Contributing writer Conor Hogan explores the growing belief in astrology among young people in the age of science.
Aries: Should you get on with responsibilities, or have fun? Conserve your energy. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t work on a project.
Leo: You’ll find love when you look outside the box. There are changes in store for your lifestyle as you are extremely focused.
Scorpio: You’ll crave quality time with people. Don’t settle for less! You’re in the mood to ‘make things official’ in both love and career.
Taurus: It’s time to start putting your desires and passion projects front and centre. Enough focusing on others!
Libra: You like keeping your options open, but there are some wake up calls in store! It may be time to make amends but don’t put yourself in vulnerable positions.
Gemini: Life will become more social, but are you having difficulty maintaining routines? Find what you need to feel accomplished. Once others understand, they’ll support you.
Pisces: You want to have fun and explore your options but put thought into what you hope to accomplish first.
Cancer: You’ve got big ideas and plans, so make the most of it! You may have the desire to take a vacation.
Capricorn: You want to be in familiar surroundings. Take the time to regroup and socialise with close friends.
Virgo: You may not feel like yourself. You might want to focus on creative pursuits and let the real world fall to the wayside.
Sagittarius: You may be doubting signals you are picking up, trust your gut and stay focused on your goals!
Aquarius: Opportunities will arise for you, but you may not feel like resolving issues. It’s worth the effort to sort things out now.
Every morning as soon as I wake up the first thing I do, just to make sure that I still have a pulse, is to check that the Irish Independent, a widely read and reputable source of news and information, still runs its infuriating daily horoscopes column, and every morning I feel rage pump my red blood cells through inflamed arteries as I read the a-scientific nonsense, reassuring me that I am still kicking. The idea that serious news organisations in the 20th century still circulate this hokum, and even worse that otherwise ordinary people of sound mind believe said hokum does admittedly put me in a worse mood than perhaps is justified. It may be a relatively benign and harmless illusion, but it nonetheless irks and baffles me what some people are satisfied to believe even in the wake of the scientific method. And as such, what I seek to do is to deprive people of whatever happiness they may gain from their illusions.
Despite the decline in other pre-Enlightenment beliefs such as alchemy, religion and leeching, a significant percentage of the global population still believe in astrology. A second century belief system turned elaborate pseudoscience, astrology, one supposes, does not recognise the discoveries of Copernicus or Galileo, and still believes that the universe centres itself around humans and our petty goings on. According to astrology, the position of planets in relation to the twelve constellations of the zodiac is not arbitrary, as science would have you believe, but rather that the movement of celestial objects in outer space can influence and foretell trivial aspects of our lives such as careers and romantic prospects. All sounds a bit far-fetched to me. But so pervasive is astrology that over 90% of adults know their zodiac sign, and evidence suggests that young people from the ages of 18-29 believe in this archaic method of fortune telling more than any other demographic. Polls show that just under 20% of Irish citizens believe in this pseudoscience. That’s about 1 million people on this small island alone who are willing to cede any faculties of critical thought they may possess in favour of supernatural explanations.
At the time of the development of Western astrology, in a century when claiming to be a witch could still provide a person with a stable profession in the Roman Empire mind you, it was sufficient to attribute the function of astrology to magic and to continue about your day. But in the modern era we have science. We have instrumentation to test the validity and truth of supernatural claims, and if there were an astrological mechanism at play which influenced people’s lives we would be able to detect it. Needless to say no such evidence exists. Even if I were to concede, for just a moment, that the cosmological evidence for astrology has simply not yet been found, or that it is unknowable to us, then there should still be observable evidence on earth for the accuracy of astrology. In 1985, the Carlson tests were conducted. The first test consisted of participants providing information to astrologers in order for their natal charts to be constructed. The participants were then tasked with selecting their chart. In the second test, astrologers were given the natal charts of randomly chosen participants along with a psychological description of their personality traits, their task being to match the participant with their astrological profile. Surprisingly, neither of these tests supported astrology in any statistically significant way. Who could have guessed?
There lies a theoretical problem even in the supposition of being able to show someone their fortune. Even if it were possible for an astrologer to generate an accurate prediction of my future, showing it to me would by definition change that future. This is Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, whereby the act of measuring something in motion has the effect of altering its measurement. Researchers have challenged astrology both theoretically and through experimentation, and both methods prove astrology to have no practical validity.
And for those who still think those pesky horoscopes I have provided as examples are actually quite accurate summaries of you, not one of the descriptions align with its given zodiac sign. They’re merely generalised statements that have been arranged completely arbitrarily. As with every time you read your horoscope, you’ve fallen victim to the Barnum effect, a cognitive bias causing people to believe that generic personality descriptions apply to themselves when in reality, the description is general enough to apply to anyone.
It is accepted that where there was once alchemy, we now have chemistry in its place. Why then, despite the discovery of new planets and a shift in the earth’s rotational axis, rendering Ptolemy’s zodiac theory even more apocryphal than it already was 800 years ago, do some refuse to let go of astrology in favour of a far richer explanation of the mysteries of space: astronomy, a true triumph of the modern human intellect. Read a page of Stephen Hawking or look at images from a NASA telescope allowing us glimpses into the bygone early universe, of galaxies merging together around red quasars, of the powerful and luminous explosions of supernovas, or even evidence of other universes which may have existed before our own. I defy you to do this and then tell me that the wonder and awe that arises from the human brain’s ability to comprehend the once incomprehensible, to rationalise and measure such immense and seemingly unmeasurable phenomena can in any way be matched by an astrologer’s natal chart.
The philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine’s famous dichotomy states that belief in astrology by definition requires the rejection of all scientific disciplines that are incompatible with it. If this is a secession you are willing to make, you are welcome to it. But it is not one I could ever approve of or partake in. After all, I am a Taurus and we’re very stubborn.