Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fun links ...

  1. Here's a link you should send to all your friends/family members/associates who believe in astrology. From that post, I also learned the name of the effect that many of us are familiar with:

    The tendency to see ourselves in vague or general statements has since been called the Forer effect or, alternatively, the Barnum effect, after the famous catchphrase attributed to the travelling circus impresario P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute!"

  2. xkcd on the difference between academia and business.

  3. Onion on the Montessori School of Dentistry, where "dentistry is whatever our students want it to be."

  4. In Manhattan, Preparing for Kindergarten Admission Test. The story has everything that a parent dreads, including coaching classes for toddlers. But let's look at the bright side: this is a great business opportunity for the Bansal Classes, Brilliant Tutorials, and Ramaiah Study Circle!


  1. Anonymous said...

    People who believe in astrology are dumber than we think. Whatever you say, they don't stop believing in it. I read a similar story in one of Carl Sagan's book. If I remember properly, it was something like this - they took a psychopath's personality profile and asked people how accurately it applied to them. Similar to this case, most people found it to be accurate description of themselves.

    Actually I find it very difficult to convince people on astrology. I give them scientific articles, articles by people like Vivekananda, Buddha, Dayananda Saraswati etc, but it doesn't change their beliefs.

  2. Anonymous said...

    In India, people believe in astrology because of predictions about the future, not personality profiles. I think the strongest argument about astrology is the following:

    Assume astrological predictions come true. Then your life is determined by planets and the state of the constellation. There is nothing much you can do about what is happening/going to happen in your life. So astrology is useless.

    Assume astrological predictions are false. Then of course it is useless.

    Astrology is useful only in the in-between zone, where predictions of the future helps you cope, and this includes the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. But in this zone, astrology is psychological counselling, where anything goes, including agony aunts and Prakash Kothari.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Right. And being an IITian, I thought this is really being objective. Never ever believed in astrology. Unless it struck me.

    My mother came worried one day to our home. We were expecting our first child. She told me that she went to her astrologer to discuss the child's name etc. The astrologer told her that the child would not be born alive....

    I calmed her down, and did not tell my wife. Of course, it was all hocus pocus, wasn't it. Two days after nine months cycle, we were in the Hospital. Call it doctor's mistake, call it whatever... my son was stillborn. I have given my son back to mother earth. Sorry, but I do not believe people who deride something which we do not know about. I still don't know what astrology is. I have never gone back to that astrologer or to anyone else. But I have learned that all arguments deriding astrology have holes in them. IF predictions are true, and if you cannot do anything, how is it a problem of astrology? and how does it follow that astrology is useless?

    Anyway, useless arguments. People need to have a personal experience to correctly come to a balanced and nuanced view, and to separate reality from rhetoric. Yes, 99% of what passes for astrology may be rhetoric.... but how do we know?

  4. Anonymous said...

    >IF predictions are true, and if you cannot do anything, how is it a problem of astrology? and how does it follow that astrology is useless?

    Sorry to read about your son. But I still think your experience shows that the information astrology provides is useless. Astrology is kinda like philosophy that way. It is not very useful to know that the world is made of one substance (or many), or whether universals really exist.

    There are instances where astrology is useful, but as a psychological tool. An example is mothers whose children die from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). There is no medical explanation for such deaths, and the unfortunate mothers take the blame on themselves, and keep generating if-only scenarios that could've saved the child. Belief in astrology would help in such situations, as it would help "externalize" the blame, to the horoscope, and thus lower psychological trauma, which can lead to suicide in such instances.

    Astrology is a materialistic position, which it shares with science. It is similar to the claim that mental events are determined by brain states. Astrology says 'life events' are determined by constellation states. The problem is with the validity of "life events" as descriptive categories, and the "nearness" of the material influence postulated. Brains are considered close to minds, and you can fiddle around with brains to see what happens to minds. The constellation is far away from lives, and you cannot fiddle around with the constellation or lives, so statements in astrology are untestable using control conditions.

    It maybe the case that the two descriptions (life events and constellation states) map to each other, but it is a difficult connection to establish within the (current) evidential framework of science. Even if this mapping could be established, we don't have control over the connection, so statements in a "scientifically tested" astrology would be similar to statements in cosmology -- we are told that Betelgeuse is on its way to becoming a black hole, but there is nothing much we can do about it, so that is not very useful information.

  5. L said...

    Anonymous 3; sorry about your son. I do not think it is the stars/constellations, it is just that sometimes, some people have some sudden (and irrational) insight and say something that is a prediction, supposedly based on stars/palm or tarotcards, but it is just their unusual, and perhaps fleeting,insight.
    Those without such insight give predictions like "soon your life will change" or "if you break 50 coconuts, you will find that some job will come your way".
    I think that is why sometimes astrology works but is usually bunkum.

  6. Anonymous said...

    The event I (Anon 3) described is in direct variance to the claims of psychological (sudden and irrational) insight. There was no way that a person (that astrologer is dead) could have known what would happen. Right? And yet he predicted a life event - which is a very uncommon event - you would agree - with a certainty. He was not asked about life. He was not asked to make a bet - or even a prediction. He was asked instead to suggest an auspicious name. And he came back - by himself - refusing to name a name. And said something else.....
    Fifteen years have passed. We left the city we were in. I changed tracks from industry to academia. We have two kids. Happily teaching in US. Academic life. Rationality. Atheism the walk of life. Papers in scientific journals. Tenure. Looking forward to coming back to Uttaranchal, when the proposed institutes come up. But I cannot shake the knowledge that I (and my great 'scientific' cohort like Anon5 and Anon4) do not know something still - and try not to deride it like anything. I also do not know whether (in Anon4's term) to rationalize the whole thing. My response was mearly an instance to suggest (and not prove) that refusing to accept a proposition because of the notion that falsifiability cannot be established, the proposition is false - is perhaps incorrect. And Popper can shift in his grave, but I do not agree. I know this falls in the boundry which is derided as religion (and therefore untouchable and fit for ridicule) but I am clear that this current belief (what else to call it - fad? - current science? - like Galileo's time perhaps..) is inadequate.

  7. Anonymous said...

    >refusing to accept a proposition because of the notion that falsifiability cannot be established, the proposition is false - is perhaps incorrect.

    I didn't say the proposition is false, just useless. I don't follow Popper, but that is a different conversation. I do agree with you that the current understanding is inadequate, but I doubt whether astrology would be useful even in an expanded understanding.

    In my view, knowing an astrological prediction is kinda like knowing about PMS -- it helps you make sense of your wife's weird behavior, and cope with it. The behavior will still happen, you don't have any control over it. Similarly, astrology only provides a coping mechanism, not a control mechanism. And control mechanism is what I mean by "useful". Admittedly, this equation of "control" with "useful" indicates a certain bias, where psychological control is considered inferior to physical control. I recognize that this comes from a certain training, but that again is a different conversation.