Monday, February 04, 2008

Astrology- Science or Not

Written in
Date: Jun 23, 2001

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Before going into the debate of whether Astrology is a Science or not, we must understand what is science? How science is defined....

I have picked up the article from a website which defines science as

A Brief Definition of Science

Science is a process of searching for fundamental and universal principles that govern causes and effects in the universe. The process itself is a method of building, testing, and connecting falsifiable models to describe, explain and predict a shared reality. The method includes hypothesis, repeatable experiments and observations, and new hypothesis. The prime criterion in determining the usefulness of a model is the ease with which the model correctly makes predictions or explains phenomena in the shared reality.

A short explanation of the term "shared reality" is in order. In the film "Harvey" Jimmy Stewart's six foot white rabbit, Harvey, is a reality for Mr. Stewart, and perhaps just as much "truth" as a lighted match, but Harvey is not shared by most of the rest of us, whereas the match can burn us all. Shared reality is a reality that is verifiable by independent observers and whose causes and effects do not change in time or space. Shared reality is a term that helps avoid conflict with some deep seated beliefs outside of science. Everyone may keep his or her non-science truths; these truths will simply not be part of the shared reality, and not part of science.

In addition, it is an important aspect of shared reality that the principle of cause and effect exists and does not change over time and space. If forces cause accelerations today, we must assume that this was so a thousand years ago. The fundamental causes and effects that exist today existed in the past and will exist in the future, allowing us to understand and agree upon past events. If we do not share consistency of cause and effect, then all theories explaining past events will be non-falsifiable, and not a part of the science process.

Science as a process:

Science is not a collection of facts and theories. The process by which we develop theories is science, not the theories themselves. The fact that objects accelerate on earth at 9.8m/s2 is not science. The theory from Newton that predicts objects accelerate at this rate is also not science. The PROCESS used to develop the theory is science.

Theories must be falsifiable:

There must be a way to prove the theory wrong. If we can't prove it wrong, it is not a scientific theory. This idea of a theory being falsifiable is one of the most important aspects of science. The theory, "beyond Earth there is intelligent life in the universe," may be true, but it is not a scientific theory since there is no way to prove it false.

Theories must be able to predict:

All science theories must have some predictive nature. Even if a theory does not in and of itself make predictions, it does have consequences and can be used to make some sort of predictions. Einstein's theory of relativity, which he developed in the early 1900s, predicted changes in the passage of time for objects traveling at extremely high speeds. It was not until much later that some of these "predictions" could be tested. Very accurate clocks were put in airplanes and flown at extremely high speeds. When the planes landed, clocks in the planes were compared with ground clocks. The difference in the times on the clocks were just what was predicted by the theory.

It inspires more confidence when two independent theories confirm one another. Cosmic rays create new particles high in the upper atmosphere. It was noted that according to a theory of radioactive decay, particles should not be observed to hit the surface of the earth because the "half life" was too short. Observations showed that the particles did hit the earth. By using one of Einstein's equations in relativity theory it was shown that time slowed down for the particles traveling toward earth. The theory matched experimental results and both the theory of relativity and the theory of radioactive decay were supported.

Experiments must be repeatable:

It is not acceptable that only one person, or only one group can obtain results that support the theory. Anyone using proper procedures must be able to achieve the same results. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of different "rays" were discovered, including X-rays and Beta rays. A well respected scientist named Blondlot announced he had discovered a new ray, which he called an N-ray. Among other things, people who had been subjected to N-rays could read text that normally could not be read in dim light. The effects were very small and could not be measured with an instrument. In the next few years other scientists reported seeing the same effect, confirming Blondlot's claims. More and more sources of N-rays were found and more effects as well. Most of the positive reports came from France, but some physicists, especially outside France, were skeptical because they could not reproduce the same results.

An American physicist named Wood visited Blondlot's laboratory. One of Blondlot's claims was that lead could stop N-rays. Wood, in assisting Blondlot, moved a piece of lead back and forth across a beam of N-rays while Blondlot reported the results. Blondlot then reported results when he believed the lead was in front of the beam, and not when the lead was actually in front of the beam. Wood reported these results in the journal Nature. Other, more critical experiments followed. Non-reproducible results ended the theory of N-rays as far as the scientific community was concerned, although Blondlot continued his research until his death.

