Most of you must have seen those shows on News Channels where Astrologers or Tarot Card readers give out the daily predictions for different Zodiac signs. Some of you might have read horoscopes in newspapers just for entertainment, out of curiosity or just because you believe that they are true. However, there is no denying that superstition and ignorance are widely prevalent in our society. There is a misconception in people, even in the educated ones to believe that astrology is a real science.
They even confuse between “astrology” which is a “pseudo-science” and “astronomy” which is a “well-established scientific discipline”. Through this article, I will bust the myths associated with this charlatanism but before going into that let’s check out the definitions of the relevant terms to be used in this article:
Astrology: the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world.
Astronomy: the branch of science which deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole.
Sun signs: Astrologers have divided the sky into 12 regions represented by Zodiac signs like Libra, Leo etc. Sun sign refers to the part of sky occupied by the Sun at the time of birth of an individual.
Horoscope: Prediction of the future events in an individual’s life based on Zodiac or sun sign.
Myths of Astrology
Over the years, I have met lots of people irrespective of their educational backgrounds or knowledge in science, who genuinely believe in astrology, horoscope, Zodiac signs etc. and they claim that:
- Astrologers have correctly predicted about their ongoing life events as well the future ones and their advice have helped them in their personal life (relationships, career, business etc.) For e.g. love life/grades got better, got a job etc. and they attribute all this to the astrology.
- Zodiac signs are true predictors of one’s personality or nature.
I will break these misconceptions one by one by using scientific principles and the concepts of human psychology. Let’s observe the psychological reasons first.
The reason you feel that astrologer has correctly guessed the events of your life is because of the Barnum Effect which means that people tend to believe the accuracy of those statements which are supposedly tailor made for their personality but in reality are general and vague enough to be applicable for a wide range of people. Such statements generally have following characteristics:
- Ambiguous information which can be used for different perceptions of the same information depending on varying context.
- Multifaceted expectations – Those vague statements can be used for different expectations of an individual and he/she will interpret such predictions based on his/her expectations.
- Multiple endpoints – for e.g. “something bad is going to happen soon”– but what is something bad, it could be bad grades for a student, a fight between couples or in a family, a quarrel/altercation, a small accident etc. and what is the time period of soon? It can be hours, days, months or years, and due to this people can relate it to the ambiguous prediction and hold it to be true
- Varying windows of time for confirmation of the prediction which often results in the prediction being true
For e.g. When you will visit them, they might start with something like this – “you are having problems in your love life/relationship/marriage” or “right now your career is going through a rough phase”.
These statements are based on whether you are single, married which can be easily ascertained in case of women by sindur, mangal sutra, wedding ring or indirectly guessed by asking some questions. Although these statements seem personal and you would be amazed that how does he/she know about this without even revealing anything to him/her. However, in reality, they are very vague and general because of two reasons:
- If you have gone to an astrologer or palm reader or horoscope reader that means you have definitely some issues in your life and for the majority of the people, (especially in the case of young men and women irrespective of being single or married) it is related to either love and relationships or career.
- It is quite obvious that almost everyone has some issues in their love life. One sided love, breakups, third party intrusion in relationships, not getting enough attention from the partner, reduction in intimacy, cheating, quarrels, questions about the future of the relationship, caste/religion/class barriers in relationships etc. Similarly, regarding career, everybody has some issues like uncertainty about clearing a competitive exam, not getting a job, not getting promotions etc. So, irrespective of your relationship status, gender or employment status, you will say “yes”.
Now, the other trick employed by these people is that initially, they will provide you vague and general statements. Then they will keep asking you some indirect questions about your personal life and based on those cues they will keep modifying their statements so that it can better suit your personality.
For e.g. In next few lines, he/she might explain the reasons of your misery by explaining about your personality and it might go something like this – “You are a good natured person and that’s why people take advantage of you. You are unable to say them no and as a result, you suffer just because of your kindness and helping nature. People don’t understand you and usually, you don’t get what you deserve.”
