Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Stars Have no F@$ks to Give

Recently, I was invited to take part in a discussion on the validity of astrology.  Specifically, this was a Desi audience, so the particular brand of stellar stupidity that people leaned towards is so-called Vedic astrology.  I say "so-called" because the oldest sources for it are two collections of texts called the Vedanga Jyothisha and the Brihat Parashara Horashastra (both ca. 700-600 BCE), which at best indicates that this might have been part of the original Vedanta when it was still an oral tradition or at least draws off of something taught therein.  No real indication that the Vedas actually contained it until people appeared to start combining texts together a few centuries later.  Even then, it was largely treated as an "auxiliary discipline" of learning often treated as valuable, but not crucial for an individual unless they sought an ascetic lifestyle.  The term "Vedic Astrology" seems to be a more recent term coined during the early 1980s with the influx of Indian woo-woo self-help and Ayurvedic wishful thinking from the likes of Deepak Chopra.

As if it wasn't obvious from the mention of that second text, I happen to share my name (Parashar) with the person credited with authoring one of those two (and generally considered the more comprehensive) foundational texts.  Apparently, some people still believe that because I'm apparently named after this person, I would also be a believer in the cosmological claptrap that is astrology.  Because...  the name makes the man...?  That would imply that the guy I knew at my previous job named Scott Peterson must have murdered his wife and the guy I know in my current job who happens to be named Andrew Wakefield must be anti-vaccine...  except that neither of those things are true.  Apologies to Scott and Andrew for "outing" them as people who actually love their families and believe in actual medical facts.  Well, that aside, the vast majority of Desis are believers, and that's largely attributable to how deeply entrenched it is in the culture.  It isn't merely some newspaper entertainment page, but a core component of religion that births a bedrock industry that is viewed as being every bit as fundamental as electricity and water.  In India, people aren't just talking horoscopes to pick up girls in a night club; corporate entities are having astrologers guide them; doctors refrain from providing care when the stars aren't right; a handful of courts and several rural panchayats (village governing chiefs) will not recognize marriages between people of incompatible birth horoscopes...  this is no minor amusement for entertainment purposes -- people view horoscopes as a roadmap for life.  In that light, I was somewhat eager to get into this discussion and seek out and demolish everything anybody had to offer to support this mark of shame unto the subcontinent.

A little too eager, it seems, as the pre-event commentary drove enough people to play the victim to drive the organizer to cancel.  The truth hurts -- and therefore, people who reject truth as a matter of course are somehow automatically justified in hurling insults, while those who call a spade a spade are the hurtful ones.  Sound familiar?

I kind of expected some people to raise points about the history of astrology and how it is, at its most basic level, an early precursor to modern astronomy.  People developed methods of calculating and predicting the apparent motion of celestial bodies through the sky and that set the stage for the real science of astronomy to follow.  This much is true, and at best, it makes astrology a significant idea in the history of science not that that makes it science.  Nonetheless, this argument never really showed up, so I was kind of surprised by that.  Maybe people wanted to save that for the actual event.

Among the things I was holding back and saving for the event was things like lying about my time, date, and place of birth just to see how people analyze the implications of that based on their astrological beliefs.  That's the sort of thing that would really only make sense to do when you are actually meeting the people you're going to make cry.  Of course, I expected the end result is that whomsoever wanted to chime in and make extrapolations based on that would come up with some generalizations, some of which would be true about me and some would not...  and that would still be the case no matter what date of birth I gave.  Another point I was going to make at the actual event, but someone else alluded to in the discussion boards, was that there are multiple systems of astrology and different astrologers don't agree on all of them. Western (Ptolemaic) astrology uses a tropical zodiac, while Hindu astrology uses a sidereal zodiac.  In the West, I'm apparently a Taurus, but in India, I'm apparently a Gemini.  There's also the obvious point that most people have pointed out that the tropical zodiac is off by a full sign, and the introduction of the constellation Ophiucus into the ecliptic means there's another sign to worry about.  Some astrologers argue that this isn't relevant because the zodiac is its own system of sections of horizon latitudes that just get their names from the constellations that used to be there, and aren't really connected to the constellations themselves.  However, there are astrologers who actually believe that the signs should be adjusted to account for the precession of the Earth and even that the signs are different for people living South of the equator.  The person who brought this up actually framed it in the "which one is right?" sort of line of questioning.  How about none of them?

