The Fault In Our Stars

June 27, 2017

Astrology. The belief that somehow a handful, out of the infinite existing cosmic bodies have an individual impact on each of our lives in a different and predictable manner, depending on the date, time and place of our births.

I studied a bit of Hindu Astrology when I was in school, Linda Goodman at a later point, and various related books at different points in time, and have spent a lot of hours poring over the combination of numbers that apparently define our lives. I am extremely curious about things, especially the ones that so many people believe in; and I try to understand them as much as I can. After not being able to find any scientifically provable basis in Astrology, I didn't care much for it. Until recently, when people's belief in this cultural delusion ended up with me losing the person I deeply loved.

Here is my attempt to deconstruct this belief system. Although the burden of proof is on the ones making the claim of the efficacy of their system, we clearly live in a backwards world. See Russell's teapot.

Astrology is the belief that huge balls of rocks, liquids, gases, and nuclear fusion reactions billions or trillions of miles away from Earth can affect the financial, sexual, emotional, and employment situations of individual carbon-based life forms on one specific planet.

The Origins

Astrology came to existence at a point in the history of human civilisation when we had negligible understanding of the way the world works. Floods, droughts, tornadoes, eclipses, diseases, loss of crops and everything else that went wrong was attributed to some external entity. The name and designation of that entity entirely depended on the culture and the belief system of the people in that time. They were often gods, demons, fairies, angels or a similar group.

Among Indo-European peoples, astrology has been dated to the 3rd millennium BC, with roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. (Wikipedia)

It started off as something used to predict season and nature based on what people saw in the skies, since that was mystical and unintelligible to them; and turned into what it is today – a major farce affecting the lives of people, often in damaging ways; while making money for the charlatans. If you believe in astrology, I implore you to go to the Wikipedia page, expand the list of astrological signs, and the history of astrology, and then ask yourself the question: Do you believe in all of them? If not, why do you believe selectively in one or two? If the answer is something other than "because people before/around me do so", I would like to have a discussion with you. Otherwise you just proved my point.

Let's get it out of the way:

Astrology has nothing to do with God, even though both might be sold at the same shops nowadays.

Hindu Astrology

Hindu astrology depends on the 28 Nakshatras, or the lunar constellations – which define a major aspect of astrology. Except, there is a major flaw. These concepts were formulated in a time when people didn't even know that the constellations are an arrangement of individual stars as visible from their location on earth, and not entities in themselves. The constellations aren't the same even across the two hemispheres. Essentially, it is the outcome of an ancient connect-the-dots game that people played when watching stars at night. That is not very different from seeing faces in the clouds. Our brains are wired to find identifiable patterns, especially in abstract formations. How many times have you imagined seeing a human, animal or ghost in the dark?

The horoscope signs are also a relic from the past, identifiable and important in the time they were coined; but carrying barely any meaning anymore. I mean, wouldn't you update Libra to be a digital scale? Or replace the bow-and-arrow with an SMG? And what do you need a water-pourer for anyway?

The Planets

Astrology revels under the assumption that the planets have a direct impact on our lives (this creates another side-business for the gemstone dealers, but let's focus on the issue at hand). While I agree that there is likely to be a minor impact from the minuscule amount of gravity the planets exert on each of our bodies, it is negligible compared to the amount of gravity your neighbour's dog exerts on you. The only other way I can expect an impact from the planets is if they change their orbits, in which case we have bigger problems on our hands.

This is without even considering the fact that Indian Astrology considers Sun and Moon to be planets; Earth is somehow not on the list, and then there are Rahu and Ketu, which no one in the world has ever seen or heard from. Which makes this whole list of impactful bodies nothing more than mumbo-jumbo; not to mention that it doesn't even know about the 2 planets beyond Saturn - Uranus and Neptune.

This list itself makes it a non-starter for me. How do some of the real planets have an impact while the others don't; while only one out of the millions of stars, and a single satellite does; at the same time the imaginary ones seems to have especially scary effect on our lives.

The Premise

It is sold under the premise that your date, time, and place of birth determine what happens to you for the entirety of your existence in a predictable manner. There are so many gaping holes in this premise, that I don't even know where to begin.

The Grouping

Somehow there were 12 groups that everyone in the world could be put into, when the population of known civilisation was a few thousand, and the same continues to be true today that we are about to reach 8 billion humans on this planet. It would make more sense to group people's fortunes based on their countries, or their dietary habits.

Oh, and there actually should be 13, not 12 signs now. Messes up all the charts, doesn't it?

The Timing

I am old enough to remember the days of analog clocks, where every clock would be a little off from the other, because hard as you may try, you can never precisely align them manually. Let's not even talk about the time before the second hand was invented; or before clocks existed, and we had to rely on very rudimentary ways of telling time. Precision of time was impossible to manage. It is beyond me how these factors are conveniently ignored by something that claims to critically depend on time for its calculations.

