Superstitions, Stars and Pigeons
Astronomy is the science of stars and outer space stuff. Not everybody knows this and so astronomers get insulted when they get called astrologers. Astrologers will tell you that astrology is also a science, but is it?
Astrology is about the idea you can make predictions depending on when you were born. But when a baby is born, sometimes it rushes out like a nun from a brothel. Other times it needs surgical removal. Birth can be a few moments or many hours. Now this presents a problem for astrology. Astrologers claim the “moment of birth” is like pushing some cosmic reset button. The position of the planets and stars at that moment is supposed to have a defining effect on our lives. They always ask for the day, the hour and if you know it, the minute of your birth. They plot a chart based on this time and make predictions about your love life or finances.
Getting the time of birth correct is, according to the astrologers, very important. But when exactly is that “moment of birth?” Is it when the head comes out or when the midwife stands back and looks at the clock? Do midwives and doctors do a continuing education paper on astrology so all medical professionals are in agreement as to when birth actually happens? And what about the clocks? Are hospital clocks universally accurate? What about home births? Are all clocks on the right time? A few minutes fast or slow could make a huge difference. You might go through life thinking you were a Gemini when in fact you were a Taurus. And then there is the problem of daylight saving. Do astrological charts make adjustments for summertime hours?
New Zealand has had a permanent half-hour of daylight saving since World War Two, plus the normal one hour we add on in summer. Do they ever take this into account?
Astrologers often tell us that astrology is a very old method of divination. But what did they do in the days before accurate clocks? Or accurate calendars for that matter. Pope Gregory XIII reformed the old Julian calendar in 1582. In 1752, the British parliament eliminated the third to the thirteenth of September to realign the calendar with the position of the Sun. Gregory removed 5-14 October 1582. But since 1582, our calendar has become misaligned by nearly three hours. Inserting an extra day (Feb 29) every four years doesn’t quite correct the error. (The above facts I have carefully misquoted from David Ewing Duncan’s book “The Calendar”, Fourth Estate, 1999, London.)
When astrologers ask for your birth time, do they take these things into account? Could astrology be a superstition? And what is a superstition anyway?
If you put a pigeon in a cage and feed it randomly, you can get him to do the strangest things. A computer can be used to control the feeding so that every now and then, a pellet of food drops into the cage. The pigeon doesn’t know about random number generators so he starts to wonder if there is any way he can make more pellets fall. The pigeon notices he was scratching his wing when a pellet fell out. After eating the pellet, he thinks to himself, “I wonder if scratching my wing made the pellet fall.” The pigeon proceeds to test the hypothesis. It scratches its wing a few times, and another pellet falls out. Well, that proves it.
The pigeon, not being good at experimental design, doesn’t realise this wasn’t a very good test. He spends all day, every day, frantically scratching his wing. If he scratches his wing and a pellet doesn’t fall out, well, it must be because he didn’t do it right.
This is called superstitious behavior. A belief is superstitious if two unrelated events are believed to be related. In this case, the pigeon believes that scratching his wing causes the falling of the pellet.
In the case of astrology, the astrologer thinks there is a relationship between the position of the stars at birth, and the person’s personality. But is there a relationship?
If there is no relationship, then astrology is a superstition.
Scientists have tested astrology by drawing up bogus charts and seeing if anyone could notice a difference. Nobody did. Serious astrologers are very rude about the newspaper astrology predictions. Those “sun sign” predictions are considered too general. For a real chart they prefer an “accurate birth time”. But they never have an accurate birth time.
Remember that stuff about changing from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars. I think the last country to change over was China in 1949. But according to my mate Stu at the pub, the astrologers are still using the Julian calendar. Why would this matter? Well, when an astrologer asks for your birth time it is so he can determine where the stars and planets were at your birth. But because they are still using the Julian calendar they are about 13 days out. In 1482 AD, the calendar was 10 days out. Since then it has diverged another 3.4 days (approx.) This means that nearly half the people who think they are Aries are not.
Astrologers have been drawing up bogus charts for years without realising it. If the birth time is incorrect then the positions of the stars will be different and so the astrological predictions should be different.
Since birth times used by astrologers are never accurate, then modern astrology predictions should never be accurate. The fact that some people are satisfied with their readings must therefore be good evidence that astrology does not work.
It appears there is no real relationship between the position of the stars at birth and our personalities. Or at least none that have been detected by astrologers.
Astrology looks like a superstition. It smells like a superstition. It tastes like a superstition.
Try not to step in it.
John Riddell is a Gemini. Possibly.