RULE #13: DROP THE SUPERSTITIONS
(CAUTION: Possible stormy/controversial topic ahead. Don’t like controversy? Might want to switch to the funny pages now.)
Johannes Kepler is one of my personal heroes. Have I ever mentioned that before? Probably have. If not, now you know. Stood up to a lot of ignorance in a time of phenomenal violence and idiocy. Yes, it’s easy to look back several hundred years and play Armchair Quarterback. (Believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of that many times over with my forecasts and various members of the public coaching me on what they consider to have went wrong.)
Kepler lived in a time of superstitiousness and fear, not entirely unlike today. “What? Now wait a minute!” you may say. “We are in the post-modern age! We are not superstitious at all!”
Really? Wait a few paragraphs and you may be surprised.
False beliefs when it comes to superstitions really irk me some time. One of those things that, as a scientist, get under my skin to a level of irritation that rivals fingernails on chalkboards. (Kids, ask your parents what chalkboards were.)
I just don’t get a lot of them, to be honest. The rest are just plain silly, at best.
Broken mirrors? So what? Glass that fractured along geometric lines/angles.
Walking under a ladder? Bad choices, ignoring physics and probability.
Chucking salt over your shoulder because you spilled it? Waste of good chemical compounds in my opinion.
Black cats? I don’t mind them. I’m just not a cat person.
(Strangely, I think they know that.)
The number 13? It’s a number between 12 and 14. That’s it and that’s all.
“We live in a country where people are afraid of the number 13! What kind of country is this?! There’s a disconnect between the country we think we are and the country we actually are.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
The year 2000? Just another number that falls betwen 1000 and 3000. Getting the picture? Same idea applies to the year 2012.
The whole astrology thing? I grew up through the 1970’s where the whole “What’s your sign?” approach was a cop-out to the whole break-the-ice, introducing-yourself-properly routine.
Never understood it.
I don’t believe in luck. I really don’t. I don’t visit casinos for the games, as I know that Lady Luck (so to speak) works for the house and knows what side her bread is buttered on. (Bonus points to those who can identify the series and episode where that quote came from.)
I had my mid-life crisis several years ago when my first wife divorced me after her alcohol-and-prescription-drug habit became too noticeable and hauled me into court to ask for alimony, even though I was the one who had custody of our son and did not have – unlike her – four DUI charges and a trail of documented doctor office visits asking for new prescriptions.
I don’t recall a crash of black cats crossing my path in early 2002, or driving through a series of mirrors in my truck on the way to work to cause this to happen. I don’t know what my planets, being a supposed “Cancer” sign (whatever that means) were doing, or if a black hole darted through my birth chart at the wrong time, but I don’t believe I invited it by being born on the wrong day or doing something stupidly ‘unlucky’ at the time.
“Never tell me the odds!” – Han Solo (Truer words were never spoken.)
(Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT bashing religion in any way. I don’t do it to others, and I don’t want it done towards me. Likewise, I do firmly and totally believe in the idea/concept of karma. Part of that comes from my very Lutheran background that taught us what Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself.” Pretty easy when you think of it, and – come to think of it – something that a lot of people tend to ignore on a daily basis, sadly. What goes around comes around. Always has. Always will.)
The idea that predictions can be made about future events on a daily, personal level based on where the Sun, Moon and planets are is a bit sketchy to me, and always has been. How exactly does planetary position at your birth, or during the time you are alive, affect your future? Shouldn’t the people born on the exact same day have the exact same forecast throughout the rest of their days? Especially since it has been explained to me by experts that the whole problem of astrology, the basis of it, has changed since the time of the Babylonians. The planet you live on? It wobbles.
This planet you live on is not as stable as you may think. When Stonehenge was relatively new, and a marvel for the time – a clock made from stone and sunlight – it was designed to show what time of the year it was.
I have made a paper and foamboard copy of this in the labs of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum so students can see what it looked like for themselves and use flashlights to represent the Sun. Most of the students who come through the labs at the Pink Palace don’t have an idea about astrology. I’m sure that many of them get a good idea of it from their parents or grandparents or other adults.
The Sun, a long time ago, was designed to rise directly between two stone monoliths. The ancients, who designed the stone clock/calendar, had no idea that there would be a drift over time in regards to the position between Sun and stones. Nowadays, the Sun on the solstices no longer rises in the expected position; it’s over by just a bit. In another few thousand years, it will be even farther.
The same thing is true for astrologers: the Sun is drifting. It no longer rises where it did back when the Babylonians were setting the rules (so to speak) for this system of fortune telling. The idea that the Earth continues to wobble is apparently winding its way downwards into the astrologers domain, who can no longer ignore the fact that changes in the place the Sun rises are causing their own forecasts to go wibbly-wobbly. If this can be believed, then my own birthdate, July 20, is now on a cusp between signs. If this is the case, I am both a Cancer and a Gemini.
As of today, 2014, supposedly, I am no longer a Cancer. I am a Cancer/Gemini, as the Sun’s shift over time has placed me in a new sign, or on the “cusp” of two signs. If that’s true, which sign do I follow? Do I get to choose? Do I subscribe to both forecasts? What if they contradict each other (which they often do from time to time, column to column and forecaster to forecaster – don’t believe me? Compare them! Do it yourself and you may be surprised what you get. And, whatever you do get, it’s not scientifical in the least!) What are the rules here? Isn’t this about as subjective as some educator reviews?
Supposedly, there’s a place in the Zodiac where the Sun wanders towards every year that doesn’t fall into any house or sign or galactic neighborhood or whatever to where another Zodiac sign is needed: Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder! Even more confusing.