How is the time of birth defined anyway? It isn't as if there is one moment in time when one suddenly appears on this planet. Childbirth is a painful process, often lasting for minutes or hours. Is there someone sitting there recording the precise moment? And when is one considered "born"? When the first part of their body exits their mother? When their entire body is out? When the umbilical cord is cut? When they take their first breath? How about C-sections or ventilator babies?

Speaking of timing, the astronomical distances also involve astronomical time. What you see happening right now trillions of kilometers away has already happened at some point in the past. How does Astrology account for that?

The Logic

Logic isn't welcome where people believe in things without proof. People often believe in things because they see others believing in those things; rarely making the effort to question the reasoning or logic behind it.

If the date, time and place is all it takes to determine a person's life; a lot of babies born in the same hospital at the same time should end up with lives mirroring each other. Not to mention that the precision needed here is only at the city/region level which immensely broadens the possibility of multiple people having mirrored lives.

If astrology was indeed an accurate prediction of people's lives, you can bet that those in power (government agencies and corporations) would maintain a database of each one of our horoscopes and use it to run the world. Why waste billions of dollars on research, marketing, and intelligence gathering when all you need are the birth records of individuals to predict their lives and decisions?

Why do I need to get out of the bed, or do anything at all, if everything in my life has been determined at the time of my birth?

And why are people selling astrology on TV? Shouldn't these people be billionaires by virtue of knowing what is about to happen in their and others' lives? If I had the power to know what is about to happen to others, I would be on a retainer with the richest and the most powerful instead of peddling this to gullible people every morning. With all the computing power in the world available today, I would find the perfect birthing combinations for various outcomes, and sell that information for a huge price. If I can predict the combinations (it isn't that big a number, as I'll show later), it is not too hard to predict the time and place of birth which makes one a President, or a billionaire. And wouldn't those locations of birth be sold or rented to the highest bidders? Wouldn't there be businesses dedicated to aligning the time of birth, and advising people on when they should conceive? Why are all the capitalists of the world, who can sell even water and air, missing out on these multi-billion-dollar opportunities?

I have not seen a fortune-teller or pundit richer than an industrialist. Why do they sell their services by broadcasting on media? Wouldn't they already know the people who are going to give them money, by virtue of being able to predict things? Wouldn't a better investment of their abilities be in playing the lottery or the stock market which is likely to make them way more money in way shorter duration? Why aren't all these pundits sitting in NASDAQ; or why does lottery continue to exist, despite so many people apparently having the ability to defeat the game? Why aren't they buying the right tickets? If your answer is "because their horoscope makes them pundits and not lottery winners", then please tell me why don't they collaborate with the people whose horoscopes make them lottery winners?

I'm not saying that all of these people are charlatans. It is possible that they themselves truly believe that they are doing the right thing, or preserving an art/knowledge form. Unfortunately that doesn't reduce the damage they cause to the lives of people who buy into it.

I haven't even brought up the concepts of law of averages, correlation-causation, or the factor of chance or probability, or various logical fallacies involved.

Since astrology can do a great job of predicting our lives, it should certainly be able to predict major events, accidents, disasters, natural or man-made calamities, and even death. Yet I have not known any astrologer to be able to do that. You might want to argue that it isn't the "science" that is faulty, but the limited abilities of the practitioners, but then why make any life decision based on the advice of these pundits who clearly don't have enough knowledge? I would happily wait for someone who can prove their abilities, before taking their advice.

Why were no astrologers able to predict the Bengal famine when millions died in 1943? Or in Germany around the same time? Or in Kedarnath most recently? I bet there were plenty of pundits in the area promising people a good future, if only they would pay them. I do not intend to make light of the deceased. But one needs to ask why astrology has failed to predict the future every single time where it could have the most impact, yet pretends it can predict things in certain unverifiable personal and narrow fields.

What sickens me is that these people misuse and betray the trust the hurt, the poor, the grieving put into them. The ones who have a phenomenal life do not go to astrologers, only the ones with problems or questions do. The downside of believing in such superstition is also that when things go wrong despite following the astrologer's advice, people blame themselves, or the luck; but never the astrologer. There have been studies in various fields that corroborate that people are more likely to blame themselves than the framework they are dealing with; if the problem seems vague/big enough.

Why do astrologers always ask you "What are your questions/concerns", or "Which area of life do you want to know about"? I would think that they could use their abilities to automatically figure out what is going wrong, or bothering us in our lives.

How did astrology become a predictor of employment when the concept of employment for the majority of the population didn't even exist until a few decades ago? Or of expected foreign trips when the concept itself didn't exist too long ago?

I wish people asked (themselves and others) more questions. Don't believe things just because others do. As a rule of thumb, always have a good enough reason to back up your beliefs with evidence. If there isn't enough reason, you should drop that belief. Critical Thinking should be a mandatory part of school curriculum.

