22 September, 2020

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Astrology, Astronomy & Reason

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

If not for its huge impact on our people, Astrology could be dismissed as a harmless indulgence.

It is popularly understood as being based on the precise Science of Astronomy. The main manifestation that impacts on us is the Horoscope on which many things depend. Three key factors are considered in their casting and use. These are (i) Time of birth (ii) Positions of the planets at that moment and (iii) The interpretation of the resulting Chart. There are inexactitudes regarding all three.

Time of Birth

How does one define Birth? Is it the time of emergence of the head, the whole body or the severance of the placenta? Or, could it be the moment of conception? How precise need the timepiece be, and was it calibrated for accuracy and is it GMT or time at location?

Planetary positions at that moment

One assumes that the cosmic space is divided into twelve to represent the twelve “Houses”. The Sun and Moon although strictly not planets, are also positioned on the chart. Is there a justification for considering only our Solar system from among the 30,000,000 or so Galaxies thought to exist? Since even a small error in recording time, may allow the drift from one House to another, there must be very clear boundaries and light must travel in a straight line through cosmic distances. Does light “bend” and what has Relativity Theory to say?

In determining Zodiac signs, there appear to be different systems. For example in “Western” style, the intervals between relate to dates of each month. For example the governing sign for all born between the 21 of January and 20 February would be same. Those from 21 February to 20 March belong to another and so on. “Eastern” systems are more complex with a single day possibly covering several signs. How to select which system or reconciling one with the other would be complex and puzzling.

One is given to understand that some countries (including ours) possess their individual horoscopes. How are they determined? Obviously they cannot be according to their believed or uncertain times of creation. Are our earth centered times and dates of relevance to other planets as well?

Whatever the system, there are embarrassing features. With a World population of seven billion, if one considers a likely degree of symmetry, one twelfth or approximately 585 million, come under the same sign and therefore should have similar futures. It is quite amusing to see the foretelling of the day’s predictions in newspapers with their repetitive or ambiguous words, and wonderment that newspapers see fit to use valuable column space and newsprint for the purpose! I have tested this for a week under my Zodiacal sign and the predictions were striking in their repetition day to day and their ambiguity and inanity! Amuse yourself for a week for predictions under your sign before writing to the Editor to use this column space for something less useless !

The Chart and its interpretation

In casting a horoscope based on the foregoing, a two- dimensional chart is drawn, assigning position to each of nine “grahas”. It is in the interpretation that the most problems arise. The readings rely on existing treatises (Panchanga Litha) and on the skill of the reader – there supposedly being “good” readers and “not so good” ones. Coincidence of some predictions and events, is insufficient as proof.

What particular positions or associations of planets mean are most complicated. Does planetary influence depend on mass or distance (as they would, if they relate to Gravity)?  How do planetary positions offset or augment each other’s influences? Only those skilled in the art of Astrology could venture answers to these and many other questions. Astrology relies greatly on its antiquity and on local traditions.

On balance, a reasonable conclusion is that Astrology cannot justly claim legitimacy from a link to Astronomy, mathematics or other Sciences. It must seek inspiration from elsewhere. If not for its impact on many – especially the poor, disadvantaged and gullible, it could be dismissed as a harmless diversion.

The previous President, (among others) was so reliant on the occult, that we were possibly in imminent danger of installing an “Astrologer Royal”.  Fortunately, a dramatically “misread” electoral outcome has helped to save us from such a predicament. Nonetheless, Talismans, bracelets, miniature maces, conch shells, gem-studded rings and similar amulets are very much in fashion.  Many people may even be intimidated into purchasing such embellishments rather than court predicted disaster.

When a Nation begins to rely on Auspicious Times, Lucky Directions and other “Feng Shui” type ones (which I am told, declare among other things, that if you leave you toilet lid open, wealth will be flushed away from you!), we begin to look rather silly. Each occasion, mainly the New Year ordains the times for each (lighting of the hearth, and the colour of clothes to be worn, the time for the first meal etc.) The Nonagathe is claimed to be the time of orbit of the transit of the Sun from one “House” to the next. Anointing the head with oil in the New Year is almost a State Duty. All of these solemn observances do not match with the claim that even the Nations’ Cabinet is selected “scientifically”. It also challenges the relevance of so much effort being expended on Education in the Sciences.    

