Explained (2018) s01e14 Episode Script

Astrology

1 [female narrator] Thousands of years ago, when our ancestors looked up at the night sky, they saw a field of lights.
[crickets chirping] They didn't know what they were, but they noticed something amazing about them.
Their movements were predictable, and they had clear effects.
The seasons, the tides, the harvests.
It seemed logical that these lights shaped everything else in our lives.
Almost every ancient culture in the world invented astrology.
And we still love astrology.
People are drawn to all kinds of mysticism.
But only astrology gets a regular column in major newspapers.
In India, astrologers have regular shows on major news networks.
[speaking in Hindi] Cancer the crab: Be vigilant.
An important job might be put on hold.
[speaking in Hindi] Pisces: Your day is looking good.
Good luck is on your side.
[speaking in Hindi] The auspicious time for Bhopal is 5:26 to about 7:07.
[narrator] In Taiwan, where the Chinese zodiac is popular, lots of women plan their births for lucky years.
2010 was the year of the tiger.
Not a lucky year.
2012 was the year of the dragon.
That's lucky.
Even if we know it's not scientific, why do so many people across so many cultures still look for meaning in the stars? [man, old recording] Many people believe that the positions of planets and constellations affect life.
[man 2] We know much about the Universe, yet this knowledge is only the beginning.
[man 3] Nowhere do mystics and cultists find such an enthusiastic following.
Your love life is not very satisfactory, is it? [reporter] Mr.
President, will you continue to allow astrology to play a part in the makeup of your daily schedule, sir? [news anchor] What they are trying to say is the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
[narrator] Today, in the West, being into astrology usually means reading your horoscope.
That's a personal forecast based on your zodiac sign.
Horoscopes themselves are like a gateway drug.
Obviously, they're not going to be incredibly specific because I'm writing one horoscope for 1/12 of the population.
[narrator] The idea of 12 Zodiac signs goes back more than 2,000 years to ancient Babylon or modern-day Iraq.
They noticed there were roughly 12 new moons over the course of a year.
So they divided the path of the Sun into 12, each one marked by a constellation.
Mapping symbols onto the stars, like a bull or a scorpion, helped keep track of them year to year.
That's how they came up with your Sun sign.
Originally, it was the constellation the Sun was in when you were born.
But your Sun sign was just one of your signs.
And that's mapped out on what astrologers call a birth chart.
[Nicholas] The birth chart is a snapshot of the sky the moment you took your first breath.
[narrator] So there's your Sun sign, but also your Moon sign and your rising sign, which is whether the Sun was rising or setting when you were born.
Your chart is divided into 12 houses for different areas of your life.
And they include the position of the planets and the degrees between them.
Your Sun sign mattered, of course.
But it also mattered if, for example, you're born with Mars, the planet of war, in your house of romance.
Charts like this are ancient and have been used to forecast the fates of notable figures throughout history.
In a world where we thought everything in the universe orbited us, astronomy was mapping out the stars and planets, and astrology was interpreting their influence over us.
It was very common for people to combine these studies.
In fact, there's no reason to think they were in any way different.
[narrator] So, naturally, it was an astronomer who spread this version of astrology around the world.
Not just any astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy.
He was a big deal.
In second century Egypt, he wrote one of the most important astronomy books in history, the first to accurately map the speeds and rotation of the planets around Earth.
[Richards] Which was the way people calculated calendars for the next 1,500 years.
It was very accurate.
It was beautifully done.
[narrator] Ptolemy also wrote one of the most influential astrology books of all time, called Tetrabiblos.
He's certainly not dividing the world into science and not science.
Ptolemy's world is one in which astrology is common sense.
[narrator] Tetrabiblos help spread Greek astrology across the Middle East and over to India.
One of the few places it didn't take off was China.
They already had their own popular zodiac system based on your birth year.
That system goes back thousands of years, too.
By the 16th century, royalty across Europe had long employed astrologers to make predictions.
Shakespeare referenced astrology in nearly every ill-fated plot.
And his words are still with us.
In King Lear, eclipses of the Sun and Moon foreshadow death.
Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed.
In other words, doomed.
[gunshot] In Julius Caesar, Cassius tells Brutus - The fault - Dear Brutus Is not in our stars But in ourselves that we are underlings.