The simplest logical argument against astrology is 'twins'.

Here are some experiments you might want to try:

  1. Swap your birth chart with another person's, and take both of them to an astrologer. See if he can figure it out.
  2. Visit 5 astrologers in your city, or across the country. Don't give them information. Ask for it. See how correct, and aligned with each other are their predictions.

The Math

Let's take a look at the mathematical aspect of this so-called "science" which claims to heavily depend on math.

There are a total of 12 boxes (houses) in a typical horoscope chart, in which 9 planets are placed. However, Rahu and Ketu are always placed opposite each other, which makes total 8 moving entities.
Number of combinations: 12^8 = 429,981,696
Pair combination of Rahu-Ketu = 2
Total number of combinations = 429,981,696 * 2 = 859,963,392
Current population of the world: 7,500,000,000+ (source)
Dividing the two, we get: 8.7+

If Astrology indeed uniquely defines, and predicts everything about your life; on average, there are at least 7 other 'you's on this planet (excluding yourself) right now. And this number will grow as the world population does.

Also remember that we have included all chart combinations (including all planets being placed in the same house, which I have never seen). The real number of combinations would be much smaller.

Fun fact: More than 83 million people were born last year (source). Which means that every decade, at least one person is born with your exact horoscope, including the possibility that they are born in a place where they might succumb to infant mortality. I bet your horoscope doesn't feel as unique anymore.

Debunked: Uniqueness.

Vagueness

Science, by its very definition, is a precise endeavour. Astrology is the exact opposite of that. All statements are made in vague enough a manner to apply to any and every situation. You could swap out your horoscope with someone else without anyone being none the wiser.

Would you feel comfortable driving a car if there was no way of knowing the speed it would go at? Would you board a plane if you didn't know if it would stay in the air throughout your journey and make a safe landing? Then why do people make life's biggest decisions based on the vague and unverifiable bullshit spit by someone sitting in their home whose livelihood is telling you things, or suggesting solutions to imaginary problems, which somehow always end up directly benefiting them?

Debunked: Precision.

Inconsistency

It is pointless to expect consistency from something which is entirely made-up. But since it is claimed to be a science, I would like to know why there are multiple schools of thought, different ways of calculating, and disagreements among the astrology pundits? I have never known Newton's formulas to vary depending on whether they were being used in India or in Korea.

Astrology meets none of the criteria that apply to science. There are no studies, research, or peer-reviewed papers done by its supporters. And science has never found any verifiable proof that can deem astrology as credible.

Debunked: Consistency.

The Need

Life is scary and unpredictable. It was a thousand times worse before the modern times. Death, war, famines, diseases (epidemic and endemic), were commonplace, and before modern science, there was no good way to empirically determine the cause and solve the problems. Germs were a concept unheard of; infant mortality was super common, and even after being born, humans were likely to die, especially in the first 5 years of their life.

In a world where not enough people have knowledge or education, and nobody really knows what is causing the problems, it is not unexpected to credit or blame whatever powerful entities you imagine to cause that. These entities were often forces of nature (water, fire, air) and were deified in many cultures. On the level above it were the things people could see, but couldn't interact with. These were the celestial bodies. There is a reason gods lived in the sky - because it was everywhere, yet beyond our reach.

We have an inherent need for certainty. And by associating these natural forces, or celestial bodies with what was happening around us, we tried to tell ourselves that these incidents were being caused by powers beyond our reach, yet within our sight.

The need to know the future stems from the unpredictable and dangerous world. With limited energy and resources, we hope to plan ahead if we could predict what is coming. In the present day, this problems finds solution in the form of big data, machine learning and prediction systems. In the era with limited knowledge, astrology was a bet people made. And since people didn't understand either law of averages, nor probability or correlation-causation, it seemed to work.

Today, it is used to affirm our biases and beliefs. Unwilling to accept the unpredictability of life, we twist the facts and reality to fit our worldview, instead of the other way around. We like to believe that we can predict and control what is coming, despite no real evidence to prove it.

We have landed on the moon, and our robots are driving around on Mars; yet a big chunk of our population believes in a piece of paper written by a flawed human, based on incorrect timings, devised on unprovable principles claiming that Mars and Moon has a bigger impact on our lives than the neighbourhood dog. I sincerely disagree.

The Challenge

Here is my challenge:

I will happily part with 20% of the amount if an astrologer, or fortune-teller, or psychic can accurately tell me the exact amount of money in my bank accounts, to 2 decimal places, combined, in that moment; without applying any worldly means; just by using the same methods they claim to use in their daily practice.

Here are some videos debunking astrology:






I'm open to any factual and provable inputs that support or negate my stance on this topic. Non-answers like "it has been this way for ages" will not be entertained.