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I was an astrologer (theguardian.com)
443 points by YeGoblynQueenne 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 407 comments

After all the help she gave all those people, she quit because someone called her a fraud and refused her help?

I think this woman needs to stop and revisit what she was doing. She wasn't a fraud. She was exactly what those people were paying for. For many, it was someone to talk to. For some, it was someone who could look past their biases and clear their minds. For some, it was a magic trick.

Her mistake wasn't the advice, but in not giving it in the accepted way: As mysticism. Tell him to go to the doctor, but have an in-character way of doing it instead of using logic. If they were willing to listen to logic, they wouldn't be there.

I'm sure it's stressful to "lie" to people all the time in this way, but all jobs are stressful in their own ways. And I see nothing in this article to indicate the author has any other options open to them at the moment.

Edited: Replaced "he" with "she". I was mislead by the image at the top and actually had to search for the author's name.

Interestingly, Penn and Teller (although I've never heard Teller talk about it [har har] they seem to be in agreement) look at and talk about this sort of moral quandary a lot in the context of the tradition of magicians. For them, it's not enough to think think that "of course the audience knows" but to be honest from the get go.

Darren Brown did a stage show called "Miracle" (which was fantastic, but a different discussion) where he talks about his experience with faith healers and the like and says at the beginning that, which he doesn't like people getting suckered or lying, the experience is one that people should have, and goes on to spend the rest of the show "in character" as a faith healer.

The movie Leap of Faith also explores this moral dilemma.

I've never been upset at people doing whatever it takes to survive, but I don't think that it excuses you from the ethics of what you do. I definitely wouldn't consider what he did 100% ethical and it's OK to question what you do.

Do address something else:

> I think this guy needs to stop and revisit what he was doing. He wasn't a fraud. He was exactly what those people were paying for.

The cursed man didn't come in to see a magic trick or to be lied to, he came to have his curse lifted. There are many many people, whether ignorant or ill, who do not see this as some sort of entertainment or escapism, but actually how the world works. This is where the morally questionable part comes in. It's like casinos or the lottery: plenty of people go in expecting to "throw their money away" on entertainment, but nothing is done to tell people that it's not wise to expect anything to actually happen, and over-correlation can lead to addiction (and yes, addiction to psychics can and does happen)

It's far more grey than you think.

> although I've never heard Teller talk about it [har har] they seem to be in agreement

He does actually talk in interviews and they are definitely in agreement. He also has a rather soothing radio voice, in a way its a pity he doesn't talk more, although I do feel his performances are stronger because of his silence.

I think I recall seeing him act in Big Bang Theory, acting as Amy's father.

Irrational problems have irrational solutions.

If your child is scared at night because of the monster under their bed, you don't show them that it isn't there. You make a magic stick and give it to the child and tell it that it'll scare away the monster.

For the man that came in and genuinely believed he was cursed, you tell him you have the counter spell.

Penn doesn't just talk about it in the context of magicians. He's mentioned James Randi many times, and has been very forthcoming about his atheism (see https://youtu.be/oKGjHmeKUQs )

I don't like Derren Brown.

I feel he is happy with people leaving his shows believing in psuedo-scientific nonsense, it's just a different brand of nonsense.

I'd be interested in a poll of people leaving his shows being asked if they thought it was a) mostly traditional magic / sleight of hand or b) Psychology, influence, whatever nonsense Brown calls his stuff nowadays.

I might be wrong, but I think most would go with with b)

Derren Brown is in a weird space for me. On stage, he mixes his very heavy skepticism with other claims of pseudoscience, and the two can be a bit muddled. He does always say that what he does is a trick and "honestly dishonest", but obscures how he does it. Off stage, he rails against any thought that things like NLP or subliminal suggestion works, but people might not be aware of that.

I don't doubt that at least a small portion of what he does is very similar to what the author of the article describes, with cold-reading and just a good understanding of people, but there's plenty of traditional stage magic with it. I also don't doubt that he would never go on stage with a trick that couldn't be performed correctly 100% percent of the time.

To me NLP always felt more like mysticism than science.

It's absolutely considered pseudoscience by most people, including Derren Brown himself [0].

[0]: http://derrenbrown.co.uk/claim-claim-2/

Doesn't this kind of argument work for almost every type of fraud though? "The customers were paying for the fraud, not what was advertised."

I think what makes this really tough morally (at least compared to "normal" fraud) is that this fraud can actually help the person being defrauded, and in some cases might be the only way to reasonably help them.

Would a magician then be fraud? They purport to move a card, force a coin, etc, but they do not do those things, they trick you instead.

How about "sports entertainment" like professional wrestling? They purport to provide a sport, but in reality it's a fraudulently scripted drama. Would that be a fraud?

Customers appear happy to buy into many things even with the full knowledge of what it is.

Magicians are entertainers, and it's fake just like all entertainment is, like the movie characters and plots are fake. If you're adult you're expected to know that. It makes it very different from astrology, where people actually believe in it. They're selling people advices as actual educated truths extrapolated from stars by means of science. Astrologists are not less of con-artists than say a person practicing medicine without any medical education or license. They might help one, or two, or ten people by using common sense, but sooner or later they'll cause harm to someone because they're just a bunch of charlatans.

>like the movie characters and plots are fake. If you're adult you're expected to know that. It makes it very different from astrology, where people actually believe in it. They're selling people advices as actual educated truths

Okay, so what about religion then? Would it not be fraudulent using this criteria you've laid out? Or maybe it's less fraudulent since many religions operate under a tithing "donation" scheme instead?

Personally, as someone who does not believe in god, the divine or the supernatural, I do believe that religion is fraudulent and that most believers at this point are indoctrinated. I mean, obviously believers think otherwise and I'm not going to argue with them, everyone has a right to their own beliefs, but I think pushing those beliefs on others, especially children, is immoral (but I also understand that if you believe, then you would believe the opposite: that not doing so is immoral). Its a tricky situation, so I don't try to change anyone's minds.

The difference is in the awareness of the "fraud". A religious teacher truly believes in the existence of god, therefore they're not a fraud.

It seems you need these criteria:

1. The fraud knows they are duping the subject.

2. The subject truly believes the fraud is real.

In the magician example, 2 does not hold.

In the religion example, 1 does not hold.

Of course, there are _some_ frauds in religious circles. But I don't think the average church minister is rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the next donation.

>The difference is in the awareness of the "fraud". A religious teacher truly believes in the existence of god, therefore they're not a fraud.

So as long as the psychic actually believes they are psychic, it's 100% not fraudulent. Got it.

It can't be fraud if your intentions are good, apparently.

> It can't be fraud if your intentions are good, apparently.

I'd love for any lawyer to chime in, but I believe that's the case, yes.

I believe it's similarly not murder if you can prove it wasn't your intent, making it manslaughter or other classifications.

Huge IANAL disclaimer.

Let's say people have religious experiences, where they sense or feel something that's as real to them as what you see in front of your face. I have.

Are they supposed to ignore that, not dig into it, and pretend it didn't happen? That's as irrational as asking you to believe it without such an experience.

I can't speak for other legal systems, but in the United States, fraud is defined as intentional deception. You may view their actions as fraudulent, but without earnest intent to deceive, it doesn't qualify as the crime of fraud.

> So as long as the psychic actually believes they are psychic


The key here is intent. With religion people aren't intending to deceive -- it's what they believe. With astrology psychics know they don't have magical powers.

There's a boat load of generalisations here though so will be plenty of exceptions to what I've said.

edit: it's really weird that there's two comments posted around the same time and making the same point. One comment has several replies agreeing with it where as this one has been downvoted and a comment disagreeing with it. I'm not complaining though, it's just amusing me how erratic this site can sometimes be.

Are you suggesting that no psychic believes what they say, or that no priest questions what they say?

I would strongly push back on both of those assertions, myself.

> Are you suggesting that no psychic believes what they say, or that no priest questions what they say?

My last sentence clearly answers that question:

"There's a boat load of generalisations here though so will be plenty of exceptions to what I've said."

I suggest you read peoples comments in full if you intent to rebuke them.

I think you may need to separate religion from churches/pastors/missionaries/etc here.

There's a kind of ethos in magic and illusion: "being honest about dishonesty". MAny many magicians are very upfront about their "dishonesty" and have a disdain for people who aren't. This is why you see many magicians rail against psychics and faith healers. Yes, they basically do the same thing, but the magicians label themselves as such to be honest about the dishonesty. See Derren Brown's stageshow "Miracle" or the & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour episode about the indian rope trick. It's a pretty big deal in the in the art.

In the magician's case everyone, except maybe small kids, knows that what they see is not real and just the illusion. The entertainment comes from the fact that we don't know how that illusion is done or even if we do know we still admire the mastery. In the case of astrology, cold reading, etc. many sincerely believe that there are some higher forces at work.

I don't agree. Magic works on a lot more people than you're willing to admit, and a lot less people truly believe in psychics than you think.

I also notice you didn't touch professional wrestling, another case where while many know it's fake, many others enjoy it as if it were real.

Or if we want to get political, let's talk about religion and Christian churches. Is it fraudulent to offer a religious service to people who believe it's real?

While I personally don't get the appeal of wrestling, I accept that some people get enjoyment out of it. However beyond losing them some money (tickets, merchandise) the harm in this case is minimal.

For psychics and religion? not so much. People who blindly take what they are told as the truth may make life defining decisions based on the "advice" given. In some cases the outcome may be benign or even positive, but in most cases a real persons action are influenced by statements not grounded in reality. So overall it is valid to call out these "services" as fraudulent IMO.

> Is it fraudulent to offer a religious service to people who believe it's real?

If one knows something is untrue then I'd say it's fraud. After decades growing up in increasingly progressive churches I'd say that secular education is whittling away at all the falsifiable claims.

Conveniently there are scriptures like "don't test the Lord your God." So there are parts that, in their view, can never be disproven. (Of course god can and does test people and violate free will.)

EDIT: fixed incomplete quote

Magic is used to swindle. (Three card monte, I saw the cups and balls on the streets of Paris taking bets). I find that different than paying for a magic show.

When I was a kid we weren’t sure the wrestling was scripted. When people wanted to bet on it. Regulators made it known. People still enjoy it, much like scripted movies and tv.

A good magician won't pretend to have supernatural abilities and instead treat it like any other performance art.


Easier to carry a wallet full of cash than a wallet full of beaver pelts, water, or building supplies.

Felicity who wanted a "hot boyfriend" and studied theater is probably a woman, I think.

