I’ve been releasing fundraiser EP’s that are based on themes of both mythology and astronomy. “Gaia / Earth EP” and “Planitis Aris” (Planet Mars in Greek) are the first two (you can hear them below or at music.theadaptive.net). This combination is something I started noticing more over time, as my obsessions with creating music, studying languages & world history, and taking pictures of whatever I can find in the sky continue taking up most of my free time.
Let’s start off with a little bit of back story. This is an unusually long and detailed post for me, and I want to make it good. I’ve been working on it like a school project, maybe even like a mild attempt at journalism.
These three topics apply to all of us, or I would guess, everyone reading this rant (not you, page-scraping robots and spammers!). The more I learn about each one, the more I wonder which came first. Which one is the chicken, and which ones are the eggs? Or is it vice versa?
Let’s skip Aristotle vs. Plato (for now) and Look at Hawking vs. Einstein
Regarding quantum mechanics, Albert Einstein had these famous reactions:
I like to think the moon is there, even if I am not looking at it.-Albert Einstein
God doesn’t play dice.-Albert Einstein
Stephen Hawking gave the following response to Einstein’s disbelief, in “A Brief History of Time”:
Not only does God play dice, but he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.-Stephen Hawking
What does Stephen Hawking vs. Einstein have to do with the Zodiac? You might ask. I’m acknowledging some well-known conflicts and doubts in science. These disagreements are often used in attempts to debunk science altogether, in a world that is increasingly science-oriented.
I have another one of these releases coming up; project title “Saturnus.” Now I’m learning about Cronos and the usage of Saturn vs. Saturnus. Doing research for song titles and creative inspiration has really opened my eyes to the common ground between three categories: Astronomy, Astrology, and Mythology. Each part of this super-trifecta of human culture is all around us, breathing down our necks, whether we want all of them or not. The three have been influencing modern culture for a very long time. Gaia represents Earth, Uranus represents the sky, and Jupiter represents Zeuss, who also somehow represents Jupiter. Jupiter could have become our solar system’s Sun, had Saturn not pulled it back with its impressive gravitational pull. This is wild. I’m fascinated enough to keep learning.
Quantum mechanics is the fuzzy and controversial area where astrologers and the devoutly religious can pull a wildcard, a Get Out Of Jail Free card of sorts. This “uncertainty card” allows one to believe in the science that they like, and avoid having to take seriously any science that goes against their own confirmation bias. “Even science is uncertain about reality” is a true statement, but it shouldn’t be used to dismiss all of the ways science does work for us. Cherry-picking from science is a very slippery slope, and our natural confirmation bias loves sending us flying down it.
The thing to remember, while knowing that science is always evolving and updating itself, is that we all love “getting high on feeling right” (copyright 2019 Shane Cotee).
There’s a measurable emotional response that nearly everyone experiences when someone else makes a statement that we wanted to believe before we heard it. This matchup between hopes, expectations, and stimulus creates a power combo of pleasurable confirmation bias. Can any of us tell the difference between “feeling right” and “being right”?
The opposite of the high of feeling right, is the dreaded, depressing feeling of being wrong, or worse, feeling wrong. This is one of the greatest challenges of our species, the inability for us to 1) Know exactly when we’re wrong in the first place, and 2) Admit when we’re wrong. It’s like sacrificing part of your soul, especially when the belief is part of your identity/social circle/tribe.
Back to the topic of cherry-picking science. Another trick used by scientific cherry-pickers is to refer to archaic misinformation, like:
“If science is so special, then why did doctors recommend cigarettes to pregnant women?”-Qanon Guy on Instagram
First of all, that’s a rigged question. “Science” didn’t recommend smoking to anyone. Studies about the alarming health effects of cigarettes were certainly published in the 1950’s, but that kind of information was largely ignored until the 1960’s. People were enjoying the huge successes of using the press for marketing in America, and it’s safe to assume most people were impressionable by all things that looked and sounded “bona fide” or official.
In a pie chart of these three slices of belief systems (science, mythology, astrology), we all get to choose how much of each one to trust, though it seems very rare that anyone would want to partake in equal amounts of each “flavor.” In fact, by nature, religions are built to prevent their believers from viewing themselves as mythology. You could argue that religion deserves its own slice of the pie, and maybe that’s true. Let’s try to put all of that aside for now. My point is that if we’re going to embrace something like astrology, we should at least try to understand its siblings, astronomy and mythology. I say this while having a ton of interest in astronomy & mythology, and very little interest in astrology. I know a lot of people who feel the opposite.
Most of us lean towards one end of the Astronomy/Astrology/Mythology spectrum much more than the others. If I knew why, I might try to explain it. Something to do with parental imprints and confirmation bias. Let’s take a moment to think about how these things are related instead.
I don’t expect very many people would willingly sit in the logical center of these three topics. It would be impossible to give up my respect and trust in the scientific corner of things, and the resulting distrust in astrology, though my family is mostly made up of people who believe in astrology.
Carl Sagan’s Perspective on Astrology
Carl’s opinion matters, whether you like it or not. Carl was brilliant. I lost count of his honors and awards. His books, shows (like Cosmos), and public talks offer a wealth of knowledge, helping the next generation of truth-seekers find the next step forward and out of flimsy superstition. The most devout scientist will admit to a sort of “gambling” that happens at the quantum level, which is an “easy out” for anti-science rhetoric, but let’s hear him out.
