Part 2: What if astrology WERE true?September 6, 2010
Astrologers always seem to think they are on the cusp of the great day when the dominant paradigm is dramatically over-turned, science accepts that astrology has been proven, and the New Age dawns…
But would astrologers really like the changes that would be likely to follow?
Following on from Part 1, and from recent discussions where skeptics have been kindly encouraging astrologers to raise their standards, I offer this speculation on what would happen if astrology suddenly started returning positive results from properly conducted experiments.
Ok, so let’s imagine astrology did suddenly start returning positive results from numerous tests. What would happen?
The first news for astrologers is that scientists would not suddenly cry O my god, we were wrong and those pesky astrologers were right afterall, and start rewriting all the text books while astrologers start ushering in the New Age. Instead, they would repeat the tests to see if it happens again.
And let’s imagine it does. A string of tests confirms that astrologers can indeed match birth charts to personality tests; can predict major life events and personality traits simply by looking into a person’s birth chart. The matter is clear. No longer will astrology be dismissed as a pseudo-science.
All those who have campaigned long and hard on the internet demanding recognition of astrology as a science are triumphant. They thank Wikipedia’s physics section and the guy who invented the “copy and paste” function.
Astrologers would be happy at first, but soon they would probably have cause to wonder if it was really such a good idea after all.
The first repercussions
* Newspaper astrologers would find the rug being pulled out from under them. Classical astrologers would gloatingly remind them that they’ve been saying all along that it isn’t proper astrology, rather it just provides skeptics with an “easy target”.
* People would realise that the daily astrology column is completely pointless, and newspapers would apologetically let their highly paid astrologers go back to the dole office. Planetary positions would be incorporated in the weather forecast.
* Chinese, Mayan, Tibetan, Arab and Vedic astrologers would all be devastated by the news that their astrology has now been definitively shown to be wrong and would be out of a job. Or they would be desperately trying to square their system with the triumphant one.
Some might try to ascertain that they are all “right in their own way”, but this won’t work. If that were the case, we would quickly have landed back at the current situation, where a random system is as good as classical astrology.
Standards for evidence would now be let loose in the previously harmonious profession. And that would cause further problems.
Mainstream astrology feels the effects
Astrologers from the successful branch of astrology would suddenly have it tough. Their sudden status as science would mean they have to start acting like scientists. In their pre-science status days they could just dream up any old scheme, medical astrology, astrocartography, whatever, and immediately start selling it. Now they would have to justify the theoretical basis, test it, meet the strict scientific standards now demanded of them.
The entire astrology industry would necessarily grind to a halt, and the implications of their “success” would begin to sink in. The party would finally be over, and the serious work would have to begin. The dead wood would finally start being cleared out.
And then more pressing more difficulties would appear.
Scientists get serious
Such results would mean that the basic concepts of virtually every field of scientific knowledge would need to be torn out, root and branch. How would scientists go about this?
Astrologers were probably hoping that the clever scientists would suddenly say Oh, I see how it works! How could we have missed that??? And then go on to explain this great mystery, and everyone would be happy.
That ain’t gonna happen.
This is the line of reasoning we can expect astronomers to take:
“Planets are big balls of ice, rock, metal, and other stuff. Their ability to affect us is weak because they are pretty far away. As far as we can tell in science, there are only four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and two forces called the strong and weak force. Those last two only work (more or less) on the nuclei of atoms and subatomic particles. It’s hard to see how they could affect us on a macroscopic scale (the strong force weakens so rapidly with distance that it’s essentially gone by the time you’re a few billionths of a meter from the source!).
So we’re stuck with either gravity or electromagnetism….”
Physicists would look at what astrologers think. That is where the fun would start…An astrologer speculates:
Many critics of astrology have repeated the story that the gravity of the midwife has more effect on the newborn baby than the planets. However, astrologers don’t claim that gravity is the basis for natal astrology.
But then, after side-stepping that accusation, the author of that defense reverts to type and names gravity as a possibility after all:
I believe it is premature to set limits on the effect of gravity, bla bla bla…
So we’re back with the gravitational effect of the midwife again. Hmmm.
What else then?
A bit more of a search would find 550 000 hits for quantum astrology on google. Stunned, physicists would wonder why the hell astrologers have wasted so much time and energy on such a ridiculous idea. Why in god’s name were they thinking that effects that don’t even extend half way across the point of a pin could arch out over the vast expanses of space and cause earth quakes, oils spills and love affairs?
These unhappy quantum astrologers would have to choose: admit they don’t have the foggiest what they were talking about, and trash all their magniloquent quantum theorising. Or hold on to it in the face of public ridicule and thereby remove themselves from the temple of science.
Whatever the case, the physicists would have received no help and would have to start from scratch in searching for a plausible mechanism.
A more sinister problem for astrology brews…
At this point, astrologers might begin to hear the rumblings of a deeper far more serious problem they hadn’t taken seriously before: they start hearing rumours of secret meetings between physicists and prominent paranormal researchers…
PSI researcher: What controls were in place to check for telepathy?
Physicist: Huh? Astrology doesn’t work by telepathy.
PSI researcher: No, but humans do.
The researcher goes on to argue, that the astrologers who were succeeding in the tests were either deliberately or unwittingly using telepathy to discover details about the lives of their subjects.
PSI Researcher: In their arrogance, the conservative traditional dominant paradigm of astrology has paid too little attention to the fact of telepathy, which has been confirmed by countless studies but always dismissed as pseudo-science. Astrologers will pay for their arrogance in not testing for this.
The physicist would find all this new information quite surprising, and ask how this could possibly work.
PSI researcher: We don’t know for sure, but according to leaders in the field it’s probably explainable through quantum physics.
Physicist: But that’s what the astrologers say!
PSI researcher: Well they would say that, wouldn’t they. But I ask you, which is more likely: that quantum physics can explain how a clump of swirling gases can affect a brain light years away; or that it can work just from one brain to another brain sitting only a short distance away. Which is more likely?
Clearly, the parapsychologist would be on firmer quantum physics ground than any astrologer. And more answers would folow from the field of paranormal research.
Physicist: What about when no one knew what was in the sealed envelopes but they still got it right? How could that be done by telepathy?
PSI researcher: Oh that’s easy. Remember we proved years ago that Uri Geller can do that kind of thing. Weren’t you paying attention?
Physicist: How the hell does that work then?
PSI researcher: Shut up….
At this point, astrologers would find their place in the pantheon usurped by Uri Geller and a bunch of mind readers. An age of darkness would ensue. The last remaining sliver of their profession would be peopled by a few dogged hangers-on, struggling desperately to think of a way to prove they are not telepathic.
Of course, the supposition that astrologers are acheiving all their success through esp is not new, and has even been tested (and great surprise, found to be lacking evidence for either esp or astrology). Whatever the case, any astrologer who believes astrology to be scientifically valid should start taking their profession a lot more seriously. In its current form, astrology as a whole, even when narrowly defined, is a dog’s dinner and in no way worthy of serious scientific consideration. It would take serious effort to go through each aspect and work how to control for confirmation bias, exclude “post-dictions”, etc., etc. And if there really was an influence from the stars and planets, what on earth makes anyone think it would act exactly as asserted by ancient superstitions and modern intuitive waffle?
Stay tuned. There’ll probably be a part 3 to this, looking at some of the obstacles within astrology itself that stand in the way of astrology becoming a science.