13 January 2011

When Modern Scientists Get Hold of Astrology

I just read a short article on how your zodiac sign may have changed because scientists at a planetarium in Minnesota have "recalculate[d] the dates that correspond to each sign to accommodate millennia of subtle shifts in the Earth's axis." What they are referring to here is the Precession of the Equinoxes. Let me explain.

Where does the Zodiac Begin?
Since the beginning of horoscopic astrology in the Middle East, the beginning of the zodiac was considered 0 degrees Aries. There are two definitions of "0 degrees Aries." One is that it pinpoints the Alpha star (first brightest) in the constellation of Aries. The other is that it assigns 0 Aries to wherever the Sun is on the day of the northern Spring Equinox; this also means that the Sun enters Cancer at the Summer Solstice, Libra at the Fall Equinox, and Capricorn at the Winter Solstice. When astrology was developed about 2,000 years ago, these two points coincided. That is, at the northern Spring Equinox, the Sun happened to be right about at the Alpha star in the constellation of Aries. However, the Sun moves against the background of the stars at the rate of about 1 degree every 72 years, and it does so backwards against what we consider the normal order of the zodiac constellations. So a few hundred years after astrology was developed, the Sun would have been in the late degrees of Pisces on the day of the Spring Equinox. And it will continue to appear in that sign at the Equinox for a couple thousand years. This is what we call our current age the Age of Pisces. At some point in the next few hundred years, the Sun will be against the background of the constellation of Aquarius at the Spring Equinox, which will begin the Age of Aquarius (no, it has not yet begun, sorry to all you Age of Aquarius enthusiasts out there).

This linking of the zodiac to our seasons on Earth has become known as Tropical astrology, or using the Tropical Zodiac. As the Earth goes around the Sun each year at its 23.5 degree angle, the Sun appears to move between the Tropic of Cancer at the northern Summer Solstice, south to the Tropic of Capricorn at the northern Winter Solstice. At the Equinoxes, the Sun appears to be right over the Equator. ("Tropical" comes from the Greek and refers to the "turning" as in the turning of the Sun at the Solstices. Oxford English Dictionary Online)

The linking of the zodiac to the star at Alpha Aries has become known as the Sidereal Zodiac (siderum = star, Latin) and has continued to be used pretty much only in India among Hindu (Vedic) astrologers. Some in the West also now practice Hindu astrology for a variety of reasons, usually stemming from a false idea that Hindu astrology includes predictive and spiritual elements not found in the West. While it is true that these elements are not found in modern Western astrology, it is not true at all that they are not still there; one need dig only a bit below the modern superficial/psychological use of astrology to find them.

So the Tropical and the Sidereal Zodiacs have existed side-by-side for nearly 2,000 years. One thing is very important to note here: both zodiacs use a stylized system of 30 degrees per sign. That is, the Tropical zodiac starts 0 Aries on the Spring Equinox, and just counts 30 degrees per sign going forward from there. The Sideral zodiac starts 0 Aries whenever the Sun aligns with that star every year and also just counts 30 degrees per sign from there. In other words, the Sidereal zodiac makes no attempt to align ALL of the signs of the zodiac with ALL of the constellations that were used to originally form it. There are Sidereal astrologers out there today who claim that Sidereal astrology is "truer" or "more scientific" than Tropical astrology because it aligns with the stars or constellations; but clearly they don't recognize, or won't admit, that the Sidereal zodiac aligns only with ONE star. The constellations aren't all 30 degrees of neat packaging, so the Sidereal zodiac is just as stylized (and no more "scientific" or "true") than the Tropical zodiac.

Modern Inventions
Now this article lists the dates of the zodiac "as the ancient Babylonians intended it." The hubris of modern science! Their own list includes the now-famous (and totally modern invention) of the "13th sign" Ophiuchus, with an asterisk noting that it was "Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year." (See my blog post on this.) So on the one hand, they admit right here that they are changing what the Babylonians actually DID, while claiming that they know what the Babylonians "intended." They claim to be "restoring" the "original Babylonian zodiac." Sounds like modern scientist messing around with something that they completely and willfully misunderstand.


If you notice the list of dates on these "signs", you will see that they are not approximately 30 days each. This is because these scientists are not using the Tropical OR the Sidereal zodiac here. They are using a modern invention called the "Constellational Zodiac." See Chris Warnock's excellent page on the three zodiacs for more detail. For now, let me point out that the Constellational zodiac attempts to take all of the constellations that go into making up the zodiacal signs, inserts Ophiuchus, and then sort of stretches the length of each of these "signs" proportionally to fit the size that each constellation occupies in the sky. There are a few major problems with that. The first is that many of these constellations overlap; this is one of the things that has led to confusion about when the Age of Pisces will end and the Age of Aquarius will begin. In a hundred years or so, on the day of the northern Spring Equinox, the Sun will actually be standing in the overlap of these two signs, so there will be a cross over period for many decades before the Sun stands solely in the constellation of Aquarius at the equinox. This is because Aquarius, while standing next to Pisces, also dips in below it for a few degrees (or one could say that Pisces swims above Aquarius). The other problem with this is that with all of the signs being different sizes, it is impossible to DO anything with them. The whole point of astrology is that it represents Plato's Ideal or perfection. One way of looking at it is measuring the difference between where we really are and where our perfected self is. It is in this space that we learn about ourselves, our world, our spirituality, etc.; and it is in this space that astrology does what it was intended to do - narrate the past, present and future (predict). This is impossible to do with an odd-shaped, ill-formed, lop-sided zodiac.


