Saturday, January 22, 2011

"What's your sign?" is not the question

The recent hubbub about the astrological shakeup—that a thirteenth sign should be included because of the shift of the angle earth's axial rotation (I think) relative to the constellations—making many people out of sorts clearly reveals that a lot of people… well, to say "care" is perhaps too strong a term, so let's go with "hold some interest" in the Zodiac. I don't think people in general hold much belief in their daily horoscope, but it's still published in the paper (or something people sign up for to get sent to their Facebook page). It's touted as "for entertainment purposes only," but in the era of on-demand movies you can watch on your phone, clearly we are not desperate for entertainment; if one wishes to find something merely amusing there's a near-infinite number of YouTube videos to accomplish that much.

That those who emerged from the womb at a time when the sun was in an arbitrary position in our sky relative to the stars in the vast void of space would, on that basis, share a set of traits, sounds like a supremely risible claim; even those who fervently ascribe belief in astrology must admit there's little doubt that, on its face, it's pretty preposterous.

Of course, to allege it's significantly more preposterous than every religion in which people have active faith is a difficult case to make, but that's not where I'm going with this.

Astrology doesn't make sense, but I'd argue that's precisely why people still hold interest in it. Were it not largely irrational we'd have lost interest in it long ago.

I'm not sure why we seem to have a fascination of the inexplicable, but we do. Perhaps it's because we have a desire—nee, a need—to find explanations, and science has made the need to search irrelevant in most cases; we've identified the universe down to subatomic particles, so what is left for the average person to ponder?

Why are we the way we are?

Rationally, we know that horoscopes are general enough to allow us to impart our individual interpretations and find some connection. We want to find connections. We take comfort in connections. Even if we know they don't quite hold water, logically speaking.

Is that some indictment of our mental proclivities? Absolutely not. On the contrary, that we can latch on to something like astrology to make sense (in our minds) of events that befall us, or of the personality quirks of others, is almost certainly part of what keeps us from going utterly batshit crazy; contemplating the infinitely complex universe is not for everyone, and even those who prefer science are ultimately relying on a stricter interpretation of reality, but it's an interpretation nonetheless. (Remember: "Science" is best explanation scientists have at the time—not that it's unreliable, but it's subject to future developments which may utterly refute what was previously accepted.)

You're delusion if you believe you're not deluding yourself to at least some extent. And you don't want to think about what your mind would do if you weren't.

(If you're lucky, you've been sufficiently deluded as to be impervious to having that pointed out to you.)

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