Do zodiac signs dictate demeanors and destinies, or are horoscopes hogwash? Dave Farina consults the stars about astrology with us here on Skeptical Sunday!
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- The pseudoscience of astrology (not to be confused with astronomy — the legitimate study of space) purports that the position of celestial bodies relative to Earth influences events and human behavior.
- Initially designed as calendrical systems for predicting seasonal shifts and divining the will of the gods, astrology has been observed across cultures since at least the second millennium BC.
- From a scientific standpoint, astrology lacks a coherent explanation and fails to make statistically significant predictions.
- Experiments with natal charts and horoscopes consistently show no correlation between astrological predictions and real-life traits or events.
- Belief in astrology may offer comfort and purpose, but it hinders scientific progress and critical thinking.
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know!
- Connect with Dave Farina on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, and check out the Professor Dave Debates podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts. Dave’s book, Is This Wi-Fi Organic?: A Guide to Spotting Misleading Science Online is out now!
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Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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This Episode Is Sponsored By:
Miss our out-of-this-world conversation with Bowie-strumming astronaut Chris Hadfield? Catch up with episode 408: Chris Hadfield | An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth here!
Resources from This Episode:
- Astrology | Wikipedia
- The 12 Zodiac Signs: Symbols, Traits, Elements, and More | Mindbodygreen
- Chinese Zodiac: 12 Animal Signs, Compatibility, Horoscopes | Chinese New Year
- Insane Clown Posse: Miracles (Official Music Video) | YouTube
- What Are Newton’s Laws of Motion? | Space
- The Four Fundamental Forces of Nature | Space
- What Are Constellations? | NASA Space Place
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit!: Feng Shui/Bottled Water | Showtime
- What Is Mercury Retrograde? | The Old Farmer’s Almanac
- No True Scotsman | Your Logical Fallacy Is
- Barnum Effect | The Decision Lab
- How Nancy Reagan Became Forever Linked with Astrology | Atlas Obscura
- Astrology in the Age of Uncertainty | The New Yorker
- Why Are Millennials So Into Astrology? | The Atlantic
- Is Astrology Real? Here’s What Science Says | Scientific American
- Not in Your Stars | Skeptic
866: Astrology | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Airbnb for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Maybe you've stayed at an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Yeah, this actually seems pretty doable. Maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. Find out how much your place is worth at airbnb.com/host.
[00:00:21] Welcome to the show, I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where a rotating guest co-host and I break down a topic you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions. Topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates on food are nonsense, why tipping might even be racist but is at least garbage, fast fashion, weddings, recycling, banned foods, toothpaste, chemtrails, and everything else that you hold near and dear.
[00:00:49] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people, and we turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, performers. And if you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about this show, which I would love, and I always do appreciate it, I suggest our episode starter packs. They're a great place to begin. That's why they're called starter packs. They're collections of favorite episodes, well, your favorite episodes, not necessarily mine, but whatever, organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on this show. Topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, investing, financial crime, cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:43] Now, today, on this edition of Skeptical Sunday, we are going to be discussing astrology. Is it valid? Is it invalid? What is it valid or invalid for? How do we know? What drives people to put faith in it? And to help us do this once again is science communicator Dave Farina of the YouTube channel Professor Dave Explains.
[00:02:03] And of course, your chief critics, Dave, are like, "Well, he's not a real professor. So he's lying to you."
[00:02:08] Dave Farina: Of course, always. Hi, yeah. Thanks for having me on again.
[00:02:10] Jordan Harbinger: You're welcome. And I found this soundbite just for you, Dave. Hold on.
[00:02:15] Soundbite: What do you do? I'm an astrophysicist. Okay. I'm a Gemini.
[00:02:22] Jordan Harbinger: Have you heard this?
[00:02:24] Dave Farina: Uh, I think so. It was like a dating show or something.
[00:02:26] Jordan Harbinger: It's like the Bachelor Australia or something like that.
[00:02:29] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:02:29] Jordan Harbinger: And she's really stoked because he's this good-looking dude. You know, well, he says, you know, astrophysicist and she says, "I'm a Gemini," and I hope it's a joke.
[00:02:37] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:02:37] Jordan Harbinger: But I don't think it's a joke, Dave.
[00:02:39] Dave Farina: I don't know if it is or not. Usually, it's astronomer and astrologer that people might mix up. They're a little more similar. Astrophysicist, that's pretty hard to mix up with astrologer, but uh, what are you going to do?
[00:02:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, that's why I hope it's a joke because she seems nice.
[00:02:55] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:02:55] Jordan Harbinger: But anyway, Dave, I think we're all at least somewhat familiar with astrology as a concept. All of us have heard of horoscopes. Most of us immediately think of that. There's sun signs some people are into and all that. For example, I know that I'm a Pisces, though I don't necessarily know what that is supposed to mean on any given day or at all, but maybe you can give us a brief definition of the field of astrology so that we're all on the same page before digging into the topic itself.
[00:03:21] Dave Farina: Yes, of course. So the finer details will vary depending on who you ask. There's cultural factors, so you know, it kind of differs from one place of the world to another. But very generally speaking, astrology is the notion that the positions of the planets and stars in the night sky have influence over events that take place on Earth.
[00:03:39] So, for example, with Western astrology, you have the twelve zodiac constellations, so we've all heard of Leo, Cancer, Virgo, Gemini, you know, so on. Those are the ones that sit on the ecliptic, which is the imaginary line where the sun and all the planets travel through the sky. So the sun and planets pass over these constellations as they move from our perspective here on Earth, and are therefore deemed special or more significant than all the other stars we can see. And these constellations, whether they cause certain events on Earth, or if they simply correlate with things on Earth, whatever the case may be, astrology says there is a reliable connection there which can be documented and used to make predictions. So, if such and such objects are in these positions when you're born, you'll be kind of like this. If this is your sign, this is the kind of day you're going to have, so, you know, that sort of thing.
