Astrology

Given that one branch of this pitiful pseudoscience maintains that the gravitational attraction and relative position of certain celestial orbs at the time of one’s birth somehow have a lasting effect on one’s personality, is it not a tiny bit alarming that people may base important decisions on it?

Is it also not slightly disturbing that just about every organ in the country enriches a charlatan by carrying a horoscope column, in an attempt to satiate the incredible desire of the dim-witted public for this rubbish? This Scorpio believes so.

The only argument in favour of astrology – given the gaping vacuum of empirical evidence in support of it, or explanation of mechanisms by which it might work – seems to be that nobody has managed to disprove it. Hmm that sounds familiar, vicar.

Actually I’m a bit confused by this dreadful online dictionary’s definition of astrology:

The study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs.

Well yes, up to a point. Clearly the moon causes tides. This is because the moon is sufficiently massive and close to a sufficiently massive body of water. Human affairs could easily be disturbed by a large wave if the human in question is stood on Mullion Harbour fiddling with her camera during a capricous Spring tide. Occasionally Selene gets in the way of Helios and we marvel at the eclipse, and so on. I wouldn’t argue with that, but these are the observations of astronomy, not astrology. Stupid dictionary.

However, according to the inverse square law, if the celestial bodies are sufficiently far away and/or acting on small objects (e.g humans) then the gravitational effect they will have on earth is minuscule and outweighed by objects closer to home, such as, in the case of the newborn, a rotund midwife. This observation alone debunks astrology.

So why do people fall for it? Given a sufficiently large set of data you will be able to sift through it in an almost infinite number of ways and eventually find some sort of correlation with something that involves movement/alignment of the stars, planets etc. It would be a surprise if you didn’t as the permutations and opportunities for curve-fitting are endless. On finding a so-called magic correlation the obvious mistake is to attribute any causality to it, but unfortunately people love doing that.

Coincidences are much more common than we might imagine as there are so many ways in which they can happen. How often does a flushed yummy mummy gracefully dismount her urban tractor to exclaim: “How amazing! I bumped into someone in Waitrose today with exactly the same name as me, her daughter goes to my old school and do you know she’s even wearing exactly the same fur gilet that I bought last month from Agnes B! What are the chances of that?!”

Well, the chances of someone meeting these predetermined conditions would be tiny, granted, but of course she didn’t predetermine them. It is likely that there would be an immense pool of things the two people might have in common and the three mentioned represent only a fraction. In fact it would be unusual for coincidences like this NOT to happen as there are so many ways in which they can. The paradoxical conclusion is that is would be very unlikely for unlikely events not to occur.

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