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Thread: Conference on Evidence for Astrology

  1. #31
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    The overall point is that it is unfortunate that when people express skepticism around the predictive power of astrology, they tend to focus solely on how impossible it would be for astrological effects to fit in with all the things we have learned since astrology first appeared. Such arguments tend to point out that when astrology was first developed, we had almost no understanding of solar system objects, but now we have such a better understanding that astrology is nonsensical in hindsight. While all that is true, it actually misses a much deeper problem, which is that astrology was never evidence based, so had no better reasons to be believed thousands of years ago than it does now. In other words, even if planets did affect people, astrology would not have successfully discovered those connections, because it never followed the proper methodology to tease out causal influences.

    This is actually obvious from the fact that the way astrology was done thousands of years ago was generally quite different from how it is done now. It was a rather small aspect of astrology in the old days to look at the birth date of the individual, much more often astrology was used to look for indicators of what is going on in the present and near future, not the date of someone's birth. Ancient astrologers said things like don't invade this month because the portends are not good, they did not say don't invade because of when you were born! But that's because astrology was not used by common people, it was used by rulers. As the centuries went by and more individuals wanted to use it, it had to be retooled to serve their very different needs, and so natal astrology based on birth date started to appear (some time around the 6th century BC, says the Wiki). Of course no one noticed that it became something completely different, as it never had any evidence base in the first place. This is the key point-- the problem with astrology is not that it is naive or ignorant of modern astronomy, the problem is much worse-- it was always sociological, and never evidence based. So it never had any predictive basis, no matter what planets may or may not do to people. Would it have been discovered if the planets affect you when you were conceived, rather than when you were born? Of course not. The problem is not the claims, it is the absence of any predictive methodology behind the claims. A garbage method will always give a garbage result, regardless of the plausibility or causal basis.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Feb-01 at 07:33 PM.

  2. #32
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    Let us not forget associations, correlations and confirmation bias. Observers have watched the planets and the retrogrades for thousands of years and made their correlations,. Originally it was only for kings and battles because charting took ages so not for public use. But then it for easier to make the charts and the predicted eclipses and so on, please don't forget eclipses, they were regarded as very significant. Correlations were made and they assumed a mystical cause. We have no need to invoke gravity or electric fields because we know they are not there. Human nature is enough. If you start out believing the "wandering stars" must be significant you will find plenty of correlations in the world.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

  3. #33
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    I tend to think that evidence for astrology runs into the 'hunting for a correlation' problem. If you examine a large enough range of options, you'll probably find some 'significant' result.
    Here's an XKCD cartoon that illustrates the problem well.
    https://xkcd.com/882/

    Michel Gauquelin's study that uncovered the so-called Mars Effect seems to fall into this category of error; this correlation was not one that was widely anticipated by astrologers before the study, and has not been replicated since.

  4. #34
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    Evidence of correlation is not regarded as causal even if it is predictive. There is correlation of several behaviours with the moon phase and it is predictive. But the cause is not at all clear sociologically while we know some animals use the light and might even use the gravity effects, or they have internal clocks that synchronise with the moon so they can free run on cloudy nights.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Let us not forget associations, correlations and confirmation bias. Observers have watched the planets and the retrogrades for thousands of years and made their correlations,. Originally it was only for kings and battles because charting took ages so not for public use.
    It might be my nitpicking nature, but there is something i have always found hard to understand about "auspicious dates," which are very common in Asian astrology. People try to do things like get married on these "auspicious days." But in the case of a battle, if it is an auspicious day for you it is also going to be an auspicious day for the opponent, so both sides can't win... It's similar to the way that people bring their children to temples to put "sacred smoke" in their hair before exams, because they think it brings good luck. But everybody does it, so it would make sense that the pass rate would increase--but it doesn't. It's still the top 100 people who get in... (because there are only a limited number of enrollments in any case).

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    That is how astrology gets subtle. In Western it's by the day and month, in chinese astrology it's by the year and moon cycle. Yet the archetypes they then describe are rather similar. The Virgo type is the dog type and so on. That way auspicious dates affect different people. The rest is confirmation bias, you remember when a prediction comes true and forget all the other times. We should also expect people who are told about their archetype to live that out. Another powerful effect which keeps the myths alive. Add to that the range of explanations, a Leo type has no sun in Leo but look Mars is there, explaining the Leo characteristics. It's a system that can explain everything in retrospect. Or me the symbols and types are interesting in their variety and amusing but force fields from the outer planets altering DNA epigenetics? I think our diet is a more likely culprit.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    I tend to think that evidence for astrology runs into the 'hunting for a correlation' problem. If you examine a large enough range of options, you'll probably find some 'significant' result.
    But my point is that this is not what happens in astrology, and this is not why anyone believes in it. I would wager that none of us know anyone who ever came to believe in astrology because of some kind of sought-out statistical correlation over some large dataset, regardless of whether it was causative or not. Astrology believers come to it by one of two ways-- either they simply choose to believe it because they want to, or they have one or two incidents from their own life that would never rise to the level of even a correlation, yet the anecdotal power of a single example can get people to believe anyway. So we must not forget the real issue here, it is not that the evidence is being misunderstood for some subtle reason, it is that none of astrology was ever even remotely close to an evidence based discipline. Never was, never will be.

