I am something of a contradiction: a logical creative. On the one hand, I am a scientist — I crave data and evidence-based theories. On the other, I am a speculative fiction writer who loves being swept away by magical prose and unbelievable lands. I have always found the distinction between logic and creativity to be strange, because I do not see these things as mutually exclusive. There is art in data analysis, and sometimes an excel spreadsheet is the only way to save your fictional narrative.
Perhaps there is a darker explanation, one that hurts my cold analytical heart… maybe my astrological sign is to blame. You guessed it, I’m a Gemini. The sign is represented by the twins. Therefore, Gemini’s are known for their dual nature. I’m open to the idea of star signs — the human experience is a confusing one, and I think anything that provides clarity or understanding has value. However, I also believe a subject that makes claims about something as important as life itself must be receptive to criticism. The problem is that astrology is difficult to test because of its vague nature. And the Gemini sign is the hardest of all to debunk because the twins are always there to argue back.
Gemini-enhanced confirmation bias
In psychology, there is a well-known phenomenon called confirmation bias. It refers to a human tendency to seek information that confirms our prior beliefs and avoid/ignore the information that doesn’t fit. For example, we tend to consume media and news from platforms that align with our political and personal values, instead of seeking out a variety of contradictory sources.
Confirmation bias is rife in astrology. But if you’re a Gemini, you have a metaphorical twin ready to discard any contradictory information.
For example, Gemini’s are also known for being social butterflies. Well, I think to myself, I’m shy and prefer to spend time on my own, so this is clear evidence against my star sign.
‘Not so fast,’ says the other twin. ‘I’ve literally seen you hosting multiple zoom game nights throughout this pandemic. That’s an entire evening of noise, people and fun. If you’re so shy and introverted, how can you like parties?’
It’s true, when I’m in the right environment with the right people, I can be extremely social. In fact, I think several of my friends would describe me as an extrovert. And as for shy, I’ve delivered academic talks to rooms with several hundred people in the audience — and I’ve loved it. My personality can be inconsistent, which is exactly what a Gemini would say.
The problem is, if I match the typical qualities of the Gemini, then that’s data supporting the accuracy of my astrological sign. If I don’t match Gemini qualities, that’s because of my dual nature and, therefore, is also evidence in favour of my star sign. Here’s a quick rundown of some other Gemini traits, and why it’s impossible for me to disagree with my star sign.
Intellectual: well, yes, no one studies for a Doctorate without being a full on nerd. I’m a Gemini then.
Impulsive: No, I don’t think so. I tend to plan things months in advance and make endless pros and cons lists before making decisions. Maybe I’m not a Gemini after all? Oh wait, I love skydiving and I’m extremely prone to impulse shopping — it’s my dual nature at play again.
Adaptable: sure, I’ll try anything once. Classic Gemini.
The nature of astrology
The Gemini example illustrates a larger problem in astrology, that it is purposefully vague. For example, think of one of the core Gemini characteristics, impulsivity. We all exhibit impulsive behaviours to some degree, and in some situations more than others. There are even different subtypes of impulsivity such as attention, motor and non-planning impulsiveness (and the subtypes will vary depending on the type of measurement tool you use). How on earth is the average person supposed to accurately report whether they are impulsive?
They aren’t. This is another psychological phenomenon called The Barnum Effect — when people are presented with vague statements, they interpret their own personal meaning from them and think that the statements are specific to them. Therefore, if one of the traits is impulsivity, then you are free to interpret this however you like. My first instinct was to say that I’m not impulsive, but I can easily think of enough examples of my impulsivity to justify saying that I do have this trait. This explains why so many of us intuitively connect with our star signs, especially when so many of the traits are positive ones that we would like to have.
What about the professionals?
Ok, so I’ve talked a lot about how we can fool ourselves into believing our astrological signs are written in the stars, but I’m not an astrologer. Maybe I’m so biased that I can’t appreciate my own prejudice?
However, professional astrologers fair little better. A widely known study by Shawn Carlson published in the scientific journal, Nature, asked astrologers to identify the psychological profile of an individual based on their star sign. These studies have been criticised for failing to provide psychological profiles that reflect the aspects of personality that astrology is assessing. However, this one was designed with the help of astrologers to avoid this issue. The result? The astrologers couldn’t match star sign to psychological profile above chance accuracy.
If professional astrologers can’t use their own tools accurately, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
The value of astrology
This heading might seem like a bit of a contradiction — but I warned you I am an inconsistent Gemini. I think it’s important to establish what we want from astrology. Everything I’ve discussed in this post assumes that astrology is supposed to provide us with tangible results. But what if this isn’t the point?
Most people are profoundly interested in understanding and bettering themselves — the self-help industry is proof of that. Perhaps astrology is simply another tool for introspection. We should take the view that examining our personalities is a good thing and having a framework of astrological signs allows us to explore our characteristics in a fun and engaging way.
The problem comes in when people try to overstate the predictive powers of astrology. There have been many stories about people using astrology to make important professional, financial and personal decisions. Given the lack of evidence for astrological accuracy, this is a frightening prospect. Astrology tells us that there is divine order to chaos and, as a result, provides us with the illusion of control. Therefore, it also provides the potential for charlatans to exploit vulnerable people who are seeking a degree of control over their lives, especially if these people have been let down by traditional systems.
Overall, I think astrology can have value when used correctly — like most things in life. Real or not, astrology fulfills an important psychological need for many people. And we have such little magic in our lives that perhaps astrology is a welcome addition. However, my scientific training prevents me from putting any real stock in astrology. Something that cannot be empirically tested and exploits our natural psychology by the way of confirmation bias and the Barnum effect leaves me with a sense of distrust. It appears I cannot shake my mixed feelings about astrological signs, but I suppose that’s just my nature.