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The Scientific Case for Astrology ??!!

June 13, 2009

Does astrology have a scientific basis. Can astrological claims be validated by scientific methods (I understand that there are various types of astrology. Here I will be talking only about astrological predictions derived from natal charts)?

Recently, I had a chance to discuss this topic with a few friends of mine. Even though we disagreed, I think it was a fruitful discussion. So, in this post I will try to answer some of the questions which were brought up during the discussion and hopefully will also be able to clarify some commonly held misconceptions about the scientific method.

The debate about the compatibility of science and astrology has been going on for quite some time now. And, going by how many astrologers swear by it or the number of times we hear it repeated (ad nauseum if I may add) by our spiritual quacks in the mainstream media or by the “I-am-an-engineer-so-I-understand-science” crowd at parties and gatherings everywhere, you may think there must be some truth to it. But is there really? Do people making such claims even know what science constitutes? The statement “astrology is a science” seems to resonate more with Joseph Goebbels (the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany)  famous words “A lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth.”

Courtesy: about.com

Courtesy: about.com

So let us dive into the labyrinthine clutter of lies and false excuses and see if we can salvage a part of our lost self-esteem which we so selflessly sacrificed to those brain dead astrologers the moment we looked at our natal charts or even save a few billion neurons to keep us from moving down the IQ ladder to a range reserved for people who can only be referred to as “DUH”.

Shall we?

Astrologers claim that the foundation of astrology rests on the hypothesis that the relative positions of celestial bodies in our universe (or at least our solar system), influence events (personal, as well as social, political, economic, global etc)  here on earth. And if only…yes, yes…if only we can juuuuuusssssst find that right insight into those interactions, we can predict future events or provide information about anything on earth almost perfectly (yes they never forget to add that last “almost”).

Well, before we move on, let me concede that I do not have a problem with that hypothesis. But then again, I do not have a problem with someone claiming that milk is white in color because of the gravitational force polar bears exert on milk . Neither, do I have a problem with the claim that our noses are so shaped because of the influence earth’s rotation have on them. Both of these are valid hypotheses and even though your respect for such a person may plummet instantly to the bottomless depths of the icy craters on Neptune, we don’t have to reject them outright as baseless.

The problem with such hypotheses however arises when we try to apply the scientific method to all these hypotheses including that of astrology. Any hypothesis can only be validated by science as long as it is testable (not in theory but in practice, even indirectly). And, in this regard I agree with one the most famous philosophers of the 20th century Karl Popper who asserted that “a hypothesis or theory should be considered scientific if and only if it is falsifiable*“. Any hypothesis that is not testable and falsifiable falls in the domain of philosophy and NOT science. For example, in the area of theoretical physics string theory is one such “theory” that is not yet testable or does not make predictions which can be tested or falsified. Hence many physicists still consider it a mere philosophical pursuit than a scientific theory.

Now, given that testability and hence falsifiability are the key factors for anything to be considered scientifically valid, can we test the validity of astrology? Based on what astrologers claim, I think the answer is probably – Yes. However, we have to remember that testability is only half the story. Successful scientific theories or hypotheses depend on proof and evidence. Science can only accept a hypothesis as long as the experimental evidence or observation supports the hypothesis, eliminating every other possibility. Wouldn’t you agree then that claims that are not supported by evidence should be discarded promptly?

So, did anyone have a chance to test the claims of astrologers using a double blind** experiment ? What were the results from such a test? Could astrologers predict any better than what you or I could have predicted by tossing a coin ?

We will come to the evidence against astrology later but for now lets us look closely again at the basis on which the entire foundation of astrology stands.

The Foundation

Our primitive, bronze-age ancestors, in their quest to grapple with the uncertainties of nature and to deal with the randomness of human life, believed that the position of the planets and stars must have an effect on human behavior and other events here on earth. They were more inclined to believe that somehow human fate was inseparably connected to the movement of planets in our solar system. And, like any other philosophical idea it started out as a thoughtful guess. It was this apparently random, unverified, unfounded bronze-age claim by a group of primitive men that ultimately formed the foundation of the field of astrology (here I must point out that when astrology was born, our  ancestors did not have much of an idea about gravity nor did they have knowledge about all the planets in our solar system).

But, with human progress came knowledge. It brought us out of the dark ages into the age of enlightenment. Superstitions vanished under the intense scrutiny of science. However the field of astrology became emboldened with the new scientific discoveries in the fields of astronomy and Newtonian physics. Astrologers in their dogmatic, stubborn insistence maintained that it was still a valid area of “scientific” study. They bolstered up their claim by  borrowing scientific terms and scientific knowledge in order to fit their predictive models and give it a semblance of scientific research. However the flaw with their assumption was more basic. This flaw was in the baseless assumption that human and global events are influenced by the position of celestial entities. To this, I cannot help but wonder about my polar bear and milk analogy – so how does the position of a planet at my time of birth have anything to do with my future? What is the scientific basis for such a claim?

Many astrologers would jump at this opportunity to vindicate themselves. They wouldn’t hesitate to claim (of course with an air of a person who knows what he/she is talking about ) that planetary bodies exert gravitational and electromagnetic force (EM force) on everything on earth. And it is the  sum of these forces at the time of our birth that impel our fates in different directions (quite like cue balls in a game of pool being hit by the cue stick).

Even if this hocus pocus about gravitational and EM force is true (I am not saying they are), the claim is abysmally inane. Why? Because of the enormous gaping holes such a hypothesis tries to cover up.

