Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is Only Nonsense in the Stars

I felt the need to put this up as I spent some time expressing my unbounded grumpiness when I saw this post on a mailing list at my office.  For the sake of protecting the innocent, I will leave out the original post and merely describe its message, posting only my rant.

Basically, a certain person had recommended a particular astrologer who offers his readings for an apparently reasonable fee (about 35% less than the average astrologer)...  and described this individual as a "No-Nonsense Astrologer."  Now, to those of you who have a little understanding of my character...  I think you know how I would react to such a description.

Of course, I prefaced the message by pointing out that there was no way I could ever possibly restrain my boundless anger at such a proposition.  What follows is the bulk content of the rant.  Removed are only the points where I preface the message by pointing out the necessity of it, and the closing statements which were more specific to the content of the original post.  The rest is entirely generic in where I eviscerate the very concept of astrology itself, and could apply to any message about recommendations thereof.

"No nonsense astrologer" is an oxymoron.  PERIOD.  Perhaps you mean he's no-nonsense except for the astrology part?

Distilled down, astrology is the notion that the lines of sight from the Earth to glowing orbs of swirling superheated plasma undergoing nuclear fusion under massive gravitational pressures hundreds or even thousands of light years away projected against the lines of sight to planets, satellites, and an average-sized, yet otherwise similar glowing orb within our solar system at the time and latitude/longitude of our birth is a significant if not absolute determining factor in the overall chain of events in our individual lives and futures yet to come.  Something which has been shown repeatedly in time-twin studies to be patently false without so much as a single non-trivial exception...  but let us not let things like empirical data get in the way of our baseless fantasies.  I'd like to know how this can not be categorized as nonsense?

Does this person you speak of have any sort of description or factual basis on which he can determine how various entities within the zodiac actually have the effect that they are designated to have?  Some astrologers take the planet's axial precession into account and might assign you a "more correct" sun and moon sign based on the fact that the original zodiac calendar is generally nearly a month off, and there is also a 13th constellation which now intersects the ecliptic (namely, Ophiucus)...  which means that they are left explaining how the stars and planets themselves actually have the effects claimed.  Especially since no constellation exists in the sense that we see them.  Their shapes are all entirely the effect of the line-of-sight to those objects and not to where the objects themselves are when plotted taking their individual distances into account.  Other astrologers do not take this at all into account and argue that the zodiac as proposed by the founders of whichever system they happen to adopt (and I wear the name of one such founder as a scarlet letter of sorts) is itself a closed system which is not dependent on the apparent motion of the constellations.  But that of course leaves one with the unenviable position of having to describe the nature of this closed system and how the interactions of its elements have any sort of effect, and by what mechanism that effect is enacted.  Furthermore, how such effects were empirically measured and what sort of falsifiable tests have been proposed to test said models.

Try asking your friend this, and watch as the color drains from his face.  After all, if curiosity is a good thing, aren't you curious about those sorts of details?

There is little doubt that astrology was a forerunner to formal astronomy, but that is about the limit of its value.  It is [meaningful] only in the history of science, but is otherwise useless nonsense on a basic factual level.  It only holds weight today on the basis of being "ancient wisdom."  As if people were so much wiser back in the days when less than 2% of the world's population was even remotely literate, and the average life expectancy was under 45 years, and people died of the common cold, and wars breaking out between neighboring states were considered average for a Tuesday night.  Yeah, that was when people knew all the secrets we could never even dream of understanding.

Here's the real secret -- People went from nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures to stabilized settlements.  The moment human beings started to form fixed settlements and started to grow crops in one spot, there was a need to predict the patterns of the seasons and the weather within the area.  Because the seasons coincided with the rhythm of all things they really cared about, whether it was crops or animal migration, it soon followed that the stars and the movement of the heavens became a crucial point of study.  When people notice that the heavens seemed to follow very predictable behaviors and cycles, it was only natural to believe that there was some underlying order to it all.  Since that cyclical pattern of the stars' apparent motions and the seasons seemed so significant with respect to farming, it also seemed that there was a purpose as well -- as if to say that the sky above provided a clock for us to use.  Is it any wonder, then, that we find so many archaeological artifacts of ancient cultures developing calendars and structures connected to certain days of the year or the ecliptic path of the sun?

Like so many underlying orders and patterns that proved valuable to us, it seems natural, then, to believe that this order exists for our benefit...  and that is the unfortunate leap of the human ego.  The universe doesn't care about you, and it does not exist for your benefit.  There are no cosmic signals in the sky.  We're just on a tiny blue dot.  Get over it and join us in reality.
I await the day when the horoscope section gets removed from every newspaper out there.  I await the day that there will never again be a horoscope reading consulted on marital matchings.  I await the day that someone might ask "what's your sign" and nobody has a clue what that person is talking about.  I await the day when the very last remaining career astrologer on this Earth kicks the bucket.  I may not live to see it, unfortunately, but if I believed in the existence of souls, my soul at that point would surely be laughing madly.

Message to every astrologer in the world -- everything you do is demonstrably fraudulent in every way.  Given what we know about the universe at large, and the nature of your profession, this cannot currently be held in even the slightest of doubt.  You have precisely zero supporting facts on your side.  The only thing you have is inherently fallacious mechanisms of perpetuation such as tradition and mystique and the stupidity and fear of vulnerable people who couldn't think straight to save their lives.  Either show that not all your means of support are invisible, or close down your practice and drop off this planet.