I’m not sure if I should feel good or really depressed that one of the shortest things I have written in quite some time inspired such a significant response while my typical three page “think” pieces continue to generate mostly yawns. I have to start by admitting the correctness of virtually everything you say. It bothers me greatly to say that but simply put it is an unfortunate fact of modern science and scientists to be arrogantly dismissive of anything they believe has been “proven” to be unscientific or pseudo scientific, evidence be damned. Usually it’s evidence be not looked at or be fully understood or be thought about. Typically the longer the conventional wisdom has been accepted, which usually but not always correlates with the age of said belief, the more implacable the scientists become.
If the scientist accepts the conventional wisdom without question, shows no willingness to consider alternatives and does not examine the data for himself or herself he or she does indeed abandon their principles. It happens every day a hundred times a day and I have done the same on more occasions then I would like to admit. It is just easier to fall back on the same old tired assumptions, believe the conventional wisdom to be correct, and move on. I do think this tendency is justified to some extent as in many instances it would simply take too much time, require too much effort for too little benefit to exhaustively research every so called pseudo scientific topic or concept for oneself. At some point we have to trust the past works and conclusions of our predecessors in the scientific community or we will never be able to progress forward as all of our time will be spent digging in the past. Certainly in the instances you describe where so called scientists and others are laser focused on a specific topic like astrology it is inexcusable to not do the legwork for yourself, obtain the relevant literature, read it, take the time to understand it and then do what all real scientists do, question and challenge its assumptions and conclusions.
I have to say that I was truly fascinated to learn that there is such a lively debate still ongoing related to a topic I have not thought about for myself in I can’t even recall how long, astrology. Like many of the people you describe in the piece I have never given a moments credence to the claims of the astrologist and with zero hesitation dismiss anything and everything that someone writes or says who claims to have gained their wisdom or knowledge using astrological methods. Until I read your piece I could easily see myself spending the remainder of my time on earth never questioning that position and never having a second thought about it. That is a sobering thought to be sure. Like you I think, I do not believe I am in error in my beliefs with respect to astrology, i.e. that it is not supportable by any modern understanding of cosmology or system of physics and mathematics. That it is not accurate or based in reality as we currently understand it and that it can never be so because the laws of the universe could not be interpreted in any way that might lend support to it. All that said because of this piece those last few sentences were written with a lot more caveats than I would have included previously.
I have always liked the phrase ‘question everything’ and have thought that I had adopted it as a mantra and guiding philosophy in my own life and work. Clearly I have fallen short as has become evident the more I reflected on your writing here. It seems my guiding philosophy has morphed without me even realizing it into ‘question everything that everyone else questions as true or false but leave unquestioned that which everyone else has accepted as false’. In my case “everyone else” is the community of scientists of which I am a part.
Thank you Martin for this really eye opening work. As usual it was interesting , extremely well thought out, and executed brilliantly. The writing was technically superb as per usual, but this one was extra good because in many ways it felt like it was directed right at me and it seems I needed it. A good kick in the ass is always good every once in a while.