Courtesy: myastrologybook.com

Courtesy: myastrologybook.com

1. Astrologers claim that given an accurate time and place of birth, they can draw up an astrological chart based on the planetary influences at that moment and that location, to predict with a high degree of certainty a person’s future. But, what is that EXACT time they are looking for. Is it the moment of conception ~9 months in the past? Is it precisely the moment the baby’s head peeks out of the womb? Is it the moment the baby is fully outside the mother’s body? What is it and most importantly why that moment? Moreover, assuming that some superhuman does indeed get the precise times of all the above events (to the exact minute, since astrologers claim that even a minor difference in times of birth can change a person’s horoscope e.g twins born a few minutes apart) why should that time be considered to be the time of birth for astrological calculations.

Since we know from our knowledge of physics, that all these forces are constantly acting on the baby and that the magnitude of the force wouldn’t change much by the fact whether the baby is inside the mother’s womb or outside, what time would the astrologers need to predict the future and why? Isn’t then, the time of birth used by astrologers a totally arbitrary starting point of future events in a person’s life. How then can a random variable like a person’s time of birth be used to make accurate astrological calculations?

2. We know that over large distances gravitational force is several orders of magnitude stronger than any other force, so let us consider only gravitational force for the time being. Anyone with a basic knowledge of physics knows that Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation gives us a measure of the force with which one body attracts another body (assuming them to be point objects) in this universe.

If we use that simple formula to compare the gravitational force of say, Saturn, on a person and the force due to his friend when they are shaking hands (ignoring all other forces). The gravitational force of the friend on that person is almost 2 times more than that of Saturn (Don’t believe me? Try it out. It’s fun. Mass and distance of Saturn** from the earth can easily be found on the internet and I used two people weighing 70-80 kgs standing 0.5 meters apart to arrive at my answer). In fact, the gravitational force of a truck or a mountain or a huge building on you (like a hospital you were born in) is several times greater than that of any planet on you. So why shouldn’t these bodies have any effect on our fates or our personality? Why doesn’t astrology account for those forces?

We have to remember that the statement “position/relative position of a celestial body” is an empty statement. The word “position” itself is inconsequential unless it does something to us. However if “position” translates to “gravity”, then that claim is absolutely incorrect as I have shown above.

The Evidence

I have a cousin whom I consider to be a very smart person. He has attended some of the best universities in India and yet being an amateur astrologer he insists that astrology works. I am not sure if he has ever thought about the scientific basis of astrology but I remember, once when I asked him about astrology, he mentioned that even though we do not know the scientific basis for astrology but astrology does have empirical  validity (meaning that it is validated by experiments). Now that the arguments for the scientific validity of astrology seems to be hanging so tenuously let us try to look at the evidence from some studies that were conducted and try to ascertain astrology’s chest-thumping claims.

In December, 1985, Nature magazine (one of the most reputed, peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world) published the results of a double-blind*** study on Astrology conducted by Shawn Carlson at the University of California, Berkeley. The study was interesting because of the fact that the tests were devised in consultation with the National Council of Geocosmic Research (an organization that promotes astrology education and research) and the participating astrologers were all recommended by the NCGR itself (in short, it was basically a test for astrologers by astrologers). The test was conducted only after the methodology was approved by the NCGR. NCGR also predicted what would constitute a successful test.

The tests had two parts**** .

In the first part 83 test subjects were given 3 astrological charts (one of their own and 2 random ones) based on their natal data, containing interpretations about their 1) Personality/Temperament; 2) Relationships; 3) Education; 4) Career/goals; 5) Current situation. Each subject was asked to choose the astrological chart from the three that most correctly described them. NCGR predicted that if astrology were true then the subjects would choose their own chart 50% of the time. However when the results were declared only 28 out of 83 subjects chose their natal chart correctly. This is exactly what you would expect to get by random chance.

In the second part of the test, California Personality Index (CPI) surveys and natal data (date, time and place of birth) were provided for 116 subjects. The natal data and the results of three personality surveys (one of the person and 2 random ones) were given to astrologers who were then asked to interpret the natal data and determine which one out of the 3 CPI results belonged to the same subject as the natal data. NCGR predicted that astrologers would be able to predict correctly 50% of the time. However, after the test was completed, the astrologers were successful in matching only 40 of the 116 cases. This again was the exact success rate you would expect by chance. That means if you or I had been blindfolded and asked to throw darts at one of the three survey results, we would have been able to obtain very similar results (assuming of course we hit one of them every time 🙂 ).

Carlson, had this to say about this test [Link]

“We are now in a position to argue a surprisingly strong case against natal astrology as practiced by reputable astrologers. Great pains were taken to insure that the experiment was unbiased and to make sure that astrology was given every reasonable chance to succeed. It failed. Despite the fact that we worked with some of the best astrologers in the country, recommended by the advising astrologers for their expertise in astrology and in their ability to use the CPI, despite the fact that every reasonable suggestion made by advising astrologers was worked into the experiment, despite the fact that the astrologers approved the design and predicted 50% as the “minimum” effect they would expect to see, astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance.

“I have not yet received a serious scientific challenge to the paper. The newsletter of the American Federation of Astrologers Network published a response in January (1986). I was very disappointed to see that it largely consists of personal attacks. Its few substantive criticisms are attributable to ignorance of the experiment, of the CPI, and of basic scientific methodology.”

So as we can see, astrologers failed miserably in the test that was devised by them and then like sore losers blamed the “methodology” of the tests. In fact, even today astrologers come up with inane excuses to discredit that test, sometimes even resorting to wild conspiracy theories and “secret results”. Ludicrous isn’t it?

