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.
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.