reconstructing astrology
December 3, 2002

I used to think that all that stuff about starsigns was crap. The horoscopes in the newspaper are obviously just generic recipes which anyone can take and apply to their life. There's no magic, just probability, ambiguity and gullibility all wrapped up into one. I think the same of many other forms of "new age" "wisdom". But as I have discovered, tarring all "new age" thought with this brush is foolish in itself.

In particular, there is the area of astrology. I'm still learning what the word means, so be gentle - but to my mind, there is in fact truth to the suggestion that the position of the stars, moon and planets at various times can influence events and people on Earth (and indeed, everywhere else as well).

Why? Well, simply put, stars are radioactive. And planets, well they are big blobs of rock and gas that block and/or reflect radiation. The moon blocks radiation from distant stars, but sometimes reflects radiation at night from our own star (we know this as "moonlight"). Other moons presumably function similarly, dependent upon their atmospheres and surfaces. The moons and planets thus form a "lattice" or mask, through which radiation from stars all over the universe rains down upon ourselves, every second of every day.

The shape and structure of this lattice is ultimately incomputable, although it can be estimated. This is because there are an infinite number of stars and planets in the universe (and other objects as well, such as pulsars and blackholes, which would further complicate things), and modelling with incomplete data will only ever produce an approximate result (at best). In order to get around this problem, astrology, both today and of the past, uses a simplified model of the universe; it includes but one sun and moon, a smattering of stars (less than 50), and just our planets. These may indeed capture the major influences and provide a useful framework for reference. But they do not take into account the same forces coming from other sources, such as Alpha Centauri, or SN-1987A, a supernova which in 1987 lit our skies and irradiated our bodies as the energy from a galactic head-on finally reached Earth after millions of years in transit.

No pre-formulated recipe could predict such an explosion, yet it occured and would have affected people. Consequently the pre-formulated recipe is increasingly inaccurate (this is but an example of the many events that are not included in the simplifed model). People don't seem to understand why the position of the stars and planets is important. If they did, they would update their star charts with the latest from NASA and compute new influences using new data.

The problem they have is that they don't know what effect these new radiation sources and radiation-blockers will have. In 2002, we may well be able to model a large number of celestial bodies, and compute with good approximation the relative strengths of radiation falling on a given surface at a given moment in time (ignoring for now at least the variability introduced by local atmospheric conditions, and unpredictable transient events that occur to the radiation in transit, such as dust clouds and meteor showers). But still, nobody knows what this radiation does. Nobody has proved that exposure to a certain lattice produces a certain type of person (a certain set of behavioural attributes).

Astrologers of old have theorised on various behavioural outcomes from relative positions of the celestial bodies familiar to them; these models are what horoscopes are based on. "Pisces people are wet" really means "when the sun is in position x,y,z and the moon is in position a,b,c and the planets are in positions planets[1-9](e,f,g), a person will be wet". Great, got it, those co-ordinates make a map of how much we were nuked, or not nuked, at that time.

My problem with astrology remains that the effect of this nuking is unpredictable. How can they know that such a combination of radiations makes a person "wet"? What is wet, anyway? Who can tell? Is this not a qualitative judgement, rather than a scientific measurement?

The challenge to researchers is to prove that certain radiations have certain effects. This might be done by surveying many people and seeking correlations between behavioural attributes and birthdate. Or maybe between attributes and lattice - this will require modelling the lattice first, but it will give a much more accurate mathematical representation of the radiations concerned.

There's more. The lattice that one is exposed to at birth may indeed be the most important (although I'd suspect at conception), however the radiations won't stop having effects (whatever effects those may be) at this time. Instead, the radiations will continue to fall upon the individual for its entire lifetime. And as the positions of even distant stars and planets themselves may change over a human lifetime, the lattice itself will evolve alongside the individual exposed to it. No two people can share a particular combination of radiations, as the combination is geophysically-dependent; that is, an individual's position on the surface of the Earth determines the lattice that individual experiences, and no two individuals can be in the same place at the same time. For these reasons, the each person's lattice is unique; it is our celestial DNA.

What we're really talking about here is chaos (or complexity) theory. There's an infinite number of radiations out there, and an infinite number of blockers. The mask of each person is different, and changes by the second. Transient events will produce aberrations. Yes, we each have a radiation mask ("astrological chart") which can be approximated from our birthdate and a set of geophysical co-ordinates. Yes, we can recalculate the mask as we move about the planet, and/or as we get older. But computing outcomes from such approximations is problematic without a scientific basis upon which to build those outcomes.

Hippocrates reportedly recommended that surgeries be avoided at certain times of the month, this apparently being to avoid complications associated with liquid in the body, and the gravitational forces exerted upon it by the moon. This is a physiological application of the idea, rather than the psychological applications sought by fortune-tellers. Science can prove or disprove this, is there a correlation between lunar positioning and surgical complications? Hippocrates seems to think so. While these physiological effects may well, by way of homeostasis or some other feedback mechanism, be mirrored psychologically, the exact nature of these processes and their outcomes remains to be verified by modern science.

More research needs to be done, firstly to acknowledge the additional sources of radiation and their significance to astrological theory, then to model the lattice using 21st century datasets and computers, and then to look for correlations. Just because nobody has proved that certain radiations, or the lack of them, or the combination of them, produce certain outcomes, does not mean that it cannot be proved at all.