The person who graciously agreed to run my horoscope is a follower of Astrology and suggests it reveals unique personal characteristics based on the positions of the stars, planets and other celestial bodies at the time and place of birth. The reading was created using a computer program commonly used by Astrology practitioners. The individual doing this horoscope asked that I not reveal their identity or source of the information.
Upon supplying my true specific time and location of birth, I received in the mail a ten-page report categorizing aspects of my personality by my “outlook”, “emotions”, “intellect”, “romance” and several other headings. Each section included a set of statements describing various aspects of my personality and behavior.
Upon my initial read of my horoscope I found myself nodding in agreement that, overall, it appeared to be a fairly familiar assessment about me. Yet this was no surprise as I happen to be party as to how the illusion is accomplished.
ANALYZING THE HOROSCOPE – METHODOLOGY:
After scanning the document using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) I edited out all text that did not directly describe specific characteristics regarding my personality. For example, removing supposedly explanatory statements such as; “Your Moon is Trine to Jupiter with an Orb of 4 degrees”. What remained were the specific sentences describing my personality.
The remaining personality-descriptive sentences were then copied to an Excel spreadsheet, one sentence per line. Each sentence was then evaluated for whether it was “true”, “false”, “ambiguous”, “mutually-exclusive” or “universal” meaning applicable to a broad range of other personality types. Examples of universal statements would be: “This generation faces the stresses of changing social and moral standards”, or “Experiences in your life help you to grow.” With rare exception, who among us would not regard these statements to be true?
To minimize the likelihood of my own confirmation bias influencing the results, I also asked my wife to complete a duplicate analysis spreadsheet as well. She was not permitted to read the original horoscope prior to her analysis of the descriptive sentences.
TABULATION OF RESULTS:
The tabulations completed separately by my wife and I each judged 37% and 33% of the statements to be true, 29% and 26% to be false. We also determined 22% and 24% to be universal statements which most anyone might regard as true about themselves. 7% and 6% were ambiguous and 5% and 2% mutually-exclusive or contradictory, meaning neither true nor false.
FINDINGS OF ANALYSIS:
The statements produced for this horoscope used familiar techniques well known to science and psychology, primarily “Cold Reading” whereby many of statements are tossed into the mix - statistically several may be true and others equally false. The reaction of someone untrained in this subject, their psychological propensity toward “Conformation Bias” and “Subjective Valuation” subtly causes them to weight highly statements which confirm their self assessment and to disproportionally under-weigh those statements which do not. The inclusion of additional broad general statements which may apply widely to many different people unconsciously adds into the mix of “hits”. This suggests to the recipient that an accurate portrayal of their personality has been divined from the creation of their horoscope.
Astrology has been around for over 4,000 years. Yet in all that time no hypothesis has ever been suggested regarding its mechanism – how it works. Adherents have only the claim that the results alone provide validity of its accuracy. However the results can actually be shown to be nothing more than a set of generic statements which horoscope recipients subjectively unwittingly accept. This acceptance is termed “Fallacy of Composition”, whereby a conclusion is drawn though there are insufficient reliable facts to justify the inference. The methodology used to create horoscopes parallels closely with similar techniques of psychics, palm or Tarot card readers or any practice which routinely employ this stratagem.
All of which begs the question: of what use is Astrology? Science in recent years has been far more successful in explaining how physical, bio-chemical and genetic factors influence our behavior and personality. In addition, one needs to consider an individual’s development, societal and cultural environment as well. These factors are far more tangible influences in shaping our behavior and personality than through unexplained inferences from objects far out in space.
Astrology, like performance magic, appears to be something it is not. But unless one has made the effort to understand how the trick is structured and performed, the uninformed will remain gullible into believing that unseen "powers" are divining their lives from the stars.
- You are invited to view my actual personal horoscope, analysis spreadsheets and final report to the astrologer, along with two scientific studies of Astrology, on my web site at: http://www.skepticalmedia.com/astrology/