Ten answers to ten questions
by Ciro Discepolo and Francesco Maggiore
For almost twenty years the CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) has been working in the USA to unmask true or false frauds of all those who work in the field of the Paranormal. Even though we appreciate this work, that wants to put an obstacle in the way of the activity of those people who make a good profit on the other people's credulity, we can't share their methods, that are often characterized by the absolute refusal of all that isn't included in the property of the experimental sciences. This attitude - as it is easy to understand - if applied in the past years, could deny the possibility of the citizenship's right to inventions and discoveries that today belong to the common property of the scientists and the common citizens, from the electricity to the airplanes.
To tell the truth we don't share the use of the word paranormal because in the same melting-pot are included with the only criterion, arbitrary selected from the same members of the Committee, ufology and trips out of the body, divining and telepathy, homeopathy and séances, palmistry and ... Astrology.
In regard to this last, taking as a starting point the scandal caused from the discovery of astrological interests of Mr. and Mrs. Reagan in November 1988 Paul Kurtz and Andrew Fraknoy, the first Philosophy professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo and CSICOP President, the second executive director of Astronomic Society of Pacific, sent a circular to the directors of the most important world newspapers and invited them "to stop publishing astrological pages or, secondarily, to write, before the same pages this warning: This pages have to be read for pure and simple amusement. Horoscopes haven't any scientific and predictive validity".
This initiative, as we will explain after, - everything considered - meets our agreement. But unfortunately Kurtz and Fraknoy wrote in their proposal a whole series of banalities, which everyone of us should be able to answer these easily: the errors in the horoscopes drawn up before the discovery of Uranus, Neptune, Pluto; the opportunity of doing horoscope at the conception time rather than the one of the birthday; the consideration if the cesarean was induced or postponed; the gravitational influence of the midwife on the future child; the role of the genetic character, as well as the cultural and social influences; the fact that if astrologers - listen to this! - were able to foresee the future, they would demonstrate it breaking the bank at the Las Vegas and Atlantic City's Casino. All that by citing the disowns (statistics at hand!) of certain Culver, Ianna, Dean and Carlson, to demonstrate that "to be generous Astrology is a kind of psychological chewing-gum".
In 1989, after two meetings organized by the omnipresent Piero Angela in Turin and Milan, was born the CICAP (Italian Committee for the Check of Statements about the Paranormal) the copy, in the Italian style, of the above mentioned system. This authoritative Committee too (it can't be defined in another way, because it can count on guarantors as Eduardo Amaldi, Silvio Garattini, Margherita Hack, Giuliano Toraldo di Francia and Aldo Visalberghi) gives the same importance to the "flourishing astrologer's market" and the one of magicians or healers as well as the "widespread tendency to the irrationality" which expresses itself in the interest for the "paranormal or ufological" phenomena and in the so-called alternative medical practices. Incredibly nobody finds fault by mixing the bad with the good, neither among us "Astrologers" not among the Doctors, who would have had a lot to reflect (and to object!) on an article of the n° 1/2 of CICAP's official Bulletin, in which they expose to ridicule at the same time the French doctor who made some research on the memorization of the solutes by the water and the whole homeopathic medicine (which works!) quickly included in the field of the alternative medicine.Recently the CICAP opened in Internet a page cribbing also in this its American sister (whose, far richer, address is this). A lot of years late, our "Committee" discloses Kurtz and Franknoy's lucubrations, reporting in an appropriate page this statement: "a good method to begin to reflect on the astrological prospect consists of assuming a skeptical, but cheerful attitude in view of the logical consequences of some of its pretensions. Here there are ten questions that I'd like to ask the Astrology supporters".
It seems interesting to give to his questions as many answers again, not only as an opportunity to explain the ideas of the discipline to which we are devoted to, but also to explain to whom is fighting against the human weaknesses - and first of all the superstition - the difference between the research made by astrologers and the swindles committed from the horoscopes compilers.
Q. What is the probability that a twelfth of the world population has a same day? The authors of astrological pages of newspapers (pages which appear only in the USA in more than 1200 newspapers) affirm that you can learn something of your day reading one of the twelve paragraphs on the morning's paper. A simple division shows that 400 millions of people in the world will have the same kind of day, every day. As the astrological forecasts have to satisfy a lot of needs at the same time, it is clear why these forecasts are expressed in the most generic and vagueness form.
A. No one of serious astrologers believes in the "horoscopes". "Horoscopes or better rather to say the "solarsign horoscopes", are based on the pretension to make forecasts basing themselves only on the Sun position at the birth time. In fact Astrology conducts research into the supposition that the character and the destiny of a person can be influenced by the greatest heavenly bodies of the solar system (the Sun, the planets and only the Moon among the satellites). In particular they suppose that the influence is practised, in the whole life, in connection to the angular relations between the position that everyone of these bodies has in the time of the tropic zodiac and the one that the same body and the others considered, had at the birth time. The position of the heavenly bodies at the birth time and the angular relations at that time described among everyone of them, the other bodies and some special points calculated on the basis of the latitude and longitude of the country in which the person was born, is codified in a graph, which is called native theme and not "horoscope".
