An Argument for “Astrology”

Astrology is the belief that the time of year one is born affects things like personality. Here is a supposed “personality profile” for the present astrological-sign.

We dismiss it as absurd: How would such a random thing as birthdate affect anything? (There is some idea it has to with how stars line up, which strikes us as laughable).

I will not argue for astrology. But I will point out: One’s birthdate is not “random” in the sense of lottery numbers or “coin flips”, but is almost always ~9-months after conception.

Two things I recently read suggest that, in some animals, conditions of conception matter, a lot, for the character of the new creature.

1.) In alligators, temperature of the nest determines the sex of offspring. (A nest above 90-F will produce a male, any cooler will produce a female).
2.) In certain butterflies in the tropics, the nature of the ornate patterns they develop on their wings are determined by “larval rearing temperature”, not genetics as such. [link].

Consider: Is it possible that the temperature of the surroundings of the human womb at conception, and during pregnancy, could affect the child in ways similar to what astrology claims, as seen in these other creatures? Yes, we are warm-blooded. But is it really so impossible?

Another possibility: Perhaps a spring conception is ideal for the human condition, which gave rise to European notions that spring and love go hand in hand. Are people born in December, January, February [9-months after “Spring”] superior to the rest of us?)

Even if any of this is true, it would not line up with astrology’s hard line on significance of birthdates (implicitly) everywhere: After all, some places have no seasons, some places have “wet” vs. “dry” seasons, others have wild-temp-swings in the year, others milder swings, and southern-hemisphere-ites have opposite seasons as northerners.

Anyway, modern people are not exposed to the elements very much, anymore. So is astrology “over”?

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14 Responses to An Argument for “Astrology”

  1. Unamused says:

    “I will not argue for astrology. But I will point out: One’s birthdate is not ‘random’ in the sense of lottery numbers or ‘coin flips’, but is almost always ~9-months after conception.”
    By that standard, lottery numbers and coin flips aren’t random either. The result of a coin toss, for instance, can theoretically be predicted with near-certainty from the initial position, velocity, spin, environment, etc. of the coin. The point is that there’s no practical way to get that information, so the result is random (unpredictable) to us. Similarly, there’s no practical way to predict when conception will occur, since there are so many variables (two of them being your parents’ sex drives). So conception, and therefore birth, are random to us, at least until conception occurs—then the uncertainty of birth date goes way down, as you pointed out.

    “Consider: Is it possible that the temperature of the surroundings of the human womb at conception, and during pregnancy, could affect the child in ways similar to what astrology claims, as seen in these other creatures? Yes, we are warm-blooded. But is it really so impossible?”
    Prenatal conditions can play a big role in shaping us. A lot of what isn’t explained by our genetics (“nurture” rather than “nature”) could be explained by random conditions in the womb—I think Pinker discussed that in “The Blank Slate.” As for temperature specifically: the problem (which you mention later) is that human beings effectively control the temperature of our surroundings—we put on sweaters, turn on the AC, etc.

    “So is astrology ‘over’?”
    As science: always has been. It was invented by Mesopotamian dirt farmers, whose encyclopedic ignorance of natural law included the belief that the soul of an animal was in its liver; that the Earth was the center of the universe; and that there were only six planets in the solar system.

    As superstition and entertainment, though: it never will be. People will continue to believe unscientific things for irrational reasons. Many of them don’t even really believe it, they just think it’s fun to pretend—that’s how I feel about fortune cookies, for instance. Astrology is hardly the worst of these, so I say let ’em have their fun.

    • Hail says:

      Unamused, you have misunderstood me a little. You wrote: “there’s no practical way to predict when conception will occur, since there are so many variables (two of them being your parents’ sex drives).” — The little theory proposed here has nothing to do with predicting anything beforehand as such, and certainly not “when conception will occur”.

      Astrology is about making judgments based on someone’s birthdate or birth-month (“sign”). Birthdates are already known. Now, I am saying, given a birthdate, we can do simple math and figure out the likely conception date. Thus we’d also infer the likely times of year at various stages of pregnancy. Example: If you are born on October 1st, I can state with a high degree of certainty that you were conceived on or around January 1st.