Notice how nobody got outraged by the "and studied theater" stereotype? ;-)

at least someone noticed, lol

I missed the "hot boyfriend" entirely and was mislead by the stock image at the top of the article.


BTW gender identity is working the other way around.

If someone identify as a woman regardless of her genitals, then it would be rude not to call her a woman, especially on the internet where she can live her gender fully without the stress of conscious bias like physical clues.

Straight women still outnumber gay men by a lot, so it's still the safe bet.

That's why I just refer to everyone as a chinese male unless they ask me to stop.

In China, that wouldn't be an unreasonable policy.

That's probably something like a ~10% guess--GP's is more in the ballpark of 90%

That doesn't make it safe to assume minorities don't exist.

In this case assuming she's a woman is absolutely more likely than the opposite, but there are many cases where blindly assuming someone is representative for a majority ends up erasing minorities.

That's why I said probably.

> After all the help he gave all those people, he quit because someone called him a fraud and refused his help?

No, she quit because she she realized that the esotheric service industry, of which she was a part, was supporting and reinforcing that man's refusal to get medical help, which is what he urgently needed to prevent him from harming himself and possibly also others.

Someone who can read people that well won't have much trouble finding interesting work, I think.

I find this issue ethically interesting: she lies to people to help them. Or just to entertain them, but when people need something specific, she uses their irrational superstitions to convince them to do something that would be the rational thing to do.

It also touches a bit on the placebo effect: should a doctor be allowed to present a placebo as real medicine because that might enhance the placebo effect, which may still be better than nothing?

> Tell him to go to the doctor, but have an in-character way of doing it instead of using logic. If they were willing to listen to logic, they wouldn't be there.

Actually, I'd say the problem was that she did stay in character. I don't understand why she couldn't just say the truth: "I was just reading about a neurological condition with these exact symptoms. You may have $name, and if you don't get it treated immediately $bad_thing may happen."

I think that was just what tipped the scale, looks like she could not handle selling psychic powers she did not have. You may not see it like it, but this fits many definition of a fraud.

The fact that her clients were delusional does not make it much more ethical.

If I made a business selling cheap plastic Shenzhen baubles as potent magic pendants, would it be a legitimate business just because I find people willing to pay?

Reading between the lines a little, maybe that example summarized multiple similar incidents that built up to a point where this person simply couldn't accept the premeditated context projected onto each session. Never really thought about it that way before, but I can imagine that would get old/draining pretty quick.


This is (100-eps)% of classical psychoanalysis (including the extensive word association, etc.) except for the crucial bit that's transference -- the long term relationship between patient and analyst.

Psychoanalytic theory (at least Lacanian theory, which is what I'm studying at lunch hour) explores a lot of this stuff -- the healing of people by prodding them to heal themselves and maybe grasping a clue here and there.

I wouldn't recommend analysis (or astrology) to anyone in pain, but if you can read French (translations of Lacan are atrocious, and I'm told Freud is even worse) reading seminars I and XV are a great investment of time.

No. She was an untrained individual providing unprofessional and unproven mental health and potentially life changing advice to fragilized people.

That's called charlatanism and has a tremendous potential for causing serious harm on scales we sometimes can't even think of.

Just from the top of my head: South Korea was until recently governed by someone who took official decisions from faeries advices, and Brazilian right wing extremism is fueled by a former astrologer turned political influencer.

There used to be a nice collection of similar stories in this website http://whatstheharm.net/ and while it hasn't been updated in a while, I believe it still serves as a decent repository of examples.

in general people are too fast to drag a hard line between scientific and hogwash, as if wisdom is useless without proof or p-values

This is an discussion I've had plenty of times with my wife (who is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). It's hard to articulate in words, but I will try.

What gets me about astrologists and psychics, is they are preying on peoples innocent stupidity. At best they are reading their clients semi-accurately, at worst they are swindling them.

But in both cases they are not actually helping the client understand what is making them feel this way, and helping down on a path that leads to a healthier self-awareness.

We have a friend who doesn't not believe in psychology, but believes in psychics. She refuses to go back to a psychologist because the psychologist wanted her to actually think on and feel her past traumas, to discover why she has some self destructive tendencies. The psychic she eventually went with and still uses today (costing just as much as the psychologist -- more if you have mental health coverage on your insurance) just told her she sees why she is doing certain things, and to call her if she felt these tendencies coming back (charging her of course).

My wife thinks that so long as it is helping, it isn't necessarily bad. She feels that people shouldn't see psychics or read too much into the movement of planets and stars, but that whats the harm if it makes you feel better.

I feel that the amount of good they could do is way less than the harm they could do. And that the dangers of allowing another person to give you untrained/regulated advise is a terrible path to go down instead of understanding yourself.

> My wife thinks that so long as it is helping, it isn't necessarily bad. She feels that people shouldn't see psychics or read too much into the movement of planets and stars, but that whats the harm if it makes you feel better.

I don't know your wife of course, but I feel that this might be a mischaracterization of the sentiment. Sometimes people's model of reality is incompatible with yours, and since communication requires shared context it is difficult to convey your true meaning in a way that can be readily understood. One solution to this is to build up all the context that person needs to understand what you're saying, but this is slow and because it may require them to destroy and rebuild their fundamental understanding of the world it can cause quite a lot of suffering. An alternative is to reframe what you're saying into terms that are compatible with their current model. Even though the understanding you convey may be less accurate, it is often good enough.

> communication requires shared context

this is pretty grandiose. its beautiful, but if youre trying to help people communicate, "adjust your models of reality" isnt actionable advice.

the core problem you allude to is that communication is built on unexamined assumptions, but this does not require a cosmic realignment to get better at solving. a perfect example of this is trying to make your partner feel loved. if you tell your partner you love them but that doesnt make them feel loved, you are miscommunicating. i am regurgitating the words of "The 5 Love Languages", by Gary Chapman. it is a short, cheap, book that will change your life and upend your cosmos : )


no affiliation, except that i bought and read it and it made me a better person.

I think what was meant by "adjust your models of reality" was simply "show empathy".

Showing empathy is definitely an actionable advice and should be a prerequisite to any attempt at communicating with another human being.

Maybe "show" empathy is not the good term, rather "use" empathy.

> "adjust your models of reality" isnt actionable advice.

It is completely actionable advice. It means simply that you will communicate better if the two parties communicating have more shared context. For each of us, reality is our perspective of it. Finding common ground between our perspectives is the first step in communication, expanding our common ground is the next. Understanding how another person sees the world and how they describe it goes a long way towards making yourself understood by them.

This is a wonderfully succinct way of expressing to my significant other what I've been trying to get across for years. I'm considering printing this out, laminating it, and presenting it to her. We aren't the same race or gender, and while I try incredibly hard to understand her experience, it's slow going, difficult, and emotional.

Truthfully, it would do everyone well to have such a card.

And what if that mental model is fundamentally wrong? I mean, let's not beat around the bush here. Divination (including astrology) is pseudoscience. There's no evidence for any of it. The psychic preys upon vulnerable people seeking advice about problems in their lives. It's all snake oil, only for the mind instead of the body. Sure, some snake oil salesman's elixir might make a sick person feel better (probably because they were full of opium!), but that elixir will do nothing to treat the underlying disease. That's not medicine. That's not counseling. That's deceptive and unethical and immoral by any professional standard.

Pseudoscience is a loaded word and just because something is pseudoscientific does not mean it's wrong.

> And what if that mental model is fundamentally wrong?

All models are fundamentally wrong. That is what is meant by the phrase "the map is not the territory", it is only a matter of degree and scope. Building a better model of reality is a difficult and painful process which manifests as depression [0]. In many cases, it is not worth the added suffering to force someone through this process just to understand what you're telling them.

> The psychic preys upon vulnerable people seeking advice about problems in their lives

One could say the same for therapists. There are quite a lot of bad therapists, trust me. Now, I'm not saying that psychics or astrologers are comparable to therapists in terms of overall efficacy, but if people are inclined to believe in that sort of thing anyway and the advice they get helps them, then fine.

Yes, it is a problem when fraudsters take advantage of people, but that goes for literally any practice including therapists, doctors, and scientists.

[0] This is more of a pet theory based on experience than anything I can back up through study.

This is a false equivalence.

There are good therapists (and doctors, and scientists...). And the vast majority are not fraudsters.

But all psychics are bad at their job, in that they are incapable of doing what they claim to do. Every one of them is a fraudster.

> [0] This is more of a pet theory based on experience than anything I can back up through study.

I read that depression is what the mind/body does when it needs to step back and re-assess the (life) situation, because whatever it's been doing so far obviously isn't working. I wish I could link to it.

However it's important not to generalise on this idea too much. Depression is a mental illness and that means it comes in great variations, including things that are just unique or go past theory. More importantly, it is very possible that the above described process is just a secondary or tertiary factor in the grand picture.

I agree. Many people, especially men like me take a spartan view of this path of self-improvement. The person in question is in denial. Gently assuaging their fears with a slightly inaccurate, yet healthier view of things is more beneficial. When your demons are plain to see like alcoholism, you can frame progress constructively as an upward struggle against it. When your demons are lurking beneath the surface, they cannot be fought upfront. The observer might want to take them 'downstairs' to address the demons, but the affected person themselves might feel like the ground under them is crumbling while they have a noose around their necks.

A.K.A. the concept of “libertarian paternalism” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_(book).

If you know what’s good for someone (presumably in some data-driven/evidence-based objective sense), and your goal is to get them to do it, sometimes the highest-ROI path is to give them an incentive that causes them to want to do the right thing for the “wrong” reasons, i.e. reasons that convince them, but which are either outweighed or entirely contradicted by facts they don’t have, with the “real” reasons being entirely orthogonal to the ones you gave.

In other words, you want to convince them to do something within their existing model, rather than first attempting to expand their model into one compatible with being convinced by the actual reasoning.

A cynic would say that's the kind of reasoning that leads to the whole "I once knew a woman who swallowed a fly..." set of scenarios...

I think this is one of the best comments in communications.

Struggling to make my point through similar scenarios your explanation hit me.

Do you have more resources so I can improve?

If you assume only balanced and benevolent people will do astrology and psychic readings, that's fine. The problem is that if you have a little bit of problem yourself, a bit of delusion, it is easy to bring down the gullible that come to you. People die of preventable disease because they listen to their psychics. An astrologist with a bunch of fervent followers can make a transition into a cult the day he or she wants to make serious money.


it's like saying gambling (or alcohol, or other vice) is just fine. most vices are fine in moderation. the problem is that some people can't moderate, and for those people the harm is quite bad.

the purveyors of such vices are absolutely knowingly taking advantage of these people will low self control. most prominently (but perhaps least acknowledged) in today's attention economy.

