Astrology as Data Science


Is there a code hidden in the tree of life? Can the movement of the stars or where they were when we were born tell us something about ourselves and our future? Humans like matching patterns. Astrology tries to match the universe’s patterns.

I listened to a program about searching for order in the universe and one interview was with data scientist Alexander Boxer. In his book, A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for Our Destiny in Data, he looks at the history and “science” of astrology.  He argues that astrology is humanity’s first attempt to predict the future with algorithms. 

Algorithms – which we now associate with computers – are a set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations.

Is there any science in astrology?  Boxer looks at classical texts on astrology and especially at the underlying scientific and mathematical framework. Astrology is a very ambitious applied mathematics problem. It is a huge data-analysis project to which scientists from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler contributed data. And there are rules. Algorithms.

astrolabe for calculating the position of the stars

The early astrologers used complex astronomical calculations. On his website, Boxer has several calculators including one where you can plug in a date and time (such as your birth) and find where the planets and Moon were located. He does it in his book for dates such as Caesar’s assassination as viewed from Rome, and the Apollo 11 lunar landing as seen from the surface of the Moon. Why? To test these horoscopes using modern data sets and statistical science.

Is Boxer out to prove or disprove that astrology is legitimate science? That’s not the point. It is intellectual history. It is more about the technology the ancients developed for tapping into astrology’s “predictive powers.” Astrology has an effect on our lives today not because the stars affect us or can predict the future but because it is part of our scientific and cultural history.

PISCES Top and bottom illustrations, via Wikimedia Commons, are hand-colored zodiac constellations from Uranographia Britannica, 1748, The atlas relied on the work of Dr. John Bevis, a London physician who had devoted a year to recording the nightly transits of stars from his observatory in Stoke Newington.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

2 thoughts on “Astrology as Data Science”

  1. I know your personal fascination with astrology goes back to a girl you knew in college. I believe you have written about her and your introduction to astrology. I met a girl, also, in college who introduced me to the stars, but in a different way. On an early autumn night, alone in VanCortland Park, she taught me the power of constellations and storytelling and the magical power of the two to cast a spell on the imagination, and the spell of love.. However,you do seem to come back to the subject of astrology a lot. Looking for an answer The? The last piece seems like you are offering an “intellectual” reason for coming back to the topic. So, what are you stuck on the girl or the astrology? Both? Lol.


    1. I love the stars. I can fall into the night sky and I almost feel infinity and also how finite our lives are too.
      My astrology girl is long gone but she did send me on several explorations.
      Am I looking for answers? Aren’t we all?


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