something to say about the life of an individual. However, skeptics use the generalness of sun sign astrology as “proof” of the invalidity of all astrology. It is like saying there is only one shade of blue when there are many, many more.
Let’s move on to whether or not astrology is scientific. But first, some definitions are in order.
What is “science?”
Science is a methodical process that seeks to determine the secrets of the natural world by using the scientific method.
(That’s not obtuse, is it?)
And what is the scientific method?
The scientific method is a process that seeks to determine knowledge by observing the natural world, developing educated guesses, devising experiments to test the educated guesses, and analyzing the results. Further validity of the observation is gained by obtaining reproducing the results in the same or other tests.
In common use the adjective “scientific” is commonly used to connote “that which is verified by science” but the truth of the matter is that usage is an error to begin with. Many things are observed in a scientific manner, and conclusions drawn and tested but whether the conclusions drawn stand the test of time is another matter. We see this all the time in conflicting results of different studies. Standing the test of time is not a determining factor in whether or not something is scientific.
So the scientific method is a way of looking at the world. It does not mean, despite common perceptions, that something is verified by science.
Now that we have the semantics out of the way, let’s look at astrology against the backdrop of the scientific method.
Do astrologers observe the natural world?
Indeed we do. We do nothing else. At the heart of astrology is the concept that real world events are reflected in the cycles of the planets and other astrological phenomenon.
Do astrologers develop educated guesses?
Yes. In the practice of the art of astrology we are called on to make educated guesses each day on how the cycles of the planets will manifest in real world events. Very astute and knowledgeable astrologers can make better predictions than less knowledgeable ones. This is a testament to the power of the astrological education of the astrologer.
Are experiments devised to test the assumptions of the astrologer?
Experiments have been and continue to be devised to test the general assumptions of astrology. I’ve given an example of these tests in Quora question: .
Regardless, the principles of astrology are tested each day by practicing astrologers who use their vast body of knowledge in discussing real world situations with their clients.
However, for reasons discussed below, we do not have enough “proof” to satisfy the skeptics, though I suspect from their adamant behavior, we never will.
Are the results of astrological observations reproducible?
Again, that is the heart of the astrology. The astrologer deals in cycles in which general events can be ascribed to those cycles. For instance, when the planet Saturn by movement in the heavens first reaches the position of the natal Saturn, a person usually marries, has a child, or buys a house. In some way a person assumes the mantle of adulthood. This happens, between the ages of 27 and 29. Astrologers call it the Saturn Return.
Whether or not some other observer has tested the Saturn Return hypothesis, I have no idea. But it is a familiar enough phenomenon that an astrologer can discuss that period of a client’s life with high confidence of the territory of that time period.
The Validity of Astrology
Astrology as a system of observing and quantifying the world has existed since the origins of our civilizations. It is ancient, and has thousands of years of observations that back it.
Our current “scientific method” is only a few centuries old. When people began to observe things that did not mesh with orthodoxies of religious dogma, which was wedded to Platonian astrological thought, astrology came under fire. Furthermore, as the scientists jockeyed for social prominence, it became convenient to use astrology, which represented the old way for how the world worked, as a whipping boy for the failings of educated thought. Astrology was declared invalid not because it was, but because do so made “scientists” appear more forward thinking than their more traditional peers. It had more to do with social politics than whether or not “astrology worked.”
As a result, astrology has suffered from centuries of neglect by the scientific establishment. Scientists generally do not research astrology and those that attempt to do so are derided by their peers. In most countries, astrology is not studied in colleges and universities, so the majority of practitioners are self-taught or taught by other astrologers. Against the harsh backdrop of the lack of academic support and societal disapproval, astrological practitioners struggle to provide the proof that astrology is more than superstition. Astrologers can only wish for access for the kind of research money granted to scientists. That is the reason why there aren’t more comprehensive studies on astrology and why this discipline will trail behind the demands of society for “proof” until that is changed
Photo used under a Creative Commons license issued by Flickr user Zeekomkommer.