astrology in the internet age
October 9, 2003 9:04 AM   Subscribe

astrology in the internet age in the era of full-disclosure, even the astrology sites admit that it's all bogus.
posted by jamsterdam (32 comments total)
In other news, water is wet.
posted by solistrato at 9:54 AM on October 9, 2003

Well, it is entertainment but that doesnt mean it is bogus. And disclaimers are there for legal reasons just like disclaimers in books on how to grow pot say "for entertainment only". Sorry but this doesnt disprove or prove astrology.
posted by stbalbach at 9:59 AM on October 9, 2003

In other news, water is wet.

Yeah, but you you'd be amazed by how many apparently rational people believe in this hooey. I've demonstrated time and time again, that if you want to see extremely agressive, borderline psycho behaviour from otherwise super peaceful people, just sit calmly and refuse to tell a phish fan your sign.

I have good friends who believe this crud. When they start to talk about it, I just zone out. It's not worth the arguments anymore since they'll believe it no matter how little sense it makes.

I think if you're going to believe in astrology, then you should devine from goat innards as well. That used to be real popular.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:59 AM on October 9, 2003

The stars say a community weblog will say the stars are fulla shit.
posted by jonmc at 10:04 AM on October 9, 2003

I read tarot cards and believe in the predictions, more or less. I cultivate a certain skepticism about it. But when I have done readings for other people it amazes me how some of them go off on the deep end and try to make major changes in their lives based on something the cards say. I once had one woman run off and start screaming at her husband because I told her the cards said she would come into a lot of money from a legal settlement but it wouldn't last long. She was convinced her husband was going to spend it all.

One quit his job because of a reading and the whole time I was telling him not to take the cards that seriously. He had the fool in his reading and was convinced that it meant he should quit and wander around the country...I was trying to tell him that the Fool could mean that he was an idiot.

I stopped reading for other people.

The disclaimer is probably a good idea. I think astrology and other types of fortune telling have a purpose, but you should always take them with a grain of salt. I always think about the story of Oedipus where he visits the oracle and in an attempt to make her predictions not come true he takes another fork in the road and ends up forcing them to happen. You can never be sure what, exactly, is being predicted.
posted by nyxxxx at 10:12 AM on October 9, 2003

>The true purpose of this site, however, is simply to make money while providing visitors with some good clean fun.
Mr. Honesty. And agreed, the statements sound like disclaimers.

A friend had some anxious days in the late stages of her pregnancy, hoping the little one would hold out until the twenty-third of the month so mother and baby would have compatible signs and a healthy mother-child bond.
posted by philfromhavelock at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2003

Astrology is a religion and religions in scientific terms are completely ridiculous.. spirits, saints, miracles.. At some level we don't really know how the universe works and thats where religion comes in. Find your own religion, or explain how the universe works, otherwise your a fence sitter with nothing to say.
posted by stbalbach at 10:27 AM on October 9, 2003

Great -- I've been looking for a quick link to the current positions, and astromance even provides RSS and XML data. Thanks!
posted by sudama at 10:39 AM on October 9, 2003

i think that astrology may have been a useful tool back in the medieval/renaissance era, when we had a closer relationship with nature. after all, the phases of the moon have a strong effect on the tides, and human beings are 70% water, so astrology might have had a stronger basis when we were more dependent on science. there are still some moments when this is true (look at the waiting area for the emergency room in your local hospital on full moons), but there's probably a greater hooey quotient now that society is all urban and stuff.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:40 AM on October 9, 2003

i meant to say "astrology might have had a stronger basis when we were more dependent on NATURE." sorry about that.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2003

For Pxe2000: Neuroscience for kids. Grown people should really know better.
posted by lazy-ville at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2003

The gravitational force of the doctor delivering a baby is much stronger than the gravitational force of any single star (excluding the sun, possibly, too lazy to work out that equation) on a baby. Gravitation as a mechanism for astrology has been debunked long, long ago.

People see what they want to see in predictions. It's that simple. Astrology makes vague predictions which cannot be proven either way because there is never a specified timeframe for a specific event specified in an astrological prediction. The backgrounds and stereotypesl for people born under each of the astrological signs are similarly vague.
posted by Veritron at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2003

(gravitational force of the doctor ON the baby, sorry.)
posted by Veritron at 11:00 AM on October 9, 2003

If you're gonna be a skeptic, be a skeptic — but get a professional reading (or do some self-education) before you dismiss the matter. Otherwise why would you suppose you know what you're talking about?
posted by sudama at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2003

Sigh. What year is this again?
posted by AstroGuy at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2003

If you're gonna be a skeptic, be a skeptic — but get a professional reading (or do some self-education) before you dismiss the matter. Otherwise why would you suppose you know what you're talking about?

Well, there are two options.

One, astrology "works" because of some supernatural force. This is untestable and lumps it in with any other religion absent that supernatural force making itself known.

