Monday, March 31, 2014

Debunking Astrology - Why it's a complete load of tosh!

Firstly, let me start off this communique with the proclamation of its stated goal – debunking the complete fraud that is astrology. No more and no less. Let me tell you why it is necessary.

The modern Indian is steeped in superstition. Urban or rural. Names are decided based on the “patrika”, marriages are arranged and are based on stupid assumptions in some chart laid out by unthinking frauds, dates for important occasions are based on even more idiotic assumptions, gold is bought on certain dates because it is considered auspicious to do so, vehicles are washed and cleaned on particular dates because it is considered auspicious to do so, machinery is cleaned on particular dates . . The madness is unending. I know of so many people who –
  • Wear particular stones embedded in rings on their fingers believing they act as counter-balances to some fictional influence in their lives as determined by a horoscope made at the time of their birth.
  • Consult an astrologer to decide on an auspicious date for important functions in their lives. 
  • Consult a horoscope when deciding their own or their progeny’s marriage. 
  • Actually believe that some zodiac sign is a typical representation of the population therein.

Before we even go into the technicalities of astrology, let us clear the air about its very basic premise. Astrologers believe that the position of stars at the time of your birth somehow determine your characteristics, your actions and thereby determine your future. Apparently, there is some “attraction” or “effect” that stars and celestial bodies have on human beings. Complete boloney. Here’s how.

The gravitational force exerted between two bodies is calculated according to Newton’s law of gravitation. This has been SCIENTIFICALLY proved to hold true. Newton's law of universal gravitation states that any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Essentially –



Let us take the case of an average human. We know all the quantities involved; as follows –

Notation
Unit
Value
Remarks
G
N·(m/kg)2
6.67×10−11
Gravitational constant.
m1
Kilograms
75
Mass of an average human
m2
Kilograms
7.34×1022
Mass of the moon
r2
Metres
384400000
Distance between the moon and earth

From the above quantities, we can easily find F; or the force that is acting between these two bodies. The calculation comes out to 0.0024864 Newtons. That is completely miniscule. There are two factors that render this force negligible –
  • The earth’s gravitation. The earth is exerting MUCH more force on us for the 0.002 N influence of the moon (less for any other star or celestial body as the moon is the closest to us) to have any effect on us whatsoever. To take an example, the force exerted by the earth on an average sized apple is approximately 1N. The force exerted by the earth on a 1kg object at sea-level at any given point on the surface of the earth is 9.8N.
  • We are surrounded by stars, planets, asteroids, meteors and other celestial bodies. At any given point of time, it is VERY safe to assume that in any direction mapped with our own body as the origin of a Cartesian coordinate system (0, 0, 0); there are an equal number of celestial bodies. Therefore any force that each of these celestial bodies may exert on us will be cancelled out by each other. Simple common sense.

This is taught in colleges and schools around India. Yet it is astonishing how no educated graduate amongst the gazillions teeming in India have ever really sat down to do this calculation before consulting a horoscope to fix their own marriage. Or to do any of the activities that I have mentioned in the beginning of this communique. Sad state of affairs. Be that as it may. Let us move on to more of this nonsense.

Hindu astrology is based on 9 “grahas” or “planets” or “influencers”. These “grahas” are supposed to influence the thoughts and actions of mortals depending on their position in the sky. Here’s a chart of the 9 grahas and what we now know them to be –

Graha
English Name
Actual Category
Surya
Sun
Star
Chandra
Moon
Satellite
Mangala
Mars
Planet
Budha
Mercury
Planet
Guru
Jupiter
Planet
Shukra
Venus
Planet
Shani
Saturn
Planet
Rahu
Ascending lunar node
Orbital point
Ketu
Descending lunar node
Orbital point
  • The sun is not a planet. It is not a “graha”. We (and most people who have studied till at least the 5th standard) know that it is a star.
  • The moon is not a planet. It is not a “graha”. We now know that It is a satellite and orbits the earth.
  • Hindu astrology knows only 5 planets correctly. No doubt that is because these were the only planets visible to the naked eye before telescopes were discovered. Hindu astrology does not know of Uranus, Neptune, Pluto or the recently discovered tenth planetoid – Poseidon. 
  • Rahu and Ketu are orbital points in the sky where the moon’s orbit crosses the sun’s orbit. There is nothing there. They are basically points of empty space. There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that they can be exerting any influence whatsoever on anything because they are nothing. No mass, no matter, no waves, no energy – just points of empty space. Much like our minds when we choose to believe in this nonsense. 

Hindu astrology is based on what is called the “sidereal zodiac” chart in which stars are considered to be the fixed background against which the motion of the planets is measured. We now know that not only do start move but they also revolve. The universe is constantly expanding. Not just all stars but all celestial bodies are moving away from each other. Additionally, stars are revolving around the centre of their respective galaxies. We may not see stars moving, but they are. In the grand scheme of things – everything is moving away from everything else.

Another moronic concept used in Hindu astrology is the concept of a “muhurta” or an auspicious time for commencing any important activity; be it a family function or a wedding. In astrology, a “muhurta” is basically a unit of the day. The day is thus divided into 30 “muhurtas”. Assuming that sunrise happens EACH and EVERY day at 0600 IST, the “muhurtas” are 48 minutes in sequence. For e.g – the first is from 0600 IST to 0648 IST, the second from 06:48 IST to 07:36 IST and so on and so forth. We believe that certain “muhurtas” are auspicious for certain events. The fallacy in this concept is so obvious that any free-thinking child could point it out. Unfortunately, Indians are neither free-thinking nor children. We are insipid morons. Sunrise does not happen every day at 0600 IST. Each unit is taken as 48 minutes. Nobody knows why. Out of the 30 divisions of the day, 20 are considered as auspicious and 10 as inauspicious. Nobody knows why. One particular division (1624 – 1712) is not auspicious on Sundays but auspicious on other days. Nobody knows why. One particular division (1136 – 1224) is auspicious except on Mondays and Fridays. Nobody knows why.

I could go on and on and on. I could write volumes on how astrology is complete pseudo-science and how it has no basis in fact whatsoever. I could cite numerous famous scientists that have called astrology complete hogwash. The best example is India’s very own Hawking – Jayant Narlikar. He has written a definite essay on astrology titled, “An Indian test of Indian Astrology”. You can find the actual article here. He has definitively show how astrology is nothing but nonsense. Amongst other tests, he’s done this by asking a team of 27 astrologers to predict a human’s intelligence (which they claimed to be able to do). The results? No surprises there.

In this day and age, it is frustrating to see our society go deeper into the dark ages instead of progressing towards a scientific thought process. It is frustrating to see young children influenced by their elders into believing this nonsense and propagating it onwards. It is frustrating to see people wear rings on fingers to ward off ill-omen instead of working hard towards their goals. It is frustrating to see marriages break up because of some idiotic astrologer who doesn’t know the difference between a star and a planet. Again, I could go on and on. It is frustrating to see the government actually considering the prospect of a graduation degree based in astrology. It is frustrating to think that I may actually see B.Sc (Astrology) as an educational qualification.

But there is hope. I hope that future generations to come see this nonsense for what it is and steer clear of it. I hope that enough noise is made to ensure that people are educated about this silly superstition. I hope that we as Indians rise above this and aspire towards bigger and better things and realize that there are many other bodies of knowledge worth acquiring than astrology.


I do feel there is hope. But I’m not going to consult an astrologer to make sure. :-)