The stars and you and the uncomfortable truth

Abstract: The truth about astrology may be a little uncomfortable…but there is a twist…

Those who know me are well aware of the special place in my toolbox for those who believe in astrology. It’s a compartment that holds a set of jumper cables, which I use to jolt believers of astrology into the real world. However, and to this I must admit, there’s a sliver of truth in what they believe; and what’s more, there’s a twist. Because there’s always a twist.

Astrology is one of those things that we’ve inherited from the dark pages of history, when ignorance of science was painted over with the murky hues of occultism. In a way it’s like a nasty rash that people love to pick at to see what’s underneath. Back in its formative years, supposed ‘wise men’, known as soothsayers, would conjure up all manner of predictions by casting their eyes to the stars. Of course, women who tried this were called witches.

Shepherds, with little to do at night, would stare up at the stars and see shapes and forms amongst the constellations, adding fuel to the belief that there was some measure of purpose in the alignment of the stars.

Eventually, as science developed and threw more light on the stars (excuse the pun) it became clear that there was simply no way that the stars could influence events here on Earth. OK, that’s not entirely true. They could – via electromagnetic radiation and gravity – but it would be completely overshadowed by that of our closest star, the Sun. If you’re standing next to a powerful bar-heater you’re unlikely to feel the warmth of a burning match a hundred metres away. This was a bit of a blow for astrologers.

However, astrology didn’t go away. In fact it lost little of its lustre and popularity. So why is this? The answer lies tucked away in your brain, and provides one of the defining elements of human nature.

As social creatures we feel comfortable with the structure of a collective, whether it be the direct family, the extended family, or one of the many communities with which we identify. We don’t like chaos; so we are drawn to the concept of a guiding force, whether it is a sapient-like higher power or the construct of destiny. We also look for patterns as proof there is order; or, in the case of some higher power, purpose.

This is why the idea that our destiny is somehow mapped out in the stars above us – and that all we need is someone suitably qualified to read it – is so compelling; even if it is absolute nonsense.

It also begs the question if whether those who claim to be able to ‘read the stars’ are either fools or charlatans. If they really believe that the combined gravity or electromagnetic radiation of a random scattering of stars will determine whether or not a solitary individual (i.e. you) on this planet will find love and win the lottery, then they are fools; and I have a set of jumper leads for them. If, however, they know about the science behind why astrology is, at best, a whimsical distraction, and peddle it as real, then they are frauds. I have something else in my toolbox for such people; I just need to load it first.

And if you still don’t have any doubt about the veracity of astrology, read your stars today and do the maths: just as it ‘applies’ to you, it ‘applies’ to, on average, one in every 12 people on the planet. That includes all those children who will die today, those who will be brutally injured, and those who will spend their day scrambling over piles of rotting filth in rubbish dumps looking for food. I doubt many of them will meet a tall dark handsome stranger or go on an exciting getaway.

Of course, there’s always the argument that what’s written in your stars is ‘open to interpretation’. Science has a catchy little phrase for that: ‘fictional literature’.

Now I can imagine you’re thinking, “if he’s trashing astrology, where’s the ‘sliver of truth’ he mentioned in his introduction?” Well here it is: Remember all those naturally occurring elements on the periodic table you studied in science at school? All the stuff we’re made of is right there on the same periodic table. I know, it’s hard to imagine, and it’s often overlooked, but it’s a scientific fact.

And here’s the kicker: all those elements of which we’re made – oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus – were formed by the immense heat and pressure in stars, billions of years ago, and spread around the galaxy in massive explosions.

So, you see, in a way the stars can tell something about our story; except it’s not the future to which they hold any clue, it’s our past.

Now here’s the twist you’ve been waiting for: In the battle between science and pseudoscience, rational thought and irrational prediction, astronomy and astrology, it’s astrology that has won at the expense of science. The proof is right here in your hands. This newspaper, like most others, carries a regular astrology column, and yet has no column or section dedicated to science.

Happy now?

Originally published in the Sunday Tribune, 4th November 2012