I hear what's your saying, but should be that their right? Right to f!#(& up their lives, because they decided it that way.

Psychics don't have the right to defraud other people.

Choices are only choices if they are enlightened. It assumes there is no manipulation on the other end, which in the current case is false.

I tend to agree with you. But the problem exposed here is relevant; Morpheus says (speaking about a fortune teller, probably not coincidentally, that there is big difference between knowing our own path and following it: here there is kind of the same problem. A trained professional is probably more qualified to understand and respond to their patients' problems, but this works only if the patients acknowledge and accept their advices. If they do not, however good, they are lost.

I believe this is an important problem in medicine (not only psychology): there is a good difference between knowing the solution for something, and convincing the patient to abide to that solution. Each of us has their own set of beliefs about where working solutions come from: professionals, the internet, fortune tellers, friends, self help books. If professionals do not have enough strength in this set, they will not work.

I am not saying that fortune tellers are the solution; I am just saying that this problem exists and that the fact that people believe in medicine professionals cannot be taken for granted.

> I believe this is an important problem in medicine (not only psychology): there is a good difference between knowing the solution for something, and convincing the patient to abide to that solution.

The mirror image of this: the patient convincing the doctor that the problem is real and should be taken seriously. This is an absolutely huge problem for all sorts of chronic discomforts and minor mental health issues, or problems experienced by women.

Alternative medicine will always listen to you and take you seriously (so long as you pay them). That can be more helpful than being told there's nothing wrong with you or that you're faking it for attention. Even if the actual treatment is nonsense, the "consultation" is "real".

> This is an absolutely huge problem for all sorts of chronic discomforts and minor mental health issues, or problems experienced by women.

This, absolutely this. My fiance has chronic health issues and she has encountered a few unbelievably condescending and dismissive doctors. Those visits not only didn't help her improve her health, they actually made it worse by greatly increasing her stress levels.

I don't know how conclusive this is but I've read some research that suggests that alternative medicine can have a mildly positive effect on health in some cases. Not because homeopathy or whatever actually works, but because having a caring and empathetic provider listen to your issues can reduce stress.

This isn't meant to promote alternative medicine, but I can get why there is an appeal for some people. The real solution should be getting doctors be less awful to patients, especially women, who have physical symptoms without an easily identifiable cause.

>>" there is a good difference between knowing the solution for something, and convincing the patient to abide to that solution."

This is an absolutely key observation in many facets in life, and I still struggle with it.

Whether presenting an IT solution to client; or something more mundane in real life, knowing or arriving at the "right answer" (let's leave that definition / certainty on aside for moment;) is only part of the battle - and not even necessarily the hardest one, requiring most of one's empathy/cleverness/skills. Making it happen, likely by convincing/persuading all the parties, is frequently the more difficult, and certainly for me the more frustrating, part of the process.

As a (historically) technical geek, I've (historically) been of the narrow minded "Here's the right, demonstrated, supported, proven answer; why are you not following it? I don't understand what's happening..." outlook. I'm getting a bit better in my old age... :->

Gets down too a case of people want to talk and have somebody listen and tell them the obvious that the person talking is so emotionally blind to see that themselves and even when those close to them have already told them that. Case of people need somebody removed from all emotional attachment and to lay it out to them (talk) so that they can point it out over a friend who already knows all the talk just giving the answer to them when their mind is less receptive.

Now to translate that into something comparable to the HN community:

We have rubber ducks ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging ), whilst they don't talk back, they force you to focus and in a way that lets you cut thru the fog and mist and listen to yourself.

With that, people really do talk to their plants and pets and better of for it. But whatever process allows you to cut thru the brain fog of whatever form, run with that.

However, I do not recommend pulling out a plastic duck upon public transport and talking to it, as society is just not advanced enough to handle. But we all have a dream.

[EDIT - ADD reference URL]

Rubber ducks don't charge $50+/hr though.

They aren't quacks!

I agree with you. My spouse and I foster. We see the effects of trauma day in and day out; both in the children and their bio parents. People cannot get the help they need from a psychic. The trauma has rewired their brains and they need to learn tools to cope with that. A psychic won't teach them any of those coping tools. A psychic is a cigarette to a drug addict. It's another addiction that takes the edge off.

Now a Therapist can also be that cigarette.

The anxiety I used to feel when I or my therapist was going away and wouldn't see each other for a couple weeks to a month was harder to deal with than I thought it would be.

But we worked through that. A therapist is a cigarette that tries to get you to quit.

My wife says that her ultimate goal is to no longer be needed by a couple so she can move on to another.

A good therapist. We also have therapists that exist to maximize billable hours, and build whole theories of practice around it, like 40hr/week ABA therapy.

There's also shitty therapists who don't know what they are doing and so shame their clients to hide their incompetence. As per Sturgeon's law[1] these therapists outnumber the good ones.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law

> My wife thinks that so long as it is helping, it isn't necessarily bad.

I'd say that's absolutely the scientific, empirical approach!

Sounds like these psychics serve as a low key religion for these people. As a pretty hardline atheists, I have over the years had to admit that religion really works at giving many people hope and sanity.

We may even, as humans, be hardwired to require religion in our lives. I sometimes miss that I can't have that in my life, because I can see reality as it is...

> I'd say that's absolutely the scientific, empirical approach!

Not at all.

The scientific approach would involve a sample size greater than one, double-blind studies, and at least one control group. All of which you obviously can't do for studying an individual. However, not being able to do those things does not suddenly make this approach scientific nor empirical.

More importantly, it's very difficult to tell whether it's actually helping. It may be helping her in the short-term, but could be severely hurting her in the long-term [0].

As OP stated, they are not empowering the friend with tools to fix their own problem. Instead, they are clearly trying to promote this learned helplessness and dependence [1]. Sadly enough, it sounds like external dependence is the very problem the friend is trying to solve.

Basically, they are substituting the friend's problem with a different problem in the short-term, which will likely compound with the original problem in the long-term.

Yes, religions can help, but that's not guaranteed like a lot of religions would have you believe [2]. This scenario is a perfect example.

[0]: Give a man a fish, etc. [1]: I realize psychologists are incentivized to do this as well, but a) I'm talking about in this particular case, and b) that's at least the intent behind the laws and regulations for having a medical license. [2]: Including atheism.

Read what you're responding to carefully:

> so long as it is helping, it isn't necessarily bad

So it's about what you should think about this activity, IF it is actually helping.

OP thinks it should be avoided even if it's helping.

I'm arguing for the opposite.

You're arguing about something different: Does it actually work? This is an entirely separate question that I don't have much of an opinion on.

I would take issue with your (seeming) claim that you need a multi million dollar lab that does full scale double blind tests of every claim to have a scientific outlook.

That's an unfortunate "all or nothing" world view. Most of the great science in history was done without that, and a rational person can make empirical observation in everyday life without such a huge apparatus, and gain a lot from it.

Placebos work even if you know it's a placebo. If a person believes religion/psychics/chiropractic/homeopathy helps them in some way, it probably does. Even if they know those things are bunk.

A couple of times, when I've been too stressed out, a doctor has prescribed me diazepam.

The funny thing about it, is when I take a diazepam tablet, I instantly start to feel better, even though I realise from a pharmacological viewpoint the diazepam could not yet have been absorbed by my stomach and travelled through my blood to reach my brain yet.

Placebo effect happens even for therapies that actually really work.

Absolutely. I'm not saying that it can't help or that it isn't helping in the short-term. I'm saying that the long-term net effect could still be negative even with short-term positive effects.

The original implication is that short-term positive -> long-term positive, which is simply not true.

Placebos don't work at all. They're inert. Some people just get better on their own, which is lucky for them but not the basis of a treatment plan.

It appears you have outdated information on this topic. Here a reference:


> We may even, as humans, be hardwired to require religion in our lives.

I don't think that's exactly it, but this isn't the first time I've heard this.

Humans' (and other animals) brains are hardwired to find patterns in things. It's a survival instinct. Alice and Bob ate that mushroom and then died. That's a pattern, and I will now avoid that mushroom.

The bad part is this is so hardwired that we can see patterns in things that do not exist (animals in clouds, jesus in toast, etc) and this can occasionally be problematic for us. A few people got murdered on a full moon, and now everybody thinks that's a pattern. I think religion stems from the same thing. People really want to attribute things to patterns to make sense of the world, or otherwise explain that which is currently impossible for them to explain in an effort to feel safe.

At some level, yeah, it won't hurt much if it helps certain people get out of bed in the morning. And many religions do play a social role (which could easily be replaced, but nevermind that). However, that path leads to stagnation. If that's what they desire, then OK, but as a member of our race, I sure am glad some people don't settle for that and instead seek to know more about themselves and reality. That's when growth, both personal and for all humankind, can happen.

The placebo effect is amazing. It even works if you know it's a placebo! That's why I still take a ton of vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on and it seems to prevent it most of the time. While I haven't tried it, I'm sure something like prayer could have beneficial effects in Atheists as well for that reason.

Not sure what to make of this statement. Believe what you want (good for you if it seems to work), but it sounds a bit like you're overstating the impact of the placebo effect.

a) It works best, when doctors take their time to prescribe it, even if you know it's a placebo. There are studies about two groups where one receives a placebo and the other a placebo and a 10 minute talk. The latter had better outcomes.

b) The placebo effect works best, if used with symptoms of pain. This is the most-studied use-case for placebos. With a virus infection like a cold, not so much. See c)

c) Supplements like vitamin C generally speaking don't seem to really help when a cold is coming. As long as you have a healthy diet, supplements aren't required and don't really have a positive effect on your health. Maybe some stuff makes you feel slightly better, but it doesn't make the infection go away.

d) Not every cold breaks out. Sleeping helps a lot.

@tstrimple, that's not what that study says at all. Vitamin C supplementation _doesn't_ help. From the "Main Results" section of https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23440782:

No consistent effect of vitamin C was seen on the duration or severity of colds in the therapeutic trials.

Followed by: Nevertheless, given the consistent effect of vitamin C on the duration and severity of colds in the regular supplementation studies, and the low cost and safety, it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them.

Absolutely; witness the number of people who don't participate in organized religion but have some kind of ad-hoc personal practice. Or, better, notice how many people (I'm one) continue to entertain small superstitions or borderline-magical habits even while, if asked, they'll say they know they're ridiculous.

