02 October, 2006

Against Astrology -Part I - Theory

OK, Time has come for my post on astrology. I have read a lot about this (or atleast what I think is a lot), and I hope this post satisfies you. Most of the things here are not mine, but I'm posting this as an indicator to better sites. Just giving you an in-brief view. This is part I, dealing with the "theories of astrology". Part II will deal with the experiments conducted on astrology.

(Note: This part is based on The Bad Astronomer on astrology. Another good page is Theories of Astrology. If you want, you can read my short posts on astrology and psuedoscience.)

The Scientific Method

There was once a man named Experiment
Whose whole life in the lab was spent
Since he never came out
His friend Science had to shout
"You don't exist if you don't come out!"*

*Well, this is technically not a limerick, but it's a breed of poem with a aabbb scheme. I call it the bbbarick. ;-)

What is the scientific method? It has been, and still is, the subject of many controversies... so, rather than stating it in my words, I'll quote SkepDic: (from here... very useful page)

"There is no single scientific method. Some of the methods of science involve logic, e.g., drawing inferences or deductions from hypotheses, or thinking out the logical implications of causal relationships in terms of necessary or sufficient conditions. Some of the methods are empirical, such as making observations, designing controlled experiments, or designing instruments to use in collecting data... whatever one scientist is able to do qua scientist, any other scientist should be able to duplicate."

We'll deal with the first point here, namely, the hypothesis part. The empirical methods will be dealt with in part II.

A note on why the Scientific Method is important: Because that is the logical way we know if something works. If something works, we should be able to establish logical consistency in it, and we should be able to test it in controlled experiments. Science is falsifiable: it can be proved false. That's an essential quality... if something cannot be proved false, it explains nothing.

Astrology and Astronomy

Three confusing cheers for astrology
It certainly deserves a fine eulogy
For it brilliantly looted
Astronomy, reputed
Of it's science status by a name similogy!

Astrologers generally tell us that Saturn, Jupiter, and the stars exert forces on us, and that's how they affect our lives. I even heard an astrologer say once on TV: "Saturn is the largest planet (what???) , and it has a gravitational effect on the earth. If it can affect the earth, imagine how much it can affect us."

Now, what I say might just be rehashing what the Bad Astronomer says on his page, but it's necessary...
  • There are only 4 documented forces of nature, two of them (nuclear ones) are just that: nuclear. They don't have large scale effects. Electromagnetism is stronger than gravity, but planets do not have any net charge (if it was there, we'd have observed it as deviations from Newton's Law of Gravitation), nor are there any large scale currents. So, those three forces are rules out.
  • When we think of stars and planets affecting us, it's always gravity that strikes us. Yeah, well, if the biggest planet (Jupiter, not Saturn) "can have an effect on the earth", it'll certainly have a greater effect on us... ... Sadly, that's false: Gravitation is also proportional to the mass of the object on which it acts. And the force of Jupiter on the earth is miniscule... it's effects on us will be much smaller.
  • "If the moon can cause tides" : Again, the mass of the oceans is much greater than our mass, so, the effects of the tidal force on us will be small, very small. And planets being much farther than the moon, and the tidal force being inversely proportional to R cubed, the planets have practically no tidal effects on us .
  • One more thing: The nurse and doctors, and the furniture present at your birth has more effects on you than Jupiter.
  • Forget the stars, they are too far away. Even if they make special shapes in the sky, or may be in a certan position when an event is happenning: their force is much too little, and they were in that position years ago, it's now that we see them there (light isn't infinitely fast).
  • More info and figures about the gravitational forces of stars on us here.

Consciousness and other claims

So, if it's not one of the four forces, what is it? Astrologers have come up with various theories. Some say it's psychic ability, some say there is something in the stars which changes our consciousness, andthus affects us. Remember, if it's true, it's testable.

I'm definitely not an authority on this, so 'd like you to check out the "Theories of Astrology" page I linked to above. If you think that page is too long, well, here's small synopsis of the page:
Spiritual, magical, or informational explanations of astrology do not show any testable results. Astrology simply works because of hidden persuaders* .

*Will be covered in
Part II.


Ah, my first interview, this eve
My astrologer said "have no peeve"
And one day I'll be boss
And lead 'em to zero loss...
And I'll... aaaah! Help me, to leeeeeeeve!

(Oops, didn't see the train coming, doctor...)

Now, I know we all like to predict the future, or to have it predicted. But, but, but, life is essentially unpredictable. Missing a single train could change your life. Not accounting for a small error in a 3-body system will render it's course unpredictable after some time.In real life, there are so many variables, and even if astrology covers some of them (which it does not), at initial conditions (at birth) we will require extraordinarily accurate information to predict successfully after, say, an year or more.

Life is chaos. Life is unpredictable.

Adios till the next post.


  1. Astrology is so interesting, but I think that horoscopes are nonsense.

  2. I remember the speech or rather the 'lecture' you gave last year during Bhelande's FC class, where you completely struck down almost all astrological claims. Astrology is pretty much crap but people take recourse to it sometimes 'to not leave any stone unturned' in their eforts to succeed. I believe there should be a research study on a global scale to refute the claims of astrology.
    The study could be well publicised so that it gets a lot of media attention. This will also reach out to people who blindly believe in astrology, and make them question their faith in it. As you rightly once said, we need to give crusaders against astrology, the same kind of public attention that astrologers and advocates of other pseudo-sciences manage to garner.

  3. Wow! You completely blasted astrology! Lol
    Me personally, I don't mind astrology if it's just harmless fun (like a fortune teller at a carnival). And I'm usually an advocate of blind faith. But I do agree, blind, unwavering faith in astrology can be bad. If you're gonna blindly believe in something let it be God or some other (non harmful) deity :P

  4. I like your first two limericks in this post ^^ The third one is alright, didn't like it as much as the first two, though (by the way, is it supposed to be "one day" instead of "on day"?).