Now, can you see the cleverness of these lines? It’s the human tendency that we like to hear good about ourselves especially when it is coming from a stranger because it gives us the feeling that since he/she doesn’t know me so this must be an impartial judgment of my personality. This assumption of impartiality about the astrologer attaches a sense of credibility to his/her statements.
The another important aspect of the human nature is that most of us genuinely believe that we are usually right and the others are wrong, the world has been unfair to us and we deserve much more than what we have at present.
These are some of the general tactics used by the astrologers to describe what’s going in your life and about your personality. As you have seen from the examples that although it would appear true and very personal however it is not. He/she will use more or less the same lines on the next customer also.
Now, let’s move to the next part where people say that such and such predictions have come true and start giving credibility to this pseudo-science. Again, this is also subtle manipulation of human psychology. It can be explained by understanding few concepts:
Regression to the mean: It means that it’s the natural tendency of things to fluctuate in magnitude and in due course of time they normalize to the average. Technically speaking, it means that values tend to cluster around the mean when observed for a long time or by repeating the tasks.
For e.g. Viral fever generally lasts for 5-7 days and even if people don’t take medicine for it, they will get normal themselves. Usually, what happens that people seek medicine when the conditions are severe i.e. in the 2nd or 3rd day and they pop antibiotics for it which is ineffective as well as dangerous (antibiotics work only on bacteria and not the virus, and common cold and cough are caused by a virus). After 2-3 days they start feeling normal and credit this to the effect of the medicine.
However, in reality, the conditions were bound to become less severe after they have reached the peak. So, the medicine didn’t work actually but because of the coincidence of taking the medicine at the time of severity of symptoms made you feel that the medicine has worked in this case.
(A word of caution: Regression to the mean effect does not work for those diseases which are not self-correcting by the body like cancer, tumor, TB, etc.) Most of the systems of alternative medicine like Homeopathy work on this effect.
Similarly, this concept can be used to explain some of the common life events also, because you decide to visit the astrologer only when everything is going negative in your life, you are frustrated and have become hopeless. In such situation, people actually seek something to hold on so that they can fight with the circumstances.
So, when he/she points out that your failure or problems are due to the position of Rahu, Ketu etc. and assures you that things are going to get good if you choose to wear this locket or pendant or stop eating this or that and tons of bullshit, you choose to believe him/her.
You do this because it absolves you of your guilt that you are responsible for your failure/problems. This guilt and negativity affect your self-confidence and hence performance in various tasks. Besides that sometimes, we just want to hear from someone else about our capabilities, someone who truly believes in us. The association of impartiality with his/her judgment (since he is a stranger so he must be impartial and would tell the truth) again gives credibility to his/her words.
Now, with a reinvigorated hope and renewed belief in your potential, you will work to address those issues and the astrologer’s words will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (It is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.)
Moreover, if things are ugly now then they are bound to get better with time i.e. move back to the mean. Neither everything will be at the top always nor at the bottom. That’s why if he/she predicts by using Barnum statements that things are going to get better in your business/studies/relation with time then, it will get better in most of the cases simply due to the regression to the mean. However, this prediction coming true will reinforce your belief in astrology.
For e.g. after failing in an exam the only thing which can happen is that your marks will go up. So, a prediction that you will get better marks this time is going to be true for most of the times. Moreover, generally, ups and downs in a relation, academic performance, health or in a business are naturally fluctuating and return to the average in time whether someone predicts it or not.
Now, here comes another concept in play which is called the regression fallacy i.e. It assumes that something has returned to normal because of the corrective actions which were taken while it was abnormal. This fails to account for the natural fluctuations.
So, due to this fallacy, you will believe that following the advice of the astrologer (like wearing a pendant/holy thread or chanting some mantra at particular times of day etc.) has resulted in the restoration of normalcy in your life with respect to those issues.
The another major psychological aspect of such predictions is that we only remember those predictions which have come true and not those which didn’t materialize. Given that they provide such vague statements something is bound to come true.
In science, a theory has to be verified by repeated experiments or observations while adhering to a set of rules. The predictions made by any theory could only be accepted when they are testable. Astrology is a pseudo-science as it doesn’t meet these criteria. Moreover, there’s no way to test such vague statements and they will never give you precise answers. Besides, anecdotes supporting the claims of astrology don’t count as evidence in science.
