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An uncertain morning ritual

A view on the uncertainty principle

Every morning I flick through a newspaper and catch up with the news and at the end of the paper, I check my horoscopes.

People have really mixed opinions of astrology, yet it could be said that Astrology has had a historic role to play in a previous society where we didn’t understand much about the natural world. I believe it has a place in the ‘history of ideas’.

If you think about how it was perpetuated in the time of the middle ages, society was a very hierarchical one, where the natural way of thinking was to expect what happened in the heavens to affect what happens on the earth. At that time there was a lot that was a mystery to us and it was much more dangerous and hazardous world than we consider the world to be today and at that time, astrology could offer a sense of having some control over our lives. The idea that there is some sort of hierarchical system is difficult to believe today. Yet astrology is still very popular and many people are very attracted to check the readings of the stars.

Einstein, born on the 14th of March, was a Pisces. Traditional astrological Pisces traits include being imaginative and sensitive, compassionate and kind, selfless and unworldly, intuitive and sympathetic. People born into this sign are known for their ‘airy-fairy easy-going look at the world’ and it was said that actually, Einstein was said to have intuitively reached his conclusions and understandings.

However, given that personality is so complex, what influence could the position of a planet have on an individual personality? There are all sorts of possible explanations about how astrology might work, but the most likely seems to be simple co-incidence. When we look at a clock on the earth, we develop a sort of feeling about the time. We have a feeling about the day every instance we look at the clock. It’s all about reflection. Some astrologers believe that as we go through life we physically and mentally we develop a rhythm and we can see aspects of our rhythm in a sort of universal ‘clock’ in the universe.

People who call themselves astrologers are extremely perceptive people who can help us think about our psyche and how we put our thoughts together.

We do now however, understand very much about how the universe actually works, but perhaps astrology still has a use in today’s society. Science simply asks question after question and what is so satisfying to people is certainty about things, even at a pseudo-scientific level. Maybe this is the placebo affect. The great thing about the placebo affect is that it works whether or not we believe in it. There have been scientific tests to test placebo and it turns out that we have a built in mechanism to benefit from a placebo affect whether we know it’s a placebo or not. After reading horoscopes we feel as though something has been made sense of. Being such a vague system and having so many interpretations makes it very hard to disprove astrology and sort of provides a mental framework for a solution. The worrying affect of this however, is that it may be part of a slippery slope of irrationality.

Astrologers have the ability to place a blind faith into a mechanism. They don’t know how it works, they just believe that there is a connection from the positions of the stars at your time and place of birth affect your personality. The important thing is that they believe there is a connection and, if you give them a map of the sky, they will tell you what affect that has on your personality.

Mathematics is a modelling tool. The way science works is that you observe the world, you make models of that world and mathematics is a useful tool for doing that. You can predict different behaviour and look for more behaviours. It is the experimental method, combined with mathematical models has given us the 21st century world that we see today.

This ‘modelling tool’ is exactly what astrologers use. What are we doing in science other than taking a mechanism of mathematics and saying that we believe the universe can be described by mathematics, we don’t know why mathematics is true, we just know that it works. We know that if we formulate a string theorem, despite whether there is any evidence for or against it, we know that it will provide results because it’s a beautiful mathematical theory and we believe in it.

If we take a physical theory, such as quantum theory and using mathematics as a modelling tool, what we are admitting is, this isn’t true in a philosophical sense. In quantum mechanics, there isn’t a 1:1 correspondence between our mental idea of quantum mechanics and how the world actually behaves.

Quantum mechanics therefore is a model which has a relative scientific truth and we will hold to it for as long as it’s born out of successful experiments. This is the only real difference between an astrologer reading their star charts and a scientist accelerating protons at 99.99999% the speed of light in a large hadron collider hoping to see the conditions that were present at the time of the big bang when we believe the universe was actually created. Maybe at some point we will discover that in another parallel universe, everyone just believes what they read in the paper.

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