Like most Quorans, I get all kinds of weird answer requests. Some of them were obviously spammed to everyone who ever wrote on a particular topic. Others were obviously spammed to everyone, period.
A few days ago, I got this question [paraphrased]: “Why do scientists say astrology isn’t a science?”
I am, in fact, qualified to answer this question. I’ve been casting and interpreting horoscopes for decades. What baffled me is that I had not yet made that fact known to Quora.
So I answered:
Why Isn’t Astrology a Science?
Because astrology is based on a model of the universe we know to be false.
Your birth chart is, essentially, a map of the universe with you at its center. On this map, there’s you, at a particular place and time on Earth, and then there are seven perfect circles: the orbits of the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. (Modern charts also contain Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and sometimes the major asteroids Ceres, Vesta and Chiron.) The map shows you where in the zodiac each of those planets appeared to be, relative to the place and time on Earth you occupied at the moment of your birth.
Birth charts are set up this way to reflect how astrology works, which is:
Your soul begins its journey in the “firmament,” or the space beyond the orbit of Saturn. (The ancients didn’t know other planets existed, so they don’t count.) To get into your body, your soul descends through the orbit or “sphere” of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the moon, and the sun. On the way, it picks up traits related to the ruling planet of each sphere.
These traits are further influenced by which zodiac sign the planet looks like it’s hanging out in at the time, from the perspective of the time/place of your birth. Your soul then gets sucked into your body with your first breath, carrying all those traits it picked up from the spheres with it.
There’s just one problem.
We know that the Earth is not the center of the solar system.
Astrology depends on a geocentric model of the universe in which all the other celestial bodies move in circular orbits around the Earth. But we know they don’t. Rather, the moon revolves around the Earth, and both of them revolve, along with the planets, in elliptical orbits around the sun.
That our solar system is heliocentric isn’t news. We’ve known this for centuries. It’s not hypothetical, either: We have, based on our mathematical models of a heliocentric solar system, successfully launched rockets and satellites and even actual living humans off the planet and brought them back again. We are correct about the Earth revolving around the sun and not the other way round.
The solar system cannot be heliocentric and classical astrology be scientific. One of those two things has to fail “being science,” because they are based on fundamentally incompatible models of the universe.
Science “knows” things by examining whether the things it hypothesizes are observable, measurable and replicable. The heliocentric-ness of the solar system is one of those things.
Your personal affinity for your own horoscope, however, is not. We can observe whether you think it applies to you. We can attempt to measure how well it applies (maybe by polling all your friends to see if they agree you have the same traits your birth chart has). But we cannot replicate it – we can’t go back in time and birth you again. Nor can we set up a control version of you without that birth chart to see whether that you behaves differently than this you.
That said: Do not assume science is the only valid system of knowing things. Science is one system of knowing, with specific rules. We use it a lot because its rules offer a very effective way of knowing things about the physical world.
However, humans have developed many, many systems for knowing and understanding things. Astrology is another such system, with its own rules. Some people find the knowledge they get from astrology’s system of rules to be very useful, and that’s fine.
Astrology is a system of knowing. It is, however, not a scientific system of knowing.
Like so much of my Quora content, I posted this and then went on my merry way, not giving a second thought to its impact on the readership of that particular site.
Then things got weird.
I Start an Advice Column
Since posting this answer, I’ve received over a dozen oddly specific requests for Someone What Knows Their Astrology to look into the requester’s chart. These typically come with a description of the problem the questioner is having, plus their birth date, time and place.
(Note: Please don’t post that info publicly. Not everyone is as ethical or lazy as I am. A less ethical and more enterprising individual would have no trouble committing a little friendly identity theft.)
After about 23 minutes of consulting Twitter via poll, I decided not to wait the additional 23 hours and 37 minutes for the poll to end. Instead, I launched The Stars Hate You.
The Stars Hate You: A FAQ
The Stars Hate You is an advice column, in which I, an armchair astrologer with decades of experience and a very large personal library of books on esoterica (a few of which I have actually read!), respond to astrological queries. Only I’m not going to cast anyone’s chart.
“Um, okay. But why?” I hear you ask.
Because you (or someone like you) came for advice and I’mma give it. BUT:
- Casting and interpreting horoscopes is work – yes, even with software that does the math automatically. I blog for my own amusement, but like the selfish meat-based corporeal being I am, I like to eat food and sleep sheltered from the elements. (If you simply must have your actual horoscope interpreted, drop me a line and we’ll talk terms.)
- The best person to do that work is always the person for whom the horoscope is being cast. I insist on being paid to do other people’s horoscopes because it’s the only thing I’m guaranteed to get out of the transaction. Otherwise, I don’t benefit from interpreting the stars, your Tarot cards, your palm, or the pattern of Froot Loops in the bottom of your breakfast bowl. You benefit from interpreting those things.
Will you teach me how to interpret my own chart?
Sure. For money.
Isn’t there some kind of prohibition on taking money in exchange for teaching magic?
One, astrology isn’t magic – it’s a system, whose various purposes include “organizing all the random crap that makes up our lives,” “understanding how everything is connected to everything else,” and “getting nowhere.” It can be used for magical purposes, but it is not, itself, magical (or rather, it is exactly as magical as everything else).
Two, I’m not the one who took that oath. You’re thinking of a certain English walnut fond of shaving his head and doing too much hashish.
What about the advice?
The advice is free.
Does that mean I’m getting what I pay for?
And then some! You also get my sparkling wit.
You’re not really that funny.
That’s not a question.
Doesn’t telling people you’re interpreting their “stars” when you’re actually just giving bog-standard advice make you TA?
Twitter reassures me that I am NTA here. Even if it didn’t, being TA is in the eye of the beholder. Or so your stars tell me.
So do you believe in astrology or don’t you?
That’s a blog post’s worth of question in itself.
Tl;dr: No, I don’t “believe in” astrology, any more than I “believe in” science. I apply each as a system of knowing in order to think more deeply about what’s in front of me. I choose among systems of knowing (including but not limited to astrology and science) depending on what it is I’m trying to think more deeply about and why.
Will you give me advice?
Sure! Drop a line in the comments below, or DM me on Twitter @danialexis. I do my best to maintain the anonymity of advice-seekers, but feel free to use pseudonyms, change the scene of crimes, etc.
(N.b. I do not give advice regarding actual crimes.)
Is there anything else I should know?
The Frogurt is also cursed.
You can get to every entry in The Stars Hate You by clicking the link on the navigation bar at the top of the blog (next to “Bad Carols”). New entries are published when I feel like it, or when someone actually asks for advice.
I try to give good advice, but I make no guarantees as to what might happen to you if you do or do not follow the advice given. You’re the one running your life – running my own is more than enough work for one lifetime.
Your stars say that tipping your armchair advice columnist is a courteous thing to do, especially if you found their advice useful. If tipping isn’t an option for you, the stars say that sharing your armchair advice columnist’s posts on social media is also acceptable.