If you take something like Mercury retrograde seriously, you might ruin your day by being predisposed to things going wrong.
The basic assumption of astrology is that stars, planets, and their orbits have a direct effect on our lives. Think about it: huge, massive astronomical objects moving the tiniest aspects of human behavior, like your taste for Taylor Swift’s music or your neurotic tendency to befriend people you hate. Some astrologers just talk about a force that is responsible for these effects, but others use scientific terms like electromagnetism, gravity, and energy to defend their baseless posture. Wouldn’t it be better to just say it’s a game? That you can use it to entertain yourself but you shouldn’t take it seriously, just like you don’t take The Sims seriously?
A particularly pervasive astrological concept is Mercury retrograde. If you don’t know what Mercury retrograde is according to astrologers, I’ll explain. It’s basically a period of the year where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Mercury is thought to control our intelligence and all sorts of inanimate objects and mechanisms as well. At least once a year, its movement appears to change, going in the opposite direction and creating a chaotic unbalance in our personal lives while doing so.
As astrologers recommend, you shouldn’t make any big decisions during this time because it’s more likely that the results will turn out to be messy or even disastrous. The funny thing is: Mercury doesn’t ever go backwards. It’s all an optical illusion. Astronomers know that in our Solar System all planets rotate around the sun in the same way. From Earth, we perceive a change in Mercury’s orbit and direction because of physics: differences in Mercury’s size and velocity in relation to Earth makes it appear to change direction.
Aside from that, there’s no such thing as a planetary effect on our personal lives or even our bodies. As geologist James Zimbelman explains, the gravitational force of planets in relation to us here on Earth is too small compared to the sun or the moon’s force. And even if it were big, how would something like gravity have an effect on the likeliness of a breakup or a car accident?
Maybe you’re still not convinced because you find horoscopes harmless and entertaining, but some people make important life decisions based on their horoscopes. The whole thing stops being harmless when a person decides to skip a job interview because "Mercury retrograde might ruin it." Or when someone chooses to wait for Mercury retrograde to pass instead of dealing with their issues immediately, working on them, or trying to improve what’s truly affecting their lives.
That kind of passivity helps no one. If you take something like Mercury retrograde seriously, you might ruin your day or entire week by being predisposed to things going wrong. If you seriously believe that you’re going to fail that exam no matter what because of a planet’s influence, you might not properly prepare for it and make that fear a reality. Then, failing the exam will confirm your belief, and you might not realize that it was all your fault instead of Mercury’s.
We should take our thought processes more seriously. Feeding our brains with these ideas only exacerbates the already strong cognitive biases we all have, like selective attention. Say you read your horoscope this morning, and it said that Mercury retrograde will instigate a quarrel between you and your best friend. Then, you see your friend and they use a tone that you find annoying, which reminds you of the hypothetical fight. Now you start thinking about your friend with hostility, and you actually start bickering, not because of Mercury, but because you’re were already paranoid and defensive thanks to an astrology website.
If you’re thinking about the moments in which your favorite astrologer was right about something, think about this: when you read the horoscope, you’re extracting information about yourself from a piece of writing that’s intentionally vague, so that anything you project on it fits nicely. That’s why something like Mercury retrograde is so harmful, because it provides an easy (and absurd) way to justify yourself instead of taking responsibility for your actions and your fate.
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Images by melourra.