[00:04:27] Jordan Harbinger: Alright, so that's a pretty concrete claim. So, from a scientific standpoint, if we were to try and validate or invalidate this claim, how would that look? What kinds of questions would we ask or could we ask in order to find out if it's true?
[00:04:41] Dave Farina: So, there's two angles that we can use here. So, first, we could ask ourselves, how could this possibly work? By what mechanism could this influence or correlation propagate? We live in a physical universe with physical laws. If some object influences some other object, we ought to be able to figure out how and why. So we need a mechanism of action that makes sense in the context of physics in order for astrology to be credible. And then second, apart from any mechanism of action or investigating anything like that, we can just ask ourselves whether the predictions made by astrology hold true in a statistically significant way. So, we're just looking at results. What do they show? Is there anything anomalous going on that just can't be denied?
[00:05:23] Jordan Harbinger: Alright, so at first, that sounds interesting. And I guess let's go ahead and follow that first train of thought regarding mechanism of action. So if astrology were true, should we be able to figure out how it's operating? Like if I look at a magnet and it does something to another magnet and my mind is blown because I've never seen the magnets operate before, I'm just going to want to figure out how that works, right? And it looks like magic to somebody who doesn't understand magnets, should we be able to make sense of it using science we already know?
[00:05:50] Dave Farina: Yeah, exactly. I mean, because magnets, I mean, while sure they can seem mysterious, humanity understands how magnets work, right?
[00:05:56] Jordan Harbinger: Unless you're an insane clown posse, right? Do you remember?
[00:06:00] Dave Farina: Magnets. How do they work? Yeah.
[00:06:03] Soundbite: Magnets. How do they work?
[00:06:05] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly. Yeah.
[00:06:06] Dave Farina: It's totally fine to not know how magnets work, but then you can go online and figure it out. And so, one would certainly think that that should be the case for astrology as well, right? This is what science does. We figure things out. And we've figured out so many things about how the universe works. We understand the life cycle of stars, how they form, how they sustain themselves, how they die. We have a solid understanding of the origin and development of the universe. We understand the four fundamental forces. Gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, and electromagnetism. So, we understand a lot about planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae, black holes, so on, so forth. So, why couldn't someone put forward some mechanism for this, if it's really happening?
[00:06:46] Without a coherent explanation, we're just admitting to believing in magic, and in fact, that was just fine when astrology was developed thousands of years ago. We had no idea what anything was. The planets were literal gods, and Earth was the center of the universe. So magic, or divine action, or whatever you want to call it, it was fine for an answer back then. But now we have science, we have sophisticated instruments. We should demand more. If there's something happening, we should be able to detect it, measure it, categorize it, explain it. It's what we do.
[00:07:18] Jordan Harbinger: So you listed some forces, I'm curious if any of those work here. An astrology fan once told me, "Hey, man, stars are these giant galactic magnets." If you can see little magnets here on Earth doing what they do, why would a magnet that's a hundred times or a thousand times or ten thousand times the size of Earth have an effect on us, especially our brains? Which it sounds good until you realize that that's also kind of nonsense. A lot of these stars, they're so far away that I'm guessing the magnetic force is not doing anything at that distance.
[00:07:47] Dave Farina: First of all, stars are not magnets.
[00:07:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, there you go.
[00:07:49] Dave Farina: That's demonstrably false. I mean, that's just ridiculous.
[00:07:51] Jordan Harbinger: Didn't know that.
[00:07:52] Dave Farina: That's the thing is that, you know, bulk matter is electrically neutral. So, I mean, okay, so let's zoom out the ones that go away immediately, right? We listed those four forces. So the strong and weak nuclear forces operate on the scale of an atomic nucleus. So those are immediately out, the stars are very far away. So electromagnetism has no spatial limits, but it's both attractive and repulsive. So bulk matter, planets, stars, all these things, they're electrically neutral, right? They don't behave like magnets. They can have magnetic fields, right? The sun, you know, stars have magnetic fields. But that's not the same thing, and they're incredibly, incredibly far away.
[00:08:24] So, electromagnetism is not the force that has the greatest influence in the cosmos. The one that has the greatest influence would be gravity. Gravity is what dictates large-scale structure and the influence between celestial objects. So, gravity is why planets go around stars, it's why stars go around galactic centers, it's why stars and galaxies form at all. But the thing is that identifying this does not validate astrology in any way, because we can easily perform calculations using Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation, which show us how based on the mass of a distant star, the mass of a human, and the enormous distance between them, there's absolutely no way that a distant star can have any kind of measurable gravitational influence on us. Any object in any room of your house, a toaster, refrigerator, whatever it is, has a greater gravitational influence on you than distant stars. They're that far away. Even the other planets in our solar system, Jupiter, Saturn, et cetera. The gravitational influence is negligible.
[00:09:18] Jordan Harbinger: So basically, instead of looking at my horoscope, I should just ask my toaster how my day is going to be. And I'll have an equally valid prediction about the day's events.
[00:09:27] Dave Farina: True enough.
[00:09:28] Jordan Harbinger: All right. So, some objects have a gravitational influence. Like you said, planets go around the sun because of gravity and then the moon also creates tides due to gravity, right? I assume that's the explanation there.