Those who buy into this garbage try to make the claim that astrology is science.  Real science would not be rife with this sort of inconsistency.  There is disagreement when you delve into the hypothetical conjectures that stand on the boundaries of scientific inquiry (e.g. string theory, M-theory), but none of those things are viewed as accepted science.  If you want to pretend that astrology falls in that category, then you can't call it a science.  Furthermore, if an idea that originated some few millennia ago is still only on the fringe of inquiry and conjecture after all this time, that pretty well says that it's got nothing substantial going for it.  That which is science is a product of the demonstrable consensus of experimental result.  That, too, multiple different experiments on different implications of the same hypothesis would reach a concordance with each other.  This makes any and all science consistent across the planet.  We don't have Faraday's law of induction in the West and Farid Dey's law of induction in India or some other nonsense like that...  Real science is always just the same no matter where you go or what the cultural norms are or anything of the sort.  Science traffics exclusively in verified and/or verifiable concepts which are informed only by fact, which does not have anything with culture or religion or personal feelings on the matter.

The general mode of argument that people used to argue that astrology is science was the fact that there was math and actual observation of the stars involved in it.  Yep...  that's it.  First of all, I would contend that there is really no observation of the stars involved in the modern day partly because of the fact that we don't really need to anymore.  The charts that would be drawn up will always come up the same as what pretty basic software will tell you.  Secondly, astrologers have not done observational star mapping at the time of birth for centuries because it's just not practical.  Thirdly, the real work happens not in the star mappings, but in the tables of "houses" and which planets are in those houses.  Somehow, Mars in this house has an influence on your temperament and Jupiter in that house makes you smarter.  There are no observations involved at this point, but exclusively assertions.  Fourthly, having math has no impact on making it science.  You can put math into anything, but unless you can show that said math is applicable in a way that is definitively illustrated through real hard evidence, you don't have science.  I can put Markov chains and finite context-dependent probability distributions into the process of composing music (and yes, I've done this), but no one would ever tell you that music is hard science.

That said, there is something that gives astrology the potential to be viewed as scientific.  Note that I used the adjective "scientific" here, and it's one way in which astrology is closer to science than say, creationism or belief in ghosts.  It is the fact that astrologers actually do make testable, falsifiable predictions.  That, at least, is a step closer to being science than simply saying "god did it."  Of course, the reality is that astrology has consistently failed on these predictions in showing that it beats random chance alone.  There is not a single test in which astrology does any better than chance alone.  I don't think I can stress this enough -- there are precisely ZERO, NADA, ZIP, ZILCH, NAUGHT examples on a large scale blind study that show that astrology is valid.  Heck, the Time Twins study alone completely debunks astrology because it defeats everything that it is based on.  A lot of people seem to think that because of things like the Forer effect tests that James Randi and others (including myself) have administered that astrology should be taken seriously because it shows such high agreeability with the subjects.  The reason they think this is that they view hit or miss as a binary thing which makes it appear to inherently be a 50-50 chance.  Reality does not work that way.  It is akin to saying that if a meteorite hits the Earth, it has a 50-50 chance of hitting water because it either hits water or it doesn't, so there's only two possibilities.  That is, of course, absurd because we know that the surface of the Earth is a little over 70% water.  With astrological predictions, you can make a series of predictions that are sufficiently broad that it could apply to almost anyone.  Furthermore, the astrologers themselves have such loose definitions of what qualifies as a hit.  For instance, a claim that your money worries will be allayed somewhat in the coming years could apply to anybody simply because of economic recovery...  but even if it doesn't really help you in a serious way, they'd say that finding $20 on the ground counts as a slight short-term dip your worries over money.  That's a pretty pathetic "hit", and it's something that could, again, happen to almost anyone.  In Hugh Laurie's appearance on Randi's show, the astrologer doing the reading claimed that he'd be an intellectual and professorial type, and Hugh points out that he got pretty poor grades in university.  The astrologer actually remarks, "Ah, but you did go to university" and counts that as a point for him.  Really?  Having gone to college counts as being an intellectual?  Would anyone dare to call the vomit-worthy Louie Gohmert an intellectual?  He's got two college degrees.  And yet, this is the man who argued that gun control is somehow connected to allowing people to marry donkeys.  Yeah, that's reeeeaaal professorial.