Not Today, Sagan
We hate to hear things that don’t match what we want to believe. It’s just how human brains work.
Alan Watts explained something in one of his mid-1960’s (if I’m not mixing things up) lectures… Well, he explained a lot of things, but one that stood out was how we like to tell ourselves things due to an unavoidable belief that the thought itself will influence the outcome of a scenario. We really can’t help it. I’m an atheist but I’ve caught myself praying in desperate times. In some ways, self-affirmation might really work as a fundamental requirement in survival, but in other ways, like trying to move an object with your eyes, well, it’s almost fruitless. Almost. (Stephen Hawking was able to use his eyes and cheek muscles to converse in real-time, so anything’s possible. But let’s get back to Carl).
The aforementioned Carl of all Carls, the one and only Carl Sagan, is honestly a hero of mine. I can’t help it. He made an early imprint on me, an impression of trust, dedication to truth, and inspiration. Call it part of my culture, my cult-ure, of academia, specifically science and astronomy. I’m a computer scientist that loves astronomy and wants to do more of it. This is just how my brain works. Astrology has swindled me in the past, but I now think of it as a gateway to learn about the bigger picture.
Carl Sagan is also a legend for providing lucid, engaging explanations of often-misunderstood things. As a result of this passion for truth and evidence, he became an enemy of the superstitious, and, I’ll try to spread this next word out with some filler words… Uhem, *cough* the religious. Creating enemies is a tough side effect of choosing the path of empirical evidence over anything else*.
*Anything else, in this case, is where everyone gets to choose their own level of trust in the three topics of this rant.
Sagan made a point to explain why he didn’t trust astrology himself, and why it had been outcast from the various academic and professional sectors of society.
“Astrologers cannot even agree among themselves what a given horoscope means.”-Carl Sagan
If this sounds like heresy to you, please bear with me. I’m trying to stay open-minded, while also having a scientific background and a lack of preprogrammed dogma (thanks, mom and dad!). The closest we came to that, were a few good-intentioned (but misleading) years of being told Santa Claus was keeping an eye on me. That’s plenty of boogeyman stuff for one lifetime.
I’ve been looking for the bigger potential of astrology, and have seen a few glimpses of what can only be described of “astronomically-aware astrology”, where an astrologer also specializes in astronomy, telling elaborate stories of the stars and the mythology intertwined with them. That was entertaining and educational. (Shout out to Gemini Brett for setting a good example.)
Carl Sagan and many other prominent academic minds confidently explain why astrology was rejected as a science. If you respect the principles of science, you probably already acknowledge and understand why astrology was expelled. If you don’t really respect science, then I can’t change your mind anyway. I know Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, and the core of quantum mechanics tells us that at the most magnified levels of reality, the other established laws of nature seem to be thrown out the window. Our best calculations fail to calculate where a particle will go if we look too closely. Does that mean we can fall back to astrology? I don’t think so. Every species is continuously evolving whether it wants to or not, and I’m without any doubt that our own brilliant brains still have a lot of evolving to do. For example:
Astrology’s Expulsion from Science
There was too much guesswork and not enough verifiable proof to hold it all together. If you believe in astrology, it will be difficult for you to care what Mr. Sagan believed, and it probably won’t matter a bit. That’s okay.
Aside from the incompatibility of astrology with science (along with my attention span), the terminology does have some clues to the history of humanity and the universe as we know it. It can be a good starting point for a deeper understanding of the universe and humanity, through continued learning of both. In other words, don’t stop at astrology. Learn as much as you want, knowing that it has not been proven to be any different than rolling dice, which scientists know is also true at the quantum level. We all get to choose which side to lean towards in this trifecta of beliefs.
There may value in astrology. Not the superstitious value that’s currently being squeezed out of it. Not this, “Look, you can trust me, I predict the future because that’s how these things work…” stuff. I think the value in astrology is the way it exposes common folks to astronomy and its roots in mythology.
The moral of this story is that there may be value in astrology far beyond its current level of “entertainment” and generalities.
Astrology could open a pathway to astronomy and even mythology, two subjects that have shaped our world and deserve to be better understood.
An alarming number of people care more about Mercury being in retrograde, than the mercury in our lakes and rivers.-Shane Cotee (and you can quote me on that)
The more we all understand these things, the better off we are. If we only specialize in astrology, and ignore astronomy & mythology, then we’re completely left to the whims of content creators who get paid to do whatever their “followers” prefer. Common astrology is a capitalist game of supply and demand. Consumers demand a sense of control and predictability in their lives, so astrologers provide that. Let’s take things further than that, if we’re going down that road at all, for everyone’s sake. Otherwise, from the outside, astrology will continue to look like a game of commercialized generalizations shotgunned to a wide audience for mass appeal and ad revenue.
As I said in the quote above, an alarming number of people care more about Mercury being in retrograde, than the mercury in our lakes and rivers. This has been a really big topic for me lately, since I learned about the toxic history and immeasurable pollution of the Northport, Washington area.