In fact the above blog claims 36 more tests that astrology has failed in the last 20-30 years (I did not verify them but you can take a look).

Here is another test astrologers failed miserably in spite of the fact that they themselves were involved in devising the test [Link]. Results of another test that was conducted by some skeptics in India, also confirmed that astrologers could not predict better than what anyone could predict with a coin toss [pdf Link]

As we can see from the overwhelming number of tests and evidence that in every instance astrology was given a fair chance to vindicate itself, and yet, in every instance astrology failed miserably. Chance after chance was given to them and yet they failed to deliver. I have no doubt that astrologers would come up with every creative excuse in the book to find faults with the tests or come up with reasons for their failure, but the fact that they couldn’t prove their claims (except anecdotal – “I have predicted with 80% accuracy the natal charts given to me..blah blah blah) in the strictest of scientific experiments prove that astrology is a sham – at best an unscientific area of study encouraged by people who are too brainwashed to challenge it or at worst a con-job practiced by shady professionals to cheat gullible people of their money.

The reason astrology seems to work is because of what psychologists claim to be the Forer effect or the Barnum effect. It also seems to work because when we look at the predictions we only look at the hits and ignore the misses. I posted an entertaining video on my blog sometime back showing how people are fooled to believe in their horoscopes.  Check it out.[Link]

I am sometimes amazed to meet fairly intelligent people who claim that they do not believe in astrology so much but just read the astrology columns or go to a palmist or tarot card reader “just for fun”. Whenever I hear that, I cannot help but smile. Would that person go to an alchemist to try and turn his/her metal belongings to gold “just for fun” ? Would that person go to an exorcist to try and drive the demons from his/her body whenever he/she has fever, just for some pure mindless entertainment? I doubt it. When a person says ” I don’t necessarily believe in it but I just like it because it’s fun” it often means ” I don’t want to admit in public that I believe in astrology but somehow I am too brainwashed to challenge it publicly”

There’s another widespread belief about astrology which if left unchallenged would make this post incomplete.

I have heard many people who claim that correct prediction in astrology depends on so many variables that it is impossible to predict anything with absolute certainty. Now even though I don’t know why so many factors would be necessary since astrologers claim to be doing fine without them. I think the people who fall for the “astrology has so many variables” trap are people who have bought into the false propaganda by astrologers (just like the false claim  “astrology is scientific”) .

It is deliberately used by astrologers to give astrology the semblance of an actual field of study and to exonerate astrology of the responsibility of trying to make accurate predictions.  The number of variables is just a fudge factor. A desperate attempt to prove one’s claims . Science again does not deal with problems which have billions of variables, since such a proposition would be untestable and hence unfalsifiable. For example, if you are told that outcome of something depends on the number of hair on your head or the number of grains of sand you can scoop with your hand, then it would be mere quackery because such a cause and effect relationship would be almost an impossibility to test . Astrology tries similar devious tricks to absolve itself when predictions do not match with reality (which let me remind the reader again is no better than chance).

Moreover, why would any sane intelligent person believe in that claim? And even if it is true, why would we even bother to try and predict our future, knowing fully well that it can change anytime in the next second depending on any variable? What value would such a prediction have ? If something can change in the future why bother to predict it anyway. Isn’t that moronic?

Well, I have come to the end of this post. In this post, I have tried to refute the claims of astrology and tried to expose it to people who may not have thought about it or investigated it enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think this post will do anything to stop people from donating their hard-earned money to astrologers or stop them from believing in astrology “just for fun”. That is because we human are so conditioned to believe in things that conform to our world view that even overwhelming evidence to the contrary is often ineffective in changing our minds. Belief in the astrology is guided by our desire to control the random events in our lives. It is probably also guided by our need to believe that life is not random. The belief that there is something beyond our understanding that guides our lives or that our lives are predestined, no matter how contrary that claim is to reality. Isn’t that one of the reasons people stick to religion even when there is hardly any proof of a supernatural entity? Isn’t religion and astrology a crutch on which our feeble, weak minds depend to give it some meaning. Otherwise, why would people believe something if there is no benefit to believing it in the first place?

So yes, given that understanding of human psyche, I am doubtful of the effectiveness of my post.Although, as you can see that definitely didn’t prevent me from trying. If however this post made you think critically about astrology it would be nice to hear from you.

————————————————————–

* Falsifiability means that a hypothesis should be able to proven false with evidence. For example: A statement like “The universe is 10 million years old” can be called a scientific hypothesis since is a testable and hence falsifiable. We only need to find something older than 10 million years to disprove the hypothesis.  However, the claim that “there are other universes like our own ” may be a philosophical claim but is an unscientific statement since there is no way to test it and hence prove it false. We have to remember that just because something is testable *in theory* does not mean it should be considered scientific.

** How do scientists calculate the mass of a planet?

***double-blind experiments are one of the strictest ways of conducting an experiment since it tries to remove subjective bias of the experimenter or of the subjects. This is achieved by not divulging to the experimenter, whether a subject belongs to an experimental group or the control group. Any claim that can hold up to the scrutiny of a double blind study/experiment surely can claim to have some veracity. Unfortunately not a single double blind study to date has ever vindicated astrology.

****If you would like to read about the details of the test from an astrologer who tried to refute the experiment (albeit unsuccessfully), you can go here[link]

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44 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2009 10:12 pm

    Excellent post. Will reply in detail after I get home from work. Meanwhile, know that all is ordained by the stars, including the time of your next crap; I’m not kidding, one astrologer I know actually said this with utmost conviction. We have, in effect, no control over our bowels. 😉

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 15, 2009 12:59 am

      Thanks CC. LOL. Indeed I guess even the mosquito bite is predestined .

