2006-11-10 / Columnists

Drawing On Science

Commentary by Stephen Yaeger


A pseudo-science consists of a series of hypotheses said to be true, but actually lacks any supportable evidence or observations. Astrology is an example of a pseudo-science. It can be traced back some 3,000 years when the ancient Chaldeans and Assyrians, among others, began looking toward the patterns of stars. They believed that such patterns influenced the lives of humans. The belief that patterns found in nature influence human behavior most likely began when man first became aware of the world around him. It was also accepted that the stars and other celestial bodies have an effect on a person's life and behavior. Read the words in the 1941 movie, "The Wolfman": Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. Although written for the movie the words are based on ancient beliefs; things in nature control a man's personality.

If one event follows another then, surely, the first one influenced the second. For example, if a comet was spotted at the time of a person's birth, then that person must be destined to be famous. This was the case with Sitting Bull, born around 1831 with the appearance of Halley's Comet. Sitting Bull was one of the masterminds of Custer's defeat. Was it the comet that accounted for his success? Or was it just a series of events throughout his life that led to the moment of the Little Big Horn battle? Now if the series of events were due to the comet also, then that must have been one heck of a rock! By the way Mark Twain's death in 1910 was accompanied by the same comet.

Now let's cut to the chase and see why astrology is a business and a joke rather than a true science.

Ancient observers tracked the paths of the planets each night. They discovered that the stars seemed to remain in a given zone in space. They called this zone the zodiac. They determined that groups of stars formed patterns, which were called constellations. They also found that the planets, sun and moon have various positions within a constellation during the year. A horoscope consists of a chart showing the positions of the celestial bodies at a given time. Their point in space is related to the constellations at the moment one's horoscope is being determined. Now here's the problem: the original astrologers fixed the stars to represent twelve zodiacal constellations; each constellation having a sign and a given personality trait. In 1867 BCE the twelve signs were measured from a point where the sun crossed the celestial equator on March 21, the spring equinox. This point was the constellation Aries. So, a person born between March 21 and April 20 was born under the sign of Aries with a given personality and future. The other signs are Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.

Each sign is associated with, among other things, an element, a house and a planet. An astrologist would tell me I was born under the sign of Taurus, April 24. My element is Earth and my planet is Venus. And, because of this, I was destined to have a specific personality and future; the same personality and future along with millions of others born on April 24; before and after as well!

But astrologers hadn't counted on precession (=the angle of the earth's axis changes in space so that the north and south poles move in a small circle). Precession was discovered by Hipparchus around 130 BCE. As a result the apparent positions of the stars are slowly changing. One precession circuit occurs every 26,000 years. Because of precession the first point of Aries relative to the constellations has shifted and is shifting in space. The original signs no longer correspond to their appropriate constellations today! You see the sign for Aries is now in Pisces. As for me, I was born under the sign of Aries not Taurus. Shocking! All my past horoscopes have steered me in the wrong direction. Beam me up Scotty!

How did the astrologers repair such a contradiction based on scientific fact? Easy. They said that the signs were more important than the constellations. So they set the signs at 30o intervals measured from the spring equinox of March 21. But, by Zeus, the sun, today, is still in the constellation of Pisces most of this time. Ridiculous, isn't it. You can't mold science facts to fit your supernatural beliefs. To make matters worse for astrology, the stars are in constant motion. As a result the constellations, themselves, are changing patterns. Astrologers can solve this problem too. Come up with new constellation patterns and characters. Astrology, you see, is one step removed from the realities of science. Yet millions of people read their daily horoscopes looking for the way to success in a number of things including marriage, making money and avoiding problems.

Here's another thought: the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (poor dwarf Pluto) were discovered in 1781, 1846 and 1930 respectively. This means that all of the horoscopes before 1930 had to be incorrect! Besides why didn't pre-1930's astrologers know that there must be more planets somewhere out there. Couldn't they sense their influences? Even today astrologers are in conflict regarding the right way to make and read horoscopes.

Not convinced? Here's the simplest challenge of all: have a friend go to the page in this paper (or any paper) where the horoscope appears. Have him/her choose any horoscope at random and read it to you. Then read another and then a third. Which one would you choose as your horoscope? If that doesn't convince you, I have a job for you: go out and make sense of the new traffic patterns in the Rockaways. Maybe the patterns mean something written in the stars...something only an astrologer knows. Questions/comments? E-mail Steve: Drawingonscience@aol.com

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