[00:09:40] Dave Farina: Yeah, definitely. But these are the only two, right? The sun and the moon are the only two objects that have that level of gravitational influence on us because the sun is so incredibly big and the moon is so incredibly close, cosmically speaking.
[00:09:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:52] Dave Farina: And that's all they can do in terms of gravitational influence, right? They keep the earth in its orbit and the moon tugs a little bit on the water to create a tidal bulge. That's the extent of their influence. The idea that the same force that creates the tides can somehow also have sophisticated influence on the minutiae of daily events or like someone's personality when they're born, it's just totally ridiculous, right? You know, when astrology was developed thousands of years ago, We knew absolutely nothing about genetics or neuroscience or embryonic development or anything like that.
[00:10:22] So in the absence of all of that knowledge, it might suffice to just say, "Oh, the planets decide all of this," which basically just means gods, right? They saw the planets as gods, wanderers. But again, you know, now we have science, right? So we know how the expression of a unique genome determines the unique set of characteristics of any individual. So there's no need for magic. It's obsolete.
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: One thing I noticed when I look at the astrological signs is there'll be like three stars, and they'll draw this giant complicated warrior around it, right? And we'll probably get to that in a bit.
[00:10:51] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:10:52] Jordan Harbinger: But when I started to look at those stars in Skyguide, an app on my phone, I'm like, this star is millions of light years away from the other ones that are in the same drawing. So it's not like they're all on a plane.
[00:11:05] Dave Farina: No.
[00:11:05] Jordan Harbinger: And they're related in any way. They just happen to look in a certain design from where we are on Earth. And that's it.
[00:11:11] Dave Farina: Yes. From our perspective. And even still, it's quite a stretch.
[00:11:15] Jordan Harbinger: Literally, I mean, we're talking to millions of light years away. And I go, "Oh, that's a crab in the sky," if you really draw like all this extra crap around it.
[00:11:23] Dave Farina: Take a lot of liberties. Yes.
[00:11:25] Jordan Harbinger: It's almost hard to believe that anybody ever took it seriously. You'd think someone would do that and go, "Well, that's fun because we don't have anything to do after dark because there's no electricity."
[00:11:33] Dave Farina: Sure. Yeah.
[00:11:34] Jordan Harbinger: And we've just discovered fire. I mean—
[00:11:35] Dave Farina: Exactly.
[00:11:36] Jordan Harbinger: Like that's it. It seems almost like they came up with this. And then later on, a thousand years later, someone was like, let's describe all this meaning to it. That was never actually there.
[00:11:45] Dave Farina: Yeah. Depending on which culture. Yeah.
[00:11:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Look, that all makes sense to me in terms of gravity and the other forces not being able to explain it. But I feel like a believer is just going to say that it's something else. Something we don't understand, we can't explain it yet. And furthermore, how arrogant are you that you think you can understand what the vast cosmos has in store for us?
[00:12:05] Every time I do a Skeptical Sunday, I get an email, or I get many emails, the next day, the next weeks. "You don't know everything. You need to have more of an open mind." And it's always about this stuff. It's never about—
[00:12:16] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:12:16] Jordan Harbinger: —you know, something scientific—
[00:12:18] Dave Farina: Right
[00:12:19] Jordan Harbinger: —where I have to have an open mind, it's always about something that is almost patently ridiculous or pseudoscience where I have to believe it because some other people do.
[00:12:27] Dave Farina: Yeah. And of course, I mean, this is inevitably what they say, right? They're going to say something like, "Well, it's not a force that we know. It's just, it's beyond our comprehension."
[00:12:35] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:35] Dave Farina: And you know, that's fine. You can say that, but it's just, it's not a satisfactory answer. It's not a scientific answer, right? Science studies the unknown. Even if you go to the frontier of science where people are trying to develop totally new constructs to explain mysterious phenomena, there are people doing science where they develop models, they test them. They demonstrate quantitative relationships in a methodical way. So, if it's in the domain of science and stars and people and everything, these certainly are in the domain of science. They're physical objects that we study. So, why aren't we studying this? Precisely zero astrophysicists subscribe to astrology and are doing anything with it because there's nothing to be done. It's devoid of any scientific validity. So, that should say a lot, right? Out of all of the people who study stars and planets for a living, none of them subscribe to astrology. So that alone is really all the information you need to reject it. If it was real, people would be studying it and trying to explain it. There's absolutely no reason why they wouldn't be, but it is pseudoscience, so scientists ignore it.
[00:13:36] Jordan Harbinger: I guess that makes sense, like it's a belief system that came about before science probably even existed, really, so it probably wouldn't stand up to scientific scrutiny. It's just a totally different way of thinking than science. And I know that the Chinese zodiac is different than the Western astrology. I don't even know if that's the same thing, but various old cultures, they just have a completely different one that ascribes different meanings. And isn't that kind of the definition of not science, right? When you have—
[00:14:03] Dave Farina: exactly.
[00:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: I remember an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t! Remember that show?
[00:14:07] Dave Farina: Yes.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: And it's about feng shui. And they hired, I don't know, 10 different experts to come in and rearrange the furniture in their office. And every single one of them said that it was science. And every single one of them rearranged all the furniture and the mirrors and the windows differently—
[00:14:21] Dave Farina: Differently, yeah.
[00:14:21] Jordan Harbinger: —which is the opposite of science. If it's science, then they all have the exact same thing and they come up with at least the same result. Unless they made a mistake, unless it's not science—
[00:14:30] Dave Farina: Right
[00:14:30] Jordan Harbinger: —in which case they just make up something and the couch is by the wall.
[00:14:33] Dave Farina: Yeah, if they're pulling from something objective, then they should agree, right? Or one of them's right and all the rest of them are wrong, right? I don't know.
