The question of whether astrology is fake tends to split people into two camps vehemently opposed to each other. Those in the first one will openly disparage astrology as pseudoscience and superstition, while the others will tell you that horoscopes aren’t just things you read on the bus to kill time and that astrology is a valid discipline that has existed for centuries.
This article will discuss what science has to say about astrology and the facts that support its relevance (or fakeness).
The Origins of Modern Astrology
Astrology is based on the assumption that astronomical phenomena influence our daily lives, significant life events, and even personality traits.
Astrology shouldn’t be confused with astronomy, which is the science that studies space, celestial objects, and the way the universe works.
Popular or pop astrology most of us are familiar with differs in multiple ways from the astrology practiced by Ancient Greeks and other ancient people. It first appeared in the second part of the 19th century and it was later influenced by developments in psychology.
This “astrological science” that follows the notion your star sign can indicate specific character traits was popularized back in 1890 by an English esotericist called Alan Leo, who was a member of the Theosophical Society, a group looking for wisdom in all sorts of spiritual traditions to help the world get into the next stage of development (i.e. the New Age).
Even back then, Leo managed to end up having to defend himself in several legal battles in the 1910s because he was accused of illegal fortune-telling.
This approach to astrology continued to gain more and more popularity among the general public, and all hell broke loose in the 1960s when the New Age theory went mainstream. It seems that many people found reassurance in the idea that their personalities were reflected in the stars at a time when humanity was pushing its borders scientifically more than ever, discovering that the Earth is just a small insignificant dot in a vast pool of millions and millions of galaxies.
Is Astrology Real, or What’s Real Astrology?
Before the New Age, prominent figures like Carl Jung also showed interest in astrology. In his work, Jung placed astrology beside mythology as a way for people to explain how the human psyche works.
Jung himself thought of astrology as “hokey pop psychology,” which is fun to consume but has no scientific substance.
However, we can’t say that astrology was never a legit science.
Alexander Boxer is an American data scientist who wrote a book called “A Scheme of Heaven: Astrology and the Birth of Science,” which recasts astrology as an ambitious technological project that spanned continents and centuries. Boxer’s book invites us to ask ourselves, “Where did astrology come from?” in order to understand its meaning and purpose.
The book explores how astrology was an integral part of a science called natural philosophy and that the main motive behind planetary exploration was due to people believing in astrology.
Boxer argues that back then, astrology was an expression of a deeply mathematically deterministic mindset, guided by the idea that our behavior and even future can be well described and understood with numbers and algorithms – which is reminiscent of the data science of today. He concludes that astrology paved the way for various modern sciences to evolve, even though astrology itself was eventually discarded as a pseudoscience.
Are Zodiac Signs Real?
In astrology, the zodiac is a belt around havens divided into 12 equally-sized sections, each occupied by a constellation. The Babylonians were the first to describe these constellations, but the Greeks adopted them, and from there, the zodiac began to circulate in various cultures. These constellations reminded the Ancient Greeks of “little animals,” hence the name zōdiakos kyklos – “the circle of animals.”
The zodiac signs we all know correspond to these 12 sections of the sky the Sun passes through each year. A basic premise of modern astrology is that people born on the same day (or time of year) are under the same celestial influence – that of their zodiac sign.
So what’s wrong with this idea?
First of all, the zodiac signs don’t really correspond to actual constellations, which are irregular in size. What’s more, the Sun regularly passes through a 13th constellation – called Ophiuchus – which is not a part of the zodiac. So, to begin with, the whole pattern doesn’t mirror the “actual situation” in the sky.
Secondly, even if the zodiac were an accurate map of constellations, for astrology to be considered “astrological science,” it would still have to offer a verifiable explanation of the mechanism through which celestial bodies influence people, determine their personality traits, and even shape their destinies – which it doesn’t. Let’s delve a little deeper into the matter.
Modern Take: Is It a Science?
The biggest problem with astrology is that it simply doesn’t qualify as scientific. Even though it focuses on the natural world and tries to explain it, it doesn’t use testable ideas. The predictions astrology generates are oftentimes so generalized that basically any outcome can be interpreted as fitting. As such, its predictions can’t be verified against the natural world’s outcomes.
Another problem that tells us the horoscope is fake is that it rarely relies on evidence. Astrology hasn’t changed its basic ideas even when presented with contradictory results. In contrast, one of science’s greatest hallmarks is the fact that hypotheses can be modified if they turn out to be wrong.
Another thing that sets astrology apart from real science is the fact its findings aren’t critically evaluated by the general scientific community. Rarely are astrology-related works published, and when they are, they’re usually not peer-reviewed and put under scrutiny.
