December 12, 2017

Astrology: An Astronomical Perspective

Astronomy may well be man’s oldest scientific endeavour. When we weren’t busy eking out an existence, we were looking to the stars. The sky to our ancestors must have seemed enigmatic and mysterious. Removed from terrestrial affairs, the heavens seemed aloof. And yet, man noticed obvious patterns. We have an aptitude for this tendency stemming from our hunter gatherer roots. Man noticed the Moon and stars rose and set like the sun (you would be surprised how many college grads don’t know that today!). He noticed that certain stars were not fixed to the celestial vault, but wandered. The term “Planet” comes from the Greek “Planes,” which means “Wanderer”.
Soon, as we settled into an agrarian society and established more permanent settlements, it was found that celestial monitoring could be used with some benefit. Lunar phases could be used to measure a rough monthly calendar. Celestial occurences could be used to measure when to reap and when to sow. A prime example of this is the Egyptians using the helical rising of Sirius to predict the annual flooding of the Nile. A natural extension of the whole system came apparent; why couldn’t the heavens directly influence daily affairs?
To be sure, much of the correlations that were observed were convenient coincidences. Sirius didn’t cause the flood of the Nile. A conjunction of Mars and Jupiter wasn’t directly the cause of the latest war. However, the allure of connecting the two must have been convincing. We as humans also have a trait for counting the hits and forgetting the misses. The psychology of gambling is built on this.
The current system of astrology was formalized by the Greeks during the time of Ptolemy. A path of constellations, known as the zodiac, was divided into twelve houses. The sun moved predictably through each one in succession, along a path known as the ecliptic. The moon and planets also roughly followed the same path. Their relative positions in each house were construed as relating to births, deaths, and the reign of kings. This system predates Christianity and has endured pretty much unaltered until the present day. “When we die, no comets are seen,” Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar. “The heavens themselves blaze forth for the death of Princes.” The daily horoscope is a must for many even educated people.
So the question persists; do the heavens influence daily affairs? In some instances, I would say yes…
1. The moon and sun create tides.
2. A Coronal Mass Ejection can disrupt your cell phone.
3. A moonlit stroll can exponentially increase your chances at romance
4. A meteorite through the trunk of your car could spell a bad day. This has actually happened in Peekskills, New York. However, the car was used and the girl who owned it sold it off to the Smithsonian for USD $50,000.
5. The sun energizes the earth’s biosphere. We could all be considered walking, breathing, sun light.
6. The gold in my wedding ring was forged in some far off super nova explosion.
I could go on and on… certainly, the heavens have influenced me on a very profound level, causing many a sleep deprived night. Of course, this isn’t the kind of influence people are searching for when they read their horoscope over morning coffee. Deeply, most of us long for a profound connection with the universe. It’s right there at the top of Maslows’ hierarchy of needs. Once food, shelter, clothing, and security are established, we’ve got time to kill. We start looking for connection.
However, from an astronomical perspective, some serious problems arise. Below are the most glaring;
1. Astronomical bodies have exert two detectable forces; light and gravity. Both are negligible compared to say, the reflected light and gravity exerted on you by the doctor that delivered you.
2. The precession of the equinoxes since the time of Ptolemy has caused the dates of various constellations to change. for example, I was born July 31st. According to the newspaper horoscope, I’m a Leo. However, in modern times, the sun is now in the constellation Cancer on this date.
3. The sun actually passes through 13 modern constellations… sandwiched between Scorpius and Libra is the Constellation Ophiucius, the Serpent Bearer. Why are there no Snake Charmers born in late November? (And what would THEY be like?)
4. Without exception, most horoscopes are vague and elusive. You are underpaid and unlucky at romance. Aren’t we all? You feel you have untapped potential. Me too. Just once, I’d like to see a horoscope say “you left your keys in the door last night!”
5. Horoscopes never update as new planets are discovered. What about Eris and Dysnomia? Dwarf planets like Ceres and Vesta? The flood of new exoplanets?
6. Finally, astrology was built as a geocentric, or Earth centered system. Now, I know there are several blogs that argue the universe is just that. Good luck convincing thinking scientists that’s true. Come to my backyard on a clear night, and I’ll show you evidence of Earths’ motion!
“So what’s the danger in believing?” Nothing if its done in fun or historical perspective. Some might even argue it from the religious perspective. The trouble comes when people start shelling out serious cash to frauds. Money could be made by astronomers of a less than ethical bent if they were to start publishing astrology. Some world leaders, Ronald Reagan among them, have been known to make world altering decisions based on consultations with his astrologer. Astronomy may have descended from astrology, but today one bares little resemblance with the other. And yet, people still feel a certain longing to be interconnected with the universe. Astronomy shows that far from being separate from the heavens, we are part of the large scheme of things on the most intimate level.

Comments

  1. Beverly says:

    Your article debunking Astrology is EXCELLENT. I wish it could be sent to everyone. However there are lots of spelling mistakes. Please run the article through a spell checker. I’ve pasted a corrected version below.

