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Astrological Alea

Hermes Astrology is the whipping boy of modern intellectuals. For some reason, those with a bias towards rationalism feel the need to vociferously attack astrology from time to time. Let us pre-suppose for the purposes of this post that astrology has no predictive value and that its forecasts and models are in effect random. Is this sufficient cause to attack astrology?

I contend that it is not. Why should people not be free to play a 'game of fate'? This is, after all, what is meant by alea. Most people read horoscopes for entertainment and amusement; if a particular prediction leads to someone taking action, it is likely because they are already considering taking action - the horoscope is a spur to action, not an order to be taken.

Furthermore, why should it be inherently superior, as some rationalists contend, to favour making life decisions on the basis of theory (which is frequently wrong and we have no way of knowing in advance when this is so) instead of on the basis of chance (which is also frequently wrong, and equally unpredictable)? People should be free to play their lives however they wish.

Evans-Pritchard, in respect of the culture of the Zande, says "I may remark that I found this [i.e. consulting oracles for day-to-day decisions] as satisfactory a way of running my home and affairs as any other I know of." One can also consider the influence of the I Ching in China; the skill in its use is in interpretation: the random element can be seen as an aid to inducing original thought.

(As an aside, Christians may wish to oppose divination on the basis of Old Testament 'laws', but such reasoning is questionable. For instance, Leviticus 19:19 clearly rules against garments made from two types of thread, a 'law' which is rarely enforced by anyone outside of Amish communities. I suggest Christians should understand that parts of the Old Testament record the cultural laws of early Judaic society, and not instructions from God intended for modern Christians to follow. Indeed, Jesus' ministry clearly lays down the 'new convenant': "love one another, as I have loved you" Enforcing this 'law' must surely please God more than enforcing archaic social restrictions that were probably originally intended to prevent the dilution of the authority of the priesthood).

I have previously noted that those who use astrology share a common language which allows them to communicate ideas that otherwise could not be exchanged. Here, I suggest that astrology is also both a reasonable entertainment, and a potential source of 'life noise' by which one may prevent oneself from falling into a rut by occasionally considering courses of action that are suggested at random.

I do not personally use astrology in my life, but I can see no sensible reason to oppose it. We should be free to live as we choose, and choose how we live.


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As someone who at least attempts to make rational choices I don't mind admitting that I sometimes turn to the I Ching to help make decisions. I use the coin method and have a special set of coins set aside for this purpose (I don't know why, it just felt like the thing to do).

I'm not sure on what level the I Ching operates for me. I guess I see it as a way of tapping in to the Universe for a new perspective. I probably owe this line of thinking to a fondness for a certain holistic detective, sadly now passed on.

Interestingly for me in reading about systems theory I have covered a little of the background of quantum theory which suggests to me that the I Ching (and other such methods) are entirely compatible with seeing yourself as a rational scientific individual.

But my grasp of the quantum world and it's implications is shaky at best. You're probably much better placed to consider that question.

I'm nominating you for Christian apologist of all time, you make C.S. Lewis look like Jerry Falwell. Nice to hear someone takeing a bridge view between fundamentalists, moderate christians and "secularists".

I've definetly considered using Astrology as variable in character generation. I've also considered using the Chinease Zodiac as the basis for a Kung-fu game, so being born in different years will affect your stylistic predilictions. Think about Monkey style vs. Ram style, maybe I'm just a honkey who's watched too much anime, but that sounds worthwhile to me.

I come in solidly on the other half of the line. I am someone who attacks astrology.

The reason is more complex than it simply "not being true". The reason is because it endorses a world view in which magical rituals have a significant effect on real life.

People that actually believe in astrology - and I'm continually dumbfounded how many there are - also tend to believe in alternative "healing" methods (such as, say, homeopathy and energy healing) and other kinds of anti-science. This is bad for their health, and bad for progress as a whole. It also makes them appreciate grifters while mocking actual scientists.

"It's their choice" is a fine thing to say, but it's my choice to try to stop the spread of this kind of brain-rot.

Matt: I don't see any need for conflict between the use of a 'source of noise' and a scientific outlook, after all, you are claiming nothing more than personal utility which has no intersect with science (you don't need science to tell you which foods you like, as another example). No need to invoke the ambiguous world of quantum models for justification. :)

Patrick: My position on Christianity is not motivated by apologetics; rather, I'm tired of hearing confused theology from Christians. Perhaps I hope to motivate the Christian moderates to take a stand... I can but dream. :)

Craig: Before I begin replying to you, I want to make it clear that I have the same interest in sharpening the philosophy of scientists as I have in sharpening the philosophy of those from religious backgrounds. I believe we can all benefit from both these processes.

You justify attacks on astrology because it "endorses a worldview in which magical rituals have a significant effect on real life." This statement presupposes that this worldview is invalid and, further, worthy of attack. That to me seems to be against the spirit of open inquiry which lies at the heart of science.

I imagine one could investigate this claim with a longitudinal study of people who use magical rituals; I imagine the result of such a study would show significant psychological effects (although I know of no such study proposal). What if such a study showed that people were *happier* if they practiced magical rituals? How would you feel about it then? In the absence of such a study, are you not making a conclusion on the basis of prior beliefs? Isn't this the same complaint that is levelled against creation science?

You also appear to presuppose that alternative healing is "anti-scientific" and invalid; as I have mentioned before, even the most lacklustre alternative remedy still functions as a placebo i.e. is potentially effective at curing anything, and the evidence both for and against many alternative medicines from a scientific perspective is inconclusive at best.

Incidentaly, incompatibility with the current body of theory is not disproof, because the current body of theory is inevitable incomplete, and we have no way of knowing how this knowledge will change. In fact, there is no *single* body of theory, because every scientist has a different belief system and collection of theories they have adopted.

"It also makes them appreciate grifters while mocking actual scientists"

Well, I'm all for using science to expose conmen, but not all astrologists et al have the intent to exort. Perhaps you should consider them as entertainers? (I presume you have no problem with stage magicians, for instance). If a fortune teller has a fixed fee, and provides advice/guidance to a client, how (apart from the difference in underlying belief system) is this different from pschiatry/counselling? The argument that a psychiatrist is scientifically trained and the fortune teller is not presupposes that scientific training is a superior basis for providing advice to people. This has certainly never been proved, although I welcome suggestions for an experiment to investigate the claim! I imagine the psychiatrists *might* do better than the fortune tellers, but I also bet their fees are many times more expensive. :)

And why should ordinary people not mock actual scientists? Actual scientists mock ordinary people all the time! :)

This comment has been rapidly cobbled together; I'll be posting more coherently on philosophy of science soon (hopefully) - it might not be a bad idea to mull this over until then rather than engaging in debate on the basis of this sideline. Hope you found this alternative perspective interesting, rather than annoying. :)

Thanks for the comment!

Well, since you say not to, I won't have a full-on sidebar fight. :D

I will, however, make three quick comments so you can respond more efficiently in your next post. Otherwise, I'll just be making these comments there.

1) I never said anything about happiness. Lots of things make people happy. Many of those are illegal or, at least, ill-considered.

2) Lack of solid evidence is what damns most alternative medicines and new-age theories. It has nothing to do with conflicting with known theory.

3) "It has a placebo effect, so that's okay" is not an excuse. Doctors could give placebos just as easily, and *would be trained as to when it is reasonable*, unlike the quacks who will happily give you a placebo whatever your problem.

Anyhow, this is one of the issues I feel strongly about, so I look forward to your post on the matter.

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