The point that really drives it home for me in that video, though, is where the astrologer argues that he looked extensively at Laurie's horoscope which makes him sure of certain characteristics...  Stephen Fry's retort was that he's looked at Hugh.  And therein lies all the difference.  The astrologer looks at this imaginary construct of houses and planetary influences and the arrangements and the path of the sun and moon and so on.  Someone who knows better looks at something that actually exists -- the person in question.

Making predictions may bring you a step closer to being science than the entirely unscientific nonsense that people like to peddle, but that doesn't mean you've even gotten to the point of being eligible to be considered science.  For that, you've got to start devising mechanisms to explain observed phenomena.  This is where the stupid of astrology really shows up.  Astrology posits that the positions and arrangements of the stars and planets at the time of your birth as seen from the place of your birth somehow defines overarching characteristics about you and your life.  Of course, it's not really the actual positions of the objects in space itself, but rather the position they appear to be in the sky.  So the real value of concern is not where the planets are, but the line of sight from the particular point on Earth you were born to the planets and stars at a particular time.  There are just so many things wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start.

The most obvious question that comes up how the lines of sight to celestial bodies of rock and/or gas millions of miles away when projected against the lines of sight to swirling orbs of plasma undergoing nuclear fusion several trillion miles away at the time of birth can affect anything.  By what means does this happen?  What is the source of this influence, and why is it anisotropic with respect to the direction from which you view?  Another detail I have to ask is why certain planets and stars have this effect, but not all?  Why should Betelgeuse have some effect on my life, but not the much closer Proxima Centauri?  Why should Jupiter "energy" affect me more than Venus "energy"?  Most any "energy field" around any celestial object decays in its effect with the square of the distance.  This is an inescapable quality of living in a universe in which space has 3 dimensions.  So no matter how huge Jupiter is, there's really nothing that could possibly make it more influential than, say, the Moon.  Unless of course, you have some sort of "energy" that is very narrowly directed right at the Earth in a very nearly laser form of emission.  Either that, or you've got energy which is a sort of subspace emission (yes, that is a Star Trek reference) that is strictly a one-dimensional subspace so that there is no decay with distance.  In any of these scenarios, you're left with the unenviable questions of what this "energy" they speak of really is, and how it affects anyone, how this "energy" is mediated, why the line of sight matters, and why it is all directed at the Earth specifically?  Furthermore, why should the moment of birth be the moment that matters?  Most other aspects of your nature that aren't a product of "nurture" are decided at the moment of conception, not birth.  Is there something about these planetary energies that doesn't penetrate the womb?  Time of birth is also kind of arbitrary, when you get right down to it since no clinic tracks right down to second, and some record the time that the baby is in the mother's arms as the time of birth or sometimes the time the umbilical is cut, or more often than not, some rough estimate.  What if there were complications during your birth and you had to be resuscitated or put on life support?  What's your time of birth then?  If Mars affects me, what about Uranus and Neptune?  Why is it that they're not included?  Is it a problem of distance?  Then why not Ceres?  It's a lot closer to me than Jupiter or Saturn are, and they both apparently have some influence.  Is it a problem of size?  Well, Uranus and Neptune are both a lot bigger than Mars, Mercury, or Venus.  Isn't it convenient that planets which weren't known to ancient peoples are somehow not part of the picture of Hindu astrology?  An interesting thing about science is that when new evidence and information comes to light, models get modified to take it into account.  Curious how the so-called "science" of astrology didn't do that...  At least not universally.  Some Western astrologers feel that Pluto, Eris, Ceres, Juno, and Pallas should all be included.