Sure, as long as you don't confusing praying with being proactive.

Rubber-ducking can be proactive though. And does it really differ if you're talking out your program to a rubber duck or if you're talking out your other challenges to something "else"? I would say they're pretty well matched.

That's not scientific, and especially not empirical, /by definition/ - it's pragmatism, with a very vague metric of what is 'helping'.

> because I can see reality as it is

It might be best to think long and hard before saying something like that... we humans are not great at observing or recording unfiltered reality.

I'm in two minds about this.

1: Yeah, and fixing that is what science is for!

2: Oh, I'm quite aware that as a human I'm a big "bias machine", and I wrote that a bit tongue-in-cheek.

I think you are referring to our brains' inability and incapacity to perceive reality, right on. But recognizing a smaller illusion (religion) within the larger one (the reality) is still seeing part of reality as it is.

It's like those people selling Firefox on Amazon for $50.

Yeah Firefox is worth $50 if you have to pay for it, but it's still scummy for a third party to sell it like that.

> Sounds like these psychics serve as a low key religion for these people.

I think that's a reasonable comparison, and I think both should be judged on the same basis- by the overall impact.

Psychics may be good for some people. Psychologist and social workers should also be (and are) prepared to help people without immediately forcing them to examine their traumas, but mistakes will happen and people may be pushed away by it. Even if psychics are inferior to psychologists as treatment, having a second line to catch people who got pushed away may also have value.

A lot of people, imo the large majority, of people who go to psychics are not doing something that will improve their lives. I'm 100% positive there are tons of people out there who would be helped by psychologists if they had not first been sucked into psychic woo and/or glued to that belief. If psychics are harming more people than they help, or doing larger harm than the benefit they provide, it has a negative impact on the collective public and should be pushed against.

And just so I don't sound vaguely like a moralizing authoritarian, I'm just talking in terms of like, public health projects. PSAs and outreach etc. I am of the opinion that it does get to a dangerous level (eg cults) that should be dealt with at a legal level, but some level of deception and grift must (unfortunately) be protected as natural freedoms.

I think we are less hardwired for religion than we are for the community of like-mindedness that inherently comes along with the religion.

I also miss that community I used to have at my subtly racist, across the street from the Grand Master of the KKK Baptist church. Hated the hate, loved the love.

I think you are splitting hairs a bit, but even so, religions keep getting reinvented all over the planet for millennia so far, which suggests it's an inbuilt tendency.

It's more like therapy. And if it's an "honest" astrologer, who simply charges an clearly-posted hourly rate, and doesn't keep asking for more and more money to remove curses, is there really any harm?

Yes, there's harm. The astrologer is defrauding the client who thinks they're getting something other than entertainment.

> My wife thinks that so long as it is helping, it isn't necessarily bad.

The black and white categorization serves to justify it's continued use, add to the fact, "feeling better" isn't a result of tackling deep-rooted issues in this instance but getting a fix. You can "feel better" after eating ice cream but your problems are still there. Taking a hit of pleasantries and affirmations might as well be free. She doesn't appreciate the fact that a therapist could be far better for real change.

I think the issue is that not seeing a psychic doesn't mean one will see a therapist.

As far as i'm aware, there's no proof in the world that suggests that astrology and religion are not completely interchangeable in this respect... Especially the part where "they are praying on peoples innocent stupidity".

It's really frustrating how some people can go from completely rational on something like astrology, to completely irrational when it comes to religion, when they are basically the same thing.

I beg to differ. Astrologers think that some planetary constructions yield some kind of personality traits. This should be easy to test! So Mars is associated with strong sports/soldier skills: then prove it! Same for Gemini and abstract thinking skills. Maybe I'm off with my understanding of astrology, but my idea is always that they cannot prove what they claim should be provable.

Now lets consider a proof for God's existence. Do most religions claim to have such proof in hard terms? I don't think so. The say it's a belief, a faith.

Not saying that the two not have many things in common, but I also see a strong contrast.

> Do most religions claim to have such proof in hard terms?

Do most people into astrology claim to have scientific proof in hard terms?

I know a lot of people casually (and some pretty seriously) into astrology, none of them claim that. It doesn't stop them from believing it. They just aren't thinking in a scientific mindset at all. They use confirmation bias to prove it to themselves anecdotally, and many also have a deep irrational distrust of science that has really not been thought through.

So I think holding astrology people to scientific standards is just as meaningless as holding religious people to scientific standards. And plenty of religious claims are eminently testable: the earth was created in 7 days, some holy book is the literal word of god and not written or even tampered with by humans, some religion is the one true path and all others are evil, etc. These things admit themselves to clear debunking scientifically and/or rationally.

To be both religious and scientific means retreating your religious beliefs to all but the most abstract and untestable ideas, something like "god is the universe itself" or other such ultra-generalizations that leave no trace of casual claim of interference with material reality. And the vast majority of religious people on earth do not do that.

Interestingly, star sign can be shown to correlate with some life outcomes. For example, here's a chart that shows that players in qualifying teams for certain youth soccer tourmanents are over twice as likely to be Aquarius than they are to be Sagittarius: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Month_of_birth_distributi.... They phrase it a bit differently though. (half-joking, but: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_age_effect).

It was tested back in the 70's and there was no correlation between what "expert" astrologers predicted and the results of more commonly accepted psychological tests.

Carl Sagan mentions this in his writings and on the Cosmos TV show.


Religions make testable claims as well, mostly with respect to events in the past and in the future.

Yes, however people who are not willing to do the test, simply call sour grapes.

For e.g., suppose you make a claim "strawberry tastes sweet", and I have never eaten strawberry before, I'll say "can you prove it?". You'll say "Sure, here just take a bite, and you'll know for yourself". And I respond "Nah, I don't want to do that. Can you still prove it? The burden of proof is on you".

No, the burden of proof doesn't always rest on the person making the claim. Once he outlines the method to verify it, his job is done. The burden of verifying the proof now rests on the skeptic.

Are you saying that religion offers proof and skeptics just don't want to verify it? For example?


There is a way to remember your past lives, if you do a certain penance for 12 years - not impossible, not complex, very simple, but very hard - do not utter a lie for 12 years consecutively. There are no loopholes - if you are born dumb, or lose the ability to speak, that doesn't count. you must be able and willing to speak, but still not utter a lie.

Do it for 12 years without a single break continuously, and on year 13 day 1, you can remember your previous births. Some have done it (hence the claim), but not many in the western 'modern scientific' world care to verify it, and just pooh-pooh it. Of course, it's not a loss for those who made the claim. Whoever wants it can go after it.

I'm interested to see an example of a claim made by religion that can be experimentally reproduced.

>As far as i'm aware, there's no proof in the world that suggests that astrology and religion are not completely interchangeable in this respect... Especially the part where "they are praying on peoples innocent stupidity".

Well, religion has been studied for evolutionary advantages.

And of course religion has shaped and sustained whole civilizations, arts, philosophy, etc, in ways which astrology did not, and in many ways that people still identify as beneficial.

> And of course religion has shaped and sustained whole civilizations, arts, philosophy, etc, in ways which astrology did not

Many religions that have shaped civilizations were heavily based on divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of celestial objects (i.e., astrology). Multiple Rome emperors had court astrologers, for example.

>Multiple Rome emperors had court astrologers, for example.

Yes, but not of the major religions are about that -- Christianity, Bhudaism, Jewism, Islam, etc.

Nor where the religions like the ancient Greek, Egyptian etc that did contain such rituals, predominantly about those.

So we can quite easily consider astrology as something either separate or a very small subset of any religion that shaped civilization...

Yes, it has evolutionary advantages, just like placebos have advantages. Again, not so different from astrology. Depends on how gullible the believer is. And how much force the religious institutions use to enforce the correct behavior of the supposed believers (and now for something completely different... ;-).

>Yes, it has evolutionary advantages, just like placebos have advantages

The simile being that the various reglious Gods are also not real?

That's irrelevant, because religion, as a human practice, and the actions, practices, decisions taken based on them are actually existing and actually modifying the world. So that would be more like a placebo that made you do X (e.g. go on a diet) and you see effects from that. In that case, it's not a placebo anymore.

A placebo works whether you like it or not that’s the beauty about placebos

> It's really frustrating how some people can go from completely rational on something like astrology, to completely irrational when it comes to religion, when they are basically the same thing.

Or perhaps consider the possibility that it's a shortcoming of your understanding.

How do you choose to order your life? It's not a scientific question.

Where's the shortcoming? When someone talks about astrology as b.s. because, hey, we have science to show as much, then they go and talk about virgin births and resurrections and holy books that are pure revelation of the word of god, etc, they're being hypocritical in so far as appealing to science as a guiding principle in the search for truth.

No, it's a philosophical one. But religion is more than philosophy.

> I feel that the amount of good they could do is way less than the harm they could do. And that the dangers of allowing another person to give you untrained/regulated advise is a terrible path to go down instead of understanding yourself.

I know a couple that is very involved in their church, and took it upon themselves to provide marriage counseling to members of the congregation. The couple has no background, training or certification for the "counseling" they provide.

I feel exactly the same way about the couple in my anecdote as you do psychics.

The problem with "psychics" is ultimately a more general problem about access to help, especially the field of psychological help.

The help anyone could do is entirely dependent on the ability of the person to get access to the help. For example, suppose that person A has problem C. Person B has solution D. Now, even if solution D is the perfect solution, one must figure out the access path to that solution.

In this case, the problem is how to create a process whereby person A is most likely to get to the appropriate solution. My guess is that for the most part people will prioritize a) trust in the solution provider b) ease of access and c) cost, not necessarily in that order. There probably is some bias towards an easy solution (e.g. take this pill) as opposed to a complex solution (e.g. get a B.S. in computer science).

It could be that a phone psychic, simply by being immediately available and inexpensive, could provide a better throughput of low level psychological issues than the higher barrier to entry of the traditional psychiatric industry.

The fact that someone self-describes as a "psychic" is in some ways just another form of marketing, one with a certain target demographic. Admittedly, this demographic might hypothetically be better served by a different set of solution providers (in the same ways that the demographic most keen on faith healers might be better served by licensed physicians), but it's not clear that they would go to them for all of the reasons mentioned above.

All in all, this is one of these areas that is extremely difficult to judge, both because of the difficulty in evaluation solutions to psychological issues and all of the cost and marketing issues.