  2. June 15, 2009 3:35 am

    great post NN!

    I dont believe in astrology…

    though come to think of it…when we discuss sun signs and moon signs and what not ..thats also a case of ‘a lie told too many times becomes the truth’ right?

    coz so many of us talk about sunsigns..scorpio , leo and a lot of things…(even I do) but we do so in a manner which makes it amply clear that we are not serious about it..
    though it still remains astrology only 😦

    *sigh*

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 15, 2009 7:07 am

      Thanks Indyeah. I used to believe in sun signs also but then later realized that they were too generic and can be applied to anyone. Take Linda Goodman’s books for example. (the books I used to read once and now feel ashamed I even believed in that nonsense. I had so internalized the zodiac signs BS that even now sometimes I find myself boxing people into zodiac signs and then quickly reminding myself that I am being a moron 😀 ). Notice how generic they are. I challenge anyone claiming that zodiac signs have some truth to them to point correctly, the zodiac signs of 10 people at a rate better than chance, without knowing their birthdates. They won’t be able to. Only after we are told that person is a leo or a libra or an aries do we start fitting the characteristics of that zodiac sign to the person. In fact, the reason it seems to work is because again we count the hits and conveniently forget the misses.

      check this video out to understand why predictions like a person’s character based on zodiac signs seem to work

      https://nitwitnastik.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/derren-browns-astrology-experiment/

      • June 17, 2009 8:18 am

        Thanks for the video NN 🙂 will watch it..
        you are right about Only after we are told that person is a leo or a libra or an aries do we start fitting the characteristics of that zodiac sign to the person. In fact, the reason it seems to work is because again we count the hits and conveniently forget the misses.
        I still enjoy the occasional guessing though just for fun 😉

        its a balance I suppose to not let timepass become something serious that I start believing in 🙂

        LOL@I remind myself that I am a moron 😀
        well then I am one too many a time 😀

  3. June 19, 2009 11:15 am

    Nitwit,

    Maybe your best post ever! So clinical, so professional! It made me curious, what’s your IQ? I know this falls in one category of *those* questions (age of a woman, income of a man), but I’m sure you won’t be ashamed revealing it. And even, if you don’t, I’m convinced, it’s pretty high. Your arguments–in particular–what we consider ‘point’ of birth in time, and how a mountain or a hand shake would also exert gravitational influences were too good.

    But then I also felt it a bit unfortunate that one of the best scientific minds (you) I personally know, applies so much intellectual effort in attempt to banish patent crap, and still maybe, isn’t able to make much dent (sorry about that but I think you too have anyway implied knowledge to that effect in your post).

    Ultra-lol at the dart thing 😀

    I read my horoscope occasionally, especially if given in 2 to 3 lines, and enjoy how the astrologer would get it totally wrong or how some other sign’s predictions would fit me better :p Of course, I wouldn’t spend a single paisa on such predictions 😉

    My very first post ‘Free will’ also coincidentally involves analogy of a game of pool, and you might find it interesting, but I’m sure you’ll find you’ll find many scientific fallacies in it.

    Have just written three new posts, one of which you’ll definitely find tempting to comment upon 😉

    Really nice post! Hope to see more of these.

    TC.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 19, 2009 11:02 pm

      Thanks again Ketan for your kind words. You embarrass me buddy:-D

      Frankly, I doubt if I am any more intelligent than the average joe (no I am not being prudish but that’s what I believe) and I haven’t done anything in my life which may convince me or anyone else otherwise. I was once a believer in astrology too. I think, the only difference between me and a lot of others is that I am willing to be honest with myself and I am willing to accept my mistakes when I see overwhelming evidence (or lack of it) to the contrary.

  4. June 19, 2009 5:34 pm

    NN. I’d read half this post before but didn’t manage to complete reading it until now.

    Interesting topic to discuss. I think I meantion about it and my confussions in one of your other post. One things it for sure, before I starting to reading your work, I use to believe stuff (espeically about astrology and the stuff in the so call “kundi”) without questioning it.

    Today, after reading this post, you have really made me question if what astrologiers tell/”advise” you is true and whether the solar system does influence your behaviour or not.

    I personnally have been told (what i mean by personnally is that my parents ask showing my kundli and the astrologier said for me) to wear a yellow topaz ring and a pearl ring as my “guru” (which i think is the planet Jupitor) is weak and pearl so it cools my “hot head” or shall i say my “short temper” down. Whether it is working or not it beyond me. I don’t feel any different. And nor have I noticed a difference. I’m just doing as I’ve been told by my parents. To me it just looks like fashion jewellery.

    BUT I guess, now I’m starting to question it. So who knows, soon I may even stop believing in it completely. Need to test it first and see how accurate their predictions are… 😐

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 19, 2009 11:18 pm

      Badz. Thanks for patiently reading the entire post. I think even I was confused about it for sometime especially when everyone in our family had so much faith in the power of astrology. But, then I looked at the evidence and thought about it and realized that astrology is a bunch of nonsense. Seriously. The more I think about it, the more I am ashamed of myself for ever believing in it.

      I think the fact that this post had made you think is the best thing I could have heard from a reader. 🙂 That’s all I want from people – to think for themselves and not let family, friends or society brainwash them into believing pseudo-science. But, please don’t take my word for it. Investigate the claims of astrology yourself and then come to your own conclusion. Although, I am sure once you start looking at astrology critically, you will not be convinced by it’s claims.