Then there's this whole concept of "houses" that correspond to the sections of the sky relative to your ascendant zodiac sign.  Jyotish astrologers give meanings to all these houses that imply that they all affect some character of your life such as your love life, wealth, health, social status, etc.  How they impart these influences is never even open to investigation.  In a real science, you would never propose something to be true without even so much as attempting to understand and/or verify it.  Has there ever been an incidence of a Jyotish who has bothered to explore this?  I can accept that the "houses" are something of a mnemonic device.  Even in real science, we occasionally use abstractions that aren't really "real" in the same sense that scientific theories are.  Instead, they're practices that are used simply to easily package a change of perspective on a certain class of problems that makes things a little easier.  Quasiparticles like phonons or electron holes would be a good example of this.  But even though there isn't physically such a thing as a phonon, it ultimately reduces to something that does exist when you pull out to a different point of view.  I can accept that the houses refer to a 30-degree segmentation of the full 360 degrees of the horizon, and some planet being in a house means the line of sight to it falls inside that segment of the sky... But that alone is not enough to describe what is happening.  When we use alternative abstractions in science, there's not just a "thing" we're drawing analogy to, but a collection of mechanisms.  Where are the mechanisms of astrology?  You can tell me all you want about Saturn being in my 6th house can cause me to get cancer unless Virgo mutability comes into play or other similar hogwash, but that doesn't get you any closer to saying why a transit of Saturn there has that effect.  Even creationists at least assert divine causality; homeopaths assert that water has a memory; but astrologers don't even bother with trying to invent phony mechanisms, and claim that all these causeless effects are real, and because math was used, that makes it science... And that's where all the discussion ends.

One of the things that really kills me in the realm of Hindu astrology is the addition of two hypothetical planets -- Rahu and Ketu.  Hindu astrology posits the existence of 9 "planets" (Earth is excluded, btw), two of which are the Sun and Moon with the others all the way out to Saturn being actual planets... and then you have Rahu and Ketu which were originally these hypothetical solutions to the question of what caused eclipses.  We're not talking ordinary planets here; these are serpentine planets -- specifically the head and tail of a serpent.  Rahu is the bad one who tries to swallow the sun and cause eclipses...  and according to certain versions of the mythology, Rahu invented garlic (yes, that's seriously in there).  Ketu is the good one...  who tries to swallow the sun and cause eclipses...  and is associated with lead(Pb) for some reason.  We all know that lead is so much healthier than garlic.  Today, though, people are at least willing to admit that Rahu and Ketu don't exist, but there is still a sort of astronomical significance to the locations where they are said to be.  They basically lie on the North and South lunar nodes -- where the moon's path through the sky crosses the ecliptic.  So because of this astronomical significance, it's assumed therefore that the astrological significance is not at all diminished by little shortcomings like their total lack of existence.  Well, Rahu is the one that really bothers me because people invented this idea of Rahu Kaalam, which is a 90-minute period in the course of the day (a different time of day depending on the day of the week) in which Rahu is said to have some sort of influence and cause bad luck.

Number one, I have a problem with this because it's insanely stupid -- a celestial body which has been proven not to exist somehow affects your luck at certain hours of the day and it has the greatest impact on your luck after you've crossed the age of 42.  Even the BPH doesn't really go into detail about why those certain times correspond to Rahu Kaalam on those certain days of the week, but merely tells you what those times are.  Secondly, I have a problem with it because of the level of penetration it has on the culture at large.  Sure, it often presents in innocuous things like not packing your bags for a trip during Rahu Kaalam, but it runs so much broader than that.  People close shops or offices temporarily because money can't exchange hands during that time.  Corporations do not engage in business transactions during these 90 minutes.  Surgeons will neither allow a procedure to begin or end during this time window, though overlapping it is apparently okay.  Oops, we just completed a triple bypass, but it's already 4:31!  We have to wait until 6:00 to close him up.  Anybody want to play a few rounds of carrom in the meantime?  Thirdly, I have a problem with it because they make the whole thing untestable and unfalsifiable by twisting it with the whole concept of karma.  By doing this, they've left an escape route for anyone who dares try to test the predictions of the "bad luck" borne from doing something unfit for Rahu Kaalam by saying that the "bad luck" is something that is tagged onto your karma and that it can manifest at any time...  including your next life -- an affectation commonly called a "dosha".  Isn't that so convenient?  Would anyone care to show how a bad luck dosha that will not manifest at any determinable time and may or may not even manifest at all within the course of your [current] life is epistemically differentiable from a bad luck dosha that doesn't exist at all?