Q. Why is the birth time and not the conception's crucial for Astrology? Astrology seems scientific to some people because horoscopes are based on an exact fact: the time of the birthday. When Astrology developed, a lot of years ago, this moment was considered the instant of the magic creation of life. But today we know that birthday is the culminating phase of the nine months of constant development in the womb. In fact scientists now think that a lot of aspects of the personality of a child are fixed a lot of time before birthday. I suspect that the reason for which astrologers base their observations still on the birthday, has anything to do with astrological "theory". Almost every client knows when he is born, but it is difficult (and perhaps embarrassing) to identify the conception time of a person.
A. We'd be more cautious than Fraknoy in accusing the ancients. When Astrology developed (and that was about three thousand years ago) men were already perfectly conscious of the fact that birthday was only the culminating time of the nine months of gestation. The Traditional Chinese Medicine, which goes back to almost as many remote periods, in his language so rich of metaphors (but not at all superficial) distinguishes between the so called Embryonic Soul (Tsing or Po) and the Airy Soul (Tsri Or Houen), which the newborn baby would have at the time of his first crying. Only in that time the child can be considered an autonomous person, either for the ancient Chinese medicine or for Astrology. But it's possible to answer this question also in another way. Astrology can be considered also according to the synchronicity principle of Jung. Men observed, in thousands of years, the connection between the birthday of a child and the corresponding heavenly positions of our solar system's stars. Nobody would prevent us to create a new astrology based on the conception day or also on the fourteenth or seventeenth day after the child birth. But, in this way, to achieve the position of the present-day knowledge, in this matter, they would have to collect informations of other thousands of next years.
Q. If a mother's womb can protect from astrological influence until the birth, can we obtain the same effect with a steak's wrapper? If so powerful forces derive from heaven, why are they inhibited before the birth from a thin protection of muscles, body and skin? If the possible horoscope of a child is unsatisfactory, could we postpone the action of astrological influences by wrapping immediately the baby with a steak's wrapper until the heavenly signs will be more favorable?
A. This method would be surely cheaper than the ones which we usually utilize (as for example the aimed solar Revolutions!). Joking apart, the reply to this question is implicit in that given by the precedent. If we want resort to another metaphor, we could say that the baby into the mother's womb is as a photographic film at which silver nitrate and potassium bromide (or chloride) aren't yet added: he surely feels the effect of the stars, but he is not yet able to fix it in himself.
Q. If astrologers are so able as they assert, why aren't they richer? Some of them answer that they aren't able to predict special events, but only general inclinations. Others assert to have the power to predict the big events, but not the little ones. But in fact astrologers could accumulate billions by predicting the general behavior of the financial market or the one of the commodity exchanges, avoiding so to demand high fee to their clients. In October 1987, how many astrologers did predict the "Black Monday" in the stock exchange, warning their clients?
A. The answer starts from the consideration, first of all, that astrology makes forecasts and not predictions. We have to distinguish the two things. If we examine the water which is warming in a saucepan, known its saline concentration as well as the intensity of the heat with which it is warmed, the barometric pressure of the place and some other variables, then we can "forecast" in how much time the water will boil. Instead, if we say that the first number drawn in the Boston lottery, next Sunday, will be 15, then we make a prediction. Astrologers, we repeat, make forecasts and not predictions. But on our turn, we ask journalists about this question: why aren't meteorologists richer? They expect, if we're not mistaken, to forecast future events! And we don't think that they do their work free (of charge)...
Q. All the horoscopes compiled before the discovery of the three more external planets are incorrect. Some astrologers assert that the zodiacal sign (the Sun position on the Zodiac at the time of birth, that the most part of horoscopes in the newspapers use as the only reference), is an inadeguate guide to understand cosmos effects. These "serious" professional people, (usually the ones that deserted the profitable business of the articles sale to the newspapers) insist on asserting that the influence of all the heavenly bodies of the solar system with a larger dimension must be considered - Uranus, Neptune and Pluto included, which weren't discovered, respectively, until 1781, 1846, and 1930. In this way, what about the pretension of a lot of astrologers, in which their opinion are led to be careful forecasts in a lot of centuries? All horoscopes compiled before 1930 were false. And why the imprecisions in these horoscopes haven't carried astrologers to deduct the presence of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto a lot of time before their discovery? What does it happen if astronomers find the tenth planet? And what about asteroids and satellites of a planetary size of the external solar system?