[narrator] But around this time, two ideas were starting to revolutionize the world.
And astrology's place in it.
For all of history, humans had assumed we were the center of the Universe.
Then, scientists like Galileo Galilei helped establish that we actually orbit the Sun.
[Richards] This astrological notion that everything is connected to human beings becomes disrupted.
[narrator] Astrology as a legitimate study didn't go away overnight.
Even Galileo would cast horoscopes for his family or for wealthy clients to pay the bills.
But then came the real knockout punch.
In the 17th century, we made radical scientific discoveries.
Gravity.
The spectrum of light.
That blood moved through things called veins.
And we invented telescopes that allowed us to discover new moons.
And we started developing a system for determining what was true.
You made a hypothesis, you tested it, and you tried to replicate the results.
If something couldn't be tested by the scientific method, it wasn't science.
Studying the planets and stars that passed the test.
But predicting how they guided world events did not.
Astrology and astronomy were forever split.
In the West, astrology fell out of fashion for hundreds of years until the invention of the horoscope column.
[train whooshing] - [jazz music playing] - In 1930, a London newspaper published a column by the astrologer R.
H.
Naylor to mark the birth of Princess Margaret.
He wrote that the princess would grow up to have a "scorn of restraint," which was reportedly true.
He also predicted that when the princess was around seven years old, there would be events of tremendous importance to the royal family.
Amazingly, just before Margaret turned seven, her uncle abdicated the throne to her father.
[Edward VIII] I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility.
[narrator] Making her older sister next in line.
That would be Queen Elizabeth.
After that uncanny prediction, the newspaper gave Naylor a regular column.
But, instead of writing about royalty and world events, he started casting horoscopes for ordinary readers based on just their Sun signs.
The idea caught on with other papers too.
[news anchor] Hardly any newspaper dare go to press nowadays without the horoscope feature.
[narrator] Another new trend around this time gave astrology a big boost.
[news anchor] He is placed on a couch and urged to let his mind roam freely.
[narrator] Psychoanalysis.
One of the founders of psychoanalysis was Carl Jung.
We are not of today or of yesterday, we are of an immense age.
[narrator] Jung popularized the idea of personality types.
And his ideas inspired personality tests like Myers-Briggs.
Which, even today, some major corporations give their employees.
Jung was also a passionate student of astrology.
As he wrote in his correspondence with Sigmund Freud, "My evenings are taken up very largely with astrology.
I dare say we shall one day discover in astrology a good deal of knowledge that has been intuitively projected into the heavens.
" And then, in the late 1960s, we entered into a new age.
You might have heard of it.
[narrator] Also known as the New Age Movement, The 5th Dimension sang that love was in the stars.
And they weren't the only ones.
[narrator] No one popularized astrology in the age of Aquarius like Linda Goodman in her 1968 book, Sun Signs.
It was the first astrology book to make the New York Times best seller list.
In total, her books sold more than 30 million copies and were translated into 15 languages.
The book promised to help readers recognize people's hidden dreams, secret hopes, and true characters, by understanding other people's Sun signs, writing that Sun signs will literally change your life.
The book informed what we all recognize today as our zodiac sign's personality.
[Nicholas] She was able to relay so much incredible information.
I think that further popularized the idea of Sun signs.
Astrology is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States.
More than 180 prominent scientists have decided to speak out on the subject.
A group of scientists and scholars sent out letters today asking all the daily newspapers to print a warning with their astrology columns.
It reads Former White House Chief of Staff Donald Reagan writes in his forthcoming book that President and Mrs.
Reagan sometimes consult astrologers when making difficult decisions.
[narrator] In the '80s, you could call a hotline to get some cosmic guidance.
We all wonder what our day has in store for us.
What our future holds.
Go on blind dates or job interviews on a Thursday.
That's the luckiest day of the week.
It's ruled by Jupiter.
If you call 1-9-7-6-1-9-7-6 you get me, Darren Martinez, the Cosmic Muffin.
Think of it as a divinatory art.
It's definitely more art than science.
[narrator] For example, our Sun signs aren't even accurate anymore.
In the more than 2,000 years since the zodiac signs were created, the Earth has tilted.