Myths of Zodiac Signs and horoscopes
Coming to the second part that Zodiac signs are true predictors of one’s nature as some of the people believe. So, I will ask those people to read the personality types based on horoscopes for all the sun signs and then ask yourself that how much can you correlate with each of them. You will find that you will relate to something from most of them because generally some good traits (courage, leader, sensitive, kind hearted, intelligent, trust-worthy etc.) are described for each sign and even the negative traits are presented in a positive manner like “you get angry easily, you don’t trust people easily etc.”.
It is typical human nature to selectively associate good virtues with oneself. So even if I replaced the description of some other sun sign with yours and then ask you to read your horoscope, I am sure you are still going to believe that it has so truly described you.
The another tool employed to fool people is to give them Bafflegab – incomprehensible or pretentious jargon, in order to create ambiguity. For e.g. they may talk about positive and negative energy or the concept that “each of the 12 horoscope signs belongs to one of the four elements – Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These elements represent an essential type of energy that acts in each of us.”
Now, ask them to explain what is positive and negative energy? What kind of energy it is – Gravitational, Potential, Kinetic etc.? How does Air, Fire, Water, and Earth affect our personality? If astrology is a real science then they should be able to give scientific answers. But, I bet you they won’t instead they will try to confuse you with lots of crap.
Technically speaking, the planets are so far away from you that the only thing which reaches to earth is the light reflected by them. So, the idea in itself that your life and personality is determined by the positions of the planets and sun at the time of your birth, is grossly stupid.
The nature of a person is determined by the environmental and social factors in which he/she grows up, and the various life events are dependent on different conditions and variables. The solar system has nothing to do with your destiny because you are the creator of your destiny, and not the poor celestial bodies, which are millions of kilometers far away from the earth and are unfairly blamed for your miseries.
Superstitions related to the customs of marriage
The main reason I have written this article is to create awareness because lots of people take important life decisions based on such illogical things, especially in India. For e.g. compatibility of two partners for a marriage is decided by matching “Kundlis” or “Nakshatras” (constellations). How can compatibility of partners be decided based on the position of the group of stars?
Compatibility is based on the matching of the mindsets of two people and the foundation of marriage will depend on mutual respect, trust, friendship, and mutual adjustments. Neither the caste or religion or the so-called kundlis of two people will define their compatibility or predict the success of their marriage.
Also, there is no guarantee that the matching of kundlis will ensure a happy married life ahead for the couple.
Another perverse concept which actually ruins a woman’s life is the labeling of a woman as a “Manglik”. Being a Manglik is considered as unfavorable for marriages because people believe that in cases of such unions there will be tensions in the relationships or bigger problems will emerge in the couple’s life at later stages. This label not only ruins the prospects of a girl’s marriage but also portrays her as something inauspicious. The remedies provided by such ponga-pandits are equally humiliating for the women as well as the society as a whole. It is believed that if a Manglik girl first marries a Banyan or Peepal tree then the bad effects can be mitigated.
Now, how can the position of Mars make a person inauspicious or how can people believe in this degenerate concept which has no regard for a woman’s self-respect and dignity? Even believing in such inhumane concepts is deplorable and shameful.
Moreover, you should also know that astrology was started thousands of years of ago when people believed in magic and considered the Sun, Moon, and the planets as gods who have the power to affect our lives. However, this is the 21st century, so please don’t live in the dark ages by believing in such nonsense. Plenty of scientific literature is available on the internet refuting the validity of astrology as a scientific discipline. All this propaganda is spread by those astrologers, palm readers, Jyotishis, horoscope readers etc. who earn a living by making a fool out of people. No religious texts or ancient chants can predict your future.
Wearing rings on every finger with a variety of precious stones doesn’t change a thing regarding your health or the course of your life events.
Nevertheless, if you will put your faith in science then you will surely not get fooled by such elements as well as get better informed about how things work actually? Also by reading on human psychology, you will be able to understand the human nature much better than such frauds. Finally, I hope that at least now you won’t be confused between astronomy and astrology !!
4. Wikipedia and Google