  5. Hindu Atheist permalink
    June 19, 2009 7:39 pm

    Nice post.

    I opened my blog reader after a loooooong time and found your post on the top! Just couldn’t resist following up with some comment.

    Here is a must read for everyone:
    http://www.ee.iitkgp.ernet.in/~soumitro/bt/archives/astrology.pdf

    Keep writing man!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      July 4, 2009 8:59 am

      Hey HA, Long Time no see. How are you? I don’t know your comment moved to the spam folder. Anyway Thanks for sharing the informative article. Hoping to see you back soon.

    • October 21, 2010 3:32 am

      In the paper, Bhattacharya clubs together astrology, vaastu, human consciousness and other fluffy subjects with yoga. This is classic communist thinking where everything Indian, specially ancient Indian, is stupid and for morons. Forget the esoteric kundalini and raja yoga, Simple yoga exercises and asanas when taught and practiced correctly has proven health benefits, millions around the world find it useful.

  6. June 19, 2009 11:27 pm

    Sorry Nitwit,

    Your writing does seem to have a (positive) influence. Now this might get a bit into the personal domain, but IQ doesn’t have much to do with worldly success. There are countless determinants for the latter. If you could spare some time, you could go through my post–‘A journey called life’–I’m letting you on this, which is arguably, the most personal piece I’ve written about myself on my blog. You might find the comments also interesting. And one thing I’ve been feeling about your blog is that by restricting its theme to atheism and related sociological and political outcomes, you’re not able to write about your own experiences and feelings in other spheres of life (of course I’m assuming, you’d want to, at which I could be wrong), and which disappoints me a bit as I love your writing, thought processes and the way you view the world.

    @badz, It’s really nice to know that you’ve the ability to analyze things honestly and without giving into the temptation of sensationalism.

    Take care, both of you.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 24, 2009 6:50 am

      Hey Ketan, Thanks. I am aware of the difference between IQ and EQ, what I was referring to was that I don’t think I have any more IQ than the average person. Btw, I have been keeping a little more busy than usual so haven’t been able to follow up on any of the posts you recommended. BUt I hope to come around to reading them when I am a little less busy.

  7. June 20, 2009 7:59 am

    When I became an atheist, astrology was my final demon, the irrationality that was hardest to let go of. I like to think of myself as a rational person, but there still remained a trace of the old believer, and that took the form of astrology. I do not believe in astrology, its accuracy, correctness or that it has any merit whatsoever, and my common sense, the same one that tells me to to reject gods also tells me to reject astrology. But here’s the thing, the transfer from being religious to being a rational atheist is a gradual process. You can wake up one day and decide to be rational, but it takes time to let go of deeply ingrained ideas. So astrology, for me, was the thing that lingered the longest after all else had been swept away.

    People’s attitude towards astrology is similar to Pascal’s Wager (although many forget that Pascal made his famous wager in jest).The reasoning is that if astrology is real, then they can improve their lives by the simple device of wearing a stone or such other measure to bring good luck, but if it is false, then they have lost nothing. I know many businessmen who think of astrology as just another form of risk management, like hedging or insurance. It is thought of as a precaution. Thus, astrologers prosper due to people who use their quackery ‘just in case’. This is the saddest thing, to see otherwise rational people dabble in this pseudoscience. Even a practical thinker like Kautilya, in his Arthashashtra, advises the king to consult astrologers as a precautionary measure.

    Most astrologers claim that there is no such thing as free will and everything happens because it is so ordained. This begs the same question as the law of karma- if all is ordained, why do anything at all? Why have law, government, or any other institution to improve our quality of life? Why go to work? Will I not starve if it is in the stars? And if my celestial fate is to eat, why not mope around at home, waiting for the stars to work their magic? I discussed this in my post on karma here:

    http://manonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/the-problem-with-karma/

    Astrology is full of false assumptions and self contradiction, but then this is true of any sufficiently large body of irrationality. Like you point out, no astrologer has ever been able to prove his work under scientifically testable conditions and yet they all vehemently insist that it is a ‘science’, in fact, that it is an exact science.

    The worst part is, many nod in agreement.

    • June 21, 2009 2:01 am

      I think what gives astrology a semblance of science is that involves arithmetical calculations, which anyway has been pointed out by Nitwit. Also, in olden days, many astronomers were also astrologers, and this made astrology appear like accurate in predicting things, because events like lunar and solar eclipses could accurately predicted.

      TCC has rightly pointed out the wagering tendency. Incidentally, I’ve never been a firm believer of astrology. One pseudoscience I’d like to explore further is handwriting analysis. I’d read a book on it, and some of the principles in it appeared appealing–like how a given mood could affect a person’s handwriting.

      TC.

      • nitwitnastik permalink*
        June 24, 2009 6:56 am

        Ketan, I have actually read quite a few books on graphology or handwriting analysis and tried it out on many people… on the surface it seems to work …quite like astrology. I think it uses the same technique as cold reading. Try to check the video I have referred to Indyeah and you will see how all these work. And, Yes, I hope there is some scientific analysis done on that too.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 24, 2009 6:53 am

      Good point CC, I think astrology also plays on the same fear religion does. And I think another reader also mentioned in her comment that she also found astrology to be the most stubborn pseudo-science to get rid of. As for karma, yes I read that post of yours and I agree that the law of karma is another creation of primitive minds trying to grapple with the uncertainties of their lives.

