Thursday, January 03, 2008

The fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves

If you think your answers lie in the stars, there is something you probably should know: Stars lie.

Or, to be exact, astrological signs lie.

For years, I assumed I was a Scorpio because my birthday falls in early November, a period that astrologers link to the zodiac sign also known as the constellation Scorpius. Astrologers determine the periods for the 12 astrological signs based on which one the sun “passes through” — as seen from Earth — on a given day. From Oct. 24 through Nov. 22, the rising sun passes through Scorpio.

According to just about every astrology reference I’ve ever seen, Scorpios are passionate, powerful, profound, complex, keenly perceptive and analytical. They also have large sex drives and possess a powerful, magnetic eroticism.

Yep. That sounds like me.

It seems simple enough, but there is just one problem with it: It’s wrong. Not the description of me, of course. That’s obviously correct. I mean the dates are wrong.

As you may recall from elementary school science class, the Earth is tilted on an axis. That tilt, relative to its orbit around the sun, gives us the four seasons. But as you may not recall, the Earth’s axis wobbles. And because of that wobble — called the procession of the axis — the sun is no longer in the same astrological signs that it was during the dates set down by early astrologers more than 2,000 years go.

Writing for, Pedro Braganca helpfully clears things up. For example, the sun now appears in Scorpio from Nov. 23 until Nov. 29 — a mere seven days, which don’t include my birthday.

On my birthday, the sun is now in Libra.

Unlike astronomers, who as scientists constantly update their theories in light of new data, astrologers seem to have a hard time keeping up with new findings.

It gets worse for us poor Scorpios or, I guess, former Scorpios, or whatever we are now. Many astrologers say Scorpio’s ruling planet — whatever that means, but I’m sure it’s important — is Pluto. But astronomers no longer classify Pluto as a planet. Now what?

At least Scorpios don’t have it as bad as Cancers and Leos do. The moon and sun, respectively, rule those signs, and it has been centuries since anyone (besides astrologers) has categorized those two heavenly bodies as planets.

Astrology hasn’t changed much since the days of classical Greece, when the rule of the day, as set down by the philosopher Aristotle, was that the celestial realm was eternal and unchanging.

Since Aristotle, however, we’ve learned that space is far from unchanging. Stars form, burn for billions of years and die. Black holes crunch the fabric of space and time. And some celestial objects, like ex-planet Pluto, have wildly elliptical orbits that take them in and out of the orbits of other objects.

Nobody knew any of that when astrology began, and astrology today doesn’t take any of it into account. Instead of focusing on the real forces at work in the universe, astrology is all about some mystical force that has to do with where the stars were when you were born.

Of course, some celestial bodies do influence life on Earth. Energy from the sun makes life here possible. The moon’s gravitational interaction with the Earth causes the tides and creates the pesky wobble that has thrown off the dates for astrological signs.

But on a personal level, even gravity isn’t a big deal. There was more gravitational attraction between you and the doctor who delivered you when you were born than between you and the moon.

So, if you’re looking to get good advice from your daily horoscope, you’re looking in the wrong place.

As for my Scorpio dilemma, as a “keenly perceptive and analytical” ex-Scorpio, I’ve never believed any of that astrology stuff, anyway.

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