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25 Feb 2007

Mea Culpa

Posted by Oblivion in General | 12:12am

"That meeting changed my life", the cab driver remarked, recounting his decision to consult an astrologer and how that chap's predictions and advice helped change his and his family's fortunes for the better. He also changed his daughter's name as per the astrologer's suggestion. "She has been doing better at studies ever since", he added. I admired his confidence but also wondered why delusions persist. It's easy to live with delusions and that's one of the benefits of abdication of reason.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Somehow, the wisdom of Cassius (Ref: Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare) never got passed on. Incredible developments in science and appreciable growth in awareness of scientific thinking notwithstanding, astrology seems to have loyalists by the million. It is perplexing how superstitions from pre-scientific times have prevailed and continue to have a hold on human psyche. Yet, the reasons are not tough to guess - such beliefs add to the feel-good factor and convince humans that they are part of the grand scheme of things. Neither is it tough to observe how this obsession sustains - majority don't study science either in earnest or depth, so they take any junk that makes the grand scheme look grander and comes with words energy, force, cosmos, etc thrown in. If a few famous people endorse the idea, it becomes even more popular.

There's more disagreement than agreement among astrologers as regards a simple and measurable parameter, the time of birth. Let's not even talk about more complex parameters. Despite considerable differences among experts themselves, astrology continues to lure multitudes.  

The signs of the zodiac and the tons of garbage that comes about those are very prevalent. First, the signs appear wholly arbitrary and could be nothing more than imagination. There's no logic behind why a set of stars should be connected to form a particular sign. Depending on your knowledge of symbols and objects, you can connect the dots in any way you like to form any shape that appeals to you. Further, this assumes, most illogically, that it's all a two-dimensional canvas out there. If you really connect the dots, the shape would nowhere be similar to the one that the zodiac suggests, for it neglects the speed of light and relative speeds and positions of the stars. For all one knows, a couple of stars may have been dead centuries ago. By adopting the two-dimensional model, it wholly overlooks the fourth dimension - that of space-time. Two-dimensional model works fine for spotting stars and planets, but that's about it. Finding the relative position of a star is a tad more complex than that, and astronomy addresses this fine.

Forecast goes along with signs, and generates good business every year. Let's take a simple forecast: "This week is going to be decisive. A task might prove testing but you will handle it with your characteristic finesse. A surprise visit of an old friend would invoke nostalgia. Put moderation behind and indulge in the callings of your romantic self." This will apply equally to any goddamn person on the planet. All forecasts sound nice because they appeal to one's emotions and self-esteem. And because they use all vague words, interpretation is always open. Yet, millions fall for it!

Although western astrology has come to appreciate the divide between sign and constellation, yet it goes wrong with descriptions. The characteristics associated with these signs are mapped to the shapes and names of objects. So, interchange the names of Mars and Saturn and your personality traits would change! Lows and highs of one's emotions are correlated to energy, a definite term in science. And bullshit becomes appealing stuff. (A friend rightly pointed that energy is a scalar, so quoting it in terms of negative and positive is sheer nonsense.) 

The whole conception seems to have never moved beyond Newtonian mechanics. They still explain it in terms of gravitational force, which is just a mathematical fiction. Consider the concept of warped space-time and it'll challenge astrology's fundamental premises. One has conveniently assumed that every object out there is similar to Earth in form and behaviour. The kind of matter that we are familiar with, but know very little about, forms just 4% of the universe. We know nought about the remaining 96%, of which 21% is cold, dark matter and 75% is cold, mysterious and dark energy. Drawing conclusions without having complete and right knowledge is dangerous.

There's much talk about electromagnetic radiation and its effects. This goes against the fact that Earth's magnetic shield acts as an armour and deflects all charged particles from space. It deflects the most powerful solar wind, forget about radiation from objects light-years farther than the Sun! Not that the radiation doesn't penetrate, but it's very negligible. There's a lot of difference between what is possible in theory and what happens in actuality. The radiation emanated from the bulb in one's room is many times more powerful for the chap than that he is hit upon from a star. A tsunami happens just two-thousand miles away and it has zero effect on me, and someone tells me that position of a select few objects in space affects my personality and life! How more ridiculous can things get than this?

Mars, our immediate neighbour, doesn't have an intrinsic magnetic field as Earth does. Very little is known about other celestial objects. The relation between Moon and tides is a simple phenomenon, and the association of "lunatic" with full-moon is a clear example of selective thinking. Nothing more. The correlation that has been found is nothing better than what chance would suggest. And correlation doesn't imply causality.

A common defence is that there are phenomena that science cannot explain. No denying this. Nevertheless, it's absurd to hold something as credible and definitive just because science cannot refute it. Russell deplored that "Although we are taught the Copernican astronomy in our textbooks, it has not yet penetrated to our religion or our morals, and has not even succeeded in destroying belief in astrology". Freud banished astrology and all other occult disciplines. Vivekananda opined, "Astrology and all these mystical things are generally signs of a weak mind; therefore as soon as they are becoming prominent in our minds, we should see a physician, take good food and rest".