  8. June 21, 2009 7:05 am

    I wrote a comment and it got deleted. I don’t have the patience to write agian, but good post!! Must have taken quite an effort to write that! 🙂

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 24, 2009 6:57 am

      Thanks Siddharth. Yes I must admit, it took me quite a while and that added to my work schedule is causing this blog fatigue I am going through now 😦

  9. akilles1 permalink
    June 22, 2009 11:42 am

    All astrologers and astrology to often are nonscientific and so stupid,all astrology and astrologers shouold be wipet out.Astrology have no true suorce.Show me only one astrologer who can for.ex. predict their or other peoples deff data.

  10. June 24, 2009 3:30 am

    Hey NN,

    I finally got around to reading this post and must say that it is one of your best so far. I was putting it off for a while because I have read much of the arguments, but once I started it was actually fun to follow through. One of the main reasons I never had the patience to tackle the subject myself is that since astrology is such a universal delusion that has accumulated defense mechanisms over centuries, it takes forever to lay out the case against it. It’s almost like arguing against all of religion- where does one start? So I’m glad to see through your work that it can be done, and it can be done well!

    Moreover, I also find that these discussions require laying out relevant aspects of the scientific method for them to make a convincing case. Again you have done this well without losing the reader in technical details. The only other person I have read who has done this well is Phil Plait in his page on astrology. http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/astrology.html you may have already read it. I have never actually heard any apologists for astrology claim that it is not testable or falsifiable, but bringing up those concepts serves as a reminder as to why the scientific method rules.

    One of the things that pisses me off about modern versions of new-age concepts is their co-opting of scientific terms and ideas in order to misrepresent them and sell crap. They gain legitimacy from science and then completely distort science. The worst ones are those who actually claim that science is limited in its scope. Apparently thats the point where magic kicks in.

    Anyway, great job with this article. I’m glad to see that you’re changing some minds here, hope we can see more of the same from you in the future!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      June 24, 2009 7:01 am

      Thanks Ajita, for taking the time to reading it. I haven’t read Phil plait’s arguments but thanks for sharing the link. I will check it out.

      I agree with you on the BS the new age gurus try to see us. I have read several of deepak chopras books and that’s what he tries to do.

  11. Swamy Kujarananda permalink
    June 29, 2009 12:12 pm

    Good post. Well analysed.
    I wrote a similar article in my blog.

    http://swamykujrananda.blogspot.com/2008/09/astrology-psudoscience.html

    I have approached this slighly different. But neverthless I am sure we aggree. Let me know what you think

  12. akilles1 permalink
    July 4, 2009 9:32 am

    Yuo have two ways to look at stars,planets and moons like they really are and the way you wish they are,astronomy shows what stars are about but astrology have now true source.Twins with the same birth date dont get the same fate,astrologers inold china did even not know how to predict they own dead,sometimes they was exucutet when they was wrong.It was for.ex thanks to keppler astrology separate from astronomy when keppler explain hes 3 laws by how the planets orbit the sun.Astrology are also connected to a hymans wish to be connected with cosmos foe.ex but by nonproven principals,astronomy givs a more scientific proves on what there going on.Astrologigal predictions are so vague thet they sooner or later fit a person somehow no matter what birtdate yuo have.Two astrolgers who dont know eitsother can not do the same horoscope exactly the same if yuo give them same birtdata.Long time a go kings etc. ask astrologers if they should go to war and attack an other nation,that why i dont like astrologers and is it not a god idea to listem to them or give them any power,usually they use week mainted or stupid people,all astrologers should be wipet out.Aki.T. Has spocen.Greetings aki@aol.se

  13. marv permalink
    October 6, 2009 2:53 am

    Its funny coz u only base the opening argument based on popular philosophers..again philosophy is ones own idea so how do u justify ur opening statements ..have u tested them..validated them?

  14. marv permalink
    October 6, 2009 3:22 am

    well well..how did you figure out tht our ancestors in primitve age guessed that our lifes r being influenced by planetary positions…?hmm now you could guess they guessed and its alright.. but you ridicule them coz they guessed that fact??

    so lets go by the equation ..the force calculated..what does it represent..is that the force exerted by heavier object on a smaller objest?..in that case if u would stand next to the fattest kid in the world r u gonna be pulled towrds him?..obvioulsy it would not happen..hence it would help if you could throw more light on the so called calculated force..i think too many assumptions have been part of this post.

    you do know waves in the beaches r caused by pull of the moon predominantly..now wen you go stand near a bucket of water u dont see the same effect do u..but the moon some how miraculously does it …your equation doesnt work here does it..i think you have mis understood the equation..so have I..I think quoting the equation is very inane..I have always observed you are caustic but not scientific..and you end up misquoting science a zillion times..so never misquote science

    you know they didnt get to test einsteins relativity for a long time..i am not sure if they have tested even now..but how come u accepted it..well according to you the unverified untested idea is philosophy right?

    every task has a right way..a wrong way and a way in which u can complete is half baked..so the test conducted to see if astrology actually wroks..did it employ the right people…did they execute the perfect work..who verified their competency…astrologers are only known mostly by word of mouth..and why only american astrologers?…may be regional methods could be more accurate…from your description of the study..i find that the study is not good enough to make a statement..

    • March 1, 2010 4:59 pm

      Marv,
      Thanks for your comment and for reading the entire post. Unfortunately, if the truth of a scientific formula/idea could only be determined by the naked eye then I guess electrons and protons would cease to exist.

      Btw, it seems you like tearing down arguments without a proper understanding or without much consideration of the assumptions. I am not amazed then that you still believe in astrology.

