Correcting some more flawed criticisms of astrology
By MARTIN REZNY
Since literally nobody else is going to do this, I guess I have to, now that I’ve publicly outed myself as someone who has spent years studying astrology from a scientific point of view. I happened to be binge-listening to hours of videos featuring Neil, again, and heard this he had to say about astrology on Joe Rogan’s podcast show:
Okay, in the interest of what Neil is trying to accomplish in general (getting the facts straight), I have to correct him on what he said about astrology. Frankly, I don’t believe he has studied the subject very much, like by reviewing existing astrological literature to understand its basic principles, as one normally does in science. Astrology is a well hated thing among astronomers, and I really get why, but not particularly well understood on the level of verifiable fact by people who are supposed to be scientific in debunking it.
In large part, astrology is misunderstood by astronomers also due to self-proclaimed astrologers who clearly suck at doing astrology as it is described in the most basic popular books published about it. It’s not like basic astrological theory and methodology are a mystery — it’s all out in the open and explicitly stated, just read the bestselling books. That renowned astronomers for some reason tend to run all the time into fame-seeking bad astrologers or greedy con artists posing as astrologers really doesn’t help anything. Like the woman described by Neil in this video.
After studying astrology and its criticisms for about 15 years, I can tell you I’ve never even heard of an ecplise being a thing that matters in astrology in any way meaningful in the horoscope, despite it being cited frequently as an example of a thing that matters to astrologers by its critics. Let alone obvious BS like allowing yourself 100% latitude regarding whether to count something as concurrent with an event or not. There is some latitude in astrology, yes. It’s by no means as exact as physics in general are, or astronomy — the sciences to compare it to are those like psychology or sociology that share the same subject matter, and problems.
The standard (and I mean standard) latitude within which something is considered entering a configuration or leaving a configuration is five degrees of angular distance. Out of 360, which is a whole cycle (like a year). Even each sign, 1/12 of the sky, has 30 degrees total. It’s not two weeks either way when the cycle is a month. Not to mention that there’s no way of getting around a precise conjunction — the exact moment when two things coincide within the horoscope must matter. As two things are moving closer, it can only mean it intensifies things on a scale, or the opposite when they’re getting away from each other. Astrologers who say anything that contradicts any of this are failing to do astrology properly, or at all.
Secondly, the way Neil describes how the constellations got meaning and how it ties to astrology is beyond reductive, and an unfounded conjecture. To the extent to which we can know what people were doing and why before recorded history, astrology had a logical, clear, practical purpose right from the beginning, and it was a scientific purpose, even if not scientific by all standards of modern science in its exact methodology. People wanted to understand natural cycle so that their crops wouldn’t fail. I would think that Neil would know this since some of his favorite wine is still grown this way as he mentioned once on his own talk show, StarTalk.
Most episodes of which I have listened to, btw. I only say what I’m saying because I value what he’s doing.
So, at that point in history, the astrology-astronomy hybrid was an attempt to map regularities in how real weather changes throughout the seasons, using astronomy to measure precisely how natural time passes. The connection to individual personality the way astrology is used now came much later (early on in the ancient times, “individual” wasn’t a very common concept). The in-between step was the so called mundane astrology, which was interested in the prediction of big social events — likening them to weather in how they’re changing.
Anyway, the point is that the twelve signs clearly represent a kind of an average description of the natural cycle. Each personality of each sign is like the weather of one month of the year of the solar cycle. The ancient peoples were big on using analogies like this. This is not a secret, you will find it in astrological literature to this day.
The assignment of constellations for astrological cultures like the ancient Greeks especially therefore doesn’t appear to be random. The constellation (visually arbitrary, yes) in which Sun finds itself at a certain point of the year has its lore derived from the nature of the weather during that part of the year. There’s 12 of them because that’s a very handy number to divide something by because it has so many factors (1, 2, 3, 4, 6), which is the same reason why some mathematicians today argue we should switch to base-12 math, like from the kindergarten level. It was a practical chart to help with agriculture, after all. Do you think clocks need to have different amount of hours or year needs a different amount of months?
I don’t claim that astrology works, but let’s start by criticizing what it actually is. I’d absolutely love to hear some non-straw man arguments against it by people like Neil.
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