      Different times of year mean different temperatures, humidity, any number of things. (There are a lot of holes with the theory, I freely admit.)

      If outdoor weather conditions that affect the mother also affect her womb, then there could be some basis for Astrology (here defined as personality judgments based on birthdate), even if coincidental.

      • Unamused says:

        You’re right, I misunderstood. I was reading “random” like a mathematician. (I would have less trouble with “predictive” instead of “not random.”) In the context of the rest of your post, I agree—birth dates provide information that’s relevant to our life histories.

        [Still nitpicking one of those holes in the theory: for modern humans living indoors, different times of year don’t necessarily mean different climates—but I concede the point for pre-20th century humans.]

        Yes to the bold: I can certainly see the climate affecting, say, hormone levels in the womb via the mother, thus producing personality changes. However, I don’t believe we will ever be able to make predictions about personality (or anything else, really) from birth dates—especially in our climate-controlled world. I know you didn’t claim that, though.

        To my mind, the basis for astrology exists, but it is purely coincidental and completely impractical. That said, I’m pretty sure I’ve never come across your idea before.

    • Hail says:

      You write: “Prenatal conditions can play a big role in shaping us. A lot of what isn’t explained by our genetics (“nurture” rather than “nature”) could be explained by random conditions in the womb—I think Pinker discussed that in “The Blank Slate.”

      There is also the perennial problem of explaining Homosexuality. How could it be genetic, as homosexuals mostly do not procreate?

      One study showed that Vanishing Twin Syndrome correlates with homosexuality in males. So, yes, womb-conditions and not genetics.

      Another study found that only 15% of observed multiple pregnancies actually resulted in multiple births. Thus, it is certain that many people are the result of twin pregnancies that turned out to be single pregnancies due to the failure of one or more sibling embryos. Intriguingly, one of the complications listed for children whose opposite-sex twins vanished is gender-identity confusion

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  3. Obsidian says:

    Hey Hail,
    Since I happen to know a weebit about astrology, its history and how it works, I thought you might be interested in the following comment I recently posted elsewhere online:

    Hi Alte,
    This is a very interesting series of posts you’ve put up, and I didn’t know that you had an interest in economic issues, finance and the like. Good job! Keep it up.

    As you and others here know, I have my own methods of looking into matters such as we are discussing and thought you and the readers might be interested to know a bit about things from that side of the aisle.

    Most ordinary laypeople don’t know this, but astrology started out as a discipline that was applied first to nations, or more accurately since there weren’t any nations as we would know them today, kingdoms; the horoscope of the sovereign was taken to represent his or her entire kingdom, along with other celestial phenomena, like the “star” the Three Wise Men sighted on the birth of Jesus (which was actually a Great Conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces; Jesus Christ was a Pisces, and as you know, the Fishes was the ancient symbol of Christianity – and it is most interesting that you would mention that Argentina is a Christian nation, as it was born with the Moon in Pisces. That’s right, nations can be “born”, too!). This practice begat what became known as Mundane Astrology, the word mundane coming from the Latin mundus – the world. It is the branch of astrology that has to do with political events, the economy, “big” things like that. (Natal Astrology, the astrology of individuals, was actually a late comer, LOL)

    You may recall my mentioning the planet Saturn and its role in the scheme of things; it represents time itself, maturity, stability. On the mundane level, these principles are “enlarged”; Saturn now represents “Law & Order” (along with Jupiter), any civil or governmental administration, and a country’s inherent sense of stability and “normalcy” as Woodrow Wilson once put it.

    In the horoscope for Argentina itself, which according to Wikipedia is May 25, 1810 at Buenos Aires, Saturn was in a severe relationship to another major planet, Pluto. This is very important; Pluto’s discovery coincided with the American stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression, which went on to impact the rest of the world, and Argentina was involved at the time. Thus, Pluto became associated with big finance, and “other people’s money” – like insurances, the stock market and the like. The adverse relationship between Saturn and Pluto in the Argentinian chart, speaks to inherent conflicts between the big business community and the government/administration itself, and from what I’ve read about the history of Argentina per Wikipedia, this definitely seems to be the case.