[00:14:39] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:40] Dave Farina: But I mean, that's the point. It is devoid of scientific validity. Astrology is something that humans believed when we thought Earth was the center of the universe, and everything orbited around us, right? The planets, stars, everything was going around us. Because humans are God's supreme creation, or the gods, or one, whichever god you believe in. And everything in the universe is for us, and because of us. It's a profoundly egotistical belief that does not fit with our modern understanding of the universe at all, right? We now know that the Sun is the center of the solar system, which is a tiny speck towards the edge of an enormous galaxy with billions of stars, which is one of billions of galaxies, right? We now understand the true vastness of the universe and how we are not in a privileged position whatsoever. We are not the center of the universe. So, to continue to think that everything in the sky is for us or has anything to do with us at all, it's just the most supremely arrogant and delusional thing that anyone can think. So, that's the real hubris. It's not the idea that we can truly comprehend the cosmos, right? It's this idea, that everything has to do with us. All those things that we used to assign significance to, like, uh, retrograde motion, right? Everyone says, oh, Mercury's in retrograde, or Mar's in retrograde.
[00:15:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:53] Dave Farina: But that's not a planet changing directions in the sky. It's not significant like that. It's just the Earth passing a planet in its orbit. The Zodiac constellations, again, they're not special stars. They're just the ones that the sun happens to travel in front of from our perspective because of the angle the ecliptic makes with the galactic plane. And we were talking about this, the constellations themselves, they're totally meaningless, right? We're just playing connect the dots in the sky and taking a lot of liberties with it, might I add.
[00:16:22] Jordan Harbinger: Mercury and retrograde got you down? Consider supporting one of our sponsors and you'll be right as rain. We'll be right back.
[00:16:28] This episode is sponsored in part by Airbnb. So we used to travel a lot for podcast interviews and conferences, and we love staying in Airbnbs because we often meet interesting people and the stays are just more unique and fun. One of our favorite places to stay at in LA is with a sweet, older couple whose kids have moved out. They have a granny flat in their backyard. We used to stay there all the time. We were regulars, always booking their Airbnb when we flew down for interviews. And we loved it because they'd leave a basket of snacks, sometimes a bottle of wine, even a little note for us. And they would leave us freshly baked banana bread because they knew that I liked it. And they even became listeners of this podcast, which is how they knew about the banana bread. So after our house was built, we decided to become hosts ourselves, turning one of our spare bedrooms into an Airbnb. Maybe you've stayed in an Airbnb before and thought to yourself, "Hey, this seems pretty doable. Maybe my place could be an Airbnb." It could be as simple as starting with a spare room or your whole place while you're away. You could be sitting on an Airbnb and not even know it. Perhaps you get a fantastic vacation plan for the balmy days of summer. As you're out there soaking up the sun and making memories, your house doesn't need to sit idle. Turn it into an Airbnb. Let it be a vacation home for somebody else. And picture this. Your little one isn't so little anymore. They're headed off to college this fall. The echo in their now empty bedroom might be a little too much to bear. So whether you could use a little extra money to cover some bills or something a little more fun, your home might be worth more than you think. Find out how much at airbnb.com/host.
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[00:18:05] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:18:09] Right. How did we come up with all the constellations? I'm going to ask if they mean anything, but I already know what you're going to say. Some of them do seem like kind of a stretch. All of them, in fact, it's a handful of stars. They say it makes up this ornate figure. Like I said, like a warrior. But where did that come from? Is it sky watchers or did they observe a bunch of stuff for hundreds of years and they're like, "Okay, we've got some theories here."
[00:18:30] Dave Farina: Yeah, they do mean things, but not the way like an astrologer or, you know, a fan of astrology would think. So, I mean, that's kind of the funniest part is that there's very clear indicators that the constellations were designed by humans to reflect, you know, mythological figures, but more importantly, recurring aspects of their environment. So we would make water signs or there are water signs, but the purpose of these is to remind us about stormy seasons at sea, right? And then, Virgo has a sheaf of grain, which represents the harvest. So they're these little timekeepers and they have obvious meanings in terms of humans projecting earthly events onto the stars, not the other way around, not the stars influencing us. So we're sort of projecting these pictures onto the stars based on what we experience. It's simply that mystical-leaning people have injected mysticism into what was essentially, I mean, it's really a set of mnemonic devices and maybe storytelling for ancient generations. That's really where they came from.
[00:19:25] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I did not know that. That makes sense. I want to play devil's advocate just a little bit. Let's say that somebody just does not subscribe to a scientific worldview, all this talk of gravity and whatnot, everything you're saying, they don't care. It doesn't matter to them because they claim to be able to personally verify the validity of astrology. And they say, "Look, if it's wrong, why do all these things happen when I predict that they will because of astrology?" What do you say to people like that?
[00:19:53] Dave Farina: Yeah, so this is the other of the two angles we mentioned earlier. So if you're not, you know, clearly from a scientific perspective, astrology is completely meaningless. But there are people who refuse to engage with it in a scientific framework. But even if you just come at it from this raw experiential perspective, like these people would say, if you just take astrology on its own merit and test it objectively, it falls apart instantly and horribly.
[00:20:18] Jordan Harbinger: So, okay, how do we do that? How do we test it on its own merit? That's the obvious follow-up. Well, fine, I'll test it. Let's do that.
