Horoscopes – ruminating about scientific links.

Today is my birthday.  Likely, someone will read me my horoscope before the end of the night.  I hold nothing against horoscopes, the Chinese zodiac, fortune cookies, or small superstitions.  They’re fun so long as they remain small and fun and people understand them for their fun.  But, I also don’t want my scientific mind to be a buzzkill for those who enjoy a daily sojourn into something mysterious.  unfortunately, I have known people that take astrology so seriously they use it to discriminate or to justify bad and hurtful behavior, and there’s no fun in that.

My brother was an astronomy major in college.  If I remember next time I talk to him, I will inquire on how many times someone asked about their astrological sign after learning of his course of study.  I am sure there were a few.  I wonder if he tried of explaining the difference.  For those who don’t know,

Astrology is not science.  It is religion.

That statement comes from an atheist’s point of view that all that is not science is therefore religion, and is certainly debatable.  But, if you believe in horoscopes, you are not atheist.  Atheists believe that all explanations require quantifiable data.  Astrology lacks such data.  That’s just the way it is.  Astronomers understand the distribution of planets and stars in our universe is entirely due to non-mystical laws deciphered by people like Keppler, Einstein and Newton.  It’s all explainable by mathematical equations, all testable, and all predictable with data and numbers to back it up.  Astrologers believe the distribution of planets and starts in our universe has some meaning other than physics, implying a deeper meaning to the universe dictated by some sort of higher power or phenomenon unexplained by scientific laws as we know them.  To them, constellations such as Leo don’t result from an interpretation of a natural distribution of stars, but are arranged that way for some kind of meaning or purpose. 

I have read some quasi-scientific explanations for Astrology, due to things like gravitational forces upon our bodies or radiation emitted from celestial objects.  Sure, those explanations are possible, but they are quasi-science because they haven’t been tested, lack hard data,  and are conclusion-driven.   I classify them as somewhat scientific because they offer some kind of plausible explanation based upon known physical phenomena instead of a “magic wand” explanation that escapes all rationality. 

So what am I?

Astrologers say I am a Scorpio.  That means the sun was traversing the constellation Scorpio on the day I was born.  With Scorpio comes certain personality traits supposedly assigned to me because of the solar position on my birthday.  But, the sun wasn’t in Scorpio on the day I was born.  The Earth’s axis wobbles, and the orbit changes.  As a result, stars are not in the same position they were thousands of years ago.  That means, the sun was actually in Libra on the day I was born:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/13/horoscope-hang-up-earth-rotation-changes-zodiac-signs/

As I read further, other astrologers say the signs are tied to the seasons and not to the position of the sun.  So, I guess I still am a Scorpio according to them.

http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/14/astrologers-get-their-say-in-the-horoscope-hubbub/

I understand I am linking a Time magazine source, but I am not sure where one goes to find the truly most accurate horoscope information.  Because I think of it as all fun and games, I think Time will suffice as a source for now.  Considering the change in the timing and positioning of the constellations, the explanation that some believe horoscopes are tied to seasons, and the fact that so many people take astrology very seriously, I decided to consider whether there is some scientific merit to all this.

I’ve had people tell me before that I am “such a typical Scorpio”.  Yet, I have known people born just a few days before or after me who have completely different personalities.  Does my birthday have any effect on my adult personality?  I understand personality is part nature and part nurture.  In other words, my personality is partly my genetic code, and partly based upon the way I was raised and the things I have experienced.  If I was to believe that the alignment of stars somehow altered my genetic makeup, I’d have to throw out everything I know about DNA, chromosomes, mitosis, and sexual reproduction.  I suppose some astronomical force could be responsible for what genes I inherited from my mother and which I inherited from my father, but that again flies in the face of reproductive science and would still mean that my personality is controlled mostly by my parents’ genetic building blocks.  In other words, if both of my parents were Leo, how could their genes possibly combine to create a baby with Scorpio genes?  For these reasons, I really can’t consider that my astrological sign could have any plausible relation to my genetic makeup.

But what about nurture?  If I accept that my personality is in part due to my life experiences. then it’s plausible that personality could be affected by seasons.  Because I was born in the fall, my earliest experiences were all indoors.  As an adult, I recognize that being shut-in definitely affects my mood.  Because food is seasonal, that would affect what my mother ate and therefore affect what I ate.   It’s much harder to get fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter than in the summer.  Perhaps nutrition availability during my formative first few months affected my personality.  Many humans also have stress and depression cycles that match the seasons.  I’m one of those people.  If my parents and those who cared for me as a child also went through those cycles and those up and down cycles coincided with an impressionable period of my early childhood, that could affect my psychological development.  Of course, all this is dependent upon time and location, as someone born in the southern hemisphere on the same date would experience different seasons than me, and someone born in Hamburg in 1943 would have experienced a different childhood atmosphere than one born in Hamburg in 1993.

And one more thing…

If you have ever visited a psychologist, or are at least familiar with the work they do, you know how they link adult problems to childhood conflicts.  If you compare my opening statement with the date of this posting, you would figure out that my birthday is on Halloween.  Over my life I have had numerous people say “what a cool birthday” or “you must be a scary guy!”  In response, I explain that hasn’t been a “cool” birthday because over the course of my life my friends and family celebrate Halloween first, and my birthday second.  It’s like having a Christmas birthday.  I’ve never had a birthday party, only Halloween parties that include my birthday as a secondary celebration.  While it doesn’t really matter to me that much as an adult, the fact that I include such a statement in my reply indicates that being born on a Halloween has affected my personality enough to express frustrations to others. 

Finally,

After thinking about it, ones birthday probably does influence his/her adult personality.  But any scientific explanation of this idea falls closer to Freud than it dies to Galileo.

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