> but that whats the harm if it makes you feel better.

Compulsive shopping: works for some. It's not the final solution, but it may make you feel better. And some will profit from it.

The same applies to astrology.

My wife was applying to be a licensed clinician in a remote town back in March (Alamosa, Colorado).

One of the interview questions was, "What is a self-care ritual you currently have that would be made more difficult by moving here?" Its slightly morphed version of a common interview question in mental health around self-care.

Her answer was simple, and had an immediate echo from the other clinicians. "Target"

If you don't know Alamosa, Colorado, it is a decent sized town that is about 2.5 hours from civilization. It has a new Walmart Super Center and a Tractor Supply, but that is about it until you get to pueblo for a Target (2.5 hours away), or Colorado Springs (3.5 hours away).

All of the clinicians said their favorite part of the yearly meeting in Denver was going to Target.

The same applies to heroin as well. Deception is deception, no matter how you twist and turn it.

No, the same doesn't apply, as heroin will also cause harm to your body, whereas the other examples (shop therapy for example) don't necessarily cause harm.

Not to mention heroin being illegal...

You need a better example to refute the parent's example

I feel the same way about religion in general. It doesn't seem any different. I find that it causes way more harm to society and peoples minds than any good it does.

Religious upbringing or being indoctrinated into not thinking for yourself as a child is probably a likely reason people turn to things such as psychics.

> Religious upbringing or being indoctrinated into not thinking for yourself

This is a pretty strange claim to me. I definitely agree there are some religious strands that are anti-intellectual. But then there are Augustine, Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, John Owen, etc., whose works most people are simply incapable of grasping, and fewer still can equal. Many of us are trained with these intellectual giants to show us not what, but how, to think.

Are you aware of these great thinkers and their contributions to your thought life?

To pick a random example among many, our concept of personhood relies heavily on a theologian named Turtullian, before whom person (Latin, "persona") merely meant an actor's mask (i.e, the role one plays). Tertullian explored the enduring "substance" of a person, regardless of what role they play in life -- concepts we now assume as a given, but were hotly contested at the time.

People are still intelligent creatures after all. It doesn't surprise me that eventually over hundreds or thousands of years people managed to have some critical thoughts.

Agree, but your previous claim was stronger than that -- that religious upbringing causes people not to think for themselves, which isn't an accurate claim. Critically, in the example I used, Tertullian's expression of personhood was explicitly counter-cultural, i.e., only something an independent thinker would come up with.

I think it can really come down to: Some people want to take the red pill, and some people want to take the blue pill. Why should it matter to you what pill they decide to take? Most of this world lives in some sort of lie or deceit anyway, similar to those in the Matrix.

Your privilege is having a choice because you see above it. Many people don't have that privilege and can't function at that level. I have more than a few friends that can't see past their own emotional trauma and they are now approaching their 40s and some in their 50s. Does it matter if they see the world a different way than us, and in a way that makes them happier?

As long as they are happy than the alternative, does it matter?

I understand your point but only putting trust in regulated/trained professionals sounds like a really simple answer.

Friends are untrained but can provide great advice because they understand the person and can see repeated patterns.

Believing in the power of planet movements can affect our lives is a religion not a science. Would you tell that person not to believe in God because based on science we can't prove they exist? Do you consider that harmful because they are basically the same thing?

As my wife's therapist has on her cards, "You can talk to me when you can't talk to your friends."

Friends are great to talk to, but they are only as good at helping as we are at being completely open with them. There are things I'd tell my therapist LONG before I'd tell any friend.

As for religion, I believe it is a mixed bag. It can be used for good and evil. But most people are religious for the community more than the religion. When I used to go to church regularly, I went to see people, talk to people, feel loved by strangers. Know that if something bad happened, people in my community would help. Do I believe in God, a god, or gods? Probably? Maybe? No? Yes? I dont know, and day to day that changes. Day to day, passing kindness to neighbors and strangers doesn't change.

> Friends are untrained but can provide great advice because they understand the person and can see repeated patterns.

But your friends see you often; an astrologer sees you when you call her up and pay up. And they only see what you tell them; your friends get to observe you and see those patterns.

> Would you tell that person not to believe in God because based on science we can't prove they exist? Do you consider that harmful because they are basically the same thing?

If you're having serious emotional issues, and your priest's solution is to tell you to pray harder, then yeah, I'd tell them to consider that maybe their religion isn't helping and maybe actively harming.

My friends tell me to stop seeing my astrologer. My astrogoler tells me to stop seeing my friends. It's a hard problem.

"praying on" You could mean "preying" but I've realised that either could work.

Is there a term for a malapropism that still makes sense?

I believe the term is 'eggcorn'


Thanks and fixed. But like you said, it could work either way.

I’m surprised. Half the time I hear “fake it till you make it, it doesn’t matter that you have doubts, you just have to be confident, and that will inspire others and clear the necessary roadblocks”.

But psychics are like, the manifestation of that mentality in its purest form, and it feels like doublespeak to turn around and say, “hey, that’s not 100% rigorous, don’t sell naive randos on it!”

Maybe "fake it till you make it" is substantially different from "fake it till someone else hopefully makes it".

Let's say you are already behaving a little like the software developer you aspire to be. In case you hit a wall you put in evening time to read up, try harder, in order to keep up your appearance. This is what I mean by "fake it till you make it".

In case you are an astrologer or psychic, you pretend to know what's going on with your "patient", you pretend that you can help them with issues. If this is not working out you cannot (as I understand it) put in more of your time to get on top of things. This is the difference I think.

Because mental health is medicine too. "Fake it til you make it" where you will cause minimal harm to others.

If I sell myself as the best Asp.Net developer in the world, and get hired to build a DotNetNuke eCommerce Site. Will my client kill themselves because I accidentally broke their website? Likely not.

A psychic could lead a person down a terrible path pretty easily, though.

A psychologist is trained, required, and regularly retested on their ability to spot potential troubling behaviors and report them.

> And that the dangers of allowing another person to give you untrained/regulated advise is a terrible path to go down instead of understanding yourself.

I’d allow for untrained/regulated advice from family or friends, although this is considering you know these people and trust that some of them will give decent advice.

i feel the same way about therapists too..

Licensed therapists have to conform to a recognized standard in ethics and methods around psychotherapy. There are then different types of specialties/theories that build atop that base framework.

Psychology (like medicine and computer-science) is an ever evolving science. Just 50 years ago, we would try to shock the depression out of you - and it worked for a short period of time.

We haven't reached the final say in how the mind works, or who we are, and we probably never will, but every year we get closer.

Electroconvulsive therapy is still in use on patients that do not react to other treatments. Patients are anesthetized and the doses have been lowered today though.


It's always be a very effective method for some mental health issues. It's just dangerous (it affects more than what you are targeting), and should always be a last resort (which it is now).

In the past it was the first or second answer to a LOT of illnesses from the made up (hysteria - read: horny wife and inexplicable weight gain) to the legitimate (depression, hyperactivity, bipolar disorders).

Well I think fortunetelling was some primitive form of therapy. When I was in my teens I've got really into that stuff and it is actually written in tarot books, that the intent of the whole thing should be listening and helping people. There are few discourses in therapy and not all of them focus on facing past trauma, that doesn't mean they are bad because of that (CBT for example).

You have a point with giving untrained/unregulated advice, but when I think about it something seems odd. Like when you ask your friends, close ones, they aren't therapist, their advice isn't regulated and even they may have bad intentions. Talking to other people about your problems at all, no matter who they are seems helpful.

I haven't thought about this before - however someone having someone - anyone - they trust and feel comfortable talking to when they feel the need is better than having no one, no?

I tend to agree with your wife. Whatever works! It's probably more dependent of the competence of the psychologist vs the competence of the psychic. The way I see it, is that's two sides of the same coin.

The psychologist would be the "do no harm" side, the psychic would be "try to cure" side.

The psychologist will assign you to a box. The psychic will let you float around.

The psychologist is convinced he isn't a crook. The psychic is not convinced he is a crook.

The thing is once any system is complex enough, it's quite hard to know what impact it may have. Many ways can be good, and some ways are definitely bad. Only when the two sides are balanced, is the path illuminated.

Even worse are the mediums because they are creating a false memory of a loved one.

>What gets me about astrologists and psychics, is they are praying on peoples innocent stupidity. At best they are reading their clients semi-accurately, at worst they are swindling them.

So like any other business these days, and considerably better than Facebook?

>I feel that the amount of good they could do is way less than the harm they could do. And that the dangers of allowing another person to give you untrained/regulated advise is a terrible path to go down instead of understanding yourself.

It's not like we have these things (personal life advice, mental health, etc), sorted out, and some "expert" can come and give solid advice because they studied the subject at university.

If anything experts in those fields are as much quacks as the astrologists, but with extra state power to boot.

Some of the worst advice has been given by doctors and specialists -- all the way to forced lobotomies and electric shock treatment.

If anything, the regular psycic (not a full on con-man) would be more careful with their advice/interventions, because they don't want to rock the boat too much, and knowing their trick, they don't have a "god complex" like many experts develop.

Heck, those "experts" are on the top of professionals committing suicide themselves, and on the top of professionals with mental issues:

"A high suicide rate among psychiatrists (58 to 65/100,000 compared with that of the general population, 11/100,000) has been reported by the following: Freeman, Blachly et al, DeSole et al, and Pond"

> "A high suicide rate among psychiatrists

What is vicarious trauma, and why might it relate to psychiatrists?

Did you think I was suggesting that such experts were somehow more prone to such issues regardless of their profession (e.g. by their nurture or DNA)?

My whole point is that people with vicarious trauma shouldn't be guiding others on how to deal with traumas or stressful situations, and as if they we have this "trauma" thing sorted out and their trained pros that know how to overcome it...

One shouldn't forget that some practices that appear pseudo-scientific from today's point of view made sense historically:

"It made perfect sense for ancient man to believe in astrology. The influence of sun and moon on earthly affairs is obvious. Likewise the stars can be seen as influential by their association with the seasons. Heavenly bodies are the prototype of self-motion, which is a property also possessed by beings with a soul as opposed to inanimate objects. This leads to the idea of the soul being a "piece of the heavens" and thereby to personal horoscope astrology. The heavenly bodies are associated with personality traits in a manner that have a straightforward justification in terms of objective astronomical properties of these bodies."


I disagree. You're not an ocean, so looking at the tides and assuming that the moon has a similar influence on you is an unjustified jump of logic. Then, when you start inventing specific effects for the moon to have, you're clearly in the realm of fiction because you know full well you didn't get the ideas you're writing down from observation.

