August 28, 2006

Pluto Booted, But Astrology Still Nutty As Ever

Welcome to the nuttiest article about Pluto I read this week.

Sally Cregin, a Fitchburg-based astrologer, said Scorpios, who are having “unprecedented success this year,” may see a few more of their stars align now that gloomy Pluto has been demoted .

“I know many who resent Pluto’s rulership because they believe they are perceived as darker or more intense than they really are,” she said of Scorpios, who have been associated with sex, death and the control of money. “This may come as welcome news.”

Nothing personal against any of you who may be true believers, but astrology is complete bunk. In Massachusetts it’s wicked nutty bunk. And it bums me out that these people are from my state and saying this stuff to the Herald with a straight face. Of course… it is the Herald.

I mean, I’m a Scorpio. What’s this about Scorpios being about sex, death and the control of money? It sounds like I’m fated to die while paying for, um, a hooker. That’s just nasty!

In any case, the idea that the re-classification of a planet should have any effect on astrology is mind-boggling. But we can take something interesting from this nutfudgerry, at least, when we note that this renaming of Pluto shows some commonality between science and pseudoscience.

When a human endeavor is completely made-up (as in astrology), it doesn’t matter what you call anything. In fact, pretty much nothing matters. You can make it up as you go if you like. As long as you get enough people to buy what you’re selling, you’re OK. It can be completely silly. You can tell people that the alignment of impossibly distant planets governs their personality and their life. You can tell people they can fly if they concentrate and giggle hard enough. You can tell people the world is balanced on the back of a turtle. (I’ll stop there, but you get the idea.)

Calling Pluto a planet or not is not really science. It’s being decided by scientists, but as my friend Ed pointed out, it’s not science. It’s just naming. I think Richard Feynman would agree. It matters little to scientific research what we call Pluto. It has implications in the definition of planet, but big, fat, hairy deal. We didn’t just learn something new about Pluto. We just made a decision about how we use the word “planet.”

And if we someday find life among the gas clouds of Jupiter (improbable, but bear with me) and their scientists laugh at us because we consider our tiny, rocky wet dirtball a planet (after all, it’s not huge and gaseous) we won’t have learned anything new about planetary bodies. Only something about their languages and prejudices.

The idea of “planet” is completely made-up. Being a friend of science, I recognize that it’s made up with an actual purpose. But it’s still made up. And this flip-flopping over Pluto underscores it.

So, see, astrologers: even though I came at you hard, this whole Pluto business is not much better. Take some comfort in that. While I’m feeling charitable! Because I still think you people need to find another hobby.

Posted by James at August 28, 2006 10:08 PM
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"Because I still think you people need to find another hobby."

Be careful what you wish for... maybe as a new hobby they'd choose to be rabid Bush fanatics, or lobbyist for natural gas plant in Fall River.


Posted by: hooligan at August 31, 2006 3:04 PM

That would be stingingly ironic!

But I doubt it. Unless we have some bitterly vengeful astrologers in the audience.

Posted by: James at August 31, 2006 3:56 PM

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