Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Message from the Stars

My appreciation to all of you who participated in my little Astrology experiment. If you believed the horoscope for your zodiacal sign fit your personality pretty well, or if not and you want to see if a different sign is a better fit, go back (if you haven't already) and look at some of the other horoscopes.

... Or I can save you the trouble... they're all identical. (Murr, you were already"on to me")

In reviewing your comments, (they don't really need tabulating) most of you found some level of fit with at least a portion of the horoscope, (with the exception of Penny who lives in the Southern Hemisphere... probably because, from her vantage point, all the constellations appear upside down. *wink*)

I lifted this horoscope from a site called Life Path Number (there are thousands of similar sites) which have you to input your birth date to receive your "unique" horoscope. Actually it retrieves one of only 12 horoscope versions for 365 birth days a year. In other words, among the 6.6 billion people on the planet, you share these unique and individual personality traits with a mere 550,000,000 other people.

As you can easily discern, horoscopes are written in such general terms that the conditions "could" apply to anyone and everyone. Being the pattern seeking animals that we are, we readily find and eagerly apply the connections that resemble what the horoscope suggests about us. We then simply disregard the "misses". Humans are much better at coming to conclusions based on emotional valuations - doing objective mental statistical analysis is not a natural part of our thought processes. This is why anecdotes often carry more weight in our decision making than hard facts, or why gambling is so compelling to some even though the statistical odds of winning are almost never in our favor.

Horoscopes are designed to push the buttons that make us feel good; and therein lies their universal appeal. We unconsciously "cherry pick" the positively reinforcing concepts and plug them into the area of or brain where we would like them to fit. The messages need to be general and positive for them to feel relevant. This is why horoscopes are never very specific and seldom deliver bad news. For example, a horoscope supposedly crafted for you will never suggest you have that odd mole on your shoulder checked out or warn you that your cholesterol is getting pretty high.

Astrology has no basis in fact because the "constellations" don't really exist. We humans have imposed images and symbols (like the image of Orion above) from our imagination onto the patterns of stars and anthropomorphize inanimate objects. In actuality the planet Venus is extremely hot and arid with an impressively heavy atmosphere; that it could have anything to do with love in human beings is preposterous. In the time it took for you to read this article, the planets have moved thousands of miles in their orbits. Their proximity to each other has no discernible effect on the love, relationships, wealth or the health of humans. Light from those stars began it's journey millions of years before we (even this plant) were born.

Yet people will often turn to these nebulous bits of silliness to make life-changing decisions. Even a US President was said to have consulted an Astrologer. Sadly, I personally know people who have who have parted with their hard-earned money to seek reassurance from these simplistic, hollow, feel-good messages.

The bottom line remains, though: Astrology is bunk... always has been; always will be.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Fortune-telling is truly a lost art. In Roman times, there were soothsayers like Spurinna who warned people about disasters but now they're all charlatans who write bogus horoscopes. It's because there are no penalties for making wrong predictions. That would weed out the fraudsters.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas Sometimes I wonder if the financial prognosticators are in a similar fix. I once heard a news commentator quip that "... if one were to take all the Economists in the world and place them end-to-end, they would all point in different directions".

The Mother said...

I think it's telling, on the economic topic, that monkeys with darts generally do as well as the highly paid stock pickers who run Wall Street.

On the horoscope topic, for centuries the only men allowed into the birthing chamber were the astrologers making the soon-to-be delivered child's horoscope. I wonder if they were forced to start over, from scratch, if the labor went past midnight?

I'm Jane said...

I prefer to make my life-changing decisions based on my fortune cookie fortunes.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Mom I wonder if the ancient astrologers in the birthing rooms charged a flat fee or by the "hourglass"?

Jane I confess to pocketing a few cookie fortunes that seemed somewhat poignant. The most humorous misspelled one we opened we placed in a tiny frame and gave to my father-in-law, a retired professor or Horticulture (specializing in Pears). It said: "You are greatly admired by your pears".

Anonymous said...

Hey, I love the pears. The horoscope stuff, it's a fun parlor game. Is it any different, really than the psycological evaluations which invariably read, "...persons with similar results in this testing tend to...." and then go on to talk about personality traits such as "distrust authority figures". I don't really think we've come all that far.

Charlie said...

Crystal balls, ouija boards, palm reading, phrenology, tea leaves, crystals, chakras—it's all BS.

And yes, you can ask 100 economists the same question and you will get 100 different answers. Where I went to college Economics was not in the Business School but in Social Sciences with psychology and sociology.

Give me Darwin and anthropology any day of the week—hard science, not charlatanism.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow I too am rather skeptical of those personality tests like the "Myers-Briggs" and such. I think they are about as valid as those little folded paper cusp thingies we used to make in grade school to determine who we were in love with.

Charlie Interesting about the placement of Economics within the academic structure. I read "Freakonomics" but felt the authors stretched the distinction between causation and correlation a bit in drawing their conclusions. To me, double-blind studies are where I look for reliability (and even those can be prone to intentional, or unintentional, bias).

billy pilgrim said...

madame alexandra vesant's cunning use of astrology and a gullible first lady saved valentine michael smith.

that's good enough for me.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy I had to resort to Google to understand the reference. Not being a big fan of sci-fi I confess to having never read "Stranger". However, I do include "Slaughterhouse-Five" among my all-time top favorite films.

secret agent woman said...

No, actually, I specifically said my description didn't fit at all.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent and I said: MOST of you found some level of fit... I didn't say "All".

Nor does YOUR lack of finding any similarities within the horoscope completely invalidate my premise that horoscopes are generalized statements designed to fit a wide swath (though not all) of human personality characteristics.

Perhaps I should have amended my horoscope to have said: "... occasionally you are exacting and pay close attention to detail and it's relevance..." **wink and smile**

secret agent woman said...

True, you said "most", but followed by "(with the exception of Penny who lives in the Southern Hemisphere", which suggested a single exception.

And I don't disagree with your views on horoscopes at all. I even mentioned the nature of horoscopes (" it's like reading horoscopes - bits of many of them can describe you.") in a post about a week ago.

But yes, if you'd added a bit about attending to detail, I'd have said that part was like me. Sometimes.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent In looking back at the responses to the horoscopes, you are correct - both you and Penny stated that the horoscopes were not good descriptions.

Your observation brings up additional questions to my mind: how do people reconcile the discrepancy when they do not feel the characteristics describing them conform to their zodiacal sign? Do they reject astrology, seek a different horoscope, or try to justify the discrepancy in some other manner? Donno...

It would be interesting if a true believer in Astrology were to try to answer that. Though I believe, in what limited capacity I am able to judge my readers, likely I am "preaching to the choir" here.

Penny said...

I once spent a week on a Course, where I shared a room with three others including a true believer. Actually she was very nice in spite of having stars in her eyes.

Similar experience to Murr in that she wasn't able to guess any of our signs and after several tries each we all told her.

Discrepancies are explained away by the position of other planets, the moon etc in the sky at the exact time and day (within your sign's month) of your birth. So if you're born at the beginning of a sign month you will be affected by the previous planet's traits, and at the end of a sign month, by the next month's traits.
Yadda yadda.

So long as what they do does no harm...they can prance around howling to the moon as well if they want to (but not in my backyard). :)