“Men at some time, are masters of their fates
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings”
William Shakespeare – in Julius Caesar
If Homeopathy and Vaasthu are regarded as pseudosciences on earth, then Astrology, the third pseudoscience, literally hits the sky.
I would like to begin this essay by mentioning the three criteria that a mental discipline should possess, for it to claim status as a science. These are
a) Precise measurement and accurate observation of nature’s phenomena.
b) An unbiased attitude of the observer who does not allow subjective views to distort or misinterpret results.
c) The ‘consistency’ of results irrespective of the observer and irrespective of ‘ frames of reference’
There is another criterion which applies only to medical science and hence I am not considering here.
Astrology, like Homeopathy and Vaasthu, does not meet the three criteria mentioned above and so, cannot be classified as a science. Therefore it has also to be only regarded as a pseudoscience.
Permit me to analyse the issue in detail.
First of all, Astrology divides all human beings into twelve groups corresponding to the twelve signs of the so-called Zodiac, with no rational basis or justification. Indeed this becomes the main topic of discussion in almost all social gatherings and parties. The conversation may start in a light-hearted manner, but soon tempers come into play as allegations and counter-allegations are levelled, ending sometimes in violence. Even advertisements in newspapers seeking partners for marriage explicitly indicate horoscopes based on the signs of the Zodiac so that a perfect” match” can be found.
Astrologers speak with an air of confidence and gusto about Saturn moving into Libra or Mars moving into Virgo while making predictions. Saturn and Mars being planets are real entities. On the other hand, Libra and Virgo, two of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, all of which are are clusters of stars, each with its own imaginary pattern, are not. Therefore the question of any planet of the solar system moving into a cluster of stars not only does not arise but is the height of absurdity.
According to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a constellation is a miscellaneous cluster of stars all being billions and billions of miles from one another. The stars are also in different planes and so completely unconnected, except that they seem to have a certain shape or pattern when seen from the earth. Since there is no real line connecting the stars the patterns perceived are absolutely imaginary. Hence one cluster may look like a fish, another like a lion and a third like a bull. Stars are also constantly on the move and the shape or pattern of a constellation keeps changing. Homo erectus looked at a set of very different patterns of constellations, 1.8 million years ago. Two million years later our descendants would see constellations of different patterns. Astronomers can predict what those shapes will look like whereas astrologers do not have any clue! Nobody has ever produced any evidence that the movements of planets with respect to constellations, or our own sun or the other planets of the solar system, has the slightest influence on human affairs and lives. There is absolutely no physical law whereby the position of distant stellar bodies at the moment of your birth could exert any influence on your life.
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There is another powerful factor, which puts in perspective the utter insignificance of man in the scheme of the mysterious universe. There are about 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. There are about 100 billion galaxies in our Milky Way alone. There are about a hundred million stars, in a galaxy. Our Sun is just an average-sized star–there are smaller stars larger stars, even up to 100 times larger. Many other solar systems have multiple suns, while ours just has one. So the earth has absolutely no significance in the cosmos. Scientists believe that various types of amino acids and molecules first appeared on earth, following the Big Bang. Then by sheer chance, one of the molecules acquired a self-replicating property. Then Darwinian natural selection took over, and life gradually evolved culminating in the appearance of a man. Thus in the vast immensities of astronomical space, and geological time, man’s ephemeral presence on earth has absolutely no relevance. That being so, it is man’s colossal ignorance that makes him believe that stars have no other business than to exert influence over the life of an insignificant creature on Earth, which itself is an insignificant planet, of microscopic size. After all, man is only one of the millions of species of life on earth. Why should man assume that astrology is selective and influences his life alone? Is this not absurd!
Devotees of astrology, know what traits are expected of them and accordingly live up to the expectations not to a significant degree but enough to make claims in a drawing-room. The domineering Leo wife may dismiss her Aquarian husband as an imaginative dreamer since that is what astrology says.
Dawkins also refers to a test known as reliability. It is to see whether different practitioners (astrologers in this case) when confronted with the same evidence agree. They do not. So also the same astrologer confronted with the same evidence twice gives two different predictions!
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All over the world, books on astrology outsell books on astronomy, which is the only science that is qualified to study heavenly bodies. Its offshoot, astrophysics, also naturally has the same sanctity. Everything we know about the universe today, including the solar system, its birth, evolution and fate is the result of hundreds of years of fruitful research in these two pure sciences
In addition to what Shakespeare makes Cassius say to Brutus in Julius Caesar ( quoted above), he makes Edmund say in King Lear
“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and teachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon’s Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising”
It is unbelievable but nevertheless true that Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion believed in Astrology and in fact practised astrology.
So here we have two people who lived at about the same time, one the greatest dramatist of all time, who condemned astrology, and another a famous astronomer who wrote treatises on astrology and held an official position as a professional astrologer!
According to Dawkins one aspect of human nature itself is that people are excited and remember correct guesses( by sheer fluke) made by an astrologer but ignore his wrong predictions. And news of that one correct guess travels fast and the astrologer’s reputation is made. Devotees will flock to him, brainwashing one another!
There are also safe predictions like ‘there is foreign travel in the offing if you play your, cards right’ or ‘be cautious about what you eat on Wednesday, as otherwise, you may fall sick’ or ‘be calm while talking to your spouse on Friday, as domestic harmony may be disrupted’. These are remarks which shake the very foundations of astrology for if an event is preordained how can you prevent it by taking precautions?.
Here I would like the reader to carry out a simple test. Kindly ask any astrologer you meet next time” will I be going to Delhi, next week? “. If he says. ‘yes’, refrain from travelling. If he says ” no’ do go to Delhi. This will call the bluff, even if it causes you a little inconvenience!
Belief in astrology due to utter ignorance can perhaps be forgiven if we are dealing with a primitive society in existence before the advent of modern science. But at this stage in the evolution of our advanced human society, to talk about stellar objects influencing human destiny is unforgivable especially in educated people like bureaucrats, engineers, doctors, politicians and Judges.
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This most unscientific discipline has gained popularity by exploiting the gullible, the ignorant and the superstitious.
Dawkins asks why professional astrologers should not be prosecuted for fraud when pharmaceutical companies that sell birth control pill are being prosecuted for fraud, on the complaints of women who find themselves pregnant after taking them.
An anecdote narrated by Dawkins is amusing and drives home the point. His wife and a starlet had gone to visit a film Director. The starlet reportedly asked him to tell her under what sign he was born. He pointed to the” Don’t disturb sign” above!
But astrology does have some unexpected benefit in India where mismatch of horoscopes is used as a convenient excuse by one of the two parties to reject a marriage alliance, without friction or embarrassment, when other factors are found to be favourable!
Let us, therefore, march forward in this age of science, and technology, discarding all books on astrology into the dustbin of history. Otherwise, posterity will never forgive us.