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Why is astrology a science, but not astrology? – Caitlin, age 11, Arlington, Texas

Do you believe that astrology is not a science?

Both astrology and astronomy are in the business of making predictions. Astrological theories claim that the positions of planets and stars influence who you are and what happens to you: your job, your personality and your romantic partner. Astrologers make these predictions based on the position of the planets at the time of your birth.

Astronomy, in contrast, makes predictions about such phenomena as the motion of planets and the expansion of galaxies. Astronomers explain their predictions with such features as masses, distances and gravitational forces.

As a philosopher and an anthropologist who studies what science means to society, we believe it is important to separate the question of whether something is science from the question of whether it is true or false.

Astrology makes scientific claims

Science, in essence, involves claiming and testing facts about the world. Factual claims are true or false descriptions of the world (which is 1 meter long) as opposed to descriptions of how we describe things (1 meter is 1,000 millimeters). In this sense, astrologers, like astronomers, make factual claims about the world. To us, that makes astrology sound like a set of scientific beliefs.

For much of the 17th or 18th century, astronomy and astrology went hand in hand. Finally, it was important to know where the planets were relative to the stars in order to make accurate predictions about how their positions affected human affairs. This is why astronomers and astrologers populated medical schools and governments, advising people what the sky indicated was to come to Earth.

Even the famous astronomers Galileo and Kepler practiced astrology. Any rule that says that they are scientists only when they make one set of fact claims but not when they make another set of fact claims divides thinkers into two categories that are not mutually exclusive. In both cases, they wanted to know how things worked so they could predict how things would turn out in the future.

For centuries, astrology was a respected science along with astronomy.

Being wrong vs. being unscientific

But here’s the thing: When researchers test the predictions that astrology makes about people’s lives, those predictions are no better than guesswork.

There is currently no widely accepted evidence that cosmic forces are able to influence people’s choices. A truck parked on the street exerts more gravity on you than Mars, and gives more power to the radio waves from your local station than, for example, from Japan.

There is an important difference between being wrong and being unscientific. Currently, astrological theories are completely wrong because they make scientific claims about the world, and these claims have been proven wrong. Although astrological predictions are wrong, they are still a matter of science. That’s why we know they’re wrong, after all.

Star map
Image ‘Astronomy without a telescope’ (1869). Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

Some people believe that they find support for astrological predictions in their personal experience. They read their horoscopes and it seems perfect: they will “meet someone interesting” or “benefit from listening to the advice of a close friend”. But the predictions are vague enough that they would often be true even if the astrologer were completely wrong. Hence it can be difficult to know how to accurately assess an astrologer’s predictions.

Astronomical theories, on the other hand, have evolved over the years with advances in technology. They are corrected daily in response to accurate measurements. For example, Einstein’s theory of general relativity gained more traction than Newton’s because he predicted the exact migration of Mercury’s closest point to the Sun from year to year. If astrology had the same ability to make accurate predictions, it would become a major focus of scientific attention.

Why is astrology still popular?

But then why do many people find astrology so useful if its predictions are not accurate? Why are astrology signs and horoscopes so popular?

It seems that looking to the sky to make some sense of what is happening now and what is going to happen in the future has appealed to different people at different times throughout the history of the world.

When it comes to what is commonly known as Western astrology, many people consider their astrological sign as the source of meaning in their lives. In fact, nearly 30 percent of Americans believe in astrology. It is one of the many tools we have to tell stories about ourselves to understand who we are, why we are the way we are, and why experiences that would otherwise feel meaningless and confusing happen to us all the time. are felt In this sense, the success of astrology may be less about prediction and more about what it offers in terms of meaning and interpretation.

Silhouette of a person looking at the night sky in front of the camera.
Throughout history, people have looked to the stars to derive some meaning from existence. Christo Sonning/IM via Getty Images

Among other things, astrology can be a useful tool to focus on yourself. It asks us whether we have traits that are specific to our astrological signs, and whether those we like have the traits that theory suggests they should have. Thinking about our characteristics and relationships with the people around us is generally a good tool for understanding who we are, what we want to be and the meaning of our lives. Astrology may be helpful in this way, regardless of whether these attributes are determined by the stars.

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Talia Dan-Cohen, Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology, Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and Karl Krauer, professor of philosophy and philosophy-neuroscience-psychology, Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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