One of the most harmful uses of the Horoscope is in matters matrimonial. Glance at the Sunday Matrimonial columns, and you will be amazed by statements like “Copy of the Horoscope essential with the first response”, or “Those with malefics or Kethu in the seventh house need not apply”. “Both parents are professionals” indicates that education or social class does not matter. Sinhala and Tamil papers may be worse. Lots of people in other countries who have no belief (or even a copy of a horoscope) may still enjoy a happy marriage. One shudders to think how many of our youth have been denied of a chance to select a temperamentally suited partner or enjoy a happy marriage, because a suitable “horoscopic match” could not be found. Data relating to the success or otherwise of marriages with and without Zodiacal assistance, would be revealing.   

When poor people in distress seek some remedy, they are ready clients for soothsayers who recommend various practices including expensive “Poojas” and other costly rituals. This amounts to at least intimidation or exploitation, possibly even fraud.

If anyone takes refuge in the Supernatural, it is certainly a matter of individual choice. But when important persons do so repeatedly, at State expense and poor people are intimidated to engage in expensive rituals, under threat of deadly outcomes, it is quite another matter, bordering on the criminal. Are for instance, our home-grown deities inferior to those exotics, as to warrant political panjandrums repeatedly visiting overseas shrines with “good”  anecdotal reputations?

When otherwise sane people believe that the Gods could be appeased by dashing coconuts (to curse their opponents) or a basket of fruits, it is time for a “reality check” by their Psychologist.

It is not my intention to stir discord but to stimulate discussion (or even demolition) by a reasoned debate, in addition to falsification or ignorance displayed by this plunge into an unfamiliar area.

In any event, I stand to be corrected (hopefully) in civil language.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    2

    There needs to be common sense, science and reasoning among the populace.
    Astrology is an unscientific pseudo-“science” marketed in Sri Lanka by charlatans who have a ready market among gullible persons.

  • 7
    2

    Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

    RE: Astrology, Astronomy & Reason

    “It is not my intention to stir discord but to stimulate discussion (or even demolition) by a reasoned debate, in addition to falsification or ignorance displayed by this plunge into an unfamiliar area.”

    Astrology, Caveat Emptor, but many buyers or suckers in Sr Lanka, as it is part of the culture and beliefs. No credible demonstrations, only beliefs.
    Astronomy is science, it has demonstrated evidence.

    Reason: is logic, and it sorts the untruth from truth. So the Monks, Priests and Ulama DO NOT LIKE IT., as it makes their beliefs and theology untenable.

    Reason has always been a problem for religions, because of inability to demonstrate afterlife, nirvana, nibbana, heaven hell, purgatory etc, as it was based on beliefs, imbibed by consistent brainwashing.

    • 8
      0

      Dr. Pethiyagoda says “On balance, a reasonable conclusion is that Astrology cannot justly claim legitimacy from a link to Astronomy, mathematics or other Sciences. “
      Astrology does indeed have a link to astronomy.Ancient cultures such as Egypt used stellar observations to predict the changing seasons, and thus such things as the flooding of the Nile or the Vernal Equinox. But then, the astronomers grew over-confident and started predicting other things. That turned them into astrologers until the Renaissance. But this didn’t happen in our part of the world, so we still have this pestilence of con-artists like Astrologers, Feng-Shui practitioners, cures of cancer and the like.
      Much of the responsibility lies with the idiotic print and electronic media, who daily promote this nonsense ,either to increase readership or out of sheer ignorance. Nowadays journalists are mostly Arts types with absolutely no understanding of the sciences. They are easy prey for “inventors” of such things as cars that run on water .
      The sad thing is that the State itself sponsors astrology, with a “committee of astrologers ” to decide on various “nekath” times. However, apparently they couldn’t even get the date of Wesak right this year, with the rest of the world celebrating it a month later!

      • 3
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        oldcodger,

        “Much of the responsibility lies with the idiotic print and electronic media, who daily promote this nonsense ,either to increase readership or out of sheer ignorance. “

        Both.

        “Nowadays journalists are mostly Arts types with absolutely no understanding of the sciences. They are easy prey for “inventors” of such things as cars that run on water .”

        Well stated.

        Some time ago, the IQ’s of the Peradeniya University undergraduates were tested. The IQ’s ranked from the highest to the lowest were as follows.

        Ranked from the highest

        Faculty of Science – Physical Sciences
        Faculty of Engineering
        Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Dentistry, Faculty of Agriculture
        Faculty of Science-Biological Sciences
        Faculty of Art’s-.

        Guess learning sacred ancient languages, to the exclusion of the other subjects may not require a high enough IQ, and “well-suited ” perhaps to be media personnel.