Confidence in Theories:

We have degrees of confidence in theories, sometimes very strong, but none is absolute. The more a theory has been used successfully in the past, and the more it seems to fit in with other theories, the more confidence scientists have in it. There are occasions when evidence seems to indicate a theory is false, but scientists do not abandon the theory immediately. However, if the negative data remain unexplained, the theory must be replaced. For example, scientists had a high degree of confidence in Newton's theory ("law") of gravitation. When Uranus' orbit was seen to be different than predicted by Newton, the theory was abandoned right away. Scientists looked for other explanations for the orbit which would be consistent with Newton's theory. They succeeded in finding the planet Neptune which meant Newton's theory was still viable. If the new planet had not been found scientists would have had to discard or modify Newton's theory. This did happen in the early 1900s when the orbit of Mercury could not be explained in terms of Newton's theory. Newton's theory was then replaced by Einstein's theory of gravitation.

In a like manner, many theories in science have been replaced or modified, such as ones dealing with the structure of the atom.

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My Comments

From the above article we might infer that No Theory is a "absolute theory". All the so called scientific theories are the outcome of series of observations. From these observations when they found some kind of high correlation of occurance of two subsequent events, they tried to infer causation from them i.e., the preceeding event causing the succeeding event. However, can these coorelation can prove with certainity whether the theory about the causation is correct. No, unless they are mathematically verified. But, we must acknowledge that there are some limilations here. While we are subjecting some hypothesis to mathematical rigour, there might be instances when the mathematical proofs are not possible as it might require further advancement of the mathematical principles (something more to be discovered).

But this is something about what we call exact science such as Physics. However, if we take some science such as Biology or physiology, do we subject the theories to similar mathematical rigour....The answer is No. There we try to explain or cause of some disease merely on the basis of statistical probablity. For illustration, when all the doctors found the same germ Plasmodium Vivax in the blood of all the pateints suffering from Malaria, they concluded that Malaria is caused by Plasmodium Vivax. This is an instance of nothing but high coorelation between occurance of two events viz., occurance of malaria and finding of Plasmodium Vivax in the blood of such patients.

Leaving the non-exact science such as Biology and Psychology which are emperical, even the so called exact sciece are vulnarable. Stephen Hawkins, in his book "a brief history of time" mentioned that No theory is absolute. No matter how many times numerous observations proove a theory, a single observation which disproves it, make the theory invalid (The quote of Stephen Hawkins is a bit different. I don't have the book with me now to check it). This happens many times in the physical world. Some past theories couldn't explain some events and henceforth the theory is modified. For illustration Einstein said that nothing in this universe could travel faster than light but, now it is discovered that it does. Again, Einstein's theory of quantum mechanics came into being only beause Newton's theory of mechanics failed to explain some events of time and space. Thus it is only a matter of time. Any theory which seems absolute for the timebeing might get modified with new discoveries and until an unified theory is discovered which could explain all events in the universe.

The only thing which gives some credibility to any theory is the objectivity of the experiments, its reapeatibilty and the most important one, the predictibilty. With objectivity, I mean that the observer is not biased in devising the experiment, with repeatability, I mean that the experiments should give the same results irrespective of who is conducting it. And by experiments, I donot mean, laboratory experiments but collecting samples according statistical principles and analysing them.

What is the use of such theory which doesn't have the predictive validity, i.e., the theory can't predict. There is no use of that theory which could only explain some past events and can't foretell what would happen next, if some event occur under some specific circumstances.

Now the question comes, whether Jyotish is a Science. Leaving aside the hypothesis that planets influence the events in the lifes of Human, which can't be verified, we might see that Jyotish passes all the test of validity of Scientific Theory, namely repeatability and predeictabilty. No matter, who sees the horoscope of an Individual, if there is Sun in the first house in the individual's chart, the observer will say that the person will have problems with eyes. There is no dispute to that.

If physics is a science which can accurately calculate the path of a rocket launched under condition of specific Atmospheric Tempetature, Pressure, Gravity etc., Jyotish is also a science which can also predict that a person having 9th and 10th lord together will have Rajayoga under specific condition that the Lagna is strong and there are no Rajabhanga yoga in the horoscope. However, if the contention is that why Jyotish is not accurate in all the cases. The answer would be that the principles enuntiated by the Maharshis couldn't be understood and interpreted properly and the specific condition under which those ptincliples could be applied are not known. This is similar to Physics in way that, if scientists are launching rocket over the Moon, they can't accurately predict the trajectory unless they know the gravity of the launcing site, the density of air, the temparature, the velocity of air etc.

Thus we see that, the impression about Jyotish that it is not a sceince is nothing but prejudice of so called Rational minded Scientists, who like to comment on something which they don't know.

These are my understanding and you need not subscribe to the same.


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