Final Comments
1. Scientists should stay the hell out of astrology. And if you want to know what I REALLY think: scientists should stay the hell out of astrology!
Many modern astrologers have misunderstood traditional astrology because either they did not have the resources to investigate it (which was true for a while in general), or simply because they did not care to (which is often the case now). How much LESS will modern scientists understand classical astrology (e.g. what the Babylonians "intended") than modern astrologers? All they can do is complicate matters.
2. Why would astrologers even CARE what modern science has to say about astrology? Modern science is almost universally hostile to astrology; and modern scientists who do have some sympathy for our Art usually are trying to "help" by proving astrology on scientific grounds. Being a Spiritual Science, if you will, astrology will never be proven correct, true, or valid to the satisfaction of the modern academy, which is still held captive by the materialist/atheist world view. I'm not suggesting that astrologers ignore everything that modern scientists say about astrology (or any other field), but why would we give it such weight? Is their goal to work with us? In most cases, their goal is to debunk astrology completely. Do you think that these scientists who "corrected" the zodiac dates actually consulted with an astrologer? Of course not! If they had, they might have realized how absolutely ridiculous their "corrections" are.

22 comments:

Eric said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha - excellent joke - absolutely hilarious!

I notice you moderate your comments - you get so many that you need to do that? Or do you just weed out those that disagree with you?

Well - let's give it a go - *WHY* should science not investigate the claims of astrology? If you make a claim - based on astrology - and it turns out to be true, wouldn't that make astrology a useful tool? Alas - astrological claims aren't true any more often than guessing - so it's pretty useless. However, I'll make you a deal - make a testable claim, and we'll see how it works out.

Chris LaFond said...

First, I moderate the comments because some are so crazy that they are not really worth answering.

But the point here is that scientists who are making the claim to which I refer in the blog post have made no investigation of astrology at all, yet are seeking to influence it. There is no investigation into any claims of astrology here.

I agree that many modern astrological claims are quite random. The main reason for this is that the tradition of prediction was abandoned for numerous reasons (social, political, economic, academic, etc); when astrology started to make a comeback, it essentially married itself to psychology in a post-Freudian world, and since then has focused merely on psychological analysis, not prediction. But that hasn't stopped modern astrologers from occasionally attempting to predict, even though they do it so poorly. In order to predict well, one must approach astrology from a world view that allows for it.

The deeper issue is that not everything in life is or should be subject to the "scientific method". True, if one is going to predict, one should have a certain level of accuracy and consistency (though it seems that we allow well-paid meteorologists to be consistently wrong with no major consequences). But science today is hostile to astrology; it is not neutral. So one must be suspect of any scientific approach here.

The main issue is also connected to the idea that science believes that the physical world leads to consciousness, leads to spirituality (if the latter can even be said to be "real" by modern science). Astrology is from a world view that says that spirit leads to consciousness leads to the material world. So while the world view that allows for astrology has room to accept the scientific method, the scientific method, per se, has no room for the world view that supports astrology.

UtherSRG said...

I like this comment to the original article to which you are blogging about:

To keep pace with the changes, China has announced that it is adding the following new year-animals to its list:

1. The Jackelope
2. The Flying Fox
3. The Large Mouth Bass
4. The Chupacabra
and
5. The Sperm Whale

Chris LaFond said...

I love it! Can you imagine being born in the year of the Chupacabra!

Curtis Burns said...

Even the Babylonians only roughly used the constellation with their signs, I believe they were siderealists. Aldebaran/Antares which were are in exact opposition to each other were used to lay out 15 deg Tau/Sco and they extended it from there.

Michelle McGee said...

<3

Herp N. Derpington said...

Science cured my heart disease. Astrology told me that I could come across something or someone that would be special, or dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I do not claim to be an expert and in fact i dont know much. My question is, isn't there a difference in astromony and astrology? They go hand in hand but they are very much different. And my second question is, has this happended before? I mean do we get a new constallation once in ever 5 thousand years?

Chris LaFond said...

Curtis: sort of. You are right though that from the very beginning, the signs were not linked exactly to the position of all the stars.

Chris LaFond said...

Herp: 1. Astrology never was supposed to heal heart disease. I am not opposed to science, it is just not the most appropriate way to approach astrology.
2. Modern astrologers don't really do prediction; so when they try, they are notoriously bad at it. It sounds as if you spoke to a modern astrologer, who was accordingly quite vague.