        Just look at the Ulama to understand the situation, as to what what happened to Islamic Science 1,000 years ago. Now the Muslims are in the modern “Dark Ages”, courtesy of the hegemony of the Ulama,. They all are depending on the Infidel inventions and developments. So of these Ulama are wearing the long Arab Dress/Shirt, sporting beards with the mustache shaved, wearing sandles, and travel First Class in Infidel, Kuffar Inventions, using Infidel invented tools, and burning philosophy, love of wisdom, books.

        Ibn Rushd in his darkest hour

        https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/artsandculture/2015/4/9/ibn-rushd-in-his-darkest-hour

      • 3
        1

        oldcodger

        “so we still have this pestilence of con-artists like Astrologers,”

        You mean patriot like Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva who assaulted Rajiv and the court astrologer Sumanadasa Tilak Abeygunawardena who lost the 2015 presidential election for Mahinda.

        Don’t you think Astrologers in Sri Lanka make the people feel good about themselves with unachievable predictions?

        The weeping widow used to consult the chief priest of Muneshwaram temple and Premadasa had his own court astrologer.

        • 4
          0

          NV,
          Let us not forget the apparently rational Ranil and the visibly superstitious MR, who both think Indian gods are better than local ones.

          • 3
            1

            old codger

            Perhaps both think the local Hindu gods are enemies of Sinhala/Buddhists or pro Proletariat.

  • 4
    0

    The pseudo-sciences like astrology will continue to thrive as long as the people are not courageuos enough to take their destiny on to their own hands. The fear of the “unknown” drives gullible individuals towards the practitioners of these quackery who are very good in the art of vassilating and make-belief.

    In order to convince a believing follower of the validity of astrology, all you need is a vaguely constructed reading or a prediction among a list of ten that they may interpret as being accurately told. Whenever such readings are subjected to any rational or scientific scrutiny, these are badly exposed for what they really are. Going beyond the “anecdotal” and looking at the bigger picture, if astrology and it’s associated suite of solutions are so great, Sri Lankan people’s wellbeing should be far superior in every respect to those in more rational, advanced societies where people wouldn’t waste their time chasing after astrologers.

  • 5
    0

    For the Buddhist monk, the Culavagga prohibits bhikkhus from ‘wrong modes of livelihood such as practicing worldly arts, e.g., medicine, fortune telling, astrology, exorcism, reciting charms, casting spells, performing ceremonies to counteract the influence of the stars, determining propitious sites, setting auspicious dates (for weddings, etc.), interpreting oracles, auguries, or dreams, or engaging in any art that is external and unconnected with the Goal’

    How far the average bhikkhu has strayed from these rules is plain to see.

    • 5
      2

      Paul

      “How far the average bhikkhu has strayed from these rules is plain to see.”

      Did you see a monk brewing Kassippu while meditating in the jungle recently? He was arrested by police according to medi.

      • 4
        0

        No, I was not aware. Incredible! Unfortunately the Sangha is not centrally organised and controlled like the Churches, so there is nobody to discipline him. I have always thought that there will be no solution to these problems until monks are registered in some way. The court of public opinion is not strong enough to run the bugger out of town.

        • 5
          2

          Paul

          “Unfortunately the Sangha is not centrally organised and controlled like the Churches, so there is nobody to discipline him.”

          Monks are supposed to adhere to Vinaya a book which prescribe code of conduct ac regulatory framework for for monks. If you observe the Sangha carefully the members of the governing body is least interested in an orderly behaviour of its members. Instead they are only interested in what benefit them and how they can wield power over elected governments.

          It is a state within a state.

          Then the question arises whether this island actually enjoys sovereignty?

          • 2
            1

            Native, I think you are stretching it a bit from governing body to State to sovereignty. There are many monks who do follow the Vinaya but they are found in scattered forest monasteries such as the 87 monasteries of the Galduwa Samstha and more recent monasteries like http://www.nissarana.lk/

            • 2
              1

              Paul

              I have had no problem with majority of the monks whom I have met in my lifetime. In fact they do not mix their vocation with cheap politics of the politicians. They shun publicity and provide lot of service to the people.

              The noisy minority racist in saffron are more dangerous than any serial killers, compare to them though Gota is a psychopath, he should be considered a saint.

  • 4
    0

    It is not severance of the placenta but severance of the umbilical cord. Anyway, that is a minor point.
    The major point is this: I know a couple whose marriage was arranged by the elders. They checked with several astrologers to find out if the horoscopes matched. The astrologers were quite unanimous in stating that there was more than 80% compatibility between the pair. So the marriage took place amidst a large gathering and that happened more than 20 years ago. They have three offspring.
    I met the husband recently and he told me that despite what the astrologers had stated, he and his wife were really an incompatible pair in almost all respects. He gave just three examples – He was an atheist but his wife was extremely pious; he hated travelling but his wife loved to go on trips regularly; he was very fond of sex but his wife was not at all interested in sex! So much so for astrology and matching horoscopes!