Astrology, as I’ve explained to members of the public who have called in to the weather office, is bunk. Complete and total bunk. There is no evidence that it works. None. A pseudo-science if ever there was one. Finding your way through the junk science to the real science can be a daunting idea.
And, as an added bonus, a lot of us believe in pseudo-science:
“I believe in a lot of astrology.” So commented pop megastar Katy Perry in a recent GQinterview. – Mother Jones website
According to data from the National Science Foundation’s just-released 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, Americans are moving in Perry’s direction. In particular, the NSF reports that the percentage of Americans who think astrology is “not at all scientific” declined from 62 percent in 2010 to just 55 percent in 2012 (the last year for which data is available). As a result, NSF reports that Americans are apparently less skeptical of astrology than they have been at any time since 1983. – MJ
In response, a substantial minority of Americans, ranging from 31 to 45 percent depending on the year, say consider astrology either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific.” That’s bad enough—the NSF report compares it with China, where 92 percent of the public does not believe in horoscopes—but the new evidence suggests we are also moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say astrology is scientifically bunk has been declining ever since a high point for astrology skepticism in 2004, when it hit 66 percent. – MJ
(There is one exception of the stars being aligned at the right place and the right time that falls into place with one event in history, depending on your beliefs, but I’ll cover that in a future blog entry as it has a much bigger significance in its own way, as it should. Stay tuned.)
From George Bernard Shaw, from the preface of his play St. Joan, describing what amounts to a feeling of science intruding on the human race’s beliefs:
“In the middle ages, people believed that the Earth was flat, for which they had at least the evidence of their senses; we believe it to be round, not because as many as one percent of us could give the physical reason for so quaint a belief, but because modern science has convinced us that nothing that is obvious is true, and that everything that is magical, improbable, extraordinary, gigantic, microscopic, heartless or outrageous is scientific.”
I spoke recently to one very nice lady, middle-aged, who calls with questions involving weather. She has said that she wanted to be a meteorologist when she was younger. I try to keep encouraging her by saying that it’s never too late. She usually balks at the idea of trying something like that. She asked me, one or two phone calls ago, what I thought of astrology, the newspaper columns, do the planets really have any influence over us on Earth. I told her what I just stated above. She seemed to be a bit more well-informed by the time my over-the-phone diatribe was over with, and was a bit more comfortable in confronting her friends and family who believe that astrology is just as believable and trustworthy as science. I guess that if you can’t trust the planets, who can you trust, right?
Isn’t there enough wonder and amazement about the Universe as it is that we don’t need to fiddle around with orbits and supposed patterns in the sky to create a system of predictions that don’t work and has never worked? The rocks and gas that have coalesced into planets are what can help you tell your future? Excuse me?
Here’s another interesting figure to ponder: the number of astrological columns and articles have soared in the last few years, while the number of science articles has gone steadily downwards.
So what’s behind these data? The lead author of the report chapter in question, public opinion specialist John Besley of Michigan State University, cautions that we should probably wait for further data “to see if it’s a real change” before speculating. But, he admits, the apparent increase in astrology belief “popped out to me when I saw it.”
So if it turns out that Americans are indeed becoming even more devoted to astrology than they already are?
As with many things in life, there’s a Shakespeare quotation appropriate to the situation: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – Mother Jones
Here’s another, more worrying idea, about the solar system we live in. Take a look at this graphic:
This represents the latest count of NEO’s or Near Earth Objects. Asteroids, comets and the like whizzing around the solar system we inhabit, some at thousands of miles per hour. If some of these objects cross the Earth’s orbit at any point in time, then they have a chance – albeit a minor one – of hitting our planet.
Why aren’t we working on finding more of these objects, plotting their paths, using mathematics and science to do so, and promoting more science in everyday life?
Why aren’t the astrologers coming forward to forecast where these giant (or tiny) rocks are and how they will affect us in the future?
Here’s another big question: why don’t the minor planets and asteroids figure into the astrology equation and method of forecasting?! NO ONE I have ever debated astrology with has EVER been able to answer that satisfactorily.
A recent poll indicated that one out of four Americans did not know that the Earth moved around the Sun; they thought the opposite, a view that was common about five hundred years ago. That poll was taken not too long ago.
I often think that a lot of people pay more attention to astrology and not astronomy as it gives them (so they think) some control in what seems to be an uncontrollable life and existence-in-general. The idea that we may get whacked any day with an asteroid from deep space may be better comforted by the idea that at least the position of the stars and planets against the backdrop of the sky telling us ahead of time that our day ahead will be nice, if the Moon is in the right house. (Still no idea what that means.)
This cartoon has always rung very true for me about people’s opinions and practices. The poor astronomer resorts to astrology, casting forecasts from the rich people…
Unfortunately, I wonder how many astronomers have had to resort to this practice, up to and including Professor Kepler way back when.
The basic bottom line is this: astrology is not worth the paper it’s printed on, the website space it takes up or the time it takes you to search for it in your favorite magazine that features it. This is my opinion, not those of my employer or anyone else. I realize it may not sit well with those who value this idea of planetary forecasts affecting personal fortune. Don’t like this page? Go start your own. There are plenty of pages out on the interwebs espousing the value, power and inherent and obvious factualness of the practice of astrology.
There are also people who believe the Earth is flat. I trust my (more than two-dimensional) point is very clear.
And, no… Thomas Dolby is not one of those people. (What Mr. Dolby IS is a musical genius. Just saying!)
Faith is one thing. Trust in a system that does not work and can be proven to be wrong is a very slippery slope and one that people should cast a bent eye towards.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and listen to some Stevie Wonder.