Carl Sagan, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, explained why it's unscientific to believe in the zodiac.
Who isn't obsessed with the stars in the sky? They look as if they were a beautiful landscape made for us to observe and enjoy. While staring at their radiance, we feel like we know everything. They remind us of how small we really are when compared to the entire universe. In that moment we can't help but wonder whether they have a say in our own fate. Regarding ourselves like a speck of dust in contrast to the magnificent bodies in the sky, we study the stars trying to figure out the ways they are connected to us.
One way of studying our relationship with the stars is through astronomy, while the other option and approach being astrology. For centuries, both disciplines were studied hand in hand, until they were separated in the sixteenth century by the German scholar Johannes Kepler. From that moment on, the disciplines became antagonists: astronomy hardened its scientific rigor and focused only on careful observation. Astrology clung to the notion that the movement of the planets had the power of determining our lives and slowly eroded its credibility.
Flash-forward to the twenty first century. Despite the fact that we're already making probes for the colonization of Mars, there are still millions of people in the world who believe that astrology has some sort of scientific value. Actually, according to the National Science Foundation, nearly 40% of Americans believe that astrology is a science. Magazines and blogs have horoscopes galore, and many people defend the practice by claiming that it only serves the purpose of entertainment. Yet, there are several aspects which prove that this can be very detrimental, specially its promotion of finding truth through the supernatural.
Throughout his career, the iconic astronomer Carl Sagan didn't keep his criticism of astrology to himself. To understand his point of view, here are some quotes that we should all keep in mind to conceive why it isn't sensible to believe in astrology and how scientific thought is much more fascinating.
“If our lives are controlled by a set of traffic signals in the sky, why try to change anything?”
Through this quote, Sagan confronts astrology by pointing out its false determinism. Believing blindly in astrology is not good for our morals either, as it can only lead to apathy and a passive stance towards our existence.
“[Horoscopes] are consciously designed to be so vague that they could apply to anybody.”
If we compare two horoscopes for the same zodiac sign from the exact same date, it's easy to realize that the information is constantly contradictory. Often, astrologers are nothing but cons. Why would you believe in what they say?
“Astrology can be tested by the lives of twins. There are many real cases like this: one twin is killed in childhood in, say, a riding accident or struck by lightning, while the other one lives to a prosperous old age. Supposed that had happened to me. My twin and I would have been born in exactly the same place and within minutes of each other, exactly the same planets would be rising at our births. If astrology were valid, how would we have such profoundly different fates?”
Giving a plain example of how astrology could be put to a test through an experiment, Sagan proves that the core belief of astrology is anything but scientific. Any case where twins lived substantially different lives is enough to prove the whole theoretical frame of astrology false.
“Astrologers cannot even agree among themselves what a given horoscope means.”
Beyond the falsehood of astrology's core belief, there's also a lack of consensus within its community regarding how to interpret the movements of the stars and planets. Since astrology depends mainly on subjective interpretation, it is impossible to deem it as something objective, and hence, believable.
“How could the rising of Mars at the moment of my birth affect me, then or now? I was born in a closed room. Light from Mars couldn’t get in. The only influence of Mars which could affect me was its gravity. But the gravitational pull of the obstetrician was much larger than the gravitational influence of Mars. Mars is a lot more massive, but the obstetrician was much closer.”
Now, to prove the falsehood of astrology's belief that the motions of planets at the moment of our birth could have an influence on our lives, Sagan builds the supposition that this influence would take place on a physical dimension. Yet, as he states, the conditions of his birth wouldn't have allowed for this to happen, since they could only make themselves present through gravity or light.
“The desire to be connected with the Cosmos reflects a profound reality. We are connected, not in the trivial ways that pseudosciences promise, but in the deepest ways. Our little planet is under the influence of a star. The sun warms us. It drives the weather. It sustains all living things. Four billion years ago, it brought forth life on Earth.”
Finally, the astronomer proves that beyond the pretenses of astrology, stars do have an influence on our lives. It's just a bit more complicated, but also more fascinating, than what the zodiac might say about us.
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