Is Astrology Scientifically Accurate?

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For thousands of years, people across multiple cultures in many parts of the world have looked to the stars to predict events on earth.  But is there actually any substance behind astrology?

Western Astrology

The current system used in Western countries is based on the work of the Greek scholar Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.  The twelve signs of the zodiac represent 12 constellations that the sun moves through as the year progresses.  These star signs, also known as sun signs, are divided into earth, air, water, and fire elements, all of which are associated with certain characteristics.

There are also seven “planets” that are said to have an influence on the human psyche.  Each of the planets “rules” one or two of the star signs.  The term planet is used rather loosely, though; classically the planets include the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Modern additions include the dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres.

Then you’ve got your angles (ascendant, descendant, midheaven, and imum coeli), your 12 houses (divided along the ecliptic plane and further divided into four hemispheres), and your aspects (relative angles between pairs of planets).  If you have a yod aspect, made up of two quincunxes joined by a sextile, you are restless and unstable.  And if you think I was making those words up, you would be wrong.

Then you have American astrologer Marc Edmund Jones, who has identified some relative patterns of the planets, including bucket, seesaw, locomotive, and splash.

Is it starting to seem a bit out there yet?

Constellations and Astronomy

The zodiac is based on 12 constellations in the night sky.  So what exactly is a constellation?  Essentially, constellations are made up based on patterns viewed in the night sky that (very loosely) resemble certain shapes.  The reason I call them made up is that the stars involved don’t actually have any relationship to each other whatsoever; they just look like they do from where we’re situated.

Let’s take Pisces.  The stars that make up Pisces vary widely in their distance from earth, ranging from 106 to 680 light-years away.  A light-year is the distance that light travels in one year, which is around 9.46 trillion kilometres.  The nearest star to our own sun is 4.24 light-years away.  For all we know, one of the further stars in Pisces may have exploded in a supernova five hundred years ago, and the light from that event hasn’t reached us yet.  After all, the light that we see shining in a certain place in the sky was emitted by the star 680 years ago (to use the furthest star in Pisces as an example).

So how is it that the position of the sun in relation to an assortment of stars hundreds of light-years away, that we can only see as they existed hundreds of years ago, that have no relationship to one another, supposed to affect a person who happens to be born on a certain day?

It also seems highly implausible that any of the “planets” could affect someone’s personality just by their position in relation to the earth or each other.  How exactly would this happen?  A hallmark of science is always seeking to know how and why – what’s the mechanism by which something happens, and why does it happen the way it does?  Pseudoscience tends to either minimize or obfuscate any “hows” it comes up with, so the explanations may sound fancy but have no actual substance.

Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain the exact mechanism for a phenomenon, but there should at least be some ideas that are consistent with already established scientific principles.  Yet the fundamentals of astrology have been scientifically tested and have failed with flying colours.  Any of the proposed mechanisms for astrology to work, such as gravity or electromagnetism, fly in the face of established scientific principles.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias, a shortcut that the brain takes to avoid having to think about things more than necessary.  Confirmation bias means that we tend to pay the most attention to things that confirm what we already believe, and filter out things that are contrary to our beliefs.

So first you start with your daily horoscope, which will always be fairly vague.  At the end of the day, you consider all of the many different things that happened to you during the day.  You’re not so likely to think of all of the different things that happened that had nothing to do with the horoscope prediction; instead, you’ll focus on the events that confirm your belief in the predictive power of daily horoscopes.

Tests have been done to see if people would rate a newspaper horoscope for their own sign as any more accurate than another horoscope that was actually for a different sign.  There was no difference; both the “correct” and “incorrect” signs were rated as equally accurate.

What NASA has to say

According to NASA, the way the sun lines up with the constellations in the present day doesn’t actually match the traditional zodiac.  A blog post by NASA states:

“Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astronomers and other scientists know that stars many light years away have no effect on the ordinary activities of humans on Earth.

Astrology is something else. It’s not science. No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based on their birth dates.”

Given that NASA has some of the best and brightest, if they’re saying the universe doesn’t work the way astrologers say it does, I’m inclined to go with NASA.

If reading your horoscope is amusing or prompts you to do some self-reflection, then hey, why not, but if you’re looking for predictive value, a magic 8-ball is probably just as good.

 

Sources:

 

There’s more on debunking pseudoscience on the science corner page.

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24 thoughts on “Is Astrology Scientifically Accurate?

  1. Meg says:

    Interesting!

    This reminds me of a scrape our local newspaper got into once. Due to contract renegotiation (?), they suddenly started printing the comics and the horoscopes from a year prior. Everyone (including me) noticed that they were reprints. Angry letters were written to the editors, who tried to act all offended that anyone had noticed–they were ashamed at having been caught, which they weren’t expecting. They got snarky-mad at their readership for having called them out on it. 😮

    I believe in astrology, because too many of the self-absorbed guys I’ve ever been involved with were Pisces or Aries. This has been my firm policy for several years now. I have no issue with females from those signs, nor from males in my family from those signs, but I can’t date a man who’s Pisces or Aries. Although in my case, it might be impossible for me to make anything work with a man from any sign! 😀

  2. kachaiweb says:

    From a very early age I figured it out. I don’t like to share my birthday. I didn’t like to share my birthday with another girl in my class. I didn’t like her that much because she shared my birthday. Therefore she couldn’t have had all the traits that I had. I saw that every day in class. Bye bye astrology! You managed to understand the houses? That is just weird stuff. Now, I need to refill my aromalamp with lavender because all of this is throwing me out of my balance. Imagine that for a Leo with the ascendant in Scorpio!

  3. mentalhealthfromtheotherside.wordpress.com says:

    I don’t understand astrology at all and certainly don’t read my horoscope. I’ve read some in the past and they don’t make much sense. I agree with the confirmation bias where “we tend to pay the most attention to things that confirm what we already believe, and filter out things that are contrary to our beliefs.”

    There’s only twelve star signs so billions of people are going to have the same characteristics, emotions and “events” occurring each day?

  4. Grace says:

    I think it’s a bunch of bushwah, always have and yet – the personality descriptors always seem to be spot on (taking into account sun sign, moon sign and ascendant.) So I don’t know what that’s about. As a predictive tool – no, just, no.

  5. marandarussell says:

    I like astrology, but do admit that much of it is very vague and full of loose interpretation, similar to tarot reading. I do not like the daily predictions type of astrology, but I do like reading about the various signs/planets and their correlations.

    • King Ben's Grandma says:

      So funny… I did a WP search for ‘Pisces’ and one of my posts came up, followed by this one.

      I read astrology stuff and NASA stuff. It’s all interesting. I agree that astrology has no scientific basis. One of the things that occurred to me is that a LOT of people believe in it, so that gives it some ‘power’. Like a prayer group can affect people.

      Have you ever heard of or read the 100th Monkey Effect? It’s pretty cool.

      At the end of the day, astrology is fun. Anything that leads to self reflection is good IMO. And basing decisions on a roll of the dice or astrology is chancey.
      🌻

      • ashleyleia says:

        I agree, fun and self-reflection are good things. I would hope that most people would recognize that it has no scientific basis, but then again, there are people out there that think the earth is flat…

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