Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reaching for the stars


A former student of mine who is a diehard supporter of the BJP and its radicalism wrote on Facebook: “So some of the political parties in my country has (sic) a stern view that 'Astrology' is no science.”  I don’t know if the political parties in India have really stern views about anything, let alone astrology.  Isn’t politics, particularly the kind one finds in India, all about opportunism?  Even the BJP, my student’s own party, would have made all kinds of flip-flops had it not won the absolute majority in the Lok Sabha elections, hugging strange bedfellows and cooking up a bizarre coalition.  The drama that unfolded in Maharashtra after the Assembly elections is a mild indicator of the nature of politics in India.

The stars in the heavens do not alter their positions a bit while such dramas unfold all over the world. 

Do the stars affect our lives in any significant way?  When the Earl of Kent said in Shakespeare’s King Lear, “It’s the stars, / The stars above us, govern our conditions,” did he really mean that the stars determine our destiny?  Or was he expressing his pathetic inability to understand why evil strikes down good people?  Maybe, he was plunging desperately into escapism due to wretched helplessness.  Earlier in the play, another character (Edmund, “the bastard son” of the Earl of Gloster) says, “This is the excellent foppery (foolishness) of the world: that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if they were villains by necessity.”

I go with Edmund.  Astrology is not science but a good means of throwing our guilt, inability or sheer mistakes on to some other entity.  The stars are a good place to throw them since they are far enough to do anything about our shamelessly irresponsible acts. 

Science follows rigorous rules.  It can prove what it claims.  It can prove it anywhere, anytime, under the stipulated conditions.  Astrology cannot do that.  Hence it is not science.  QED.  My logic is as simple as that.

That does not mean astrology should be thrown lock, stock and barrel into the garbage bin.  Science is essentially an attitude of openness.  Science is the relentless quest for truth.  As such, science can research into the claimed impact of the stars and the planets on human lives or whatever.  I support research, inquiry and quest for truth.  But I sternly oppose unwarranted assertions of truth. 

Everything in the universe is interconnected.  There are laws that govern the positions and movements of the planets and other heavenly bodies.  The laws connect the heavenly bodies to one another.  The bodies attract one another with forces beyond our earthly imaginations.  The oceans on the earth respond to the pull of the moon, for example.  Lovers too do, it seems.  There’s much connection between the moon and romance in poetry, at least.  But poetry is not science!  When I was a boy I used to hear my villagers speaking about the relationship between the full moon and the mating season of the cattle.  That’s not poetry, I guess because the villagers had empirical evidence.

There are many things that science may not have understood yet.  That’s a limitation of science.  But that is also the strength of science, I know.  Astrology lacks that strength.  Hence it is not science.

But I’m a greater lover of literature than science.  Hence I admire the stars and the poetry they communicate.  I can hear the music of the heavenly spheres if I care to stand quietly in the right place.  The stars and the spheres can alter my feelings and attitudes.  To that extent, astrology is valid for me.  But is that the astrology that the BJP will include in the curriculum it is proposing?

Scientist Carl Sagan said in his book Cosmos, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”  There is science and poetry in the utterance.  The first sentence is science.  The second is poetry.  I love both.  Where does astrology lie?

10 comments:

  1. I agree with your take on Political parties. They are same and as a person who has seen politics very closely, I would say your student doesn't know what goes behind the scenes. Anyway!

    I am confused about stars/destiny. Sometimes I think it is there, other times, I feel you create it. I enjoyed your post, specially the part where you have brought various characters from literature and reviewed their words.

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    1. The student is young and hence idealistic. I can understand that.

      Destiny is karma, as a commenter says below. Our thoughts and deeds determine our destiny. Luck plays a role too. That's my experience and knowledge about this.

      Thanks for the appreciation.

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  2. "I don’t know if the political parties in India have really stern views about anything, let alone astrology." ... I second this. Our politicians are adept in changing their stance quickly on issues that are able to fulfil their vested interest or of no use anymore... but when it comes to astrology I don't believe in stars but I believe in destiny and our Karma is our destiny. Poetry, sometimes, is escapism. Perhaps that's the reason why poetry and literature could so easily relate to astrology. I love the way you present your thoughts. Thank you for a thought provoking post. :)

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    1. I agree with you the Karma concept. I too believe in it.

      I don't see poetry as escapism. It's sublimation. I write poetry when frustrated and it gives me release from the negative emotions which I might otherwise take out on my family members or colleagues or students. So it does play an important role in my life. It's a creative way of diverting undesirable energy within us.

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  3. I am fine with Astrology as long as it do not command s our lives and actions (rather inactions) its good to read even study as a science... not a s religious book. There's difference between astrological science and superstition .... So basically I agree with your - " I support research, inquiry and quest for truth. But I sternly oppose unwarranted assertions of truth. "
    And yes I too love the stars , the moon and the poetry :)
    enjoyed the post !

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    1. Kokila, I'm not sure there something called astrological science. That would be astronomy then. Astrology is a set of conjectures, I think.

      But the moon and the stars do play a lot of role in our lives if we are poetic :)

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  4. I neither believe nor disbelieve astrology. I cannot deny I have intense curiosity to know that I am aware is beyond my reach, like what is going to happen to me in future. Astrology fill that gap, even if it may be false. So does a placebo in anti cancer drug clinical trial.

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    1. Placebo. I accept it, Abhijit. I have seen it so much in my life that I have to accept it. My Principal in the college where I taught for a brief period of my life was the best placebo in my life.

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  5. Don't know whether it can be called a science..I think not.. but most of us,me too, do believe it at some points of life...I think it's because of the fact that we always have an irresistible attraction to know the future...the unknown..

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    1. Does astrology help to know the future really? There are people whose lives are ruined by it in the name of being Manglik and so on!

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