The History Channel Airs an Episode on Astrology
Yesterday the History Channel aired an hour-long episode of its series The Universe: Ancient Mysteries Solved that focused entirely on astrology.
The episode was not so much about the history of astrology as it was on debates about the validity of the subject in modern times.
I had a lot of trepidation going into it because sometimes things like this end up being a hatchet job, but I was surprised to see that they gave a much more balanced treatment of many of the arguments for and against astrology than I expected, for the most part.
Of course, at the end of the day they gave more weight to the positions of the astronomers they interviewed who were against astrology, understandably, but in the process they actually provided the viewer with a great deal of information about what contemporary astrology is actually like, which was really refreshing.
For example, at one point they spent quite a bit of time showing and talking about an actual birth chart, and discussing some of the different facets of it. Obviously for anyone who is familiar with the subject this is just basic astrology, but so often debates about the subject end up focusing solely on Sun-signs, and so even just presenting the idea that there is more than just one sign of the zodiac that is relevant in each person’s life is actually a pretty big step in terms of the way that astrology is typically portrayed.
I also had some trepidation going into this episode because I wasn’t really familiar with the two astrologers that were chosen by the History Channel to represent the astrological community, and in the past when the media has randomly chosen astrologers for interviews the results have been kind of hit or miss. This wasn’t really helped by the fact that they were both introduced as “two well respected astrologers,” because generally within the context of the astrological community I would expect that statement to be reserved for really well-known or influential astrologers such as Robert Hand, Liz Greene, or Steven Forrest. Nonetheless, I think that the two astrologers who were featured, Robert Ohotto and Alanna Kaivalya, ended up doing a pretty good job.
I should also say that while I was pleasantly surprised at how much more balanced the treatment of astrology was in this episode compared to typical treatments of the subject, that is not to say that it was completely balanced. The show ended on a decidedly anti-astrology note, and even the number of people who were interviewed that were against astrology far exceeded the number of astrologers that were interviewed, which gives you some idea of what the overall agenda was for the show. The five scientists who appear in the show at various points were Andrew Fraknoi, Alexei Filippenko, Lucianne Walkowicz, Clifford Johnson, and Michio Kaku. This is compared to the two astrologers mentioned above.
Of course, I understand that part of the reason for this is that with fringe fields like this they want to make the episode interesting by talking about a weird subject, but they also want to represent the current consensus of the scientific community, and within that context the episode was never going to be overtly pro-astrology. Still, at some point I’d like to see a more balanced discussion between and equal number of astrologers and scientists on the subject. I realize that this might come off kind of like climate change deniers complaining about not having equal representation in debates about global warming, despite the fact that they only account for a small portion of the overall scientific community, but I would argue that if you are going to treat the subject of astrology at all then you might as well do an adequate job of presenting what astrologers actually think or do. This episode came closer to doing that than anything like it that I’ve seen before, but there is still more that could be done.
In terms of the specific arguments that were discussed that were either for or against astrology I have a lot to say, although I think that I’m going to save that commentary for an episode of my podcast on astrology sometime in the near future. Suffice it to say that I was a bit disappointed that a lot of the episode focused on discussions about the absence of some sort of causal mechanism for astrology, and the astrologers didn’t really seem to get a chance to point out that most astrologers believe that astrology works through some sort of acausal mechanism such as synchronicity. This is something I’ve discussed before here in my article on the definition of astrology. It was also a bit disappointing that the astrologers didn’t get more of a chance to explain or defend the tropical zodiac, and some of the same arguments and misinformation from the zodiacal controversy from a few years ago were repeated.
Despite these issues it was still great to see a full hour-long television episode on astrology featured on the History Channel, and I appreciated that the subject was treated much more respectfully than usual. I would definitely recommend that people check out the episode.
The episode was part of the series The Universe: Ancient Mysteries Solved, and it was episode 9 of season 7, titled “Predicting the Future.” It first aired on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 9:00 PM EDT, and it is scheduled to air again on May 23 and 24 according to this schedule. A quick Google search shows that clips of it are already popping up online, and it looks like you can watch it for free on the History Channel website if you have a cable subscription, or the episode is available for for purchase on YouTube, on iTunes, or through Amazon instant video.
Please check out the episode and let me know what you think in the comments section below!
Update June 6, 2015: Listen to my full commentary on the History Channel episode on astrology on The Astrology Podcast.