I have heard before the argument that "being rational wasn't invented until the 1930s, so you can't call anyone before then irrational," but everybody knows intuitively that the truth is something they see or something they infer from what they see, and a lie is something they make up in their own heads.

They knew for a fact, without any shadow of a doubt that certain activities on earth are synchronised with activity in the heavens. This does include human, animals and plants. Human women have periods roughly synchronised with the movements of the moon, animals and plants have reproductive cycles synchronised with the seasons and movements of the sun and stars. These are facts. Priests and philosophers used astronomical knowledge to predict changes in the seasons, weather, the flooding of the Nile, to navigate at sea, so they had an extensive skills set in this area.

Given that there are known synchronisations, it therefore follows there are likely to be unknown synchronisations, so the logical step is to start looking for them. Unfortunately we know that if you start looking for patterns in phenomena that aren't correlated, human beings have a proclivity to find them anyway. People back then did not know this, and did not have the conceptual tools to critically analyse evidence to the extent that we do.

One example of such an inference is, "heart = courage, courage = lion, lion = yellow, yellow = sun, sun = sunflower, therefore heart medicine = sunflower seeds." However, even by the standards of the day, that last link could just as well have been "heart-stopping poison = sunflower seeds." Alchemical tomes were not all consistent with each other, they disagreed which is what you would expect if there was a large fictional component to their makeup. People of all cultures knew better than to make up fiction and tell it to people as if it were true, however in those times it was not as easy to stop that from happening as it is today. (And it is not easy even today!)

All it takes is plausibility to make the leap palatable to a large number of people. In the modern day, an equivalent would be economics.

There are pundits in remote villages in India, who can predict the exact timing of eclipses based just on a old almanac written thousands of years ago, with absolutely no modern scientific equipment (telescope) or knowledge (Galileo/Newton/Keppler). Indians have been doing astronomy and astrology (Yes, planetary positions do both indicate and affect your personality) for millenia. They still do it when matching horoscopes for marriage.

What you hear about 'astrology' in Western world, is just a half-baked misunderstood version. It's like CSI doing a science episode saying 'enhance', and hoping things work out.

> "being rational wasn't invented until the 1930s

Rationality -- which is to say reason and logic, was already formalized over 2000 years ago, by Aristotle and other greek philosophers. It wasn't reason that the ancients lacked, but empiricism as embodied in the scientific method -- although even that was used to some degree by people such as Galen and Aristotle.

Reason alone can take you down deep rabbit holes, because it's heavily dependent on what you take as postulates, and without empirical measurements, it's difficult to figure out where to start the chain of reasoning from.

It took a long time to standardize measurements and record keeping to the point where people could do accurate experiments that could prove theories that people had developed through reason.

For example -- the ancient greeks had already developed the idea of atoms! [0] But they had no chance of proving that atoms existed, so it was one theory among many. What ended up becoming the general accepted theory of matter was hylomorphism [1]. They lacked physical and intellectual tools that they would have needed to be able to distinguish the two theories through experiment, similar to the status of string theory today. Some religious ideas that seem absurd today -- for example the catholic belief that bread is literally transformed into the body of christ -- were justified by the belief in hylomorphism. In the case of transubstantiation, the church claimed that while the accidental properties of the bread, the form of the bread were unchanged, the underlying substance of the bread was completely different -- in the same way that for example a petrified tree was transubstianted from wood to stone, while many of the accidental properties and the form where unchanged.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomism [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hylomorphism

Jump of logic for us. Not for people in the past. This is called a "vertical" (or magic) world view where things with similar properties are believed to be connected. Examples:

1. The moon is influencing the ocean? -> It will also influence humans

2. Those berries are red? Blood is red, too -> Those berries are good for your blood.

3. This planet is moving fast (Mercure)? -> Mercure is connected to things moving/changing fast (mercury, travellers,...)

(Example 2 is still practiced in traditional Chinese medicine today)

There's a difference between assuming that similar properties are connected because they appear similar on the surface, and rationally connecting similar properties because they are caused by the same physics.

Modern thinkers will ask "Why/how does the moon influence the ocean", and expect that "how" to apply to other things, not the "what". Modern science has convenient answers like "F = G x m1 x m2 / r^2", you apply that and expect the moon to exert 2.7 x 10^-3 Newtons of force on a person, not to generically lift and lower something about their mental or medical state.

The critical question to me, though, is what a person does when presented with a question to which they don't have a "how" available to answer it.

Presented with a piece of equipment that uses sensor technology or algorithms they don't understand, or a street performer that uses slight-of-hand tricks they can't catch, do they assume it is just 'magic' and extrapolate its effects to things that might not be achievable based on the actual mechanism behind the demonstration? For example, one might expect a voice recognition app that can detect someone saying "Hey Google" to also understand "Excuse me, Google" and natural language processing, or expect a street performer who knows what card is going to be flipped over to know other things that will happen in the future. Another might observe that "Hey Google" causes the device to respond, and either ask questions about how that works until they learn about microphones, digital signal processing, and hidden Markov models - and eventually about natural language processing, and might expect the street performer to simply have performed a card trick with a normal means of knowing what card would be turned up (looking at the card at some point in the past).

I honestly don't know what you or I would do in the past. With so few effective concepts of basic physics, chemistry, or medicine, not knowing the mechanism and requiring hundreds of years of scientific observations to discover it leaves "assume it's magic and extrapolate" as the only viable world view.

> it leaves "assume it's magic and extrapolate" as the only viable world view.

Yeah, and, to be fair to people in the past, the assumption that similar things are connected often works well in practice. If you already know what a tiger is and you see a lion for the first time, your assumption that "things with large teeth are dangerous" will save your life. You are not starting to write a paper about the taxonomy of mammals in that situation :)

The assumption wasn't that similar things had similar properties, it was that similar things had sympathetic connections where one could affect another. In your example, that would be the belief that lion bites could be treated with tiger fur because both lions and tigers looked like big cats.

I like example 2, because it's also an example of my point. Why good? Even if you accept that it's related to blood, it could be bad for blood. There's no way to convert analogical reasoning into specific ideas about what is good or bad without making stuff up.

> Why good?

Who knows? We would need a time machine to know that. I could imagine several reasons:

- Because it works sometimes (coincidence or not)

- Because believing to understand what is going on around you gives you an illusion of savety in a dangerous world

- Because it gives you power over people (if you are the king/emperor/village doctor/priest)

- Because it is embedded in a religious/philosophical context that might have advantages beyond that specific case

> There's no way to convert analogical reasoning into specific ideas about what is good or bad without making stuff up

I am pretty sure that traditional Chinese medicine has developed some complex theories that explain why some red berries are good for your blood and others not.

Edit: Ah, I understand your comment better now. You say that this kind of reasoning does not help you to predict whether a red berry that you see for the first time is good or bad, right? Well, I think you are right :) We are talking here about world views, not scientific theories.

Ancient Chinese culture as well as 1600s European culture shared enough of our norms related to truth that they would have judged astrologists as violators, if they had realized what astrologers were doing. A civilization whose norms do not distinguish between false and true testimonies cannot have a functioning court system, but those cultures clearly did. Any system that has a concept of punishment must have along with it a norm against making up a story and telling it to people as if it were true (recall that horrible period after the French revolution for an example of what happens when you have punishment but nothing preventing false testimonies). Observations and inferences were just as important to them as they are to us.

Now, there is an interesting possibility that I don't know of any examples of, but could have happened. Suppose a primitive tribe with no norms against lying developed a bunch of superstitions due to the wild stories people were telling. Later, the tribe develops those norms after they get tired of punishing clearly innocent people, but by then a bunch of true believers are spreading the superstition. In that case the false beliefs have been "smuggled past the norms boundary." But, again, I am not aware of any people group that doesn't have a norm against false testimonies.

People have obvious tendency for apophenia, seeing patterns and cause of action, even when there is no scientific connection between two, I call it intuition. Many argue it's part of evolution. If our ancestor interpreted noise in jungle as a danger he was more likely to survive. This behavior evolved and thanks to it we are able to discover many things unfortunately it also leads us to false conclusions like thinking that red berries are good for blood and psychics exists.

You're making a classic blunder: assuming that ancient people were stupid. They knew less than we do, so it is easy to look back with 20/20 hindsight and say "but the answer is so obvious!" because you already know the answer. They were still deriving that answer. Put in the same time, with the same level of knowledge, it is likely you would think the same way they did.

>You're not an ocean, so looking at the tides and assuming that the moon has a similar influence on you is an unjustified jump of logic.

When you have nothing else, your options are to make assumptions or do nothing. In general those who made assumptions sometimes get them right and eventually lead to progress that gives way to science. Those who do nothing remain frozen in their development.

These days, with the understanding the average kid has when they graduate high school, it is an unreasonable assumption. But we are talking a far far different sort of society when these assumptions were being made.

>When you have nothing else, your options are to make assumptions or do nothing.

Even in ancient cultures, "do nothing" (as in, don't make stuff up just because you don't know the answer) was pretty clearly the right option. If your bread goes missing while you're away, do you randomly pick a person and then accost them with full confidence that they stole it?

The 1930s were one of the most irrational times on record, with Stalin and Hitler being heroes for most of the world.

Anyway, if rationality was ever invented, it was a few hundred years earlier with the scientific revolution.

_"...appear pseudo-scientific from today's point of view..."_ implies, at the very least, that it is in any way scientific. And that is a HUGE problem, for it is distorting the definitions. It _is_ a big deal, because once you start skewing eroding definitions, the very foundation of human communication & coordination is compromised.

Definition of word "scientific", according to meriam-webster[1] is : "of, relating to, or exhibiting the methods or principles of science"

So, call it fun or interesting. Say it makes people feel better. Point out it makes life easier to live for some. But it is not, from any point of view, scientific. Because it fails to comply with the scientific principles. Mental mechanisms that produce and amplify superstition is well understood.

There's but one reason why superstition/religion want to hide under, integrate or identify with the scientific framework, while science is sharply separating itself: science works, therefore is powerful, while other has no effect beyond placebo.

1: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scientific

The concepts never made sense, they simply had far less good alternatives in the past.

Ok, but consider the following: do you feel that current scientific knowledge includes things that we know not to make sense, but we just accept them because we have no better alternatives?

