Uncommon Sense

January 25, 2021

Astrology is the Old Homeopathy

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:01 am
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If you did not already know, homeopathy is bunk, complete bunk. Core principles in homeopathy are things like “the more you dilute a medicine, the stronger it gets.” Imagine a bar serving drinks using that principle, e.g. “Let me freshen up that drink with a little tap water,” spaketh the Barman.

Astrology has been around far longer than homeopathy but it, too, is a zombie idea, an idea that died a long time ago but just won’t stay dead.

For some strange reason, fairly reputable sources of news and comment still provide “astrological advice.” None of these advice columns explains how it is that the positions of the planets in the night sky, some which are upwards of a billion miles away, have any affect whatsoever on events in Earth? Clearly the moon has an effect on things like tides and whatnot, but other than that?

I am sure the powers that be in these news organs consider “astrology columns” to be entertainment, but actions have consequences. By publishing such nonsense, the publishers are encouraging people to consider causes and effects that are in no way connected. This does not exactly promote good thinking or good behavior amongst the readers of said outlets.

Now, I am sure the circulation managers of those outlets will argue that mixing in entertainment with their “newsy” articles will facilitate views or purchases of subscriptions. This, I believe, is true . . . which is why we have the comics. And I don’t see people planning their day around their morning Dilbert strip.

December 23, 2020

Conjunction Submunction, Part 2

In Part 1 of Conjunction Submunction I wrote: “I think the majority of the interest (in the conjunction) comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)”

As things usually go, I received shortly thereafter what a “real” astrologer thinks it means, to wit:

“At 12:21 p.m. CT the Great Conjunction forms between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, showing us where innovation, community, and opportunity intersect. This is a rare occurrence as Jupiter and Saturn meet every 20 years and are doing so in air signs after over 200 years of being in earth signs. This conjunction is all about doing the work it takes to be free — individually, and collectively.

“Saturn is a harsh taskmaster, especially in a fixed sign like Aquarius. Aquarius energy can be full of peace, friendship, and humanity, but do not mistake the other end of the spectrum. Aquarius likes to connect, but exclusion is the flipside of inclusion and as our world begins to meld in ways that many don’t like, we may find many rebelling against the process of creating a humane, global community. This is where we learn the tough lessons of being human. Do what you say you will or stay silent. Rewards will not be given to lazy thinkers under these skies. If you’re dedicated to being silly, you’ll get goofy results. Edit and enhance your network with a discerning eye. Build friendships genuinely yet intelligently.”

So, now you know. (I always wanted to know where innovation, community, and opportunity intersected. I thought it was in Silicon Valley, but now I understand it is up in the sky . . . wtf?)

December 22, 2020

Conjunction Submunction

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:12 am
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There has been quite a stir in the astronomical community regarding a conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, out two largest planets. Do realize that these planets are “close” to one another in the sky merely in that they are close to a line of sight of someone standing on the planet Earth. They are actually about 450 million miles (730 million kilometers) apart at closest appearance.

So, why is this worth taking note of? Well, it isn’t there isn’t anything we can learn per se from this “event” or rather nonevent.

I suspect the interest is driven from (for astronomy geeks) having witnesses something that only happens every century or so. Blend in members of the astronomy community that want to get as much airtime as possible to establish the standing of their field. But I think the majority of the interest comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)

Are you one of those who set up camera or telescope to get a view or picture of the two planets in the same frame? Or, did you, like me, wait for the flood of images posted on the internet to arrive? With regard to many of them, I could have done a better job using Photoshop, but then it wouldn’t be real, would it. I mean real in the meaning that it has anything to do with, well, anything.

Addendum As you might be able to tell, I am working on achieving my Curmudgeon Badge in the Old Timer Scouts program. It is on my bucket list.

July 31, 2020

Astrology Has an Interesting History

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:09 am
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Astrology goes way back so I assume it has a pre-history (going back 6000+ years or so) but there is little we can learn about such beliefs before there were written records of what they were. In any case we can learn two things from this long-standing belief. For one, people looked up and studied the points of light in the night sky and the other is that they knew fuck all about what was really happening.

