Why is astrology dismissed?

 

Plenty of people have a very negative opinion about astrology, and I’ve often wondered just why is astrology dismissed so readily. Particularly by people who know very little about it. And what little they do know, seems to be completely inaccurate.

I recently responded to a question on Quora.com about this very topic. Someone on that site asked the question, ‘Why is astrology so looked down upon?’ To which I wrote a reply. Which is reproduced below, albeit with additional editing.

Why is astrology so looked down upon?

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

It’s “looked down upon” for several reasons.

Firstly, because of ignorance.

Plenty of people dismiss and rubbish astrology without really knowing much about it. For instance, they think that ‘astrology’ means ‘sun sign columns in newspapers and magazines.’ That the pithy bland statements/predictions in such columns (which could apply to anyone) is thought to be ‘astrology’ is just plain wrong.

If you asked an experienced astrologer, or an astrology peak body, you’d find there is universal agreement that sun sign columns, invented in the 1930s to sell newspapers, are totally removed from what for the sake of clarity I’ll call ‘real’ astrology. By that I mean the astrology practiced in various forms for at least the past 2000 years.

Real astrology is a complex body of knowledge. One far, far removed from glib personality calls. Just because some who call themselves ‘astrologers’ promote sun sign astrology (e.g. Linda Goodman) does not mean ‘all’ astrologers follows this path. That would be profoundly simplifying the underlying truth.

So if a skeptic is going to address astrology impartially and professionally, they certain need to start be steering clear of anything related to sun sign columns or anything remotely like it.

Real astrology is not a ‘parlour game’ or some kind of ‘guess my personality’ trick. One would hope that anyone investigating a topic (any topic!) would take the time to understand it fully, before conducting experiments. Otherwise, the experimental design will likely be flawed, the resulting data unreliable.

Secondly, because of prejudice.

Psychologists call this ‘perceptual set’. That is, the set of values you bring to a subject, that inform/colour your view what you’re examining. For some scientists and skeptics, they start from a viewpoint of ‘astrology is rubbish.’ And some proceed to describe this rubbish — their description of what they assume astrology to be. And it is a million miles from what astrology actually, factually, IS.

This discourse or approach does not seem in accord with science’s professed philosophical foundation of impartial enquiry and genuine interest in understanding the unknown. One would think a reasonably intelligent person would have sufficient and accurate background knowledge prior to launching an assault on a particular topic. Otherwise we have a superficial and uninformed ‘opinion’ masquerading as ‘authority’.

Thirdly, because of dogma.

There are plenty of instances throughout history, of humankind seeking to destroy or marginalise what it doesn’t understand, or wish to understand. Examples (to varying degrees) include colonialism, Nazi Germany and the Jews, subjugation of women, seeing homosexuality as an illness, and so on.

It seems to cross all fields of endeavour, and is a failing of humans generally. Christianity, professing ‘love’ and a saviour who never hurt anyone, had no trouble burning people at the stake. Or waging holy wars and torture in his name.

Where this ‘suppression of other’ comes from, I’m not sure. Sometimes I look to Aristotle – the ‘A or not A’ viewpoint. Taken to it’s unfortunate extreme, this becomes George W. Bush’s, ‘You’re either for us or against us’ (sic) pre-war rhetoric. In some cultures, and perhaps at the quantum level, something can be ‘A and not A’, at the same time. Which seems a more integrative and acceptive way of thinking.

Dogma, at it’s worst, makes assumptions about superiority. That it’s ‘my way or the highway.’ And that those that not within the boundaries of the predominant mode of thinking are outsiders (‘them!’). And it is ‘them’ who (at worst) are worthy of scorn, contempt and being ostracised. Plenty of wars and hate crimes have begun with this kind of worldview in the foreground. But it also plays out in much smaller ways and milder forms in our everyday lives.

There is a similar approach, by some, to astrology. Parts of the scientific community seem to delight (and put aside their otherwise professional approach in the process) in rubbishing something they don’t understand. Or they delight in rubbishing something they presume to understand. When in fact, their knowledge of the topic is very limited — for some of the reasons outlined above.

And I have great respect for science and many scientists.

My preference is for scientists who have a ‘that’s fairly interesting, I wonder how that works?’ kind of approach. David Suzuki springs to mind. A documentary he presented looked at unusual ‘mind over matter experiments.’ He didn’t take sides, but rather made enquiries. He showed some odd things that he couldn’t easily explain. Or Harvard professor and psychiatrist John E. Mack, looking into UFO abductions. Or Rick Strassman’s work looking at DMT. Both stepped outside conventional approaches in order to study their respective topics.

Returning to astrology, it would appear dogma is part of the issue. Science argues that there is ‘no evidence’ to support the ‘validity’ of astrology. But really, what is meant by ‘validity’? The assumptions I’ve seen – e.g. that astrology is some kind of personality ‘guessing game’ are flawed from the start. Or that it is all about ‘predicting the future’, and if it can’t do that with any kind of precision – well, it’s rubbish!

Do we rubbish economists or meteorologists when their forecasts turn out to be incorrect? Why then, do many come down so hard on astrology? I don’t have an answer for that. I’m looking forward to the day when someone provides a credible, thoughtful and intelligent response to this question. So far on Quora, those are few and far between.

What tends to happen, is the ‘it’s rubbish’ prejudice is there from the start. And ignorance about what astrology actually is, as a body of knowledge. The assumption is often that the sun sign columns represents astrology. This is like saying simple addition is ‘just the same’ as calculus − ‘they’re both mathematics, so anything I say about simple addition obviously covers the whole gamut of mathematical knowledge.’

There are plenty of historical examples of something once considered ‘ridiculous’ and ‘rubbish’ by the scientific establishment one day being considered entirely normal.

There are some examples at the following link:

Why it is unacceptable to dismiss astrology as rubbish.

This historical record doesn’t ‘prove’ astrology. But it does indicate that today’s understanding of truth can and will adjust over time. So my wish is that science applies it’s considerable intelligence to a topic that has fascinated mankind across many cultures for thousands of years.

And a topic that has fascinated some of the finest minds in the West − Kepler, Newton, Brahe, Copernicus, Ficino, various Popes, John Dee, Paracelsus, kings, queens, Wall St barons (e.g. W. D. Gann) and so on. This appeal to history doesn’t make astrology ‘true.’ But it should at least ‘prompt’ modern thinkers to take a closer look.

In summary, I’ve outlined a few reasons why astrology is dismissed. Astrology today seems to be viewed as that kooky new neighbour who moved in next door. Rather than going and saying hello and getting to know them, the skeptics seem content to hurl insults and spread rumours. Yes, there may be ‘token gestures’ of civility and understanding, but these appear to be shaped by prejudice, rather than being an in-depth inquiry into the truth of the matter.

Investigating astrology with respect and an open ‘I’d like to learn more’ − no matter how silly and odd that may feel − is the only way to cross that divide. I’m sure many astrologers would welcome such an overture. It could be in the spirit of Reagan and Gorbachov, and the end of the Cold War.

A good place to start, for anyone with a genuine ‘wish to know’ is historian Benson Bobrick’s fascinating book, The Fated Sky. I’m re-reading it at the moment. It’s a historical account of astrology through the ages. Zero knowledge of astrology required. Here’s the Amazon link:

The Fated Sky: Astrology in History

A skeptic, looking at all of the above, might just say that astrology is dismissed because ‘it isn’t true.’ And they might have evidence to support that. But I’ve yet to see ‘evidence’ that addresses astrology as it is actually practiced. And I’ve also yet to believe that truth can only be defined by science. This applies to astrology, but to other spheres of life as well.

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