[00:20:24] Dave Farina: Yeah, what you would do is just you can operate under the assumption that astrology is true because we just say astrology is true. Yes, the stars and planets do influence earthly events. We have no idea how it's a literal magic. Who cares? We're not even going to talk about that. But so now, let's see what astrology predicts. Let's see the predictions and then compare it to our own observations. So if astrology is true, we should be able to demonstrate it. We should be able to do experiments or collect evidence that corroborates the predictions that astrologers make. We should be able to see, we should be able to demonstrate that astrology is valid. That these relationships exist, even if we don't know how or why.
[00:21:02] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay. That makes sense. So how would one do that exactly? Has that been done before? I assume it has.
[00:21:09] Dave Farina: Yeah, indeed, it has been done many times in many different ways. So, for example, in astrology, everyone has a natal chart. You take the precise time and location you were born, you consider the precise night sky at that instant in time, the positions of all these planets, the constellations. These are supposed to have some influence on you and your personality. Or, if not directly influencing, then at least correlating somehow, right? There's something. That's the basis of the natal chart. So, if this is true, it should be testable and reliable. And, if it is true, it should be true all the time, for everyone. Not just some of the time, by coincidence, or people happen to agree with it. So, it should follow from this that a professional astrologer ought to be able to match anonymous natal charts to a group of individuals based on their personalities and psychological profiles, right? They should be able to say, okay, here are some natal charts that indicate humans that would be kind of this way or kind of that way and then meet some people and be able to assign them, right? So maybe not flawlessly, maybe not perfectly, but has to be in some statistically significant way.
[00:22:12] Jordan Harbinger: Right, so they should be able to do that better than chance at least, 51 percent or something.
[00:22:17] Dave Farina: Yes, at the very least, better than chance, and they never can, ever. Right, not once has any astrologer ever performed better than chance at any such task. This is an enormous red flag, right? If people born with a certain sign are a certain way, and that's what astrology says, right? If you're born with this night sky, you should be this sign and therefore kind of this way. So this is what astrology says, then why can't a professional who works in this field be able to identify them? It should be as reliable as identifying chemicals or gemstones or plant species or anything else in the natural world. So why can't they do it?
[00:22:54] Jordan Harbinger: Well, all right, people are going to go, my astrologer is accurate. They were talking about in the scientific study that was run, they were not able to do that. Maybe the scientists picked bad astrologers, either on purpose because they're scientists and they have an agenda or because they just picked a bunch of hacks who answered an ad in a newspaper for a study and they were like, "Cool, I want to get paid 200 to pretend I'm an astrologer." What if they just did that?
[00:23:15] Dave Farina: Right, exactly. And you do hear that, definitely. It's kind of the no-true Scotsman fallacy. So they're just saying, their attitude will be no matter who tries to do it, if they fail, it's the fault of that person. That wasn't a real astrologer. And it's not ever, ever, ever going to be that astrology itself is invalid.
[00:23:33] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:23:34] Dave Farina: Even if it is professional astrologers, they'll say, well that one's no good, so ignore that.
[00:23:37] Jordan Harbinger: Or he's having a bad day.
[00:23:38] Dave Farina: Having a bad day, just was a little off. I think that's a red flag, but still, if people aren't satisfied, let's come at it from another angle. So eliminating that variable, let's just take a very large sample set of people. So you take hundreds and hundreds of people. All born within a few minutes of each other. And then, they're now adults. So they've lived 30 years, 40 years, whatever it is, and then gather enormous amounts of data about them. So employment, relationship status, temperament, disposition, income, hobbies, just absolutely everything that you can think of. All of these people are definitely all the same sign, right? They were born almost at the same moment. The night sky was the same for all of them. There absolutely has to be some kind of trend to discuss here. There has to be some kind of similarity. Anything at all that we can find in this data that connects these people, no matter how loosely. The night sky dictates it. Astrology would say so. But yet no trends can ever be found whatsoever for any trait, any circumstance, just nothing at all. They're no more alike than any random assortment of people of a particular age.
[00:24:44] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know, Dave. Everyone born around the same time as me does have something in common. They are all Pisces. So explain that, smart guy.
[00:24:51] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:24:52] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, but really, that does seem to be a problem. But I guess they could ask about where they were born. You know, if they're on opposite sides of the Earth, they aren't really seeing the same stars. It could be night or day, depending on where they are. Plus there's environmental factors, right? There's always, that's maybe the no true Scotsman fallacy of well, it rained in this place where he was born and where she was born, it was actually windy. I don't know. It just gets murky. You can muck it up.
[00:25:16] Dave Farina: It obscured the light from Venus and then it was not as prominent in the profile. Yeah.
[00:25:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, it's by a power plant. So the magnetism from the stars was thrown off in that particular hospital. Yeah.
[00:25:25] Dave Farina: Yeah. I mean, there's no end, but here's the thing we can get even more specific than this. So how about this? Think of two people. Who are born not just the exact same time, but the exact same location. Who would that be?
[00:25:37] Jordan Harbinger: Right, sure. Twins.
[00:25:38] Dave Farina: Exactly. And then, let's specifically talk about fraternal twins. Because if we're going to talk about identical twins, there's genetic reasons why they might be similar. Although often they're not, anyway.
[00:25:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:47] Dave Farina: It'll just be less confounding to just talk about fraternal twins because they're not identical. They're siblings. They're just regular siblings, but they're born at the same time. So there should be no genetic reason for them to be more similar than any other pair of siblings that are not twins. But, astrology says they absolutely have to be. They have precisely identical natal charts. They were born in the exact same place, at the exact same time, I mean within a few, you know, ten seconds or whatever. Identical night sky, everything is the same. So, whatever their natal chart predicts, for one, it absolutely must make the same exact predictions for the other. There's no way around it. So, with that in mind, you tell me, think of some fraternal twins that you know, I don't know how many sets you know, but are absolutely all of them profoundly similar to one another?
