A Scheme of Heaven is a deep investigation of astrology from a scientist’s perspective

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/06/26/a-scheme-of-heaven-is-a-deep-i.html

1 Like

Why is astrology considered unscientific, while economics—which also uses complex mathematical formulas to ‘predict’ the future—is regarded as a perfectly respectable field of study, despite its many failed forecasts?

Great! Armed with that argument, I present my perpetual motion machine, cold fusion generator, and my latest homoepathic cure. Don’t dare call them unscientific because LOOK AT ECONOMICS.


also, I have to add that Economics is routinely called the “dismal science” because even economists admit how shitty their predictions have been.

Astrology should be called the “cheerful pseudoscience”


I’m reading Mostly Harmless, which has an interesting take on astrology:


Yeah, there’s some backwards logic happening here…

If you want to do astrology, that’s fine with me, but it’s absurd to argue people should start practicing astrology because other methods of prediction fail as much as astrology does. If they all suck at prediction, then don’t use any of them for prediction!

However, “often no better than astrology” literally means “sometimes better than astrology”, and I’ll go with “sometimes better” anytime.

Yes, there are disciplines that suffer, to some degree, from pseudoscientific thought. That doesn’t mean we should stop being skeptical, and instead wholeheartedly embrace pseudoscience: that means we should be more skeptical, and critique those disciplines.

Look, I’m very much pro-science and pro-logic, but I’m not anti-mystical. If that’s your thing, then by all means go for it—let your freak flag fly (as long as it doesn’t lead to oppressing other people). But embracing the mystical and the weird does not require sacrificing critical thought. Look at Robert Anton Wilson: he engaged both, with wonderful results. This review, imho, does not, and that is ironic, because A Scheme of Heaven actually seems like it might be part of that tradition.


Being unable to predict Black Swans is no surprise.
Believing that some can predict them with GREAT ACCURACY is foolishness.

Re: COVID (our current Black Swan that has upended everything)
The models are NOT perfect, the modelers try like mad to say they aren’t, but our one-half-sentence headline culture doesn’t understand that.

“Imperial College predicts 2 million deaths!”

There are soooo many guesses, assumptions, hunches and magical math that go into the model, but few are willing look into the actual studies (or able to!, due to Elsevier, etc.).

Like dear Donny’s hurricane map. It was a map of many possible outcomes, so he just added his own based on his own ‘hunch’ (“I’ll look stupid if this map doesn’t show what I said”). BTW, that hunch was wrong - he looked MORE stupid for jankin’ the map.


I prefer COVID19 modeling to astrology to find out if it’s safe to go the grocery store.


I can actually understand the applicability of Tarot or the I Ching as an aid to meditation; if one doesn’t take them as infallible oracles about the future, they can be useful as guides to think about one’s life and say, “Are the things that these symbols represent mappable to my experience? Is there something to learn from this juxtaposition of possibilities?”

I’m willing to believe that it’s possible to use astrology in a similar way, but it always seems to take itself extremely seriously as a predictor instead of an illuminator of possibility, and I haven’t seen an incarnation of it that did anything other than say, “Oh, you’re a Pisces, so all these things are true about you”. I think this stems from astrology coming from a fixed point (birthdate), rather than a fluid one (results of a random process) – but if someone has a different framing, I’m interested to hear about it.


As a natural scientist, I find all this dissing on social scientists like economists amusing. Because most of the people dissing aren’t even social scientists. We natural scientists can piss downwards on the social scientists because our models work better (even if it’s somewhat unfair because the world of social scientists is more complicated than our world of genes and particles and so understandable that their models work worse), But most fields don’t even have models to speak of at all!


Astrology is made of maybe 20 overlapping theories (medieval to prehistoric) that try to associate the effects of cyclical events. Some are actually (potentially) valid but have little to do w/ planets. Most are effects of spontaneous synchronization like Cicada emergence. Some are not (IMHO)


Astrology is still going strong with scientists trying to find matches between the Earth’s climate and the orbits of the planets. Read any of the blogs skeptical to anthropogenic climate warming and you will find plenty of references to them. Few call themselves astrologers, of course, but the idea is the same.

Economists have an impossible job predicting the future, because the people running the economy read their models, adjust their behavior after them, and then the model isn’t true any more. Come up with a convincing model that the stock market will crash next week and people will sell immediately, causing the crash to happen this week instead.


Except you have failed to show how the book is promoting people actively using astrology.

with that failure the rest of your argument is nothing but a straw man


Yeah, I also don’t see that kind of argument being made in the review, but I’m interested in reading the book to understand to which extent modern data science and economics are really put on the same footing as astronomy.
For the moment, it looks like the comparison is more on a “conceptual” level, more about our (as a society) willingness to believe the predictions rather than on the accuracy of such predictions.


Astrology is not a single thing that didn’t change through the years, I guess the book make it more clear but thinking “modern” astrology is an antique tradition is just not true. It takes inspiration and mimic it, but it’s not the same.


(This book seems interesting btw)


This makes me wish more people running around without masks on believed in astrology and followed horoscopes. Convincing the publishers of those horoscopes to print pro-mask messages and predictions of better health might be difficult, though.

As for the orbits of the planets, I am tempted to send links for this book to my yoga buddies who sent me this:


…“unsettling question”?

Economics is not a science.

Everything settled.


Can we please lose this false meme that the polls were off in the last election?


There’s this take on astrology:

where the idea is (essentially) that planetary positions are like the hands on a clock,
not causing events, but rather indicating when certain cyclical patterns, events,
tendencies, and so on recur over the years, decades, centuries.

Certainly, patterns could always be in the eye of the beholder, and coincidence will
always keep Occam’s razor sharp – but the approach is interesting inasmuch as it
dispenses with the need for some sort of mysterious planetary action-at-a-distance


Nailed it. Modeled projections are made up of error bars, and the farther out they go, the wider the error bars get.

And mindlessly emphasizing the worst case end of the error bars will reinforce

the “dodged a bullet” mindset - “Oh, we only lost 220,000 instead of 2 million. No sweat then!” and

the “models are bullshit” mindset - “Hey, they said back in 2010 we’d have no more snow by now. Well, we just had 4 cm of snow, so fuck 'em”

1 Like

Comparing economics with astrology is incorrect. We should compare it with physics, in particular the law of gravity. “What goes up must come down.”