Chris LaFond said...

Anonymous: yes, there is a difference, and that's at the heart of my point. Whether we "get a new constellation" every few thousand years or so is a matter of perspective. After all, ALL of the constellations are constructs. It is humans who look at the sky, whether for astronomical or astrological purposes, and decide what the constellations are to begin with.

Cate Dalton said...

Chris, thank you for a very clear explanation of the "scientific interpretation" of Astrology....frankly I was quite concerned that Frank & I were "suddenly" Cancerians! Very disturbing for a Leo....you know how that is.... And what is up with the zodiac sign name no one can pronounce? If the scientists had ANY clue, they would realized that if they called it "the sign of Justin Bieber" they would stand a much greater chance of pushing those on a ready public... The teeny boppers would harangue their poor parental units to embrace the "new scientific astrology"...
In all seriousness, tho....brilliant explanation... Thanks!

Chris LaFond said...

Thanks Cate. For the record, Ophiuchus is pronounced "oh-fee-YOU-cuss". And the image is of a man wrangling a snake between his legs. Or as I've heard it referred to: man butt-flossing with snake.

Robbie said...

"Why would astrologers even CARE what modern science has to say about astrology?"

Um, because our entire modern society is based on science, and because science separates fact from fiction?

This very blog, that you use to attack science, is a direct product of countless scientific findings.

No science, no atrology blog.

So dismissing the science or scientific method just because the conclusion drawn from the observable facts do not match your beliefs is silly at best.

Anonymous said...

"In the rare cases when astrologers made specific and testable claims, they didn't work. So they demand exemption from the way the universe works; their art doesn't actually have results that can be assessed empirically, or measured, or even seen…which makes one wonder how astrologers and theologians ever came up with their claims, and why we should care about the operation of invisible rules that simply don't function."

...astrology in a nutshell...

Chris LaFond said...

Robbie,
Your assumption is that EVERYTHING THAT IS must therefore be subject to the scientific method. I am not knocking science, and I'm very happy for its existence in the modern world. But not everything in life is testable via the scientific method. And there have been countless cases where the scientific method has produced wrong results, only to be disproven or corrected later on.

Chris LaFond said...

Anonymous:
First of all, it's telling that you don't identify yourself. I don't normally post comments from anonymous posters.
You are clearly hostile to anything non-physical, since you lump theologians and astrologers in the same category (not that I'll complain there).
But again, you make the assumption that scientists know how the universe works without exception. I do not believe that this is true. Even today, there are some scientists and medical doctors who admit that physical manipulation of things can only explain so much (e.g. in terms of human healing).

Please read my comments more carefully. I never said that we shouldn't care about science, only about what modern science has to say about ASTROLOGY. This is because modern science, or rather scientists, have a clearly hostile approach to astrology.

Chris LaFond said...

Anonymous:
One final comment. The astrologer quoted in the article you link to is clearly a nut. There are two problems here:
1. Most modern astrologers study psychological astrology, not predictive. So when they try to do actual prediction, they fail. Predictive astrology has not been studied by most in a few hundred years.
2. There are, in fact, many astrologers who are fluffy nuts. That is precisely the purpose of my blog: not to present psychology or fluffy astrology, but to present and elucidate elements of a tradition that did actually know how to predict.

Pete R said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris LaFond said...

I received another comment from one "Anonymous", accusing me of censoring all the comments now that the "hard" ones have started arriving.
A few comments on this:
1. If you are such a coward that you won't even use your name to identify yourself when challenging the content of this blog, then your comments don't deserve to be published.
2. Don't flatter yourself that you are raising the "hard" questions. The fact of the matter is that you, and others like you, have not actually read carefully the words on my actual blog, and you seem to be incapable of comprehending philosophical differences such as differences in world view/philosophy. None of the questions that you are raising are new. But they miss the point. The purpose of this blog is not to argue that point, so I keep comments on it to a minimum. The fact that you have no place in your world for spirituality is your loss, not mine.
3. Yes, I do moderate the comments, and mainly because if you saw the nasty, ad-hominem, invective that I have received, you would find it easier and more civilized to moderate them then to try to remove all the offensive ones after they've posted.
4. As I've said before, for those who argue the actual content of a post, I'm happy to engage in a debate; but I am not here to apologize or defend astrology per se. If you don't agree with it, believe in it, etc., find yourself another blog to bother.

Tony said...

I agree that if a scientist is going to make a statement debunking any thing at all, He or she should use the same scientific criteria they use for any other subject matter investigated. if this is not not method used to try and dismiss astrology as fake, we will just get pulled into the he said she said format of a debate.
Thank you, Jo'El

Birth Charts HQ

Jonathan Flanery said...

Urrah !

It's unfortunate that modern science seems to feel astrology is such a threat. Haven't they ever read what Newton had to say about it ? Haven't they ever considered the implications of Goedel's work or the results of quantum studies ?

Not only is it rather silly to attack something you don't understand, it's worse to be trapped in the box of your own assumptions.