    Michel Gauquelin's study that uncovered the so-called Mars Effect seems to fall into this category of error; this correlation was not one that was widely anticipated by astrologers before the study, and has not been replicated since.
    And astrology believers pay no more attention to Gauquelin than they do to their scientist friends. It's simply not the path to their beliefs.

  8. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    But in the case of a battle, if it is an auspicious day for you it is also going to be an auspicious day for the opponent, so both sides can't win...
    Indeed, and this also can hold for "evil omens" like comets, as quoted from the Wiki on comet Halley: "In 1066, the comet was seen in England and thought to be an omen: later that year Harold II of England died at the Battle of Hastings; it was a bad omen for Harold, but a good omen for the man who defeated him, William the Conqueror."

  9. #39
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    Harold took it (a very bright Halley's comet) as a good omen, a troop placebo, no doubt. 50/50 odds aren't that bad, after all. Halley's encore (1222) apparently motivated Genghis Khan in his western slaughter. Mark Twain was born a week or two of HC and said he would be greatly disappointed if he didn't die at the next. He got his wish.

    The conference seems to refute your arguments that no real science has been (perhaps is is the better verb) engaged. I favor your view so is this fodder for a ruse of scientific credibility, consciously or otherwise? One ounce of selective objectivity per pound of subjectivity?
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    The conference seems to refute your arguments that no real science has been (perhaps is is the better verb) engaged. I favor your view so is this fodder for a ruse of scientific credibility, consciously or otherwise? One ounce of selective objectivity per pound of subjectivity?
    I would say there is certainly a tiny minority that are interested in scientific support for astrology. I just don't know anyone of that ilk, and suspect it is indeed a tiny subset. Much more common are the people who simply don't care about scientific thinking, or are actively against it! (The latter are the type who think astrology only works if you believe, so isn't meant to be scientific. Ironically, they are the ones who can get placebo benefits from positive forecasts, which is something that actually could be investigated scientifically, like any placebo. For example, if someone is depressed and inclined not to even make an effort to achieve something, and their horoscope tells them it's a good time to try, they might do it instead of staying in bed, etc.) Of course, if the horoscope says stay in bed today, and they are already depressed.... but that's why horoscopes are famously optimistic.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Feb-03 at 02:23 AM.

  11. #41
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    Sounds similar to a placebo effect...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    I would say there is certainly a tiny minority that are interested in scientific support for astrology. I just don't know anyone of that ilk, and suspect it is indeed a tiny subset. Much more common are the people who simply don't care about scientific thinking, or are actively against it! (The latter are the type who think astrology only works if you believe, so isn't meant to be scientific. Ironically, they are the ones who can get placebo benefits from positive forecasts, which is something that actually could be investigated scientifically, like any placebo. For example, if someone is depressed and inclined not to even make an effort to achieve something, and their horoscope tells them it's a good time to try, they might do it instead of staying in bed, etc.) Of course, if the horoscope says stay in bed today, and they are already depressed.... but that's why horoscopes are famously optimistic.
    Yep, and the belief structure (superstition?) would be open to nocebo effects. I wonder if there is any nuance between these beliefs and the ones found for medical "cebos"?
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

  13. #43
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    It's much more about confirmation bias than placebo, people see patterns in observations and then they see confirmations. It's not really placebo but a different aspect of unconscious belief formation.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    There can be some overlap with placebo effects though. For example, common astrology tells me to self-identify as a Leo because the Sun would have been in Leo had I been born two thousand years ago (I wasn't and it wasn't). So if I look up the Leo horoscope for today online, it says "You need to get out on the town, but your energy is set up to give you a good time only if you can keep things a bit low-key." It goes on to encourage me to have a good time, and a positive social experience, via this model rather than a more energetic type of experience. I am supposed to imagine that any other type of social experience will backfire for me, but this type will succeed. Yet most people will agree that a low-key evening with friends will often produce a positive social experience, so I am likely to decide the horoscope was correct if I follow it. That's the confirmation bias element. But there's also a placebo effect, because I might not have gone out at all-- I might have been hesitant to do anything but stay home and watch TV if I did not receive some encouragement that a low-key night out will succeed. So I'm being encouraged to do things that anyone knows I should probably be doing anyway, just like encouraging my body's immune response to fight off infection or encouraging my natural analgesics to take the edge of some unnecessary pains.