    Astrology: An Astronomical Perspective
    Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
    Astronomy may well be man’s oldest scientific endeavour. When we weren’t busy eking out an existence, we were looking to the stars. The sky to our ancestors must have seemed enigmatic and mysterious. Removed from terrestrial affairs, the heavens seemed aloof. And yet, man noticed obvious patterns. We have an aptitude for this tendency stemming from our hunter gatherer roots. Man noticed the Moon and stars rose and set like the sun (you would be surprised how many college grads don’t know that today!). He noticed that certain stars were not fixed to the celestial vault, but wandered. The term “Planet” comes from the Greek “Planes,” which means “Wanderer”.
    Soon, as we settled into an agrarian society and established more permanent settlements, it was found that celestial monitoring could be used with some benefit. Lunar phases could be used to measure a rough monthly calendar. Celestial occurrences could be used to measure when to reap and when to sow. a prime example of this is the Egyptians using the helical rising of Sirius to predict the annual flooding of the Nile. A natural extension of the whole system came apparent; why couldn’t the heavens directly influence daily affairs?
    To be sure, much of the correlations that were observed were convenient coincidences. Sirius didn’t cause the flood of the Nile. A conjunction of Mars and Jupiter wasn’t directly the cause of the latest war. However, the allure of connecting the two must have been convincing. We as humans also have a trait for counting the hits and forgetting the misses. The psychology of gambling is built on this.
    The current system of astrology was formalized by the Greeks during the time of Ptolemy. A path of constellations, known as the zodiac, was divided into twelve houses. The sun moved predictably through each one in succession, along a path known as the ecliptic. The moon and planets also roughly followed the same path. Their relative positions in each house were construed as relating to births, deaths, and the reign of kings. This system predates Christianity and has endured pretty much unaltered until the present day. “When we die, no comets are seen,” Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar. “The heavens themselves blaze forth for the death of Princes.” The daily horoscope is a must for many even educated people.
    So the question persists; do the heavens influence daily affairs? In some instances, I would say yes…
    1. The moon and sun create tides.
    2. A Coronal Mass Ejection can disrupt your cell phone.
    3. A moonlit stroll can exponentially increase your chances at romance
    4. A meteorite through the trunk of your car could spell a bad day. This has actually happened in Peek skills, New York. However, the car was used and the girl who owned it sold it off to the Smithsonian for USD $50,000.
    5. The sun energizes the earth’s biosphere. We could all be considered walking, breathing, sunlight.
    6. The gold in my wedding ring was forged in some far off super nova explosion.
    I could go on and on… certainly; the heavens have influenced me on a very profound level, causing many a sleep deprived night. Of course, this isn’t the kind of influence people are searching for when they read their horoscope over morning coffee. Deeply, most of us long for a profound connection with the universe. It’s right there at the top of Maslows’ hierarchy of needs. Once food, shelter, clothing, and security are established, we’ve got time to kill. We start looking for connection.
    However, from an astronomical perspective, some serious problems arise. Below are the most glaring;
    1. Astronomical bodies have exerted two detectable forces; light and gravity. Both are negligible compared to say, the reflected light and gravity exerted on you by the doctor that delivered you.
    2. The precession of the equinoxes since the time of Ptolemy has caused the dates of various constellations to change. For example, I was born July 31st. According to the newspaper horoscope, I’m a Leo. However, in modern times, the sun is now in the constellation Cancer on this date.
    3. The sun actually passes through 13 modern constellations… sandwiched between Scorpios and Libra is the Constellation Ophiucius, the Serpent Bearer. Why are there no Snake Charmers born in late November? (And what would THEY be like?)
    4. Without exception, most horoscopes are vague and elusive. You are underpaid and unlucky at romance. Aren’t we all? You feel you have untapped potential. Me too. Just once, I’d like to see a horoscope say “you left your keys in the door last night!”
    5. Horoscopes never update as new planets are discovered. What about Eris and Dysnomia? Dwarf planets like Ceres and Vesta? The flood of new exoplanets?
    6. Finally, astrology was built as a geocentric, or Earth centered system. Now, I know there are several blogs that argue the universe is just that. Good luck convincing thinking scientists that’s true. Come to my backyard on a clear night, and I’ll show you evidence of Earths’ motion!

    “So what’s the danger in believing?” Nothing if it’s done in fun or historical perspective. Some might even argue it from the religious perspective. The trouble comes when people start shelling out serious cash to frauds. Money could be made by astronomers of a less than ethical bent if they were to start publishing astrology. Some world leaders, Ronald Reagan among them, have been known to make world altering decisions based on consultations with his astrologer. Astronomy may have descended from astrology, but today one bares little resemblance with the other. And yet, people still feel a certain longing to be interconnected with the universe. Astronomy shows that far from being separate from the heavens, we are part of the large scheme of things on the most intimate level.

  2. Daniel says:

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Astrology: An Astronomical Perspective, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  3. Melina says:

    very interesting. i’m adding in RSS Reader

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