In our western tradition it seems that astrology took off with the ancient Greeks, four to five centuries BCE. It seems to be founded on a belief that the gods or a god set “the heavens” in motion and that those same gods mapped out human destinies onto those motions and positions.

Okay, time for a little science. The vast majority of the planetary bodies formed from an accretion disk that was rotating around our star. Consequently, all of the planets formed in that manner exist in the same plane (roughly) and orbit the Sun in the same direction. Consequently mapping the positions of the planets against the circular horizon (circular in appearance any way) gives a reasonable structure as to the positions of the planets in the night sky.

Also, all of the other stars are so far away that their motions are imperceptible from here, they are the “fixed starts,” meaning fixed into positions. They rotate about an axis viewed from where we are, many videos show this phenomenon and these appear frequently on our TVs. This rotation of the “fixed starts” is an illusion, of course, based upon the fact that the Earth rotates once per day on its axis. (And for those looking for deity designs in that one day per rotation fact, that is just where we got the time term of a “day.” Light to dark and back to light seemed to repeat and it did . . . because of the Earth’s rotation. (Which is slowing down, by the way, by 1.78 milliseconds per century!).

So, the positions of the fixed starts didn’t change in relation to one another. The only things that changed positions were the planets and moons of the planets. And back in the Greeks hey day, there were five known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and the Moon and the Sun. The Babylonians, apparently, invented the zodiac, being sets of fixed stars wrapping around the skies equator, to provide locations in the night sky that (a) could be referred to, and (b) found. The planetary bodies were then mapped as they made their way around this circle.

To believe in astrology, and let me be clear, almost everyone did back then and possibly many, many still do, one has to believe in predestination, that is a destiny for each of us has been ordained (usually by the gods or a god), and you have to believe that your destiny has been mapped by the gods onto the positions of those planetary bodies around the zodiac. (Those “bodies” positions, btw, are perfectly predictable using the laws of science, so changing someones destiny would require a god to shift the position of a planet or two and then change everyone’s memories and all records of that change. (Whew!)

While there has been much written about and claimed for astrology, no mechanism has been given for the direct influence of the planets on our lives, so the gods have to be behind this, ordaining what will happen and then expecting us to seek security through secret decoder rings or whatever.

Knowing what was going to happen to one in a time in which life was far from predictable was very much to be desired, so people consulted astrologers frequently, especially when large undertakings were in the offing. If such an undertaking were fraught with danger and loss, well, destinies were in the control of gods and there were rituals and sacrifices to gain a change in fate. These practices fit hand in glove with the thinking of those people at that time.

The astronomers of the time, who also believed in astrology, didn’t see a connection between their mathematics-based exploration of the skies with astrology, but if they had, there is one thing they could have discovered.

If one plots the positions of the planets on the horizon, as is apparently done in serious German schools of astrology to this day, you can get certain arrangements of the “planets” around that circle and various interpretations can be made.

But, how many unique “prognostications” can be made from these arrangements for any particular day? Hundreds, thousands, maybe. But circa 500 BCE there were roughly 90-100 million people alive on Earth. If they were all to ask for a horoscope to be cast on a particular day, would they each get a forecast unique to them as an individual? I doubt it. There are not enough “heavenly bodies” being tracked and positions they could be in to cover that many people.

Now there are 7+ billion people on Earth. We are not limited to the five observable with the naked eye planets as were the ancient Greeks, but even if we include all of the planets and many of their moons, are we going to come up with 7+ billion unique horoscopes? (Inquiring minds want to know. Note For those not of a certain age, this phrase was used to market a supermarket tabloid, called the National Enquirer. They were famous for defending themselves, in court, during a libel suit by saying “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”)

So, in order for one to continue to believe in astrology, one has to believe in: determinism, our destinies are created by a god or gods which have the power to change those destinies, and that somehow, some way, 7 billion different horoscopes can be created on any day of the year.

This is why astrology qualifies as a religious belief, a belief in the absence of evidence, not because of the evidence.

 

 

 

 

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