[00:26:38] Jordan Harbinger: No, actually a lot of them seem to be polar opposites. In fact, the identical twins that I know are also polar opposites, right?
[00:26:45] Dave Farina: Exactly. Sometimes, yeah.
[00:26:46] Jordan Harbinger: One set of twins that I'm thinking of, one is an entrepreneur, he was an Olympic athlete or whatever. The other one is also super smart, but he ended up being a major cocaine dealer for a motorcycle gang. So—
[00:26:58] Dave Farina: Yeah. That is polar opposite.
[00:26:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, I'm not kidding. I'm not exaggerating. When I talk about polar opposites, they're very different. They could not be more different. They just look exactly the same, except for one guy looks like the evil twin version of the other with tats head to toe and a giant beard. It's actually quite funny.
[00:27:14] Dave Farina: Right.
[00:27:14] Jordan Harbinger: They're both very nice, by the way.
[00:27:16] Dave Farina: And then, you know, for fraternal, much less so even probably statistically. So I'm sure you can find some that are similar, but most are not just like any pair of siblings born at any set of times. So, unfortunately for astrologers, this fact alone definitely means that astrology can't be true. It's problematic for them. If you deny the idea that they have to have the same natal chart, then the natal chart becomes meaningless. It's determined by the night sky at birth, and their night sky was the same, so it must be the same natal chart. And, furthermore, if you deny that having the same natal chart means they must have similar personalities and life experiences, then again the natal chart becomes meaningless. If the natal chart does not predict aspects of someone's life and personality the same way every time, then it doesn't actually do anything at all.
[00:28:04] Jordan Harbinger: You know what a water sign or a fire sign or a wind sign or any sign would do, Dave? They'd support one of the amazing sponsors that support this show. We'll be right back.
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[00:29:42] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:29:46] Okay, I'll admit it does seem like a pretty insurmountable piece of evidence there. But I guess then what do you say to people who still insist that astrology is true based on personal experience? So they don't have a twin, they haven't read the studies, they don't like science, they don't care about it, they don't believe it, they think it's got an agenda and all this other stuff. There's nothing external that they are falling back on, they just feel like astrology is true based on things that have happened to them. They read their horoscope, their day goes according to the horoscope. How do you go about convincing that kind of person?
[00:30:19] Dave Farina: Yeah, convincing is tricky, definitely psychologically. It's quite clear, I think, why people insist on this when it's just objectively not true at all. You know, there's a few ways to look at it, but like, for example, everyone has a sun sign, and therefore a chart and horoscopes, you know, all these other things that would apply to them based on the sun sign.
[00:30:35] So, studies have been done where test subjects of all different signs are selected, and then they're given charts, and then they're told that the chart is highly specific to their sign. And every time they do this, most of the subjects report that their reading is very accurate and insightful. And so the problem is that all of them are given the exact same chart, right? So clearly, there's something else going on here. The same chart can't apply to everyone. That's not what astrology says, right? Every sign has its own. So the chart is meaningless in this context. It cannot apply to everybody. Different signs should have different charts. That's what astrology says. But people who write these things are very deliberate in keeping everything very vague, for one thing, and then also predominantly flattering.
[00:31:15] So it's usually a lot of positive traits. So you've got, you know, compassionate, and creative, and intuitive, and wise, that sort of stuff. They might throw in, you know, a little bit of negative stuff, but it's usually kind of like a positive trait in disguise. So it'll say things like you're too humble or you're overly trusting or you have high standards or something like that. So most people read these things and they want to say, "Yep, that's me." So they identify them even if they objectively are not those things. There's plenty of people out there who are not creative or intuitive that just want to believe that they are. We all want to be wise. We all want to be funny and all these other things. You know, a lot of us tell ourselves that we are, even if we aren't, and we'll develop a bias whereby we value something that tells us so, over reality.
[00:31:58] So, horoscope, right, this is what we're talking about, people just saying, "I believe this is true," even if it's just not.
[00:32:03] Jordan Harbinger: Well, there's a logical fallacy in that, too. It's called the Barnum effect which I assume is from the circus guy with his fake psychic routine.
[00:32:10] Dave Farina: Sucker born every day. I think he said.
[00:32:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, sucker born every minute. I think it was. Yeah.
[00:32:15] Dave Farina: Every minute. Sure.
[00:32:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. But people see specific details in vague platitudes and they fill in vague language with personal examples. And that's the Barnum effect. It's a common logical fallacy. That so-called psychics use as well. They'll say something like, "You're having a rough time with — it's a big decision." And then, you go, "I am thinking about whether I should take a promotion at work," and/or move—
[00:32:37] Dave Farina: Yep.
[00:32:37] Jordan Harbinger: —or break up with someone. I mean, there's a million different areas where that could fit in. And you're looking for it to be the thing that's accurate because you believe the psychic. So you start to look for evidence to fill in the prediction. Additionally, it seems really clear to me that, and I don't exactly know what psychological principle this is, but if you tell me and I believe you because I believe in horoscopes, if you go, "Look, today, you're going to have a very social day." I might go out and go, "I'm going to have a social day. That's great. I'm going to say hi to the barista today. And then I'm going to talk to that new person at work a little bit more, because this is my social day." And you come home and you go, "Wow, my horoscope was totally correct," because you programmed me—
[00:33:17] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:33:17] Jordan Harbinger: —to behave differently by giving me, essentially, suggestions.