      Have you ever considered the difference in the mass of water on this earth and the mass of water in the bucket…please use the formula now and you will see that the equation still holds and my argument is still correct.

      Just because you cannot see the water rising with your naked eye does not mean there is no gravitational attraction between you and the water in the bucket.

      Hope you can check your assumptions before you point out the inanities of my argument.

  15. marv permalink
    October 7, 2009 8:55 am

    well pal..do u have any plans of publishing my comments on ur blog..coz i see u did not approve it earlier..am sure i didnt use any abusive language..oo oo wait a minute..i probably made u feel stupid?..well probably tht culd be a reason…part of blogging is also letting other ppl write their views too i guess..

  16. uzwal permalink
    October 8, 2009 8:16 pm

    Nitwit,

    A couple of random clicks starting from richarddawkins.net brought me to your blog and finally to this blogpost. I must commend you for the due diligence and thought that you have put in this post. I’m looking forward to your posts and have just added you to my favorites.

    Here’s one resource that I had come across sometime back on this subject while trying to better equip myself with facts and fictions:

    http://www.ee.iitkgp.ernet.in/~soumitro/bt/archives/astrology.pdf

    Uzwal (A vocal atheist and a secular humanist)

  17. Atheista permalink
    December 13, 2009 7:33 am

    Dear Sir!
    I just noticed that your entire write-up is very similar to another one by a US author available on the net….maybe you were subconsciously influenced…but a spirited effort neverthless
    Atheista

  18. January 20, 2010 6:02 am

    Hi NN!

    I’m appalled by my own stupidity! All along I had been missing your blog posts, and since I don’t know you personally or even your real identity, it never occurred to me that I could leave a message on your blog!

    I hope you understand one of my predicaments – that though, we hardly know anything personal about each other, after having gone through so many of your posts and comments and having interacted, I do feel a personal and emotional connect with you, partly because of the clarity of your thoughts and their expression, but largely because of the honesty and courage it takes to try to seek the truth, and most important, accept it, which you are definitely in possession of.

    Strangely, if you are wondering why this out-of-context-comment/praise, it was only in attempt to ‘practically’ justify this question coming from me: how have you been?!! 🙂

    The last time I had read about your busy schedule and lack of time (and inclination) to write new posts, it was with an ominous tone to it. Obviously, ominous for someone who immensely enjoyed reading your blog-posts as I did.

    Unfortunately, even The Couch Clown has stopped posting. 😦

    And again, though I do not know your personal circumstances, I really look forward to posts coming from you. And if it constitutes an incentive for you to write, I will read them and comment! 😉

    I know this would be a radical shift from your blog’s original purpose, but I think it is not a good idea to restrict the scope of one’s blog as you have.

    For instance, I would read with equal interest your takes on other areas of life, just like those on supernaturalism, religion, atheism, rationality, etc (this is something I have stated before).

    But I also understand you would also like to ensure a particular degree of anonymity, which would not be wholly compatible with writing on a more personal note (again, assuming you would want to do so), though not impossible to do.

    I end this ‘irrelevant’ comment with a wish that you are happy and satisfied with whatever you are doing in life. 🙂

    Take care.

    • March 1, 2010 4:45 pm

      Hi Ketan, It’s great to hear from you. Hope everything is well at your end and thanks for the concern. Yes it’s true that I have been off from my blog for quite sometime now and there’s nothing sinister or ominous about it. I was just finding it difficult to post given my tight schedule and so had to postpone writing indefinitely or till the time, I can find some way to balance my work and hobby. Hope to return to writing sometime soon.

      -NN

  19. February 15, 2010 2:02 pm

    I come from finland and we dont talk that much.But here are my straight and short comment. If yuo wanna live yuo life with lies and stay in fantasy heaven and enjoy the commany off idiots in stagnation stydy ASTROlogy,if yuo wanna be a true trueth seaker and wanna develop Study more scientific ASTRONOMY for.ex !(Amen)(A.gigles)

  20. Phusukh permalink
    August 23, 2010 2:15 pm

    Wow man! That is one exhaustive case against astrology…well done! And I can totally empathize with you because I too have encountered enough of this “Astrology is a science” non-sense.

    It took me about 2-3 years to convince my mother that astrology is not a science, that it works no better than chance (unless the astrologer does some cold reading)…. I told her how real science doesn’t actually work that way……I told her that astrologers borrow scientific terms and use them disingenuously to appear respectable ….I also told her that the human mind recognizes false positives more often than false negatives, that we often infer patterns where there are none, and the reason that we do so is the way in which we’ve evolved… then I told her about the negative results of proper double-blind scientific tests that had actually been carried out to test the predictions of astrologers (actually, I had never checked that bit myself, but I was quoting from Richard Dawkins’ documentary – Enemies of Reason) …..I even suggested some easy-to-perform exercises to her like, for instance, she could pick any astrological prediction at random and try to see how much of that would fit herself and only after the exercise was completed should she check the Zodiac sign for which the prediction was intended…….

    And after all that I had told my mother and after appreciating the plausibility of my arguments what would my mother do?

    Go back and consume her daily dose of astrological predictions on TV, in the newspapers and even in the fortnightly magazines! AND MAN, WAS IT FRUSTRATING!

    Later, I would only occasionally try to argue and her responses would be typical…

    “Astrology predicts with 50-70% accuracy, it cannot be correct all the time… that science has limitations” or
    “I just want to know if my day’s going to be pleasant or not, I am not interested in the other details” or
    “I don’t take things so seriously as you….astrology is just for fun” or
    “Do you think you are the smartest person in the world and we all are fools?”

