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Astral Divination

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So.  I’m having one of those weird mornings here.  The final draft of the Georgia Xenakis book is sort of finally getting there.  In a lot of ways, I really hate working on a new book, but especially on a new book that isn’t part of an existing series.  Introducing characters is actually a lot more difficult than just throwing them down on the page.

And even with a series like this, which I’ve pretty much decided is going to be limited–nine books and out, nothing open ended–there’s the need to set up situations that the reader can know nothing about, and to do it in a way that it’s not obvious that that’s what you’re doing. 

It took me three or four tries just to figure out where the story was actually supposed to start.   You’d think you would just know these things, before you got to the point where you put them down on paper.  For me, though, I find that I need to write it to know it, so I’ve been writing a lot without feeling as if I had anything I could show anybody.

And now I do.  And that’s good.  But since I first went to work on this, this book has changed states, changed venues, changed murder methods, and changed motivations for one of its lead characters.

Well, on that last one–just sort of.

But here I am, with tea and Bach.  In fact, I’m listening to Gustav Leonhardt playing harpsichord on The Well Tempered Clavier.  And I’ve got Augustine, to help ward off a day of Dr. Who DVDs.

Somebody should remind me every once in a while that I thought I was a genius when I found these things to get for Matt for Christmases and birthdays.

With Augustine, I’m up to Book V, which is about a quarter of the way through, and what he’s doing in this book is beating the crap out of astrology.

And I do mean beating the crap out of it.

It’s interesting, because I was always taught that astrology for the ancients was not superstition but science.  They didn’t look on the effect of the stars on human behavior as magic or supernaturalism, but rather as a natural phenomenon that could be studied like any other natural phenomenon.

So, with astrology, the ancients were wrong, but they weren’t engaging in mystical thinking.

Augustine didn’t agree, and it’s been interesting to watch how his arguments against astrology mirror the ones that are not made by skeptics and other critics. 

There are some very funny moments when Augustine starts trying to unravel the problem of the stars’ effects on twins, for isntance, or on two people born simultaneously but one to a noble family and one to a slave.  He goes through the contemporary apologia for this sort of thing, including the writings of astrologers who say that the really important effect comes not with birth but with conception.

But what really caught my eye is that he makes the same argument about the missing constellation–the one it was just announced was supposed to go back into the zodiac, the one that starts with O whose name I can never remember–as was being made only a couple of days ago in my daily newspaper.

In fact, the tone of a lot of this is very similar to what I see now in places like Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer.   So is the tone, which comes down to Augustine having completely apopleptic fits along the lines of “this is science for stupid people!  Can’t you see that?  Nobody could believe this but stupid people!”

And I sympathise, because I have tried to talk to people about astrology, but it’s like talking to people about–well.  Whatever. 

It always amazes me how passionately attached to astrology some people are, certainly as or more passionately attached as some people are to their religion.

And arguments about astrology are a hotbed of the kind of argument I was talking about the other day–the everything is an opinion argument, which is really an attempt to shut down argument altogether.

And although I also sympathize with Augustine on the stupid thing, a fair number of people I think of as reasonably bright are very attached to astrology on lots of levels, and not just in reading their little blurb in the paper every day.

I find this a harder phenomenon to understand than I do religion, really.  The high intellectual end of most of the world’s major religions are well thought out and well reasoned.  You can argue with Roman Catholic theology on the basis of its premises, but once you accept the premises the rest tends to follow almost automatically.

And the premises are harder to argue with than you’d think.  I tend to explain my own unbelief by saying that I see no positive evidence of the existence of anything beyond this material world, but I know when I do that that I’m making a number of premises myself, and the conclusion is not definitive.

With astrology, however, there is a lot of evidence available to investigate, and none of it supports the idea the human actions and human destinies are being controlled by visible constellations that appear in the night sky.

In fact, there’s a fair amount of evidence that this isn’t the case, and that’s without going into the sheer logic of the assertion.

But then, I’ve never understood the sheer force of the willingness to believe against all evidence–the kind of thing that comes out when people go to see John Edward, for instance, or Peter Popoff. 

But there is Bach, and tea, and Dr. Who approacheth.

Written by janeh

January 30th, 2011 at 10:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Astral Divination'

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  1. I’m with Augustine on this one, and I understand the difference between astrology and religion. A religion consists of–broadly–an understanding about how the universe works, and a set of ethical principles. The understanding of the uinverse is generally not refutable, and the ethical principles, for any religion which has been around and widespread for a thousand years or more, are not obviously destructive to society.

    Astrology, like psychology, makes specific predictions about a limited set of people: Leos make good soldiers. Paranoids are prone to believe in plots against them. In both cases, it ought to be fairly easy to match the prediction against statistical behavior. Are people born in a certain date range disproportionately likely to enlist? Become generals? Be given awards for valor? Are certified paranoids more likely to be “truthers” or “birthers?” At this point, the prophets lose enthusiasm.

    Note the same thing is sometimes true of education, from “sensitivity training” to Headstart. There is a remarkable unwillingness to measure the efectiveness in changed behavior of courses which allegedly change how people think. But if we can’t be shown to behave differently, in what way has our thinking altered? (Now Jane will explode.)

    I cannot explain the persistence of a testable belief whose believers avoid the test. I can only suggest that it must provide a comfort to them in some fashion, and my first thought is absence of responsibility. If the fault is in the stars, then it can’t be within ourselves.

    The Outback Steakhouse awaits.


    30 Jan 11 at 12:51 pm

  2. I like Dr. Who. I borrowed a couple of season’s worth of the recent ones from the teen-aged son of a friend a while back and watched them all. I’ve gotten behind again, and I need to do something about that. I could, of course, watch it on TV, but I never seem to be at home when shows I want to watch come on TV – not to mention that the DVDs have spoiled me for TV with commercials.

    I can’t explain the continued popularity of horoscopes, but I think people – all people – often don’t apply logic to themselves or there lives. Some do it in more obvious ways than others (like horoscopes vs small private rituals or beliefs about people phoning you when you think about them). But it seems as though if the irrational works for us, we often don’t bother to apply reason to it. And after all, if we had to apply reason to every aspect of our lives, instead of operating a lot of the time on habit and instinct and impulse, we’d never get anything done. Why astrology in particular is so persistent, I don’t know, but it is. I bet just about everyone in our society, including all the people like me who doesn’t believe in astrology and never did and who never reads the predictions, knows their astrological sign. That’s really weird.


    31 Jan 11 at 7:43 am

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