Regardless of all that, it's megalomaniacal to believe that celestial phenomena affect our fucken lives. Affect they do, for we are very much a part of the universe, but there's a clear limit to what can and what cannot affect us, and, importantly, in what way. It's the bent for believing in conspiracy theories, coupled with insecurity, that compels people to think that things exist for a purpose. As a result, belief derives more fuel and becomes stronger with time. Hence, so many takers for astrology, God, ghosts, vaastu, hell, heaven, etc. Of course, one can take any stand on murder, reincarnation, adultery, prostitution, justice, etc and it's nobody's business to ask him for explanation. However, these belief systems get passed on, and that's the real danger. It, then, is not wrong to sit back and reflect. 

Belief defies logic; even twenty hours of discussion cannot undo twenty years of conditioning. It's next to impossible to make a fundamentalist see the flaw in his perspective. Try questioning the stand of a chap as regards his belief in astrology, and he'd dismiss all explanations simply by saying, a la the classic philosopher's joke, "That's what you think". All discussion is futile beyond that point.

The choice is always unto the individual - whether to live easy and with clarity, or colour everything with attractive delusions and carry tons of useless baggage in the brains.

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9 Comments | "Mea Culpa" »

  1. By Vj

    27 Feb 2007, 12:09pm [ Reply ]

    @Chandu: Ya, to avoid confusion I should've instead referred to "the conventional three-dimensional, Cartesian model". However, when one doesn't consider any static frame of reference, the reference to "two-dimensional" model is fine and acceptable, for the space-time dimension accounts for the absence of a frame of reference.

    The shapes are conceived by taking Earth as the static frame of reference. Change the frame of reference and the shapes will not hold good anymore. This implies that the whole idea isn't absolute. Moreover, the shapes defined are all those familiar to humans. So, it's just a projection of what's already there in mind. As a friend said, "if they had these modern electronic gadgets, a couple of signs could have well been those of a computer and a mobile phone!"

    What do you say?

  2. By Chandu

    27 Feb 2007, 11:52am [ Reply ]

    Two-dimensional, eh?

  3. By Vj

    27 Feb 2007, 12:42am [ Reply ]

    @R: I don't pretend to know the answer, but there are two roads - either one believes and rests the issue or one waits and keeps it hanging. Neither science nor data support or suggest that there's a point. You have studied Russell, Einstein, Freud, Dubner, etc more in depth than I did, and you know quite well how conventional wisdom takes root and operates.

    So, what do you think? :-)

  4. By Vj

    26 Feb 2007, 11:40pm [ Reply ]

    @R: I don't pretend to know the answer, but there are two roads - either one believes and rests the issue or one waits and keeps it hanging. Neither science nor data support or suggest that there's a point. You have studied Russell, Einstein, Freud, Dubner, etc more in depth than I did, and you know quite well how conventional wisdom takes root and operates.

    So, what do you think? :-)

  5. By R

    26 Feb 2007, 11:19pm [ Reply ]

    "The obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything is the bane not only of theologians but also of zoologists."
    - Life of Pi

    Yet when you look up, you can't help asking, "Is there no point at all?"

    So, is there no point at all?

  6. By Vj

    26 Feb 2007, 10:40pm [ Reply ]

    @Vijay-2: No, not that you irritated, it had been on my mind for quite some time, and the cab driver influenced me to think loud. :-)

    Baggage and addendum? Maybe this - "Life defies nobody. You can believe in terrorism and live a lifetime securely. It's always open. So, if you prefer baggage, travel heavy." :-)

  7. By Vijay

    26 Feb 2007, 10:32pm [ Reply ]

    arey saale, did i irritate u so much in our chat on astrology?? will flood ur inbox with all astro mails. u shud thank ur stars that radha isn't there, she'd have killed u raa. better write a post on how great and authentic a discipline astrology is, or i'll inform our buddies, "radha kills vj".

    btw, who is this fourth vijay??

    and what say about "baggage"? what's the addendum??

  8. By Vj

    26 Feb 2007, 9:31pm [ Reply ]

    @Vijay: Indeed! :-)

    It's easy to dismiss me, for I'm not an expert on anything. But Russell and Freud are not dumb chaps as I am :-)

    As regards the million theories and research papers that hail astrology, it's not a big deal - give me good money or a Ph.D and I'll also compile info that supports the same, just like one can prove terrorism is most beneficial to mankind.

    The simple point is - whose 'right' is 'right'? :-)

    Regardless of all that, tell me one good reason why one should believe in a vague discipline like astrology. If you, however, have info that logically explains the discipline, I'll appreciate if you share it with me.

    (P.S. Do we know each other? I've four Vijays in friends.)

  9. By Vijay

    26 Feb 2007, 4:43pm [ Reply ]

    "Drawing conclusions without having complete and right knowledge is dangerous."

    Aaah! How true!!


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