[00:33:21] Dave Farina: Yeah, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess, is what we would call it. But yeah, I mean, for horoscopes, it's the exact same thing as the charts, right? They're always incredibly vague. One enormous red flag, right, is if you read horoscopes from a bunch of different sources, right?
[00:33:33] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:33:33] Dave Farina: If you're looking at newspapers or whatever websites, they're always completely different. So that's a problem, right? If astrologers are divining some kind of mystical truth from the cosmos they're reading and they're getting something that's objectively true in the universe if they're any good at it, they should all come to roughly the same conclusions, right? We've talked before.
[00:33:51] Jordan Harbinger: This is the feng shui thing.
[00:33:52] Dave Farina: Exactly. Well, just like the feng shui. They're all working with the same data and so they should have the same conclusions, but they don't. One says be careful today Another one says take a risk today or what, you know, whatever it is. They could completely contradict each other. So, there's no rhyme or reason here, but again, as we were saying, they're just completely vague on top of that. There's no real prediction being made. So this doesn't hold a candle to science. Science makes highly sophisticated predictions based on quantitative calculations that are corroborated regularly out to six decimal places, or every day. And astrology absolutely does not do this ever. It's just today there will be an opportunity, or you said there's a social day, or you have to make a decision, right? And they're just not rigorously falsifiable claims, and for good reason, it's by design, right? If actual falsifiable claims were made, they would be immediately falsified. And even as vague as the predictions are, they're still pretty routinely falsified. So, you know, there are definitely people who didn't have to make a hard decision today. So, even as vague as it is, the batting average of any horoscope is just extremely low.
[00:34:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right, it's like, you have to do gymnastics to go, Well, I don't know, I did have trouble deciding between eggs benedict and an omelet.
[00:35:05] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:35:05] Jordan Harbinger: So, I guess everything's relative.
[00:35:07] Dave Farina: Pretty tough.
[00:35:07] Jordan Harbinger: Horoscope was right.
[00:35:08] Dave Farina: Yep.
[00:35:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so I'm pretty convinced, not that I was ever into astrology to begin with, but for the millions of people out there who hang on to this, what is it exactly? Why do they feel so strongly compelled to buy into this thing which can so easily be shown to make absolutely no sense?
[00:35:24] Dave Farina: Yeah, I mean, to me, it seems pretty obvious. It's just a way for people to feel some kind of meaning, some kind of connection with the cosmos. It's a very comforting idea that everything in the universe is not only connected but also chiefly concerned with humans and human activity.
[00:35:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:35:41] Dave Farina: This is why people will enact confirmation bias. It's to hang on, they have this longing for that sort of sentiment, but ultimately it's quite infantile if you ask me.
[00:35:50] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so how does confirmation bias come into play for those people who are not up on their logical fallacies flashcards like me?
[00:35:56] Dave Farina: So, I mean, it's like if you read your horoscope every day, right, seven days in a week, and then twice that week it says something that ends up correlating with your day in some small way, you had the hard decision or whatever it is, but then the other five times it doesn't, at all. Right, the logical conclusion is that there's no real correlation. Most of the days had nothing to do with anything. Really, it's just chance. That's what most people would conclude. But if you ignore those five misses and instead take those two perceived hits and confirm your bias, then you'll say, see, horoscopes are real, it works, I wanted them to be real, and then I took the data that I liked and I confirmed that it's true.
[00:36:33] Jordan Harbinger: So, that sort of thing. This reminds me of when they film psychic TV shows, and the person's like, "M, M, is there an M?" And they look around this audience and nobody moves, and they're like, "Oh, no, no, no, no, it's a W, it's a W," and then someone's like, "Oh, yeah!"
[00:36:46] Dave Farina: Wilma.
[00:36:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right, it's just they're throwing—
[00:36:48] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:36:48] Jordan Harbinger: —stuff at the wall to see what sticks. And then when somebody hits on something, they're like, see, and then they even edit that part out where he missed because it's a TV show and they want it to look real.
[00:36:57] Dave Farina: Of course. Yep.
[00:36:58] Jordan Harbinger: Do you see the astrology thing as something that is threatening? Like, is it bad for society to be entertaining pseudoscience like this, which it doesn't harm people in the way that let's say a psychic who's defrauding people or anti-vaccine propaganda that has kids dying from preventable diseases all over the place. I mean, it just seems like it's not that bad.
[00:37:19] Dave Farina: Right. I mean, certainly, to an extent that's true, but I do push back on that. I mean, in terms of pseudoscience in general, I would argue that it is very bad. I mean, again, it's not precisely equivalent to like these blatant lies from anti-vaxxers, but it's still a suspension of basic logic. That a sizable portion of the population is committing in order to entertain a system of thought that is both infantile in its character but also profoundly incompatible with reality in every way imaginable. So we should be striving to get past this type of thinking as a society. By entertaining it, we are promoting anti-science mentality. Engaging in pseudoscience is necessarily anti-science. And this can infiltrate not just a general population but even like more powerful people in institutions. Like for example, when Ronald Reagan was the president, First Lady Nancy Reagan hired an astrologer to advise on all the activities of the office. I mean, this is complete insanity. Like, that crucial aspect of public policy and foreign policy could potentially be influenced by an astrologer. It's unthinkably irresponsible.
[00:38:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yikes. Yeah, that is scary. I guess, what else do we expect from somebody who thought they could cure addiction in America by saying, hey, you know, just say no to drugs. An astrologer in the White House is quite cringe. Imagine starting an armed conflict or something the way ancient emperors might take signs from the gods as to whether or not to go invade something or go into battle. But it's the 21st century, well, 20th century at the time. And we have nuclear weapons.
