Is There Any Validity to Astrology?

Scientific studies looking into the possible validity of astrology remain inconclusive, but for many people it seems real enough.

I’ve been interested in astrology for as long as I can remember, and I loved reading my horoscope in the newspaper as a child. 

When I was a psychology student, learning about personality theories, I often wondered if there could really be something to astrology.

Although my psychology professors generally thought that astrology was purely nonsense, and despite having to roll my eyes whenever someone tries to explain all their problems because of “Mercury being in retrograde,” it seems conceivable to me that there might be something to astrology.

Like many religious and mystical traditions, I suspect that any cultural system that survives over thousands of years, suggests that there may be something about it that our intuition recognizes as real.

I reasoned that human beings, like social insects, may have genetically-wired brain types, and that we may be born into social castes with certain personality traits, that when operating together, form an efficient, self-organizing social system. 

It seems reasonable to suggest that seasonal variations in solar radiation might influence our DNA, and hence the annual cycles of our genetic wiring, so that all social castes are equally represented in domesticated primate societies.

Just as ant, termite, and bee colonies are composed of workers, queens, drones, etc., it could be that astrology is a primitive attempt to recognize and categorize these genetically-wired castes in human societies, and perhaps some day a sophisticated psychological science may evolve from this.

Like alchemy and chemistry, astrology and astronomy were once a unified discipline, and they began to split apart in the 18th century.

Astronomers, who are critical of astrology, often point out that the effects from the Heavenly bodies in the sky actually exert much less gravitational influence on us than the objects surrounding us here on Earth. 

Astronomers commonly point out that astrologers claim that people are “ruled” by influences from the sky, and that this just can't be true; however, I think that these well-meaning astronomers may be missing the point.  

I agree, it’s doubtful that the stars and planets in the sky are influencing our lives here on Earth; however, I suspect that the same unseen forces that move the stars and planets in the Heavens, may also be influencing natural dynamics that affect our daily lives.

So perhaps, by studying the position of the stars and planets in the Heavens, we can gain some insight into ourselves.

Astrologer Rob Brezsny supports this idea, when he told me that, “There are many astrologers who don’t believe that the planets literally shower down some sort of invisible influence on people.”

“I know that some astrologers believe that, but I would say that, at this point, a majority don’t,” said Brezsny, who also explains that it has been a tradition in many different cultures to look for signs in the natural world as clues for understanding our inner natures.

“The important thing,” Brezsny emphasized, “is that the planets are signatures in the sky that can be read, have been read by experts over a number of centuries, and are correlated with specific tendencies in the human personality and in evolution.”

But is there any scientific evidence to demonstrate that astrology is real?

There have been a number of scientific studies done in an attempt to determine if there is any reality to astrology, although, unsurprisingly, the results appear inconclusive.

According to the leading scientific consensus, no predictive validity for astrology has yet been conclusively established.

Some critics argue that the results generated by astrology are so general that almost any outcome could be interpreted as fitting the predictions, and that astrology doesn’t produce testable results.

Others argue that scientific studies have already demonstrated astrology to lack validity, while others claim that additional studies, or even the very same studies, actually do demonstrate the validity of astrology.

For example, one of the most commonly-cited studies about astrology was conducted by physicist Shawn Carlson, while he was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in 1985. This double-blind study, was published in the respected science journal Nature. 

Carlson had professional astrologers attempt to match birth charts with California Psychological Inventory profiles, and looked at whether or not volunteers could match astrological interpretations, written by professional astrologers, to themselves. 

According to Carlson no supportive data for astrology emerged from the study, and he concluded that there was no evidence for the validity of astrology. 

However, according to technical writer Ken McRitchie, “this study...contains serious flaws, which when they are known, cast a very different light on the study.”

“These flaws include: no disclosure of similar scientific studies, unfairly skewed design, disregard for its own stated criteria of evaluation, irrelevant groupings of data, rejection of unexpected results, and an illogical conclusion based on the null hypothesis,” writes McRitchie.

Most surprising, McRitchie states,“Yet, when the stated measurement criteria are applied and the data is evaluated according to normal social science, the two tests performed by the participating astrologers provide evidence that is consistent with astrology.”

McRitchie’s full analysis of Carlson’s study, and a summary of the research that has been found to support the validity of astrology, can be found here: http://www.theoryofastrology.com/carlson/carlson.htm

Physicist John McGervey also did a study that supposedly found no support for astrology, which is summarized in his book Probabilities in Everyday Life.

However, a 1961 study by psychologist Vernon Clark (published in the journal In Search), and a 1986 study by astrologer Neil Marbell (published in The National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) Journal), both claimed to have found positive results that support the validity of astrology.

Putting these inconclusive, conflicting studies aside for a moment, if one experimentally entertains the subjective notion that astrology is real, one can experience some interesting results.