A. Let's try to proceed in order: nobody has ever said horoscopes before 1871 were "incorrect". The exact word, at the most, would be "incomplete". Keplero's laws, too, were enunciated before 1871 (the first two in 1609, the third in 1619) and still they are valid in spite of the corrections based on the relativistic system of Mercury perihelion movement... Concerning the satellites of a planetary size, although the procedure used from the position of the other bodies of the Solar System to influence ours is not yet clear, it is absolutely obvious that it depends somehow on the distance. As a consequence, even if the Moon is only a satellite, it has a very strong influence, whereas it is impossible for us to distinguish between the influence of Ganimede, Titano and Tritone and the one of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune.
Q. Must we condemn Astrology as a form of fanaticism? In a civil society we deplore all the systems that consider men simply on the basis of sex, skin color, religion, national country, or other casual circumstances of the birth. In spite of that astrologers boast of considering people on the basis of another casual circumstance linked to the birth - the heavenly bodies position. Perhaps to decline an appointment to a Leo or a job to a Virgo isn't so blameworthy as to refuse an appointment to a Catholic or a job to a colored man?
A. Of course it is. So we astrologers take care of distinguishing between the subject we are devoted to and the solar-sign horoscope, regarding this it seems to us to be better to speak of superstition rather than fanaticism.
Q. Why different astrology schools disagree so much among each other? It seems Astrologers disagree with the most part of fundamental aspects of their subject: if they must consider the precession of the axis of the earth, how many planets and other heavenly bodies must be considered and - above all - what personality aspects are joined with each cosmic phenomenon. Read 10 different astrology columns or get yourself one read from 10 different astrologers, you will probably obtain 10 different interpretations. If Astrology is a science, as its supporters claim, why its followers don't converge to a common theory after thousands of years in gathering data and in refining their interpretations? Scientific ideas generally converge from time to time and gradually they are verified in laboratory or somewhere else. On the contrary, systems based on superstition or on personal beliefs diverge whenever their followers get on in maneuvering for the power, the money or the prestige.
A. Nothing to object on this. It is really true that every astrologer aimed to go on his way for a lack of a methodical researching work. In regard to this, we need some self-criticism, together with the representatives of so many disciplines regularly learned at the University, but despite that marked (disciplines) by different positions of some of their authoritative masters...
Q. If astrological influence is carried from any known force, why have planets the greatest effect? If astrological effects can be attributed to the gravity, to the tide's forces, or to the magnetism (each of these causes is invoked from a different school), a beginner physics student can do the necessary calculations to establish what could really influence a new-born baby. These calculations were done in a lot of different cases in the book of Roger Culver and Philip Ianna "Astrology: true or false". For example, we know that the midwife who nurses the baby has a gravity attraction which is six times the one of Mars, and a tide force which is two thousand billion times more intense. In fact the midwife has certainly less force than Mars, but she is very next to the baby.
A. It means that the planetary force we are interested in, which is neither the one of gravity, nor the one of the tides, is not function of their mass, but rather of their distance.
Q. If astrological influence is carried from an unknown force, why it is independent of the distance? All the forces with a large action range which we know in the universe get more and more feeble when objects move away. But, as we could expect in a geocentric system built thousands of years ago, astrological influence doesn't depend on the distance. The Mars importance in your horoscope is the same, whether the planet is next to the Sun with the Earth, or whether it is seven times farther from the opposite side. A force that doesn't depend on the distance would be a revolutionary discovery.
A. The Mars influence is the same in both cases from a qualitative and not quantitative point of view. A dose of 1000CH of a homeopathic remedy is certainly more efficacious than a dose of 5CH of the same remedy, although in the first there is not even an infinitesimal quantity of the product used to obtain it. And still homeopathy is efficacious! Why ever? Only placebo effect? And why ever, then, is it efficacious in veterinary too? That they don't want to understand is the necessity to revise critically some science dogma in the light of inexplicable contradictions put in evidence from subjects, as Astrology or Homeopathy, that are heretical only for the dogmatic attitude of some scientists.
Q. If astrological influence doesn't depend on the distance, why doesn't an astrology of the stars, of the galaxies and of the quasars exist? The French astronomer Jean-Claude Pecker observed that it seems to him a sign of narrow mentality to limit astrologers activity to our solar system. Billions of magnificent heavenly bodies in the whole universe would add their influence to the one of our slim and little Sun, Moon and planets. A client whose horoscope omits the effects of Rigel, of the Crab pulsar and of M31, did really receive complete informations?
A. Surely he did, as we have already explained that the distance is a very significant variable. M31, that is Andromeda galaxy, if you don't mind my saying so, couldn't exist from more than two millions of years, because light which travels at a speed of km 300.000 a second, takes more (about 2,2) to arrive until our eyes...