If the answer is no, this should give you pause. A thought experiment. Consider the alternatives:

(a) that we finally removed all irrationality from our understanding of reality, and you happen to be living in this golden age, while the centuries and millennia extending before you were dominated by irrationality;

(b) that it is very hard to spot irrational beliefs when you are immersed in the culture that produces them.

Which one do you figure is more probable?

Define "not make sense". Does the first law of thermodynamics "make sense"? Should it ever be proven wrong, would you have considered us irrational for "believing" in it?

Sorting beliefs into "rational" and "irrational" is a bit too black and white imo. We have (scientific) models. We can support (but not prove), question or disprove them by applying the scientific method. There are beliefs/theories/models of varying popularity in our current scientific knowledge that are wrong but that we haven't disproven yet.

You might differentiate between "we're looking for ways to disprove them" (i.e. being scientific) versus "we apply confirmation bias" (i.e. being superstitious) to distinguish rational and irrational beliefs. But my point is that there is a third option that is missing in your list:

(c) we are suspicious of them (because they don't make sense?) but haven't yet come up with a way to put them to the test.

(c) we have a much better understanding of the world than we have ever had before (though we still have a long way to go, and may never reach a full understanding)

IMO it's mostly (c) but with a hearty helping of (b) on the side.

> It dawned on me that my readings were a co-creation

I think this is a key point that rational people and skeptics don't get. Pseudosciences and pseudotherapies don't work because they produce accurate results, they work because of the tremendous effort that believers put in them to make them work.

IMHO, skeptics could help believers much more if they instilled in them some common sense and safeguards to avoid the worst crooks and dangerous therapies ("buy as many Bach flowers as you wish, it's your money - just don't abandon your chemotherapy") rather than try to appeal to their rational sense ("don't you realize how ridiculous it is? It could never work!"). At least in personal interactions, it is more likely that the former will gradually succeed in educating them than the latter.

Not to mention that since the placebo effect is so real, it can be unethical to explain that to someone. When my mother was going through chemo and radiation and started buying healing crystals as well, I supported her beliefs in that (she was also doing all the doc recommended stuff).

It has occurred to me that pseudo-scientific beliefs "work" for believers, just not in the way that scientists think of a system that works ("I can make repeatable predictions") but in a social and emotional way ("it makes me feel good"). That's a reason why it's so hard to get people away from them.

Those from the skeptical community who I read and listen to (mostly from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, https://www.theskepticsguide.org/) are quite aware of this idea.

Its not a revelation to say insulting people's intelligence with skeptical incredulity is a bad strategy to win them over. Same with climate for instance, shaming people isn't likely to convince them of climate science.

Former fortune teller here. I used to sit on the sidewalk and read the I Ching to anyone who asked me to, pay-what-you-want. No one ever called me a fraud, but I still quit. A couple folks were just trying to have fun tossing pennies at a smelly book, but the vast supermajority of them were feeling highly anxious because they needed reassurance that their future plans would work out. What if my kids come to America to live with me? What if I divorce my husband? What if I quit my job? I feel sad and guilty about answering those questions by tossing coins around because I think I could have helped them more if we had cut the magic and just talked honestly about what was going on with them.

But they almost surely wouldn't have liked you to do that (to cut the magic and talk honestly). That's why people go to clairvoyants. We're all embarrassingly expert at self-delusion.

It's easier to believe something as the truth when you think you're hearing it from 'the universe' rather than a random stranger.

You were functioning as a random number generator to help them make an accurate analysis unburdened by the rigidity of the morose perspective that had led them to you in the first place.

> I heard these stories so often I could often guess what the problem was the moment someone walked in.

> "You sounded happier when you said ‘photography’,” I said. My psychic teacher was right – the signals we pick up before conscious awareness kicks in can be accurate and valuable.

These are valuable skills.

"You sounded happier when you said ‘photography’”

See also "Clever Hans"[0], the horse answering questions correctly because it picked up the subconscious reactions of the observer.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans

Or neural nets trained to detect cancers from patient photographs, that end up learning "if the patient has a ruler next to them, then they have cancer"

Reminds me of Orson Welles story about cold reading.


> A student there mentioned she wasn’t sure what to specialize in – photography, graphic design or maybe industrial design?

It was also the first element in the list. Humans tend to sort by preference, often subconsciously.

That's how they make you believe, by using basic human patterns/behaviours, they don't read stars/cards/palms, they read you and make you believe they know more about you than yourself, which can be helpful in some ways if you never self reflect.

We do sort but it can be hard to know the order, if you ask whether they eat their favorite food first or last it can give you a valuable clue as to how they sort

Reading people's emotions, face, body language, and getting them to give you money for it...its a sales job like any other. I'm sure car salesmen would make decent astrologers if they threw on some shawls and golden bracelets.

Agreed. Listening and observing strangers carefully is a tremendous skill. Here's an experiment worth doing at Y Combinator: give some, but not all, your teams of entrepreneurs some active-listening practice sessions. Then observe the outcomes. Hypothesis: the companies with the active-listening training will do better sooner.

It's called "cold reading"[0] and the "Barnum effect."[1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_reading

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnum_effect

Being an Indian citizen and especially from the southern state of Kerala, it's tough to not believe in astrology. It's considered a science in ancient times and a significant energy was spent on perfecting the art/science. For e.g. refer to Kerala school of mathematics, which had done some pretty significant work before Calculus was discovered in Europe and that period most of the mathematicians were also astronomers as well as astrologers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala_School_of_Astronomy_and....

My own uncle is an Astrologer and sometimes he makes pretty accurate predictions. He is a retired professor and he does it for a hobby and not for monetary reasons. I don't have a scientific explanation for how it works, but would love to apply some statistics/ML learning with reliable public data available on well known persons whose time and date of birth is published and find a scientific correlation, if at all it exists.

Well, speaking strictly logically: If they were both astronomers and astrologers, and their astronomy was sound, it does not mean that their astrology was, too. Many great scientists of the past were religious, and yet that is no proof of god.

It's just hard for me to see how astrology could work. Either the movement of the stars affects the fate of individual humans everywhere, in a weird semantic connection ("Mars, the bringer of war" and so on), or people seek out astrologers to confirm whatever they need confirmed (Confirmation bias). This just seems massively more likely and doesn't clash with anything in the scientific framework. Astrology simply plays into all the biases everyone is affected by, so I don't mean to belittle anyone who believes or practices it, but it can't be called a science in any sense of the word.

Speaking logically you also can’t discredit any logic behind it as well, just like one wouldn’t be able to discredit a religion. To know that human behavior is not affected by the stars requires an understanding of the human mind not yet attained

It's not too difficult to test the accuracy under more rigorous conditions.

Make sure you record the predictions ahead of time.

Decide ahead of time what would need to happen in order to consider the predictions 'accurate.'

Wait, and then record which ones turned out to meet their 'accurate' criteria.

Deciding ahead of time what would be considered accurate or not is key, because otherwise practically anything can be justified with post-hoc reasoning.

The other thing that happens is that the predictions are not very specific.

Here is an example. Taken from a horoscope for me today: "The answer will be right there waiting for you."

There is no indication what the question is. Just that there is an answer. What's the utility of this? Well there are millions of ways this "prediction" can come true. The chances of something happening any day that fits that criteria is high, and I think most days I'm dealing with an answer to something. So this prediction is meaningless.

Here are some levels of specificity:

You are going to have a misunderstanding with a friend today.

You are going to have a misunderstanding with your closest friend today.

You are going to have a misunderstanding about food with your closest friend today.

You are going to have a misunderstanding about peanuts with your closest friend today.

You are accidentally going to give peanuts to your closest friend today, who will have an allergic reaction. Keep an epi-pen near.

I think it's pretty clear that astrology will never deliver a prediction at the level of that last statement, which also happens to be the most falsifiable and most useful.

Everything about astrology is really a tool to try to shift your perspective. This can be very useful, which it why it maintains it's popularity. But it has nothing to do with actually telling the future.

I dressed up as a fortune-teller at a Halloween party in a house I shared with a few people. It was a fairly big party, 40-50 people. As a joke, I set up a little booth under a sheet and started telling fortunes.

People went wild for it. Many of them knew it was me (slightly drunk) and they still sort of believed me. People waited in line for 15-20 minutes. I told people mostly jokey things that were positive. I started getting adventurous and told people random things - if they didn't like what I said they were genuinely sad. What surprised me the most was that people would take anything seriously from a tipsy fortune-teller beneath a sheet.

I saw the same sort of effect a few years ago when I was running some IRC bots. In addition to the usual dice, 8ball, etc. one of them would respond to queries with a random aphorism from a list I put together from Googling "wise quotes" and such.

It was a big hit, and kind of spooky to watch when people got responses that sounded relevant to their question. People joked that my perl script was being influenced by the spirits. In the end I concluded that you can read deep meaning into almost anything if you work hard enough.

It seems like Terry Pratchett was on to something with "headology"

Pratchett was on to something with the entire Discworld and other stuff besides.

Every time I hear of a new, promising cure for Alzheimer's I go a little happy and a little sad, because I think that, if he had held a bit longer, maybe...

But then, none of those cures ever work out in the end so I'm just left with the sad. Sad that I never got the chance to see him up close and shake him by the hand.

Thanks for introducing me to Terry Pratchett!

That's a great article.

I read astrology charts for a hobby, though I am skilled enough to do it professionally. I rarely read in person, and tend to read it from just the chart, via the internet (so very little telegraphing from voice tone and body language). One of the things that turn me off to reading for people in general are some of those things that the author brought up:

- People have a limited range of issues: relationships, career advice. They need counseling, not an astrology reading.

- The kind of readings I do or would like to do have little to do with what the person wants

- There are actually multiple ways to read charts. For example, two popular house systems, Placidus, and Whole Sign House can give different apparent results. Some people get really mad when charts are read with a different house systems.

- There was at least once when I used the wrong chart for someone's reading, and they seemed to relate to that reading.

Having said that, there are enough unusual things that came out of the experience. I don't think it is completely worthless.

I don't use the method the person described -- sympathetic magic, or word association. Nor do I base my astrology on the popular notion, that astrology is a science. It most certainly is not a science. I don't see it as a celestial clockwork that mechanistically produces results that are predictable (I have pissed off astrology enthusiasts who think that way).

Instead, my view of astrology is a map for Consciousness (the idea that mind did not emerge from the mind, but rather, matter solidified from mind), and it is something I think many (but not not all) psychonauts can relate to. For those who are exploring things that way, it can be valuable map.