  • 5
    0

    Suggest that a sinhala version be published for the benefit of the majority. Article is timely and educational. Sooner we get rid of the thinking that our destiny is governed by planetary movements is better.This is big business and gullibility of masses is exploited to make money.

    • 3
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      Upali ,

      .”This is big business and gullibility of masses is exploited to make money.”

      The other side of the coin is religion, with no demonstrative truths, only belief.

      So, both are great businesses. No need to deliver on the promises.

  • 4
    0

    this article should be published in the front page of all newspapers ,it is worth reading. at least the young generation will understand what we are practicing is all rubbish. Astrology is not an established science
    this is a commercialized pack of fiction to earn money from gullible s

  • 2
    0

    Good astrologers reads the body-language of the client and uses commonsense to provide nothing more than Agnes Aunty advice.
    Astrologers gain a word of mouth reputation in the range ‘very good’ to ‘not so good’.
    For example take the case of the dependency of Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) for advice from Astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena (SA).
    MR was itching to test his own popularity following the constitution change organised by his sycophants. MR consulted SA about holding an election. The body-language expert SA knew what the answer should be. He did some pretend calculations and said, “Yes SIR”. The confident MR signed the decree for an election (two years early) at the auspicious time (chosen by SA) 1:04pm on 20 November 2014.
    The day of election (chosen by SA) was 08 January 2015.
    Surprise surprise – MR lost!
    As MR made his exit from the official residence, SA had to hand in the keys to a grace-and-favour bungalow in another part of the city. He also lost his limousine, chauffeur and vacated his seat on the board of a state-run bank.
    Later the ‘Never-say-die’ SA famously said “I did not have the heart to tell MR not to”. He added, “The horoscope of the opponent was more powerful”.
    .
    To cut a long story short Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda: Astrology is another Emperor’s new clothes. It is bunkum. No need to wonder as to “What is the time of birth?”

  • 3
    0

    If astrology is good and widely used to determine our daily lives, why are our people unhappy?

  • 2
    0

    Thanks everybody for endorsement. Slightly disappointed that none have come to the defence of the indefensible. I agree with the writer who felt that the greater impact would be among the Sinhala and Tamil readership who are bigger victims of the occult pretenders. Unfortunately, I am not able to write legibly and to use the computer option of the Sinhala script. Would any reader be willing to help? I am still astonished by the uncanny accuracy of the “Nadi Vakyam ” system which is amazing and seems to defy the opinion of disbelievers. But, there has to be some explanation, which I for one cannot fathom. Like experiences are welcome. But excuse me – I have go brush my teeth and dash a coconut if I am to make it to bed at the “auspicious ” time for sleep .

    • 1
      0

      Dr.Pethiyagoda,
      “I am still astonished by the uncanny accuracy of the “Nadi Vakyam ” system which is amazing and seems to defy the opinion of disbelievers.”
      I think you are talking about the ancient (?) and cryptic inscriptions on ola leaves, which are said to contain records for every human alive or dead. It is practically impossible that a pile of ola leaves can contain records for billions of people, but I can tell you my experience with a pair of purpoted “Malayali” soothsayers from India who were doing good business but were embarrassed when I found they were speaking Tamil, not Malayalam!
      I believe they were very good at using loaded questions and body language along with a lot of smoke and incense to make “revelations”.
      But still, it does not claim any clearly disprovable links to planets and such.

    • 3
      0

      Upatissa Pethiyagoda

      “But excuse me – I have go brush my teeth and dash a coconut if I am to make it to bed at the “auspicious ” time for sleep”

      Would smashing an apple, a wood apple or a beli work? Just curious!

    • 3
      0

      I have had some experience of the Nadi Vayam system and it is, as you say, uncannily accurate. It’s interesting that the Buddha condemned Astrology as ‘ a science fit for animals’ but he didn’t say that it was entirely devoid of truth.

  • 3
    0

    Millions in our country will favorably address the problems they encounter , if superstition and astrological occultism is abandoned

  • 1
    0

    From the comments here one may write home that Lankas are sophisticated.
    Far far far from it. Astrology is the topic of discussion after those elite (the rich and the nouveau riche) dinners.
    The identity thirsty Diaspora find solace in Astrology. The Diaspora Astrologers earn a lot. A new version is in the making.

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