    Indeed, perusing the horoscopes for all the other signs shows they all share this pretty obvious quality-- they all tell people to do things that pretty much everyone knows is always something we should be doing anyway. But by encouraging specific versions of these things we should all do, they invoke a placebo effect of giving people confidence that doing a good thing will produce good results. It's all about making people feel better about their situation, which encourages positive action and/or positive thinking. In the medical world, it's rather mysterious why placebos help, but in the world of making decisions that affect our lives, it's much more obvious why placebos work.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Feb-04 at 03:17 AM.

  15. #45
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    Ok I accept placebo in newspaper astrology which is obviously ridiculous but people read it. Full blown astrology is both more interesting and more devious in that you can basically explain anything. If you look at historical events for example you can work out a explanation and it will have a good dose of appropriate symbolism, so it looks impressive. There's a lot of confirmation bias plus human ingenuity in that analysis, using mid points, harmonics, transits, progressions , a huge array of manipulations. I was interested in symbols and mundane astrology, events, the personal stuff seemed rather silly and very hard to verify whereas events have evidence to work on. I must admit it's fun to do that with history, the predictions f course are a diffent matter as you would expect.
    If anyone thinks astrology is found in newspapers sun signs, they are just ignorant of the whole culture. It's still correlation without cause but a while lot more complex.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    If anyone thinks astrology is found in newspapers sun signs, they are just ignorant of the whole culture. It's still correlation without cause but a while lot more complex.
    Yes, but one must look at what most people care about. I'd say newspaper astrology is probably orders of magnitude more used than any other kind.

  17. #47
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    Carl Jung came up with a more sophisticated version, widely used among professional astrologers today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_astrology



  18. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Yes, but one must look at what most people care about. I'd say newspaper astrology is probably orders of magnitude more used than any other kind.
    Yes I have to agree with that but if we want to be scientific about the correlations, leaving aside causes, we do need to look at the more complex side. Quantum physics has some similar arguments. Correlations can still be interesting.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

  19. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Quantum physics has some similar arguments. Correlations can still be interesting.
    Not much similarity there. Quantum physics doesn't give ten different answers to ten different users. It also gives reproducibility, and accuracy to ten decimal places in some situations. So the only similarity with astrology is they are both quite complicated and most people can't do it.

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    If astrology really does work then astrologers might be able to help locate new outer planets. If some periodic events in peoples' lives can't be explained by current astrological theory then maybe they're being influenced by some unknown planet. Its orbital period could be worked out from the timing of the events and it should be at opposition when the events are the most extreme. It should be easy to find.

  21. #51
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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Carl Jung came up with a more sophisticated version, widely used among professional astrologers today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_astrology


    Which we tested here, many years ago. We did worse than chance at picking our own custom-done horoscope out of four.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Which we tested here, many years ago. We did worse than chance at picking our own custom-done horoscope out of four.
    Apparently we don't know ourselves as well as astrology knows us.

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    This may be related, but there’s a story I heard about oracles. A king went to an oracle, and asked for a prediction about an upcoming battle. The oracle answered “a great army will be destroyed.” The king, leaping at this great news, went to battle, where his army was broken. The oracle never said which army....


    Astrologers never really predicted the future; they set expecations that believers unconsciously tried to make come true.

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  24. #54
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    In my experience astrologers avoid prediction and prefer discussion of what happened before or how the "chart" of a person can be explained. There are predictors but they are charlatans because a well trained astrologer will say that's it's all too complicated, too many variables including the issue of choice. It can in that way be just a vector into a conversation like any other form of counselling. In the past astrology was associated with fate and that caused the split with the church. Ie the free will issue. I have met fatalistic astrologers but they are few, the majority believe in free will which with the complication factor means prediction is impossible. Thus the causal question can be diverted. Applying science is really hard because of the difficulty of reducing variables. I cannot see how science could study a predictive model but I suppose statistically it could look at past events. Very few astrologers know how to apply statistics and would be surprised that some correlations are quite high probability where they assume it's a chance in a million to coin a phrase.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Several years ago I asked who the authority is that determines how
    to map celestial signs to mundane events or human characteristics.
    A couple of books were recommended to me, but I never looked at
    them, and I have lost track of the titles. I forget whether it was here
    at BAUT/CosmoQuest or earlier when I was posting on USENET,
    probably in sci.astro.

    I haven't thought about the question much in recent years, so
    asking right now is very impromptu, not at all well thought out...