    But, I think, I could always answer those questions satisfactorily.

    But then, she would draw the final tool in her arsenal and I would be left speechless.

    “I know so many successful people who rely on astrology… there was this famous heart surgeon, Nitu Mandke, then there is that businessman ______, and just look at your uncle… and if you are so smart, why aren’t you successful? And how do I believe that your opinion is worth anything?”

    I think that mentality pretty much sums up people’s motivation in taking astrological claims seriously … they are looking for PROFIT… and they judge the effectiveness of any source of profit from its track record. The thing that works in astrology’s favour is that, atleast for ordinary people, it’s difficult to measure that effectiveness. To quote Carl Sagan, (they) know nothing about HOW SCIENCE WORKS!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      August 24, 2010 2:26 pm

      yep you pretty much summed up the arguments by people who believe in astrology…years and years of mental conditioning and our inherent insecurity can’t be washed away with mere logic and rational thought…it will take time..and it’s frustrating isn’t it?..but I am hopeful that the next generations would be better equipped to counter such silly notions..

  21. donald permalink
    June 5, 2011 8:47 pm

    i think your focus is far too acute. let go of the idea that astrology is as a science, it is not. it is an ancient study. it is more of a creative endeavor, really, for those who do not fear the absence of mere “facts”. it can be scary to accept concepts into your orb that challenge your usual logical patterns, but it is necessary to be a well-rounded person, and to be open minded. Just because you dont understand does not meen that it is wrong. You must learn to harness your compulsive need to control the world around you. Not everyone will always feel the way you do. Sorry.

  22. June 28, 2011 1:25 am

    i agreed with nitwitnastik opinion……………………
    ———-
    sumanth

  23. January 12, 2012 4:46 am

    excellent post I’m a massive manu supporter from washington USA

  24. April 5, 2012 6:32 am

    Dear NN.
    I strongly disagree.
    Astrology is a science, it is based on the allignment of celestial bodies in the solar system, and a lot of people have actually exprienced success by just wearing a certain ring or by changing the spelling of their names.

    I hope you can give me a few points on HOW it IS a science, lets see.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      August 17, 2012 8:54 am

      Did you even read my post? You are the one claiming it is a science, not me. So the onus is on you to prove it is. Have you ever heard of control groups and double blind studies? I guess not. When astrology can prove its efficacy through double blind studies maybe I will start believing in it ( AFAIK till date it has failed all of them). Just using scientific terms to express mumbo jumbo nonsense does not make it a scientific area of study.

  25. September 12, 2012 12:07 am

    ITS A ”SCIENCE” BASED ON THE FACT THAT THE WORD MEANS ”A BODY OR SYSTEM OF KNOWLEDGE”. BUT WHETHER IT MEASURES UP TO ‘MODERN SCIENTIFIC STANDARDS’ IS OF NO RELEVANCE …THE QUESTION IS ”DOES IT REALLY WORK ?”. THE PROBLEM WITH THAT IS THESE GUYS WHO DESIRE TO DISPROVE IT’S VALIDITY ALWAYS SEEM TO GO TO A PRACTITIONER WHO CLAIMS HE CAN UTILIZE THE SYSTEM FOR PREDICTION … AND TRULY THE ”PRACTITIONER” IS A CHARLATAN (WHETHER THE PRACTITIONER REALIZES IT OR NOT).

    FIRSTLY … MOST EQUATE CLINICAL BIRTH WITH ”ASTROLOGICAL BIRTH” AND THEY ARE HARDLY THE SAME. THEN 99% OF THE SO CALLED PRACTITIONERS DONT EVEN HAVE A CLUE AS TO THIS DYNAMIC. SO WHEN THE DEMONSTRATION ENSUES … INACCURATE CONCLUSIONS AND DELINEATIONS ARE MADE.

    EACH PLANET CARRIES MULTIPLE DESCRIPTIVE KEYWORDS … THE SKILL OF THE ASTROLOGER DEPENDS UPON MAKING THE CORRECT CONNECTION REGARDING HOW THAT PARTICULAR PLANETARY INDICATION MANIFESTS WITH EACH CLIENT OR QUERENT. THEREFOR A ”;SUBJECTIVE PERSPECTIVE” IS INEVITABLY BOUND TO EMERGE.

    WHAT NEEDS BE DEMONSTRATED IS THE SYNCHRONICITY BETWEEN THE MOTION OF THE PLANETS AND THE ”PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION” THEREOF ITS INDICATIONS … THIS IS INDISPUTABLE .

    I’VE BEEN A PRACTICING COZMOPHYZIXIAN FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS … I’D SAY 40 % OF MY PRESENT CLIENT BASE HAVE BEEN WITH ME SINCE THEN . MY FORTE IS PREDICTION… I HAVE’NT HAD A DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER YET !!!

    THESE SKEPTICAL ”DISPROVERS” WOULD SEE THEIR PARADIGM SHATTERED BEFORE THEIR EYES IF THEY CAME TO ME TO TEST ITS VALIDITY.

    CALL ME ANY DAY AT MY OFFICE BETWEEN 12 NOON AND 6 PM EASTERN U.S. TIME.
    516 881 6992

  26. August 30, 2013 3:46 am

    Dear Nitwit Nastik, Give me your horoscope details. I will need your
    |
    Name:- Nitwit Nastik {This Is Sufficient}
    Date Of Birth :
    Time Of Birth : {As Correctly As Possible}
    Place Of Birth : {If it is a village. The name of a city close to it.}

    I did not learn Astrology. But I just want to take a look at your chart.

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