So your Sun sign has shifted, and there's technically a 13th sign called Ophiuchus.
Ask astrologers about the scientific arguments, say, at the world's largest astrology conference, and you get a lot of shrugs.
I don't care.
I don't have anything to prove to anybody.
I use tools when they work and when they stop working, I don't.
The scientific community is really just looking at it from only their perspective.
Maybe astrology doesn't fit into that modern definition of science.
That doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot of value to people's lives.
[narrator] Studies show that's true.
That people who feel less in control of their lives are more drawn to astrology and see themselves more in their horoscopes.
And that the positive outlook you can get from reading a horoscope can even make you preform better on cognitive and creativity tests.
And that's because something doesn't need to be real to have real effects.
It's called the placebo effect.
That belief in something can be enough.
And that is proven by science.
Some placebo studies have even shown when a patient knows they're taking a fake pill instead of the real thing, it can still work.
A lot of people believe their horoscopes because of another psychological effect.
The reason why people see themselves so easily in their horoscopes is because the person wants to see themselves in it.
The person becomes an accomplice in the project of fitting themselves into the horoscope.
This is called the Barnum effect, named after the famous circus showman P.
T.
Barnum.
It's based on a 1949 study in which 39 college students were given personality profiles and were told that they were based on a psychological exam.
But all the profiles were actually identical.
And described generic traits like, "your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
" All but one of the students said they mostly agreed that the traits described them.
The Barnum effect suggests that, basically, everyone sees themselves in any horoscope presented to them.
These descriptions in the horoscopes tend to be very ambiguous.
And they tend to be more or less positive.
[narrator] Like advising an Aquarius that "holding on to negative emotions will cloud your intuition.
" Or that a Taurus "shouldn't get caught up in the details because you need to focus on the bigger picture.
" And whatever a person wants out of a horoscope column, they can probably find it online.
I'm the founder of astrologyzone.
com.
Susan Miller started writing horoscopes online in 1995.
[Miller] They wanted a short column for women every day.
And I said no, no, no.
I'm going to write long and detailed so people will keep coming back.
[narrator] And millions of people around the world do.
They're so devoted that if Miller publishes late, which she often does, her fans revolt online.
I think the internet is really what made astrology much more popular.
I think people always want to know about the future.
That's embedded in our DNA.
The problem is [laughs] That it's so democratic that anybody can say they're an astrologer now.
The internet has exploded with so many astrologies, astrologers.
Has made it much more accessible.
They can be all talk.
That's the thing with Virgos sometimes.
Uranus has moved into Taurus The Sun in Gemini is your identity [narrator] From 2016 to 2017, views for astrology videos on YouTube increased by 62%.
On Facebook, they increased by 116%.
And on Twitter there was a nearly 300% increase in engagement.
You guys are now at a place where you can manifest.
The struggles have been cleared.
The universe is waiting on you.
[Vyse] I think that the great appeal of astrology, even in the age of science, even among educated people, comes from the fact that it offers something that you can't get easily in other places.
[narrator] For one, it can offer a type of spirituality for people who don't get that from traditional religion.
Research shows Americans are less religious, but more spiritual than ever.
And so astrology can fit that bill.
It's personal because you get your personal horoscope and chart.
And in that way, it may do something different than a traditional religion where you are one of a large flock.
But I think another aspect of divinatory really applies to the idea of reaching for or understanding the divine.
Whether we think of those as gods, as God, as the grand mystery.
Anything that brings us out of what we think of as our human frail selves.
People reach out to me about times to get married, about breakups, about cancer, about losing a job, about losing hope and faith in life, about coming up against the most extreme pain they've ever been in and not knowing how to hold it.
[Miller] You have to have faith that the bad things that happen to you can have good outcomes.
The more I study astrology, the more I realize the universe is on your side.
[narrator] And astrology appeals to the desire to find a tiny place in a vast universe.
Even if we're not the center of it.
The constellations, which before were drawn on the inside of a sphere that was rotating around the Earth now all of a sudden become stars which are scattered all over the place in a huge, infinite Universe.
And so to see Orion's Belt is to project ourselves onto a reality which is really quite chaotic.
Orion is not out there.
[outro music playing]