Monday, May 26, 2014
Astrology, Astronomy, and Jetology
Every once in a while, I am mistakenly introduced as an astrologer instead of an astronomer. There's a big difference, as I am quick to point out. Astrology is an ancient superstition, left over from thousands of years ago, when most people saw celestial objects as gods or symbols of the gods, and not as physical bodies whose characteristics our instruments can now explore.
When, in the 1980's, it was revealed that President Reagan's White House schedule was for years vetted by a San Francisco astrologer, I was interviewed by the media as a critic of astrology. I tried to come up with an analogy that would make sense to the news media and the public for why scientists had a hard time believing in the idea that your personality or destiny would be governed by the location of the Sun, Moon, and planets in the sky at the moment of your birth. I suggested a new form of "cosmic wisdom" called JETOLOGY, where your personality or fate could be explained by the position of all the jumbo jets at the time you were born. When people sniggered at the notion of jetology, I could then ask why astrology sounds any better.
I am reminded of this because, for those of you who are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am preparing to be one of the featured speakers at SkeptiCAL, a one-day conference Saturday, May 31 in Oakland, on how to confront claims of the paranormal or the "too good to be true" by using common sense skeptical thinking. See: http://www.skepticalcon.com/
Years ago, I wrote a short "Astrology Defense Kit" for science-oriented people who meet astrology believers. You can read it at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253783518_Your_Astrology_Defense_Kit?ev=prf_pub
If you want to see a wonderful short video on how it can be that the vague pronouncements that make up most astrological readings are taken seriously, I recommend the following episode of "Trick of the Mind" by British magician and skeptic, Derren Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haP7Ys9ocTk
Ah, skeptical thinking -- if we had more of it during our years of education, during political campaigns, or when we view advertisements, our country would be so much better off.