    The astrology of events taking place at the height of Argentina’s economic collapse, in the year 2001, is most striking; at the time, transiting Saturn (Saturn’s realtime movement in the sky at any given point in time) had aligned to make another adverse relationship to transiting Pluto, “mirroring” the very same adverse relationship between these two planets in the Argentinian horoscope; to make matters worse, transiting Saturn-Pluto were “touching” the Argentinian Saturn-Pluto aspect. And Saturn-Pluto anything is almost always TOUGH. Of particular note in this regard, was Dec 20-21 2001, when violent protests and the like erupted on the streets of Buenos Aires and other major cities, which forced the president to resign; less than a year later, his successor would do the same, after defaulting on massive debt accrued by the government. Of course, around that same time, the United States was undergoing a financial crisis of our own, although due to different causes – Sep 11, 2001 – and which brought the transiting Saturn-Pluto tag team right to our doorstep, so to speak, in our national horoscope (transiting Saturn-Pluto straddling the USA chart’s horizon).

    So, what does all this have to do with us here, in the USA? Quite a bit, I’m afraid – the USA was born with Saturn in Libra, like you, and like you Alte, Saturn is undergoing what is known in astrology circles, a “Saturn Return”. It is hands down one of thee most profound periods a person or a nation, can go through. If the person or nation in quesstion has handled their affairs properly and acted like an adult, Saturn’s Return will bring rewards and an increased level of responsibility and leadership based on this. If on the other hand, the person or nation in question has mismanaged things leading up to said return, well, you can see the results for yourself.

    The United States is now in the full grips of an economic crisis some three decades in the making, dating back to the last time Saturn was in Libra. At that time, as I am sure your parents have told you, the country was in the midst of a crippling recession, and had to face austerity measures with which to dig us out of it. My understanding of economics is rudimentary at best, so I won’t attempt to go into matters any more than that. But what I will say is that people like yourself will undrstand very well what I’m talking about in terms of the early 1980s and all that has taken place since then, which sets the stage for what we’re dealing with now.

    Saturn remains in a Sign on average about two and half years; it won’t be leaving Libra until Oct of 2012, when it will enter Scorpio, and it is for this reason (among others) that I say that no real economic relief will be seen at least until then – and even then, it will be relatively modest, due to other major astrological indications of difficulty, instability and turbulence. In the horoscope for the United States, Saturn rules the 2nd house of finances.

    But that’s another comment for another time. 🙂

    Holla back


  4. SFG says:

    I don’t know if you read Half Sigma, but I think he did show an effect regarding when you were born and income. Since kids born during some times of the year will tend to be the biggest in their class (think about 5 yrs 11 mos vs 5 yrs 0 mos old), this can lead to more athletic opportunities, more self-confidence in middle school, etc., etc.

    There was a more or less monotonic relationship, so this does kind of make sense.

    • Hail says:

      SFG, that is interesting, albeit the operational basis for such differences in school would be purely “coincidental” and not a result of womb conditions, as is “proposed” above.

      “Coincidental”, meaning, if the school year operated on a different calender, the effects would be all different. (If the proposed idea of intra-class age-differences is the key).

      Can you provide a link to the post you’re referring to?

    • Hail says:

      One more point re SFG:
      In my anecdotal experience, the kids who skipped a grade — and were thus a year younger than the rest of us kids — were higher “quality”. I’d always figured it was because they had to “pick up their game”, as they were forced to compete on the level with kids older than them. (And they were self-conscious of this, because they knew “I skipped a grade”. In the Half-Sigma theory, no one is quite conscious of intra-class age differences if they are not grade-skippers).

      I suppose it could also be simply self-selecting, though, meaning the dunces aren’t ever skipped ahead.

    • Hail says:

      That looks like it is based on time of day, rather than time of year generally. So imagine a difficult delivery, one twin comes out three hours before the other. One twin could have the “Mars effect” and the other not? That is very difficult to accept, rationally.

      One Wiki-blogger* says it is a statistical anomaly.

      * — (As I’ve heard one clever man say, “Wikipedia is a group blog”)

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