If one starts to study the personality characteristics of the different signs, and begins asking friends when their birthday are, many people agree, astrology can certainly start to seem uncannily real. 

Having one’s “natal chart” done by a gifted astrologer, can also be a profound experience for many people, leading to numerous personal insights. 

A natal chart is an intuitive interpretation of the position of the Heavens at the time and place of one’s birth, that supposedly helps one to gain insight into one’s personality, psychological dynamics, and potential in life.

According to astrologer Antero Alli, you don’t actually have to believe in astrology in order to practice it successfully. Alli told me, “After 30 years in the practice, I still don’t believe in astrology; I use it because it works.”

Alli added, “And it seems to work best when used as a language, not as a philosophy or a belief system, or a religion, or a science. The purpose of language is not to solve life’s big questions. Like any other linguistic construct, the purpose of astrology is communication.” 

Brezsny echoed this by saying, “I think astrology, at its best, is about opening up the imagination, opening up the possibilities, by getting you to play with visions of what’s possible.”

“Astrology is not a belief system; it’s not a religion; it’s not a science. It’s a language of the archetypes that you can play with, and thereby get a read on the biggest possibilities that are available to you,” Brezsny said.

In any case, true or not, my love for reading newspaper astrology columns was gleefully resurrected when I discovered Brezsny's brilliant, irreverent, hopeful, and hilarious astrology column, “Free Will Astrology.”

To learn more about Rob Brezsny’s astrology work, and to read his weekly column, see: www.freewillastrology.com

To learn more about Antero Alli’s astrology work, or to have him do a natal chart reading for you, see: www.verticalpool.com/astrology.html

If you enjoy my column, and want to learn more about unexplained phenomena, “like” my Facebook page:


and follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/DavidJayBrown

Torrey Peacock January 09, 2013 at 10:03 AM
The writings of Dane Rudhyar are what got me interested in astrology. Rudhyar integrated Western astrology with the depth psychology of Carl Jung, seeing it more in terms of elucidating *meaning*, rather than with predicting future events. He borrowed Jung's concept of synchronicity, that things which occur at the same moment of time (such as the position of the planets at the moment of birth) are linked, not causally, but in terms of their place within the larger order of things. This "astrology of personality" was the forerunner of what mainstream Western astrology has become. The Hindu astrology is quite a different matter, dealing with planetary influences which are considered most definitely real, and whose predictive accuracy can be almost frightening.
Torrey Peacock January 09, 2013 at 10:35 AM
In other words, Western astrology reflects our cultural belief in self-determination and free will, as well as the importance of the individual. Very few astrologers today would say you were "born under a bad Sign", so to speak. Malefic aspects are described as "challenges" and "opportunities" rather than being the heavy hand of Fate. Ancient astrology, as it is still practiced in India and other places, was much more fatalistic, with the emphasis being on prediction. It employs only the classical planets that can be seen in the night sky. Even the Zodiacs are different. So the question of the validity of astrology is somewhat complex. I personally feel that both approaches are of value, depending on what one is looking for.
Dervish Mad Whirler January 09, 2013 at 08:04 PM
In my experience, people who dismiss something completely without even considering they themselves may misundertand what it is are completely afraid of their paradigm possibly being wrong. It's like with magic. Most people who do not believe in it, think it's about poof-you're-gone hocus pocus. They don't understand that it is actually a misinterpretation of what practicioners themselves are doing. The Universe is a completely interconnected system. Everything ont his planet is a result of all influences that are inbvolved. Astrology, magic, etc is simply the knowledge gathered by observing the cycles in Nature. The repetetive cyclical factors and the state of things. After many generations, the knowledge gathered from those observations has a predictive value and may even seem magical or supernatural, because EVERYTHING in Nature is cyclical and to a certain extent predictable..Human behaviour is largely predictable, once you know enough factors. The belief in the infallibility of current science or religious dogma has prevented ancient knowledge to be accepted as valuable and that is why people do not take it seriously. This prejudiced opinion prevents them from ever understanding it.
Dervish Mad Whirler January 09, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Most of modern science's practices and inventions were first called magic, because people who don;t know about it thought it was unnatural and their religion forbade it. It's why witches were burned. The knowledge of herbs and psychological and physical factors these herbalists and good-wives had was interpreted as magic for exactly the same reason as people nowadays laugh at astrology and 'magic'; closed-mindedness and misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Michael A. Lewis January 09, 2013 at 08:51 PM
The difference between astrology and science is that science doesn't go away whne one stops believing in it. "Astrology furnishes a splendid proof of the contemptible subjectivity of men. It refers the course of celestial bodies to the miserable ego: it establishes a connection between the comets in heaven and squabbles and rascalities on earth." Arthur Schopenhauer


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