Back to this again.
I’ve written before about Provenance – how most scientific discoveries didn’t just appear fully formed, but were derived from earlier experimentation. As an example, I described how the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz was based on earlier discoveries of electricity and magnetism, made by Newton, Young, Huygens, Faraday, Maxwell and others. The fact that the discovery of radio waves was based on other discoveries, each backed by substantial amounts of evidence, meant that the discovery of radio waves was not such an extraordinary claim when it was first made.
In a similar vein, nearly four years ago I issued The Astrology Challenge – I asked proponents of astrology to tell me how the rules of astrology were derived. As examples, I described how Galileo knew that the planets orbit the Sun and not the Earth, and how we first calculated the speed of light. As I wrote then, if no one can say how the rules of astrology were derived, in the same way we can describe how the speed of light was derived, then the rules of astrology were probably just made up. And any hypothesis that was just made up, is unlikely to be true. No one has yet been able to tell me (showing their work) how the rules of astrology were derived.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a reader, purporting to tell me just that. Unfortunately he did no such thing. Instead it was just 1,200 words consisting of the usual logical fallacies we’ve all heard and refuted many times before. I won’t bother to repeat them. He did have one thing I hadn’t heard before though. It was this:
… on the night of February 17, 1869, the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleyev went to bed frustrated by a puzzle he had been playing with for years; how the atomic weights of the chemical elements could be grouped in some meaningful way and one that, with any luck, would open a window onto the hidden structure of nature. He dreamed, as he later recalled, of "a table where all the elements fell into place as required." His intuition that when the elements were listed in order of weight, their properties repeated in regular intervals, gave rise to the Periodic Table of the Elements which, though much revised since, underlies modern chemistry.
If Dmitri Mendeleyev were an astrologer instead of a chemist trying to figure out the meaning of heavenly movements and had a dream about the meanings of the zodiac and the planets along with their meanings could you accept that, like you accept his dream about the periodic table of elements?
My emailer was likening the discovery of the periodic table to the discovery of the rules of astrology. If Mendeleyev could literally dream up the periodic table, then why couldn’t ancient man have dreamed up astrology?
There are a couple of fundamental problems with this interpretation. Firstly, the emailer’s (copy and pasted) paragraph actually debunks the argument he is trying to make. The important wording, that he didn’t notice, is that Dmitri Mendeleyev went to bed:
…frustrated by a puzzle he had been playing with for years…
He didn’t just dream up the periodic table out of whole cloth. There was already a problem he was trying to solve, namely to classify the elements according to their chemical properties. And he finally solved the problem. Most likely after a good night's sleep, rather than in a dream. But whether he literally dreamed it, or whether he just had the answer in the morning, is immaterial. He had been puzzling over a problem, and eventually found a solution. Where is the original problem the inventors of astrology were trying to solve? And where can I read about it?
Secondly, Mendeleyev’s periodic table made several predictions that later proved to be true. For example:
…not only did he leave spaces for elements that were not yet discovered but he predicted properties of five of these elements and their compounds.
The missing elements were later proven to exist, exactly as Mendeleyev had predicted. Contrast that with astrology where not only was there was no problem to be solved, but the predictions of astrology proved false when tested. It’s great to “dream up” wild ideas, but unless they can be confirmed by testing, they
will should remain just dreams. Where can I read of how the early astrologers’ predictions came true?
One more thing - the “dream” story is probably a myth anyway. From the same source I cited above:
There were two main problems about establishing a pattern for the elements. First only 60 elements had been discovered (we now know of over 100) and second some of the information about the 60 was wrong. It was if Mendeleev was doing a jigsaw with one third of the pieces missing, and other pieces bent!
Mendeleev had written the properties of elements on pieces of card and tradition has it that after organising the cards while playing patience he suddenly realised that by arranging the element cards in order of increasing atomic weight that certain types of element regularly occurred. For example a reactive non-metal was directly followed by a very reactive light metal, then a less reactive light metal. The image of a stamp collectors’ miniature sheet shows a stamp commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Periodic Table superimposed on some of Mendeleev’s original jottings.
Right there, we have an example of the sort of thing I’m looking for with astrology. It turns out my emailer’s attempt to answer my question (strictly speaking, to render it moot), actually proved to be yet another example of how real scientific discoveries are derived.
So again, I’ll ask the proponents of astrology, show me how the detailed rules were derived. And I mean show me, with evidence, with the data they used, how they calculated it, how they validated it. Don’t just say (as this emailer also said), that astrology was first conceived when highly intuitive individuals saw a correlation between heavenly movements in the cosmos to their relations here on earth… (etc etc). Tell me where can I read the details of how they did this? The details of the testing. Where are they?
This thing was a nightmare to figure out.