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## Is Astrology Snake Oil in Another Form?

Many consider astrology to be foolish. So there are many people who believe in astrology and read their daily horoscope eagerly. What is the truth? Let’s explore this with some new ideas – so bear with me while I start a few strands and then pull them together in the end.

I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and for many years I was dismissive of astrology (although I would occasionally glance at my horoscope). In fact, I don’t buy into the proposition that there are 12 basic personalities that are defined by star signs.

We all agree that the tides are governed primarily by the Moon and the Sun (although there are several hundred terms in the equation that are used to predict the tides). It’s worth noting that tides aren’t the only thing in the ocean—the Earth itself, and the atmosphere itself, experience tides, but these aren’t noticeable in everyday life. That is strand1.

For the past 20 years I have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (‘SAD’). This is caused by seasonal variations in the level and intensity of sunlight in people living outside the tropics. It is a depressive disorder, and by definition, seasonal in nature.

This mechanism is believed to be related to the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin. So, this leads to the idea that people’s behavior (governed by mood) may be affected by seasonal sunlight levels. That is strand 2 of the debate.

Recently I read a book called ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a fascinating piece of work, but I’ll pick just one item. He analyzes NFL teams and star players (that’s American football). It turns out that star players celebrate birthdays at a particular time of the year. Astrology says!

No, it’s just that players born earlier in the year tend to be the oldest in their school/college peer group. Because of that, they are physically born years later than other students in their school years. So, if there is an 11-month difference in birthdays between the oldest and youngest in a given school year, then by age 12, there is about a 7-8% difference in physical maturity. Stronger (older) students then tend to excel in their school years and therefore receive more encouragement and support, and so on. That is strand 3.

So let’s try to pull these strings together:

– We can see that the physical components of the Earth and the biosphere are subject to celestial forces (tides).

– There (outside the tropics) a part of the population (SAD sufferers ~ 17%) tends to be affected by the level of seasonal sunlight (which is actually the result of the rotation of the Earth around the Sun), by a changing mechanism. Body chemistry. As a contrast, the human female menstrual cycle is usually tied to the lunar cycle period (although obviously not all women are in phase).

There are segments of the population whose physical abilities and success are determined by the time of year they are born. Obviously, we can test this by looking at countries where academic years differ (Malcolm Gladwell explored this, but only in terms of the length of summer vacation, East vs. West).

Many consider astrology to be foolish. So there are many people who believe in astrology and read their daily horoscope eagerly. What is the truth? Let’s explore this with some new ideas – so bear with me while I start a few strands and then pull them together in the end.

Now then, we can reasonably assume that the effect of ‘time of birth’ may be seen in academic ability (as opposed to sporting ability), although the education profession would surely have discovered this by now.

So, are we seeing effects on population and individual personality, at least at a first order level, arising from the motion of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth? I’m sure we are.

So, what is astrology and star signs? Astrology may be a proxy for this set of influences, although I cannot believe that second order influences (such as Sun on Uranus) would be significant. However, it is human nature to refine ideas and systems.

© 2009 Phil Marks

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