Two, astrology "works" via some natural mechanism. But the only forces a star can send across interstellar distances are electromagnetic radiation and gravity. Unless there's a supernova in the neighborhood, I can block all the EM radiation a star sends my way by going indoors, and the EM radiation isn't going to vary depending on the time of year anyway. As Veritron notes, gravity is similarly weak at interstellar distances.

Unless you want to invoke some sort of supernatural power, there's just no possible way for astrology to work; there's no possible way (barring the supernatural) that a star's position in the sky can cause anything. Unless it's nearby and goes supernova or x-ray burster or similar, in which case it can cause, well, a disaster. And I'm not familar with astrologers who predict "Today you and me both will be carbonized as an intense beam of x-rays sterilizes an entire hemisphere."

Which doesn't mean that you can't find value in astrology. You might find the readings a useful way to organize your thoughts about your life and what you ought to be doing -- I've known people who fooled around with tarot decks in that way. But in that case, it's just a cognitive tool, and still doesn't actually work -- it's just a useful lie.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:33 AM on October 9, 2003

Bah. People hear what they want to hear. Every try reading horoscopes and cover up which signs they're for? Same with those placemats in Chinese restaurants with the Year of the Rat and all that.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:51 AM on October 9, 2003

(But whatever calms your terror of the uncertainty and ultimate meaninglessness of life...)
posted by gottabefunky at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2003

We don't have to understand the mechanism to be able to observe the phenomenon. It seems to me that science has a good grasp of Newton, has a handle on Einstein, and is roughing out the quantum mysteries. Are we sure there are absolutely no paradigm shifts in human knowledge ahead?
posted by sudama at 12:03 PM on October 9, 2003

Astrology is not a paradigm shift - it's a step backwards. Einstein's theory makes useful predictions that are correct nearly 100% of the time in a limited domain. Quantum physics is actually sort of counterintuitive, as it just gives odds for behavior, rather than exactly solving what's going to happen, but it does a fairly good job of giving odds on what's going to happen on a quantum scale. Astrology gives advice, not predictions.

And the advice is selected randomly. You'll notice that with an astrological prediction, it's never a BAD IDEA to take its advice - it's just that if it were labelled strictly as advice, people wouldn't follow it. If people think that astrology is actually making predictions, and thus has power, they will be more willing to follow the astrologer's advice, which tends to be good. It's actually not a bad idea to follow horoscopes and such - advice is advice. It's the same principle as a lie detector - because people think the lie decector really detects lying, they tell the truth.
posted by Veritron at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2003

Richard Dawkins essay on the subject. Here's an interesting end note:

3. The physics here is more complicated than can be spelled out in a general article. Two influences could theoretically be involved, direct gravitational attraction and tidal effects. In terms of direct gravitational attractions (which obey Newton's Inverse Square Law), an average doctor would be outweighed by all but the most distant members of the solar system. Tidal effects are another matter and they are far more important. They amount to distortions of the earth's gravitational field and obey an inverse cube law, instead of the usual inverse square law. The doctor's body would have greater tidal effects on a new-born baby than any heavenly body (see I.W.Kelly, J.Rotton & R.Culver, 1985, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 10, No.2, pp 129-143. R.D.
posted by stuart_s at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2003

Astrology is not science. It is religion. Repeat. Bringing scientific explanation to bear is fruitless and meaningless. Astrology is the worlds oldest religion. It works because people have faith and believe. There may be a higher power at work also but it is beyond science as we know it.
posted by stbalbach at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2003

I've always liked Emode's What Zodiac Sign Should You Be? test. Athough the calendar says I'm a Virgo, apparently all this time I've really been a Scorpio.
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2003

Well, Sudama, I had a professional reading done and I am still a confirmed sceptic. The curious thing was that the reading was fascinating, as someone talking all about yourself for an hour tends to be, and I can understand how people can get hooked on it. But the fascination was totally to do with the intuition of the astrologer (about one third spot on, a third vaguely o.k. and a third absolutely off) and the fact that her comments sparked off productive trains of thought about my own personal history. But none of that is to do with the position of the planets on the day I was born and how anyone can believe for a minute that the 'science' of astrology is not complete balderdash is beyond me.
I should add that I went with an open mind after my curiosity was aroused by a friend who claimed that astrologer 'changed her life.' (That and the fact that the astrologer was the daughter of a very well known South African born British comedian).
posted by rolo at 12:54 PM on October 9, 2003

It works because people have faith and believe.

I'd buy that people have faith and believe that it works, but not that it works because people believe in it (paging Tinkerbell). I've had many readings done, some better than others, but invariably the good readings were good because the person doing them was a very intuitive and skilled people-reader, who quickly narrowed things down from the vague to the specific through questions and observations of my body language. It had nothing to do with the cards or the stars. Tarot cards are as vague as the Bible, in that there's an interpretation suited to nearly every situation to be found in them.