    I'll just make up a plausible-sounding example. Suppose I was
    a professional astrologer, and I thought that Venus and Jupiter
    both being very bright planets, a person who is conceived while
    Venus and Jupiter are both high in the sky and close to their
    maximum brightness should have unusually high intelligence.
    They should be unusually bright. How does that idea become
    part of astrology? Does every astrologer just make up their own
    rules? That seems impossibly difficult. But I never, ever hear
    about this absolutely crucial aspect of astrology. All I ever hear
    of is the positions of the planets and the significance of those
    positions, never the process of mapping the positions to the
    significance. How does that mapping come about?

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis
    .
    Last edited by Jeff Root; 2018-Feb-05 at 09:47 PM.
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    The key point is, nothing in astrology requires any kind of authority about how to do it, because nothing in astrology depends on how the horoscopes are cast, as long as they are suitably ambiguous and suitably optimistic to induce positive placebo effects. That's why so many different approaches can be used, it makes no difference. Moreover, you could take a group of people who are mistaken about their birth date, and set astrologers on them, and you will not notice anything strange, the act of doing astrology on them will be completely indistinguishable. That is an important fact to realize, that whatever astrologers are doing when they talk to people, it cannot make any difference if the birth date is correct or not. It's the same issue as whether or not it matters if homeopathic remedies are actually just water from a tap, or if they've really been diluted as they claim (of course they have not). Whatever is happening with these placebos, it makes no difference what is actually being done, only that it have the necessary perceptions. An astrologer with dates mixed up in their understanding of planetary motions is in no way a less effective astrologer, as long as no one realizes it. This is obviously true, because the dates of the motions of the planets obviously has nothing to do with the astrology phenomenon.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Feb-05 at 11:29 PM.

  27. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Root View Post
    Several years ago I asked who the authority is that determines how
    to map celestial signs to mundane events or human characteristics.
    A couple of books were recommended to me, but I never looked at
    them, and I have lost track of the titles. I forget whether it was here
    at BAUT/CosmoQuest or earlier when I was posting on USENET,
    probably in sci.astro.

    I haven't thought about the question much in recent years, so
    asking right now is very impromptu, not at all well thought out...

    I'll just make up a plausible-sounding example. Suppose I was
    a professional astrologer, and I thought that Venus and Jupiter
    both being very bright planets, a person who is conceived while
    Venus and Jupiter are both high in the sky and close to their
    maximum brightness should have unusually high intelligence.
    They should be unusually bright. How does that idea become
    part of astrology? Does every astrologer just make up their own
    rules? That seems impossibly difficult. But I never, ever hear
    about this absolutely crucial aspect of astrology. All I ever hear
    of is the positions of the planets and the significance of those
    positions, never the process of mapping the positions to the
    significance. How does that mapping come about?

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis
    .
    Obviously there are no authorities but only tradition plus some observation. An interesting astrologer was Ebertin who was working during WW2 he kind of invented the mid point system, and made detailed observations of events and happenings. He published. His work is popular with both personal and mundane astrologers because with computers midpoints are easy. He had to number crunch them. He never proposed a cause, just the correlations he observed. So he invented a whole system. You could too but observations to bulk it out would help. I am sure you could find some, just ignore the counter examples. That's the method.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Carl Jung corresponded with Indian astrologers and said that in difficult cases he would make a natal horoscope and get some additional information. He said the mechanism behind astrology was synchronicity, a concept he came up with. This concept was taken up in Arthur Koestler's book *The Roots of Coincidence".

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    Synchronisity as coined by Jung is a nice word for correlation without causation. Jung also revived Platos archetypes. The existence of psychological types is one of the interestIng things to investigate as we being a base from which astrology rises. The archetypes of the sun signs for example are encountered, so that's food for correlation.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Yes, when the method is unscientific, any method will seem to work. This is the real lesson of astrology, and numerology, and tarot readings, and psychic readings, etc. So one can use this realization as a means of bringing out how science is different-- science is the only method that doesn't always seem to work. Give kids in suitable circumstances with sufficient bru-ha-ha a Ouija board and it will always seem to work for them, or tell them to do a seance and they will always achieve results they can interpret as contacting a ghost.

    So the real lesson here is, it is easy to find methods that seem to work, the real challenge is to find a method that only rarely works. The irony is then, most ideas in science have to be rejected, whereas none do in astrology, numerology, tarot readings and so on. Frustration is the common companion of the scientist, which is why science requires such perseverence-- and is so often abandoned by the faint of heart. But science is also the only method that produces predictive power, because by the very nature of prediction, it has to be able to fail.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Feb-06 at 08:01 PM.

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