But then, there are those who would not even bother with trying to be reasonable about it.  One person in the course of discussion made astrology and tarot reading her profession, and for some reason or other, it was deemed that this exempted her from any comment or dissent in the discussion.  Because obviously, if people are unwittingly (I say 'unwittingly' only because this person probably sincerely believes the hogwash she peddles) cheating people, it'd be hurtful to expose their fraud.  We should always consider the tortured plight of the fraud, and not just the people who are fleeced by them.  But that forum is not here, and such nonsensical pussyfooting has no place here.  This person resorted to the argument astrology and tarot and other similar disciplines absolutely must be true because there have to exist "things which are beyond logic."  I really feel like I could dedicate an entire blog post or two to this one particular argument, because there are just so many things wrong with it and all the offshoots that people make with it.  For this particular post, I'll just point out that 1) the notions of internal consistency and even the very idea of "true" and "false" are logical constructs.  How do you even have something that has the capacity for being a cogent idea -- let alone be able to convince others of its supposed veracity -- without logic and reason? and 2) the moment you've disregarded logic, you've eliminated the mechanisms by which we can even begin to establish that something can be reasonable to believe in the first place.  I know people are hoping to escape the contradictions and inconsistencies, but when relieving yourself of the burden of having to explain yourself entails throwing away the concept of truth itself, you're not doing well.

Finally, I want to dedicate a little bit of time dealing with the person who occupied most of my time in my replies on the discussion.  This person repeatedly threw out random disconnected "scientific factoids" and bizarre figures and quotes that seemed at first glance (and largely actually were) far from the truth.  At first it just sounded like pointless rambling, but after you read through some of the nonsense, it became clear that this was a classic argument from ignorance.  By stating that there are countless mysteries about the universe, that makes it somehow okay in this person's mind to include whatever bullcrap he sees fit.  At least, unlike creationists, this person pointed out some things that actually ARE largely unsolved mysteries in science as well as conjectures that lie on the boundaries of scientific inquiry.  Nothing like Bill O'Reilly's garbage with sunrise and sunset and the tides being unexplained phenomena.  This fellow talked at length about multiverse concepts, neuroscience, and a lot of mostly untrue coincidences.  Notice, however, that I didn't say that he trotted out hard facts, but "scientific factoids"... in quotes...  in reality, it was a lot of stuff taken out of context, misinterpreted, or just plain stupidly wrong.  For instance, he argued at one point that loads of "high-ranking" cosmologists firmly believe that the multiverse conjecture is hard fact.  Most of these were just random assertions such as saying that Michio Kaku believes firmly in string theory as a proven fact...  which is most certainly not the case.  This is one of the problems with getting your facts exclusively from science specials on PBS or Discovery Channel...  Sure, they will have real science, but when they get into topics that lie on the bleeding edge of theoretical research, they are making efforts to try and present it in a way that is approachable to the layman.  There will be several minutes of content dedicated to trying to help people visualize 11-dimensional superstrings and only a sentence or two expressing that this is all conjecture at this point, albeit conjecture with some sort of mathematical basis.  Ten minutes of this is how M-Theory works, and one second to say "we don't know this for sure"...  the one second gets lost to someone who is just letting the experience wash over them.

When pressed to provide evidence of the notion that scientists actually believe what he says he does, he loosely cited some papers and took a single quote from the abstract.  In the case of the multiverse, he wouldn't even give me the actual paper but said a certain nameless professor who held a certain title, but I eventually realized what he was talking about.  So I did something he clearly never did in the whole of his life and never expected me to do either -- I actually read the papers.  What he claimed was a scientist "firmly believing" something is when he elaborates on the implications of a particular hypothesis.  The language throughout these papers was invariably sprinkled with hypotheticals and potential possibilities and feasibility analyses.  Nothing firm, nothing definitive...  but that's how scientists actually operate when they're doing their jobs.  This is easily lost if all your knowledge of science comes from people who either aren't scientists, or are deliberate oversimplifications in the interest of making a concept approachable.  Now it might sound as if I'm railing against science programs on television, but that's not really the case.  The thing is that these programs aren't intended to thoroughly educate you in the more fringe stuff of basic research; they are meant to get their viewers interested and keep them engaged in how interesting it can be.  It's when people mistake this as the firm truth that you get the boundless lunacy.

