The Problem of Ignorance in Science

Recently I heard an interview in which Dr. James Stein discussed the scientific perspective on paranormal phenomena.  James Stein is a professor of mathematics who published a book called “The Paranormal Equation: A New Scientific Perspective on Remote Viewing, Clairvoyance, and Other Inexplicable Phenomena.”   Professor Stein seeks to explain why modern scientific hypotheses about the universe may mandate the existence of supernatural phenomena.  He does this by relating phenomena such as ESP, psychokinesis, paranormal experiences, and the conditions for transcending natural law to the scientific Principle of Conservation of Energy (energy can neither be created nor destroyed; despite any internal changes, the total energy of an isolated system must remain constant.)

Though he is generally thoughtful, professor Stein displays almost total ignorance when it comes to astrology, which he dismisses as illogical.  Here is one reviewer’s summary of Stein’s position on astrology:

Entire classes of the paranormal defy basic logic. For example, horoscopes. If you think about the basic premise, you realize it makes no sense. The constellations upon which horoscopes are based are simply groupings of stars that are visible with the naked eye, and they only loosely, if that, resemble what they are named after. And there’s no particular reason those constellations have to be what they are. They are mere fabrication, and one can easily draw up an entirely different set of constellations.

Another fact that horoscope addicts overlook is that the stars look very different from different vantage points on earth. Someone in Australia will see a different night sky from someone in Alaska. Making horoscopes (and the astrology they are based on) even more ludicrous, the stars move and have actually changed their relative positions since the constellations were first named. The ancient Greeks did not see the same star patterns that a horoscope reader in Duluth, MN will see today.

Then we can start asking questions that arise from even a fifth grader’s knowledge of the universe. What about the billions of unseen galaxies, each containing billions of stars? Why would only this statistically insignificant number of stars determine our futures?” (M. L Lamendola)

In his interview James Stein displayed an almost total ignorance of astrology.  It became clear that he has never studied the subject and knows almost nothing of its history or development.  Stein used as a model for astrology the song from the musical Hair which contains the lyrics “When the Moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter aligns with Mars…”  He also said that he reads his newspaper horoscope and finds it entertaining.  With this as his model of astrology, it is not surprising that he would go on to discredit it.  Any competent astrologer would be in agreement because what Dr. Stein is ridiculing is not astrology; it is popular entertainment.  Stein also reveals his almost total ignorance of astrology in his comment that astrology originated in the writings of Ptolemy in the 2nd century – a patently false statement.

Stein also likens the successful predictions of some astrologers to Warren Buffets string of successes in the stock market.  He argues that Warren Buffet’s success is offset by the thousands of investors who do badly, so it is just a matter of chance (regression to the mean).   Stein seems to believe that Buffet has no fundamental understanding of economic forces, which underlies his success.  By analogy, in Stein’s view a successful astrologer is simply doing well because of probability and not because of any fundamental understanding of the workings of the universe from an astrological point of view.  I find this argument patently absurd.

While I generally liked Stein’s arguments in other parts of his book and interview, I am troubled by his tendency to pontificate about subjects, like astrology, where he displays total ignorance.  One of the problems of modern science is that it start with a bias that astrology must be false and then dismisses the subject as irrelevant.  I agree with Dr. Stein that astrology is not a science.  Most astrologers would also agree.  By throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however, professor Stein remains ignorant of a rich and intellectually stimulating tradition that has led over the centuries to numerous scientific breakthroughs.

In summary, I don’t object to Dr. Stein dismissing astrology.  He is free to wallow in his ignorance.  What bothers me is that he did not bother to learn anything about the  subject before dismissing it out of hand.  Thus, in his discussion of astrology, he simply displays ignorance and prejudice rather than any scientific or rational understanding.

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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4 Responses to The Problem of Ignorance in Science

  1. Happy New Year! One thing that troubles/annoys me about experts of any ilk is that they often pontificate (with an authoritative air) on subjects outside their specialty, where their knowledge base is no better than anyone else’s. Since the author had no knowledge of astrology at the time he wrote the book, why did he even mention it?

  2. Jenny Brown says:

    People like Dr. Stein miss out on using a very helpful tool. It is the usefulness of astrology that has kept it being transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years. Because I have found it so very useful over many decades and in many different circumstances, I feel no need to explain or defend it to others. Occasionally I use a chart to help someone who might not have thought of astrology as a resource, and when it works, they become far more interested in what it is that I’m doing. But I don’t really care whether other people respect it or not, as long as I keep getting the information I need from the charts I read.

    • Jenny,

      I agree with you. Dr.Stein was trying to be open-minded and dispassionately rational, but his prejudice about astrology appears to have gotten in the way. My sense of him from his comments about paranormal phenomena is that if he knew more about the celestial art, he would revise his opinion. It just bugs me when people dismiss out of hand things they know nothing about.


  3. Dear Tony,
    Thank you for an insightful post. A scientist who writes about paranormal experiences, trying to explain or justify its existence within a scientific paradigm, but refuses to adequately investigate a topic, such as astrology before dismissing it, is neither truly a scientist nor is their opinion to be taken seriously. To me, some scientists adopt a kind of arrogant attitude towards topics that they deem unworthy, because of the ‘respect’ that the field of science has in the world. I would be curious about Dr. Stein’s own chart. It would be interesting to read an analysis of it. Perhaps if an astrologer would do a comprehensive analysis of his chart and present it to him, either publicly or privately with the results, he would learn something new and be challenged to alter his opinion.


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