Guided by the galaxy?

Even though only 29% of Americans believe in astrology (according to a 2018 Pew Research study), odds are that you know what your star sign is. Interest in astrology has been growing, especially in the uncertainty-laced pandemic era with many sites now having horoscope pages that get huge followings.

Because astrology influences the decision making of millions of people, it is worth a look. Many people make big personal, career, and financial decisions based on what astrologers tell them about themselves and their future. Unfortunately, they are trusting and taking guidance from people they have never met who practice pseudoscience.

Countless studies have proven that astrology has no scientific validity or explanatory power. Now, even most believers agree that the accuracy of astrology insights and predictions cannot be proven scientifically.

For example, astrologer Pauline Gerosa agrees. She defines astrology not as a science but as “a symbolic language, a philosophy, a multidimensional concept.”

I honestly have no idea what that means.

Astrology has been around for thousands of years and was once thought to be as scientifically accurate as astronomy - two sides of the same coin. But keep in mind that alchemy was once considered science as well.

A telling development in astrology is that, while most people know their star sign, it may be the wrong one. I have always been a Pisces but according to NASA I’m an Aquarius. It turns out that the sky has shifted since 3,000 years ago when the dates were first determined, so the constellations that supposedly affected me at birth were not what they seemed. So regardless of whether horoscopes have validity, many people have been reading the wrong one anyway!

Can astrology be useful at all? Can we improve ourselves and our decision making by heeding interpretations of how the position and movement of heavenly bodies supposedly influence us? If not, is there anything we can learn from it?

Yes there is. Here are a few insights on why and how humans use astrology:

The Barnum Effect

Also called The Forer Effect, this occurs when an individual reads or hears a description of a personality, such as in a horoscope or a psychic reading, and feels it has an uncanny resemblance to themselves. “That’s so true! I am a person who wants to succeed but sometimes feels like a failure. How did they know?” The vagueness of the description is overlooked because the person wants it to apply specifically to them.

Understanding historical context

To get a full grasp and appreciation of an historical figure and their works, you need to understand the culture in which they lived. Otherwise, you use the lens of the culture in which you live, which skews your perspective. As psychologist Steven Pinker says, “Astrology had an important role in the ancient world. You can't understand many things unless you know something about astrology - the plays of Shakespeare and so on.”

The safety of language

Some people find it difficult to talk about themselves, their weaknesses and strengths, and their emotions because they feel vulnerable. Framing their personality traits as the result of cosmic events feels safer, perhaps making it easier for them to talk about themselves and helping them heal from trauma.

Astrology also promotes the feeling that you are part of something much bigger than yourself, which can be comforting. The danger lies in giving up your sense of personal agency and responsibility.

However, if you want to know what is really in the stars - study astronomy. If you want to know what influences you, learn about your family history and study psychology and behavioral science. If you want to make better decisions, keep reading this blog.

A final word of caution. Some people are taking advantage of the newfound interest in astrology by labelling themselves “financial astrologers.” For a fee they will tell you how the stock markets or individual stocks will move so you can buy and sell accordingly. Some are self-proclaimed experts in cryptocurrency. Please ignore them. The stars don’t know or care about Bitcoin.

Think well and be well.

- Steve Haffner

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