Mythical Concepts Astrology

Consider astrology as one example of the acceptance and use of incorrect beliefs. Astrology asserts that objects in space control or influence our lives. I can conceive of two physical mechanisms by which stars, planets, and other astronomical bodies might affect us at birth and thereafter: by their gravitational force and by their radiation (meaning their radio waves, heat, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays). Let's consider these possibilities.

A simple calculation reveals that the gravitational force from a person standing next to the delivery bed or the gravitational force from the building in which the delivery occurs has more effect on a newborn child than the gravitational force from any of the planets. Indeed, the effect of a nurse walking toward or away from the bed in which you were born had a greater gravitational effect on you than that of all the planets combined.

Every day of your life, everywhere you go, the mass of your physical surroundings on Earth has much, much more gravitational effect on you than do the planets. The Moon and Sun certainly create tides on Earth, but the tidal effects they generate in our bodies are absolutely overwhelmed by the forces of the atomic bonds that hold us together and the motions of the atoms in our bodies created by our internal temperature.6 So different people born in different places, even within minutes of each other, will be influenced by the gravitational effects from the "stars" much less than by the gravitational tugs of the earthly environments surrounding their birthplaces.

6 Heat manifests itself by making atoms and molecules vibrate or flow. The hotter an object, the more its atoms and molecules move.

Radiation from space is indeed something to be reckoned with, but most of what is emitted by the Moon and planets is just radiation from the Sun scattered by their surfaces or clouds, composed mostly of visible light and heat. The level of the lights in your delivery room had a much, much greater effect on you than the radiation from the Moon and all the planets combined. Indeed, even sunlight could only have affected you at birth if it had been shining on your face and eyes for enough time to cause you to go blind. Since most people are born in rooms with closed windows (or none at all), this is very unlikely. There is no known physical effect from objects in space that would give their locations at your birth or at any other time power over your destiny. The fact that the planets are invisible during the day is a good indication of how weak their radiation is by the time it reaches us.

"But what about unknown physical effects? What if there are some presently unknown properties of planets and stars that can affect us?"

Fair question. In the context of Occam's razor, let's explore whether such an as-yet-unknown physical mechanism is necessary. Do we need an extra, external force from astronomical bodies to explain anything about the cosmos, including our own behavior? Or can we comprehend nature and lead our own lives based on the activities of our minds and bodies and on our interactions with the rest of the world just under the known forces?

There is absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever to require hypothesizing a new force in nature from the stars, planets, Moon, or Sun to explain anything in astronomy or to determine our personalities, actions, or fates. Furthermore, careful scrutiny of astrological predictions show that they are as successful as they are because they are so general. If you try to get specific information from astrology or another pseudoscience, such as the date of your death, you will get predictions no better than those chosen at random.

Magic

Other mythical concepts include the belief that magic exists as a supernatural force, rather than as sleight of hand (I wonder if the wonderful Harry Potter series of books is creating the belief in magic as a supernatural force in the minds of any young readers); the belief in ghosts; the belief in the power of witchcraft; the belief that the prayers of others can cure people;7 and the belief in miracles.

At the risk of oversimplifying a very complicated matter, let me propose that the belief in mythical concepts begins in childhood with "magical thinking." Early on, before children have any grasp of how the natural world operates, they develop the desire for things to happen for their own benefit. Children frequently invoke magic as a means to an end that they can't otherwise achieve. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can be reinforced if the child gets what he or she wants after an intense episode of trying to mentally force it to occur.

The belief in magic usually goes away as we grow up, but there is inevitably a residue left in our adult minds. It takes the form of "wishful thinking." At some level most of us know that wishing doesn't make things happen, but that doesn't stop anyone from trying.

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