Generally speaking, things like astrology play with the law of averages (most people feel misunderstood, know someone who has cancer, etc), good nonverbal language-reading skills and masterful psychology. I agree that it's no different than most religions, in that it provides answers for questions many people feel uncomfortable leaving unanswered, and a solid set of rules for things people don't want to make their own rules about.
posted by biscotti at 1:02 PM on October 9, 2003

It works because people have faith and believe.

Eh, I don't really believe in it. It seems to work despite my silent protestation.

Well, Sudama, I had a professional reading done and I am still a confirmed sceptic.

This I can respect. It's all the 'debunking' which is just setting a bunch of straw men on fire that gets annoying.
posted by sudama at 1:23 PM on October 9, 2003

A wicked deed performed on an auspicious day will certainly prove ill-omened. A good deed performed on an unlucky day will certainly prove auspicious. —ancient Japanese saying

The web of this world is woven of Necessity and Chance. Woe to him who has accustomed himself from his youth up to find something necessary in what is capricious, and who would ascribe something like reason to Chance and make a religion of surrendering to it. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on October 9, 2003

If you're gonna be a skeptic, be a skeptic — but get a professional reading (or do some self-education) before you dismiss the matter.

I admit, I've never had a professional reading done. But as a skeptic, if I were going to try it out, here's how I'd want to do it.

- Gather a number of volunteer subjects to have their horoscopes prepared. For each, gather their birth date/time/place.
- For each date/time/place, create a number (let's say three) bogus date/time/place combinations, birthdate within a few years of the actual birthdate.
- Have the astrologer prepare a written reading, given each set of birth date/time/place, with no other information.
- From each horoscope, redact any information which would identify the birth date/time/place, including things like planet positions. (E.g., "Because you have Venus in Capricorn, you are skeptical of outlandish claims" becomes "You are skeptical of outlandish claims.")
- Give each volunteer the four horoscopes--one based on their real date/time/place of birth, and three based on bogus data, in random order. Have each one pick the horoscope they think best describes themselves.
- If the subjects pick the horoscope based on true data more often (in a statistcially significant number of cases) than would happen just by random chance, that is a success for the astrologer.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:48 PM on October 9, 2003

Ok, I have some knowledge of Chinese astrology. I make it a pastime to guess peoples Chinese sign (one of 12 signs). I am correct about %25 of the time. I've only been doing this for about a year and over time I am getting better. The more I know about someone the better of course and the more people of a particular sign I know the better able to recognize it in others. For example "rats" are very commonly real estate agents I have discovered and they all have a certain way about them that I can recognize. Some of my best relationships have been with "pigs". It's really very easy to fact check it against your own life backgrounds if you take the time to learn the signs.

Why is this? I don't know. But it works. One theory I have goes like this. We all know that first born and last born usually have certain characteristics. They are that way because they fall into family rolls, like the baby of the family or the eldest responsible child. So in effect what order you arrive on the planet within a family group has an effect on your personality. This is known and proven by science.

Now take this idea further on a bigger scale and lets say the order you arrive within society as a whole has an effect on your personality. So all those born in 1970 are effected in some by those born in 1969 and so on. This dynamic, for whatever reason, runs in cycles of 12 so you end up with 12 general personality types of the Chinese horoscope, kind of like a big family with 12 members each interplaying off the other to create certain predictable personality traits. We know for example that in a 2 child family if one is extrovert the other will probably be introvert.. this is the same idea taken to a bigger scale.

Once you accept that some personality traits are predictable and beyond your own control it then becomes possible to predict futures and so on just based on what the millions of others similar to you in the past have done.
posted by stbalbach at 6:36 PM on October 9, 2003

Here's an alternate hypothesis, stalbach: since the Chinese zodiac sign only changes once a year, and the Chinese zodiac runs in a twelve-year cycle, if you can make a reasonable guess at a person's age (say, with an average error of less than +/- 6 years) you have a better than random chance of guessing their Chinese sign.

If a person looks to be about 32, then you know (whether consciously or not) that they're most likely to be a pig; dog or rat are the next most likely, and so forth; they are very unlikely to be a snake, as someone born in the year of the snake would have to be either 25-26 or 37-38.

Can you guess someone's age accurately enough to determine their Chinese zodiac sign correctly 25% of the time, from that information alone? I don't know--as I said, it's just a hypothesis at this point--but it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:52 PM on October 10, 2003

I read tarot cards and believe in the predictions, more or less.

so... you wanna buy some tarot cards? $46 ... cheap!
posted by carfilhiot at 6:45 PM on October 10, 2003

DevilsAdvocate, possible. But my most recent guess I had no idea her age (she is 52) she could have been 40 to 60 hard to tell. I guessed her based on her occupation and she reminded me of another person of the same sign.
posted by stbalbach at 8:04 PM on October 10, 2003

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