Astrology and Society  

                                                        - Anjan Kumar Chakraborty

Millions of people all over the world believe in the capability of astrology and thousands of people, spending their own precious time and money, visit astrologers every day. But, an examination of the methods of astrology proves that astrological predictions are usually illogical conclusions, generalized inferences, pseudoscientific and specifically correct predictions are bound to be statistically insignificant.

Why Unscientific and Wrong

The whole process of astrological prediction is unscientific because there is hardly any relationship between antecedent conditions and successive events in astrology - a basic requirement of scientific law. In the world-centric universe of astrology, there is no scientific evidence how some planets and the Sun in the solar system, or even the Moon, can have any appreciable effect on human life. Actually, effects of electromagnetic and gravitational forces of celestial bodies on living creatures like us are less than similar effects of ordinary household appliances.

Secondly, astrology does not take into account that the equinox and the solstice points have been moving westward. In fact, the zodiacal constellations of ancient times no longer corresponds to the segments of the zodiac at present represented by their signs. But, personality traits, conditions for compatible marriage relationship between two adults and many other things are predicted on the basis of time of birth and zodiacal signs of a new born at the time of birth. Interestingly, it is not possible to pin point the time of birth too. Is it the cutting time of umbilical cord or the last moment when toenail/hair of a new born passes the last millimeter of mother's body ? There is no definite answer. Even other explanations specifying the time of birth cannot be ignored..

In Indian 'Jyotisha' (astrology) solar/lunar eclipses are considered as two planets (Rahu & Ketu) and the idea of 'Nabagraha' or nine planets influencing human life take into account both the Sun and the Moon as planets and excludes Uranus, Neptune and Pluto having any effects on human life.

Owing to error in the origin, astrological predictions are flawed and highly generalized in nature. They can match many people, instead of singled out one, depending on interpretations. The predictions of astrology are often based on severely wrong interpretations of basic physics and fail to meet the demands of legitimate reasoning. Scientific testing of the methods, all over the world, have been proved to be inconsistent and pseudoscientific.

Spread of Astrology

Despite the reality that astrology is a pseudoscience, thriving service of astrologers is noticeable. Now they can boast of several branches including palmistry, numerology, face-reading, crystal gazing etc. and dare predicting variety of events encompassing war, earthquake, election result and even assassination. So it is very difficult to list all reasons why people visit astrologers. Only a few reasons have been identified which, to some extent, explain the popularity of astrology.

Reasons for belief in Astrology

It is generally admitted that astrological studies of stars and planets started in 6th century B.C. and later many cultures/civilizations including Greek, Roman, Chinese, Mayan, Indian and Arabs developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Hence, astrology is an age-old practice and resides deep inside human thinking and still, in the modern era of astronomy, attract people. Many people, want to believe in mystic knowledge of astrology. They simply do not want to judge the principles/methods of astrology from rational view points. It is psychological. So it creates a 'confirmation bias' (a tendency to confirm beliefs which suit specific pattern of mentality) in favor of astrology. It also begets 'selective thinking' (a process whereby one selects favorable evidence for remembrance and focus, while ignoring unfavorable evidence for a belief).

It is observed that people attaching high values to social traditions, irrespective of their merits and demerits, are strong believers in astrology. Hence, in feudal systems or in tradition-bound urban families birth chart (Horoscope) is considered essential. It is believed that horoscope defines personality and can guide to take right decisions for compatible marriage relationship.

Curiosity to know about future is common human behavior. This tendency has gained importance due to socio-economic complexity and uncertainty of modern age. Now many people, educated and uneducated, visit astrologers in the hope of achieving a stable future life.

It is also observed that problem-torn people seek support and they get mental support from astrologers. Often in mentally weak conditions, people take solace from the idea that some bad events of life are beyond human control; only planets and stars are responsible for bad times of life. Again, in cases of seemingly insurmountable acute problems, even highly educated but bewildered people take resort to astrologers to try a chance. This tendency to take astrological advice becomes more relevant when we are not equipped enough to distinguish between rationality and irrationality. Even apparently successful professionals and educated teenagers wear 'right' stones just to keep requests from near and dear ones.

Most of us do not understand how a doctor diagnoses a disease before prescribing medicines; but rely on the knowledge of doctor. Same thing happens when people blindly accept astrologer's prescriptions. Only difference is while a doctor's prescription is based on well established scientific knowledge, an astrologer's prescription is just opposite.

Finally, intense campaign and propaganda in TV channels, websites and in print media draw average people to astrologers. The campaign particularly connects general problems/prospects of daily life with zodiacal signs. Hence, it can effectively influence a sizeable section of people.

Harmful Effects of Astrology

Astrology harms rational thought process. Belief in mysterious power of astrology actually undermines human ability and indirectly encourages irrational thinking. It also influences normal decision making process in different areas of life. For example, astrologer's caution against life-threatening danger from water observed to have changed choice of profession in a rational way. So dependency on astrology or tendency to grab astrology as an easy escape route for numerous situations hinder social progress.

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