[00:38:46] Dave Farina: Yeah, exactly. It's not like, oh, you know, the clouds are a certain way. So let's go send a thousand people to their death. It's like, maybe the world will end now.
[00:38:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. The stakes are higher. And we'd like to think we care more about people we send into battle than an ancient Chinese emperor.
[00:38:59] Dave Farina: True.
[00:39:00] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. For the most part. It's not as serious as that. It's typically just normal people who are perfectly nice, drinking their morning tea, and they're engaging in this stuff to varying degrees of seriousness.
[00:39:10] Dave Farina: Yeah, and it's true some take it a lot less seriously than others. So, you know, it's not like sky high on my list of urgent things to debunk. You know, I maintain that as long as large segments of the public are engaging in mysticism and pseudoscience and holding these types of delusions above actual empirical science. It's going to be really hard for society to progress and meet the challenges of the 21st century. So a lot of the problems we're going to face as a society will interface with science and tech, and we need to approach these with a clear mind or we risk fumbling every aspect of policy and implementation of new tech to the severe detriment of mankind. So I see it as extremely counterproductive in the grand scheme of things.
[00:39:49] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So that's essentially like, this is a symptom of people believing stuff that doesn't make any sense. And it's not going to end—
[00:39:55] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:39:55] Jordan Harbinger: —with astrology. It's going to—
[00:39:56] Dave Farina: No.
[00:39:57] Jordan Harbinger: —infect other areas of their belief system, which I agree with that.
[00:40:01] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:40:01] Jordan Harbinger: I don't want to say more about that because I'm going to get a billion hate mails if I don't phrase it properly. But yes, I do believe that. That adds a little perspective to a pretty firm take on astrology. And hopefully, if any listeners were sort of on the fence about this whole thing were like, "Eh, it's harmless," or, "You know I don't know. Should I believe it? Should I not?" maybe they've been jostled just enough to land on the other side.
[00:40:20] Dave Farina: Yeah.
[00:40:20] Jordan Harbinger: And I wonder if there are any parting words for the remaining believers.
[00:40:24] Dave Farina: I mean, you know, sorry, I guess I would say like I get it. You know what I mean? I get cognitively why people like this stuff. I get why people want it to be true. It's very enticing it to imagine all these stars so far away that they have anything whatsoever to do with the trivialities of our day-to-day lives. It's really comforting. It's empowering. It gives us a sense of purpose, of divinity. But, you know, ultimately, it is illusory. Astrology is undeniably, completely, and utterly false. There's just, there's no two ways about it. And all of those things that people derive from it, right? This empowerment, this sense of purpose, these can also be derived from actual true inquiry regarding the cosmos and other areas of your life. But even within science, in general, we have learned so much about space and we have developed so much amazing technology that instead of making up myths about the stars and how they affect us, we can actually just learn science and have reverence for these objects that increases a hundredfold through learning about them. And even more so, we can try to actually physically visit all of these places. We can actually travel to the stars and have these amazing adventures that redefine what it is to be a human being. And, you know, I truly believe we will achieve that as a species. And, you know, regrettably, I will be long dead by then. So I don't get to explore the galaxy because I was born too soon, and that makes me sad every day. But what would make me pretty happy is to just live long enough to see everyone stop believing in astrology. The whole world, right? If I can just see that day where astrology just goes completely extinct, I think I could die happy.
[00:41:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, that seems like a totally reasonable goal, Dave. Yeah, fair enough.
[00:42:02] All hate mail goes to email@example.com. Thanks to everybody who listened. I love your topic suggestions. This was from a show fan, I believe, so you can send those to firstname.lastname@example.org as well. Links to the show notes for this episode can be found at, wait for it, jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts in the show notes. I'm at @Jordan Harbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can find Dave at Professor Dave Explains on YouTube, and of course, we'll link to that in the show notes for the episode.
[00:42:28] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own, and I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer, so do your own research before implementing anything you hear on this show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you in the age of Aquarius.
[00:43:01] You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with retired astronaut Chris Hadfield.
[00:43:06] Chris Hadfield: I watched the first two people walk on the moon, and I thought, "Wow, I'm going to grow up to be something. Why don't I grow up to be that? That's the coolest thing ever." It is purely the direct result of all of those little minute-by-minute decisions that I made since starting when I was a kid, just turning 10.
[00:43:26] When I got the telephone call asking if I would like to be an astronaut, I was at the top of my profession. I was the top test pilot in the US Navy as a Canadian. And then, to be selected as an astronaut, suddenly, I'm a guy who knows nothing. I sit in my office, and I'm like, I'm a complete imposter. I have zero skills right now. Whenever anybody has offered to teach me something for free, I've always taken them up on it. How are you getting ready for the major events in your life, the things that matter to you, the things that have consequence? Are you just sort of waving your hands and going, "Oh, it'll probably turn out okay"? Or are you actually using the time available to get ready for it? Maybe it will turn out okay. But if the stakes are high, to me that's just not a gamble I'd willingly take.
[00:44:10] If at some point in life, you think you know everything you need to know, then you're just in the process of dying. What astronauts do for a living is visualize failure, figuring out the next thing that's going to kill you and then practice it over and over and over again until we can beat that thing. We know how to deal with it. Then, you do a much better job and a more calm and comfortable way of doing it as well. You don't miss it. You're not overwhelmed by it. It's something you can do while thinking of something else. You notice how beautiful it is, how magnificent it is, how much fun it is. You're not just completely overwhelmed by the demands of the moment.
[00:44:47] Jordan Harbinger: For more on how Commander Chris Hadfield managed to stay focused on his dream starting at age nine to become the first Canadian to walk in space, check out episode 408 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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