I never look to the sky for advice, or thought that planetary alignment on my birthday—July 5, 1989—helps explain why I struggle with anxiety and like wrestling and playing the drums. I don’t think those things aren’t preordained by the cosmos, but you might be led to believe if you were really into astrology.
I don’t knock astrology as a hobby—it’s no more illusory than organized religion in a lot of ways—but as far as science is concerned, it’s fairly straightforward: There’s no proof that the movements of celestial bodies can influence a set of traits that form the basis of a personality. Still, it’s actually a good thing to understand something beloved by many, if only be able to better understand the many people who believe in those things.
What is astrology?
Astrology is a field of divination that tries to understand our lives by linking us to the cosmos, suggesting that the positioning of celestial bodies—planets and stars, mainly—has an etherial grip on our feelings and personalities on Earth. Maybe the most pivotal aspect of astrology is one’s birthday and where it falls on the Zodiac calendar, giving you an astrological sign (mine is Cancer, for example), which becomes a kind of a spiritual calling card; a Sagittarius is known for being a certain way, as are Pisces, and so on.
If you’re keen on wading into your own cosmological DNA, you can get your own astrological chart or horoscope, which everyone technically has. There are plenty of resources out there that will show yours for free. You can learn to read and decode this chart on your own, or you can seek the consultation of certain experts (there’s a whole subreddit for this).
This chart is basically the roadmap to your soul, which is funny, because scientifically, astrology is all a load of hokum. West Texas A&M professor Christopher S. Baird explains why this is the case:
Astrology purports that astronomical bodies have influence on people’s lives beyond basic weather patterns, depending on their birth date. This claim is scientifically false. Numerous scientific studies have disproven that astronomical bodies affect people’s lives according to their birth date. For instance, Peter Hartmann and his collaborators studied over 4000 individuals and found no correlation between birth date and personality or intelligence.
Why is astrology important to understand?
Belief systems are the bedrock of human civilization, and even if something isn’t technically true—whether it be the foundation of a religion, ideology, subcultural trend, conspiracy, or something else—it can still amass a great deal of influence on people’s lives and greater society if enough people will it into existence or importance. It’s worthwhile to at least understand where certain belief systems come from and why people cling to them, because, at the very least, it helps make sense of the world.
This is essentially the crux of the Thomas Theorem, which was formulated by the sociologists William Isaac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas in the 1920s. “Facts,” regardless of their actual veracity, are brought to life when enough proponents believe them to be true. For a morbid example, remember the January 6 storming of the Capitol by insurrectionists who were steadfast in their belief that the U.S. election was fraudulent? A belief in the Big Lie is but one example of a real life manifestation of W.I. Thomas’ work playing out, nearly 100 years after the concept was divined.
Or, in what’s probably the most succinct articulation of the Thomas Theorem, both Thomases famously wrote in 1928: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
While astrology is a much more benign example, it still helps to understand it, if only to clarify why people may latch onto it with conviction. It can help people glean a sense of comfort amid the uncertainty and ever-changing winds of life, and while it should never be used as a substitute for actual science, it might stand as a venue for people searching for some clarity. That, in my view, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.