This particular lunatic made the same mistake for pretty much any and all amazing-sounding figures he'd seen on any TV program.  At one point, in the interest of trying to amaze with what he thought of neurology, the fellow quoted a figure that the ocular nerve carries 72 GB of data to the brain to be processed per second.  Now, I, and I'd hope many reading this know well enough to know that this is complete bullshit.  This figure is clearly the result of some idiot presuming that our retina is like some sort of perfect HDR camera that transmits a complete frame every few milliseconds, which we know for a fact is not the case.  Now I call it a "fact" specifically because the information that refutes this notion is not a product of our general models of how the eye and brain and optic nerves work, but in the actual observed and measured data that informs those models.  The reality is that very few of the cells in your retina actually produce a nervous stimulation at any given moment, but different ones will fire at different points in time with no real synchrony between them.  A particular rod or cone that yielded a stimulus one moment might not fire again for a full second, but another one near it might.  Our ocular nerves are more like a stochastic asynchronous streaming channel than a video cable.  "Pixels" in the feed will neither be spatially nor temporally correlated, and every collection of data you get only occupies about 1% of the total view.  The brain basically stitches this all together to make sense of it.  This results in a system which is actually very low bandwidth, high apparent temporal resolution (framerate), but also very high latency.  It is flawed for sure, but it is energy efficient and centralized in that the bulk of the work happens in the brain and not the eyes themselves.  This system is why animation at 12 fps (the original standard set by Disney) can still look like continuous motion.  This is why things like optical illusions actually exist.  We evolved with such a system because it was the most efficient for our evolutionary needs.  When I tried explaining all this, the fool dug his heels in harder and claimed that there were assumptions being made about the range and resolution and stuff...  No...  no amount of assuming things could possibly make neurons that were not firing actually be firing.  No amount of assuming things could make the voltage/current dynamic ranges in your nervous systems suddenly be several times higher.  No amount of assumptions could account for a 96,000:1 difference in how many photosensitive cells you have in your eye or how much of various rhodopsins they actually contain.  You're just an idiot.

The thing is that for all the proclamations that the real figure for the bandwidth of the human visual system (which is estimated to be equivalent of ~7-9 Mbits/sec) were based on assumptions about range, he liked to pretend that all scientists who study this stuff don't already know how to account for these sorts of variables and/or even measure them to eliminate the variability. When I finally got him to admit his source for the idiotic 72 Gbytes/sec figure he gave, I wish I could say I was surprised.  His source was History Channel; the same paragon of scientific accuracy that brought us Ancient Aliens and Bible Codes.  This is your source for info on neuroscience?  Really?  This person made it clear that his only goal was to establish that our understanding of reality is fraught with mysteries and unknowns.  That's ostensibly true, but that's also why real scientists don't say that we've "solved" anything in any absolute sense.  Language like that comes not from scientists, but from journalists who fail miserably to report on scientific findings.  The whole thing was a silly game of trying to make the most verbose argument from ignorance I've seen in a while.  It takes some dedication to throw out pages and pages of bollocks and a few inexcusable lies about how science works just to promote a logical fallacy as a foundational principle. The line of thought was clearly that because there is so much stuff that is science that defies common sense and a lot of stuff that isn't fully understood, that means that anything that defies common sense and the capacity to be understood in any rational way is okay.  As long as he pretends that the margins of scientific understanding are really wide, he thinks you can insert bullshit.  That's not how reasoning works.  When you don't understand something, that's where the discussion ends, and the questioning and searching begins.  It is not where you get to insert an idea of any calibre.

Saying that we don't understand how the universe began, therefore astrology is true is no more sensible than saying that I don't know how the pyramids were built, therefore aliens did it. You're still a delusional moron who's using your lack of knowledge to make room for anti-knowledge.  Secondly, when something non-intuitive like quantum mechanics comes to be accepted as true, it is never "just because".  It is the product of testing and verifying necessary predictions wherever the model is applicable.  When you can compute highly specific predictions as to what the model, and those predictions match the observed data without exception, that is what makes it worthy of consideration.  Even then, nobody says that it's the whole truth, but that it is is ostensibly true, though it could be an effect of something else operating at a different scale.  Astrology does offer predictions, but never beats random chance by any statistically significant factor, meaning that its model necessarily fails as a description of any observable phenomena.  That alone makes it not science, and in turn that means that there is no valid reason to believe that it could be true simply because the evidence does not bear it out.  What is or is not true is not a matter of choice or belief or preference.  If the evidence does not support your view, it is wrong to believe it.  PERIOD.  No amount of feelings, traditions, or deeply held beliefs have any power ever to change that.

