WHAT'S YOUR SCIENCE?

Astrology, the beloved pseudoscience, could actually really help science

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Scientists have been denouncing astrology as pseudoscience for more than 300 years.

Clearly, it’s not working.

More than 40% (pdf) of Americans claim astrology is “sort of” or “very” scientific. Blame the internet, blame atheism, blame our stressful times. The number is rising, and it’s higher for young people.

Scientists were able to kill astrology once, back in the 17th century (it was pretty dramatic), but there’s little reason to believe they can do it again. For one thing, astrology isn’t necessarily about science any more.

As Banu Guler—cofounder of the explosively popular astrology app, Co-Star—told Quartz, astrology is most useful as a language. It lets people jump straight into deep conversations about our emotions and how we relate to other people.

But even if astrology were still about science, there’s another reason “real” scientists can’t kill it: Astrology is essentially a bunch of stories based on millennia of observations. When the stories start to seem irrelevant, astrologers rewrite them. It’s a tradition that’s been around as long as there have been tablets to write things on.

For all its failures (notably, its claim that you can divine everything on Earth from the movement of the stars, planets, and moons), astrology is an incredible success story.  It gave birth to astronomy, and it may have laid the foundation for modern medicine and mathematics. (For more on that, watch the video above).

Moreover, astrology may have stumbled upon valuable insights into how we’re affected by the world around us. Western astrological sun signs tell us that the seasons (not the constellations) dramatically affect our personality. Chronobiology tells us the same thing: just as our bodies follow daily rhythms, according to our biological clock, they also appear to follow annual rhythms, affected by our environment.

Astrologers have managed to discover such connections by recording and organizing huge amounts of new information—currently, some are incorporating asteroid data—and proceeding by trial and error. It’s not scientific, but it is a model for how to find complex connections that aren’t immediately obvious.

As scientists find that cutting-edge technology produces more information than they know what to do with, like genomic data in medicine, the history of astrology may offer guidance on how to proceed.