Co-creation isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

Astrology has stuck around for 2,500 years is because it is a robust language developed over millennia to capture the complexity of being human. Your ego, your communication style, your love language, your instinct for action – each have their own, often contradictory, flavor.

You can use this language to walk into a room and say, ’I’m going through my Saturn return. I’m reckoning with restrictions and limits and boundaries right now.” It’s humanizing, and tender. You can start a conversation, “Why did we get into that insane fight and why did you shut down? Is it because you’re a Capricorn Mars?”

People don’t use astrology to predict the future. People use it to explain and create the present.

BTW ---> We’re probably who she’s subtweeting. And we’re hiring. https://www.costarastrology.com/jobs

> You can use this language to walk into a room and say, ’I’m going through my Saturn return. I’m reckoning with restrictions and limits and boundaries right now.”

I wouldn't recommend doing that as anyone who is logic and science based will immediately cease to take you seriously. We have so much more information on how the universe works now than we did 2,500 years ago and there's nothing to suggest that astrology is anything other completely false.

People used to believe that leeches could bleed out toxins, thankfully we've evolved our knowledge models since then. Let's not go back.

> anyone who is logic and science based will immediately cease ...

Why be so rigid ? I am a scientist. I would be happy to listen to someone talk about their "saturn return", etc. etc. if that helps them convey meaning.

True, but this is more of a socializing thing, isn't it? If someone I care at least a bit about says something dumb, I listen to them to figure out if they have a real concern they're not expressing correctly.

"Saturn return" is the technical term for when Saturn returns to the same place in the sky that it was when you were born. Very curiously, this happens on a regular basis – just about every 30 years.

Yes, but that has nothing to do with human behavior.

Arguably it does - if someone tells me they are going through their Saturn return, I know two things about them (going off banuguler's information):

- they are around 30 years old

- they feel like they are dealing with restrictions and limits in their life

Together I can make an informed guess that they're more likely to be worried about, say, starting a family, or their career options narrowing, than a randomly selected member of the population would be.

Similarly, if someone tells me that shark attacks are up lately, I will predict that ice cream sales are also up (via the proxy of beach attendance). You may find tricks like this unimpressive, but it's a step above "nothing to do with".

I grew up with a whole bunch of books on astrology (among other nuage subjects) that belonged to my mother and I used to be quite fluent in this "language" you talk about, as a kid.

My impression, already since grade school, was that astrology did its level best to flatter you and stroke your ego, even when it supposedly discussed your "negative" traits which were always presented as if they were actually positive. For instance, I remember Scorpio's vicious vindictiveness (my mother is a Scorpio) and bloody-mindedness first noted as being the Scorpio's downfall (from a soaring eagle to a crawling lizard) but then discussed as a strength, a powerful weapon at the Scorpio's disposal that everyone should take care not to provoke. Far from making it sound like vindictiveness is a bad thing, it made Scorpio sound like a total badass (well, my mother is badass so I was kind of convinced).

The other thing I noticed was that it didn't matter if you were a Scorpio, or a Leo, or a Virgo, or a Libra. I could open any random page on one of my mother's astrology books, discussing any one of the 12 signs and find a passage that I felt described me absolutely. That is, I noticed that the descriptions of the signs' personalities had absolutely no predictive value whatsoever. Anyone could have any of the traits that were described as being characteristic of their sign, or their ascendant, but also any of the traits ascribed to every other sign.

So at least in the books that I've read (and I apologise that I don't remember their titles but that was a while ago) astrology was basically a well-thought out system for flattering people and filling them with empty platitudes.

Astrology is one of the three Hermetic sciences. Hermeticism won - today, we live in the Hermetic world of Newton where natural laws hold universally, certum et verissimum. In winning, it shed its skin and rebranded, leaving its earlier trappings behind to be worn by ideological losers.

If your astrology company isn't hiring Hermetic sorcerers, but rather new-age writers and "engineers", it's more or less SEO blog spam.

If you "really need engineers", why hire only locally?

In general, we think the point of tech is to get off tech and be together IRL. Same thing when we're thinking about features to build. Want to walk the walk, etc.

How is "I'm going through my Saturn return. I’m reckoning with restrictions and limits and boundaries right now." humanizing and tender? It doesn't read that way to me. It's off-putting and impersonal to start talking about random unrelated planets instead of the actual human issues that someone is dealing with.

Astrology is a means of emotional regulation and the reestablishment of a sense of control over an otherwise chaotic world. All worldviews, whether they celebrate themselves for their rigor or not, serves this function in addition to whatever other outputs they do or do not produce. In my personal experience women are more often the ones utilizing astrology, which means not that they are being duped as many of the comments here patronizingly say, but rather that astrology is solving a particular problem that women have adapted it to solve.

That there are scams that make use of the symbols of astrology hardly separates it from the company of any other worldview.

> My friend’s imagination had done all the work.

Sounds a lot like how professional economics or entrepreneurship works

An activity based on intuition or heuristics is going to get fuzzy on the edges. The saving grace of entrepreneurship is that truly good ideas will succeed in a market and the ones based on faulty logic will not. There isn't a similar market function for peoples' internal psychology.

If by "truly good" you mean makes money, that's a tautology. If by "truly good" you mean materially improves lives entrepreneurship hasn't panned out.

The Management Myth, haha.

The town where I went to primary school in somewhat rural South Africa had, for quite a few years, a stand/shack smack in the middle of the town and on the side of the main road (if it can be called that). The shack had a big sign: "ANASTROLOGER HEALER". [1]

I am not sure whether the anastrologer healer misjudged the space on the sign or what, but kudos to them for remembering the a/an rule for English.

[1] It could also have been "ANASTROGIST HEALER" but I forget now.

I have heard of a bias where people will try to justify paying a lot of money for something by thinking that it's better. The $50 price tag probably made the spooky predictions appear to work better.

The price tag probably also helps to discourage repeating too soon. Few things puncture the illusion of meaningfulness around a tarot reading, I Ching divination, etc. like rerolling until you get the answer you want.

For a more contemporary – and informed – view of Astrology, please read “The Passion of the Western Mind” and “Cosmos and Psyche” (important: you must read in that order), by Richard Tarnas.

>The range of problems faced by people who can afford $50 for fortune telling turned out to be limited: troubles with romance, troubles at work, trouble mustering the courage for a much-needed change.

I'm not ready to say fortune telling is good, but I'm not ready to say it's bad if it's helping people make changes they need to make.

Source: me, who's working on making some big changes in my life. (No fortune tellers involved.)

This is just a story for entertainment purposes. It's all true though.

I seriously practiced astrology between the ages of 12 to 16. Specifically from this book [1].

How did I start believing in it?

My dad believed in it and went to an Indian astrologer and the guy gave me a reading and got my character spot on. Because of that, I became really enthusiastic. However, since I knew that my family let me down before when it came to matters of knowledge, I decided to do my best to quickly debunk it as fast as possible.

I got into palmistry and numerology. It took me 4 years to debunk.

The reason it took 4 years: well with palmistry, it's tough to know where to start. Furthermore, life events play out on a life scale, so the instant feedback is zero. At the time, I eventually ruled it out by association, a very weak argument indeed. Nowadays, I rule it out by logic, but I still can't empirically rule it out (not that I care).

Numerology was actually doable and that took me 4 years. It took so long because there's an insidiuous effect going on. With most numbers (check the source [1]), the descriptions are relatively positive and when you're capable of always giving quite a positive reading, then people tend to agree with you! In fact, a psychologist tested this on a 100 college students. He wrote the same positive personality description for all of them and got 4 out of 5 stars! While I couldn't find the source of that, I could find the source on something very similar [2].

Eventually I noticed that numerology had an accuracy of 50%, I reasoned that's basically a coin flip's worth of chance (remember, I was 16, I didn't understand what base rate meant) and if numerology would be true, I'd expect a 95% accuracy. Also, in hindsight there were some very strong indicators of it being bullshit. I used the system to pick my friends this way for a while and that didn't go too well (not too bad either).

I've wasted a lot of time on it and I'm sad that this is the stuff I spent my time on, and that this is the stuff my dad found important. When I'll be a dad, I'll teach my kids about math, music and the world. I'll teach them about numerology and palmistry as a cautionary tail and how to distinguish true knowledge (math) from nonsense such as astrology (in a scientific sense, I agree that it's useful for simply talking, etc.).

The irony is, whenever I give readings to people (once per year on average), they tend to become almost immediate converts despite me saying it's bullshit. That's something to think about. Even more ironic is that ever since that period in my life, I behave as my birth date would stipulate. Since whatever you believe in -- between the ages of 12 and 16 -- stays forever with you.

(Obviously, there's a good explanation for that and it doesn't involve planets. It definitely involves the effects of a self-fulfilling prophecy)

[1] https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.70770

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnum_effect

I'll teach them about the true, true nature of truth, about logic and evidence, and about facts and information. I'll also teach them that they should be skeptical, and that they need to learn to differentiate truth from falsehood. I don't know exactly what I'll teach my kids. I'll probably teach them to trust, and to not believe everything they are told or do. I'm just not sure which lessons I will teach.

What I do know

What happened to the man who yelled fraud? Don't leave us hanging! :-)

Passed away.

I feel 100% sure that the movement/patterns of the planets, the sun, moon and other celestial objects have a significant effect on who we are and how we feel. BUT, I am also pretty sure that most people claiming to understand what is going on are lying.

"Astrology" is real, "astrologists" are charlatans.

"Third variable problem"

That is, the movement of the stars is predictable...as are a number of other things in life. That's not to say the stars are in control. This is classic correlation != causation.

For instance, we know that the amount of natural light a person has has a pronounced effect on how they feel. So it's fair to say that when (insert astrological statement here, somethingorother is ascendant, referencing winter, when there is less daylight), you will be prone to being more depressed.

This, obviously, has an effect, but to just shrug and say "it's the heavens!" is both unscientific, and unhelpful (since you can treat it by getting increased light of a given wavelength. You can't treat "state of the universe")

I think your point about 'Third variable problem' is a steelman interpretation of my statements, and a better path to explore.

I expect a degree of mockery for your comment but it's not as if the diurnal cycle doesn't have a massive effect! The lunar cycle too - and that mechanism isn't understood. Humans do go crazy around the full moon[1].

But, like, Mercury? Have you got any ideas about possible mechanisms?


What you feel is irrelevant to how the universe works. Just because you "feel" something doesn't mean it's true. The gravitational effect of remote celestial objects is insignificant on something the scale of a human.

Maybe it does make it true, maybe that is why I feel this way.

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