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In this memo, I will first give a short description of astrology, then I will outline two key theories that tackle the issue of differentiating science with “pseudo-science”: Popper’s theory of falsification, and Kuhn’s theory of Paradigms. I will apply these theories to decide that astrology is in fact not a science, however demonstrate that these theories face great problems. I will conclude to state that while not a science, astrology is not meaningless.
Firstly, let us define astrology: Astrology is the ancient study of the movements and positions of astronomical objects such as the sun, planets and stars, as a way to interpret and foretell information about human personalities and events.
How it works
Let us first look at Popper’s theory of science: Popper was sceptical about confirming facts through predictions or generalisations of observations and believed in the idea of Fallibilism, that it is impossible to validate a theory. For example, you may observe that the cars in the Tesla shop are electric, and therefore claim that all cars are electric. However, this would be a mistake since, not only are there non-electric cars but also, the majority of cars are not electric. The way that Popper went about categorising studies and actions into sciences was to apply a simple rule, called falsification. This rule states that if an activity is a science, then it can be disproven, and vice versa.
Furthermore, Popper thought a scientific hypothesis should be bold, “risky” and unambiguous. Assuming Popper’s theory, we can deduce that astrology would not be a science since the predictions and claims tend to be too vague, and therefore in-falsifiable. Let us take the example of my horoscope today, it states that whilst I will have some “deep and thorough” changes, I will also face some “easy” changes. The fact that the mentioned “changes” could apply to any factor of my life, makes it impossible to test for falsification, and hence makes astrology a pseudo-science.
It is important to note that whilst it is the case that Popper believes astrology is not a science, an interesting consequence of his theorem is that there is no method to show a theory being better than another. According to Popper, simply because a statistical model of Tesla car sales has been tested multiple times and never refuted, doesn’t make it more favourable over an astrology theory that has never been tested for falsifiability. Furthermore, Popper fails to adequately address the fact that it is impossible to test falsification of an individual statement rather than a collection of statements. Imagine we have falsified the fact that the latest model of the Tesla car can reach 0-60 miles per hour in 2 seconds, in reality all we have proven is that that certain model of car under those certain conditions can be falsified.
The second theory of Science we will look at to decide whether astrology is a science is Kuhn’s idea of Paradigms. A paradigm simply means a collection of theories within an organised field of science. According to Kuhn there are three types of science: Normal science, crisis science and revolutionary science. Normal science is the scientific process of observing things and using theories to explain the facts; these observations are contained within a paradigm. Within this paradigm, scientists do not question its validity or fundamentals, they simply aim to extend the number of facts contained within it. Anomalies within the paradigm are expected to occur but once too many anomalies appear, scientists lose faith in the paradigm and it breaks down.
Consider the example of us designing a new model of Tesla, TesX, for which we are looking to find the finest tires that will outlast all types of road. One of our automobile engineer suggest a certain type of tire, TireA, which is so encouraging that our team gets behind the idea and all the engineers adopt this model of tire and begin running experiments on it. Let us call TireA our paradigm. Our engineers don’t question the fundamental aspects of the tire, they simply use experiments, theory and historical information to expand their knowledge about it, as well as striving to improve the quality.
The engineers test TireA hundreds of times and they are really happy with their findings, however as time goes on anomalies crop up: the tire has deflated multiple times while in snow even after attempts to improve the durability. The greater the frequency of cases of flat tires in snow, the less our faith in TireA. Finally, a critical number of flat tires instances lead us to believe the model TireA is not going to work and hence, the paradigm is destroyed. At this point the company is in crisis and questions all aspects of what a tire should be- should it even be round? Kuhn would call this period Crisis science, since there is no new paradigm -no new tire- on the horizon we resort to philosophy and once again question fundamentals ideas. This period ends when our engineers come up with a new tire, TireB, and our company puts all its faith into the new tire. Kuhn calls this period Revolutionary science; there is a Gestalt switch from a previous paradigm to a new paradigm.
Another aspect of Kuhn’s science is that it is founded on the faith of a community of scientists, and that paradigm have the quality of being destroyed or created. For the most part, these paradigms are put to the test by empirical evidence, simply meaning evidence from one’s senses. For these reasons, Kuhn wouldn’t believe that Astrology is a science: it is too vague and it doesn’t capture enough of people’s faith and therefore never became a paradigm. There is too much left for interpretation in astrology that it is hard to find empirical evidence to support or refute a theory. Even if astrology were a paradigm, it would be hard, if not impossible, to destroy, and therefore lacks a key ingredient of science according to Kuhn.
Kuhn’s theory is not, however, without objections: Kuhn believes that an area of science has no more than one paradigm existing at any one time; and he holds that those in different paradigms are not able to communicate theories since they use “different standards of evidence”. In reality, this is not the case: an automobile engineer who works in petrol-powered cars can share ideas with a Tesla electric car engineer and they can share fundamental ideas across their paradigms. Likewise, according to history, we can use past paradigm findings in order to help scientific research in a current paradigm. Another objection of Kuhn’s is the same that Popper faces: it is impossible to testify an individual claim within a scientific conjunction and hence impossible to test whether anomalies are in fact anomalies.
Finally, I will mention that both Kuhn and Popper believed that being a non-science activity does not entail being bad nor meaningless. Under Popper’s restrictions and opposition to induction, studies such as history, psychology and sociology are not sciences, however they are very important in our society and understanding of the world. In addition to this, Kuhn did not believe that a future paradigm is better than a previous one, and hence if there is ever a time when astrology is a paradigm, then there is nothing to say it was worse than what the majority of scientists, and the board, believe today.
In conclusion, according to Popper and Kuhn, astrology is not a science since it is not falsifiable, it is not based on empirical evidence and it is not supported enough by the scientific community. Popper and Kuhn give a thorough explanation for science but they both contain flaws: Popper fails to explain how to identify a superior theory and isolate a single claim; Kuhn fails to explain how in history we have shared ideas and progressed scientifically across generations, and he also fails to isolate a single claim.
Considering these theories and acknowledging their limitations, there are two options for you at the board meeting. Your first option is to argue that while astrology may not be a science, there is still not an adequate explanation of what is a science, and therefore you can claim that astrology does in fact help your decision-making. Your second strategy, is to argue that while astrology is not a science, it does not mean that it is not a good tool for decision-making, in the same way we may look towards history or psychology to help us make decisions.
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