This leaves me with one other argument that was pushed, and although this one is the weakest, I saved it for last because it is loosely related to the points I've raised so far.  This was the claim that a great deal of knowledge about astrology has been lost in the centuries since it was first devised, and so it is unfair to dismiss it out of hand.  The first point I have to say about this is that there are plenty of cases throughout history where discoveries in math and science and engineering were lost in the annals of time, but the fact remains that they've all since been rediscovered.  These are not disciplines where one can randomly make disparate discoveries, meaning that if we've moved beyond what people of ancient times knew, it's because we have a foundation of knowledge to do so.  In other words, the very fact that we have the science and technology we have means that it is safe to say that none of this "lost" ancient understanding has stayed lost forever; we merely may have lost some potential progress had humanity maintained access to that knowledge in the past.  If I am to take this person's assertions at face value that said lost secrets are still lost to this day, the fact that they haven't been rediscovered indicates a few possibilities :
1 )  No astrologer is interested in pursuing the legwork to vindicate the field, which means that even if there is potential for astrology to be valid, it certainly isn't here and now, and the practitioners apparently don't care to see that change.
2 )  There exists no path of inquiry that can logically construct the appropriate lines of inquiry that can lead one to these lost secrets.  Logical systems can exhibit a structure that ties together all the concepts, and that means that once you are at a frontier in our knowledge, everything we already know gives you an idea of what sorts of questions to ask. Without logical and rational form, you will end up going in circles or just exploring meaningless lines of inquiry...  A failure to make progress implies that you're dealing with a system that falls in the latter category.
3 )  Astrology as it currently stands is a dead end and there is no way to improve on it by any means.  Any previous ancient efforts were little more than futile efforts to throw band aids or further obfuscate an already nonsensical concept by piling on more drivel.
4 )  This lost knowledge of astrology never existed and it's nothing more than wishful thinking to presume that there is some hope of salvaging the train wreck of an idea that astrology is.
5 )  There was some lost knowledge, but it is no longer lost today, and instead, we're already long past the point where astrology has reached the peak of its capacity to show any element of veracity.
6 )  Some combination of multiple or even all of the above.

The second point I would like to make here is that even if I grant that there is something that can be discovered to make astrology valid, that is a big giant "what if" for the future.  It doesn't do anything to help your case here and now.  One has to seriously fracture the very concept of reason in order to say that an idea is open to consideration before it has the ability to show its mettle just because you think it theoretically could some day in the future.  What may or may not happen in the future regarding an idea has no bearing on where it stands today.  Hypothetically, let's say that 20 years from now, some new set of rules and considerations are discovered that when applied to astrology, suddenly give it some real predictive power that actually works and also make it possible to define the contexts in which it may not work, and this effect is entirely demonstrable.  At that point, we could reasonably call astrology a scientific theory.  In this scenario, the long-time believers in astrology would surely gloat before former doubters scoffing that we should feel pretty foolish for discounting it all this time.  Quite simply put, NO... There is no reason whatsoever to feel that way.  Whatever new concepts were folded in to make it effective they surely did not exist before that point in time.  However they managed to make it valid in this potential future does not affect the fact that prior to the discovery of those rules, astrology was not at all valid.  And it certainly isn't valid today, and all indications are that it never has been at any point in the past.  That is all anyone needs to know to reject it.  It does not matter what historical significance it had in the foundations of astronomy, nor any wishful thinking that something could come of it in the distant future.  It most certainly does not matter that it is deeply seated in the Desi culture to which the people involved in this discussion (myself included) draw our roots.  We have progressed enough thus far by in large to realize that the rigors of caste discrimination and untouchability that have been endemic of our culture for centuries is a mark of shame.   We have grown up enough to realize that the oppressive chattel role of women that has held a seat in our culture for ages is a harmful and counterproductive idea.  There is no reason to presume that astrology should not belong with all the other foul warts on that have long since begged removal, lest being called "Desi" be a pejorative.

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