Also, after failing to establish the validity of its ideas, astrology hasn’t contributed with any ongoing research to the world of scientific discoveries.
Lastly, astrologers act differently from scientific researchers, who strive to test their own ideas and come up with alternative hypotheses and counterarguments.
Putting Astrology to the Test
Scientists – being scientists – don’t expect you to trust them blindly when they tell you astrology is fake. They can prove it.
Carlson’s 1985 study was of the most comprehensive experiments carried out to test astrologers’ abilities. Shawn Carlson is a physicist who wanted to test how well astrologers can extract information about their clients from celestial object positions at the time and place of their clients’ birth.
Carlson involved a total of 28 highly-praised astrologers from the US and Europe.
The double-blind study (with neither the participants nor the researchers knowing which participant belongs to which group) eliminated subjective biases from both involved sides.
According to the results, the astrologers’ guesses were at a level consistent with chance, bringing Carlson to the assumption that astrologers are wrong and that astrology is a pseudoscience.
Research conducted by Ivan Kelly from the University of Saskatchewan showed in 1979 that the few studies confirming that astrology does work need additional clarification.
He also conducted another study 20 years later, only to conclude that astrology lacks a theoretical foundation.
Lastly, this Canadian scientist participated in one more relevant study in which researchers tracked over 2,000 people for several decades. The participants were all born under the same zodiac sign. According to the basic premise of astrology, these people should have had similar traits. The research found out that this was decidedly not the case. In fact, the participants had no notable similarities outside of random distribution.
Is astrology science? So far, we’ve presented some evidence that states otherwise, but here are two more.
Paul Thagard from the University of Michigan put in a rather interesting argument when he proposed a specific criterion that would draw a clear line between pseudoscience and actual science.
To sum it up, he said that astrologers make vague predictions, but a much more pressing problem is the fact that astrology isn’t falsifiable. As such, even if astrologers make unfulfilled predictions, they wouldn’t give up their “scientific” theories.
In that sense, there are no practical results nor a reliable theoretical basis for astrology. Thagard’s full article, titled “Why Astrology Is a Pseudoscience,” is available here.
There are instances when astrology “seems to work.” We read a description of your zodiac sign’s traits and recognize ourselves in it. Why does that happen?
An experiment conducted by Bertram Forer in 1948 might give us a clue.
Forer gave “unique” personality descriptions to his students, who were then asked to read these descriptions and rate how well they described their personalities on a scale from 1 to 5. The average rating they gave was 4.26/5, indicating that the description was “very accurate.”
What students didn’t know was that they were all given the same personality analysis. The text of the description was taken by Forer from a newspaper astrology column. The experiment has since been replicated numerous times, and the average rating was always about 4.2/5.
Why does this happen? If astrology is fake, why are we so easily tricked into believing it?
It seems that the human brain is hardwired to look for patterns to make sense of what’s happening around it. It’s an ability that has helped us survive as a species. The brain strives to create connections even between two unrelated, random events to help us make sense of what’s happening. Astrology exploits the same loop, which scientists call “subjective validation.” This happens when two unrelated events happen, and you perceive them to be connected because of a previous expectation, and that belief “demands” you to tie them together.
Is Astrology Bad for You?
So, there’s plenty of proof astrology is fake, but what’s the actual harm?
Even some people who are fully aware of astrology’s pseudoscientific status consider it a rather harmless phenomenon. After all, when we compare reading daily horoscopes to not vaccinating one’s children against crippling or deadly diseases, the former does seem rather benign. But is that really so?
Astrology can have a moderately positive effect on some people due to the placebo effects caused by subjective validation. Many people attempt to ease stress and anxiety by reading what their day will be like in newspaper horoscope columns, and it often makes them feel a little better. There’s where astrology’s magic lies: It has more to do with the way people perceive it than with the actual “science” behind it.
However, believing in astrology indicates that the person in question can’t distinguish between science and pseudoscience – which can cost them dearly. Astrology is also known to encourage prejudice, to target women more aggressively, discouraging them from learning more about sound scientific research instead; it influences people’s decisions, which is even more problematic in cases of, for example, high-profile statesmen. Finally, we can’t help but think that all that money given to astrologers for making natal charts and predicting people’s future could have been put to better use.
So, as it turns out, astrology is fake. If you browse through some long-distance relationship stats we’ve compiled for you, you’ll notice that even those strained romances have a better chance of succeeding than a horoscope prediction has of being true.
Even so, it can be a fun pastime, something you read for your own pleasure. Just don’t waste any money on it, and don’t let it influence any decisions, including the decisions about your love life. Yes, that means you can still date him even if he’s a Capricorn. Remember, there are many other telling signs that can really help you predict if you’re a match or not.