Thursday, 4 July 2013

My problems with Astrology

Recently I had a discussion about the criticism of astrology by rationalists. Off course he did know that astrology is a pseudoscience but his problem was with why we should criticise them?
His question was as below
// Question: Why do we have a problem with astrology? The profession is founded on nonsensical principles but an astrologer can be a productive and useful member of society.

He/she earns an income, providing what is seen as a service. He/she pays taxes, and consumes goods and uses services with that income, thus providing direct and indirect employment to multiple people (like anybody else with an income). An astrologer is specifically useful in boosting activity in the gems and jewellery related sector - call it a marketing channel for that industry. Arguably astrologers also add to the happiness quotient.

Why is this service seen as different by Nirmuktaites from say, fashion models who sell clothes, or interior decorators, or any of a dozen other service professions?//
(Nirmukta is a freethought community in India which promote scientific ,secular humanism and similar values see and this discussion took place in facebook page of nirmukta see for discussion page )

My reply is given below

Before taking up the problems I face with astrology I want to answer a general question implicitly raised by you. The question is if somebody is providing a service and people are ok with it why one should question it? Are they not satisfying the needs of people? Therefore doing a service to the people? But as it explained below in the excerpt from a discussion on markets we need to note that the preferences of people are not constant and unchanging they are made shaped by their interaction with the world? The service provider tries to changes the preference of the individuals through advertisements etc which may create false beliefs which may affect the behaviour of individuals in other contexts. For examples the promoters of fairness cream promote it by creating racist views like being white is superior to other colour and skin colour is important part of one’s personality etc.
//As critics of markets point out, markets may be efficient in satisfying people's wants, but sometimes this may happen because they actually shift people's preferences towards things that can easily (which often means: profitably) be provided in markets. These are not necessarily the preferences people would choose it they reflected about which preferences they would like to have (cf. e.g. George 2001, who uses the metaphor of “preference pollution”). Economic models of markets usually take individuals' preferences as given, which makes them colour blind, as it were, to a whole range of questions that have been raised about markets in this respect: how do markets change individuals, their relation to one another, and their relation to certain goods and values?//  From (here
All the preferences of individuals are not equally important and the service provided by all individuals is not equal.  (See     pg 36-37 for more details.)

Problems with astrology
First thing I respect the rights of the astrologers or anybody to promote their beliefs within the rules of law. Also it is very clear that astrology is a superstition and has no valid evidence.
1. It is an attempt to spread ignorance to people. As Plato observed long ago “Ignorance is the root of all evil” i.e. our beliefs affects our actions so it is important to have our beliefs correspond to reality if not it will harm us and other people.   It is equivalent of exploiting people using their ignorance. It is similar to medical quackery where
2. The desire to go to the astrologer comes from the irrational fear that is created by believing in astrology. Astrologers are not just satisfying the needs of people these needs themselves are created by them (and others). So they don’t get real solutions and it will mislead them especially when they take major decisions about marriage, business etc. people go to astrologer because they believe that astrology can help them in solving the problems of their life. So their main intention is to solve those problems so by showing how astrology is false and making them to look at the issues causing their problem we help them to solve their problems. The benefit created by the astrologers is very much less than the harm being done by them
3.  Gems, jewellery and astrology: It is very interesting to note how the concept of gem therapy associated with astrology. When all these pseudoscience related to gem therapy started to became popular it got associated with astrology. Instead of selling their quackery as a separate pseudoscience Gem therapists attached to astrology because since astrology is associated with Hindu religion and “Indian culture” they get a kind of double immunity. On the one hand they used the language of science and the other culture and religion. Much such nonsense like Rekhi etc are propagated in this way.
4. Also my criticism of astrology is made from the boarder perspective of encourage people to question things, developing critical thinking skills etc. so when people hear our criticism of astrology they will not only understand the lack of evidence for astrology but develop skills to identify other pseudoscience.  
As per the issues like fashion models etc as I explained I do criticise them when they promote ideas that are harmful to society. For example skin lotion and creams which promote racist white supremacist ideas related to skin colour or film industry objectify women and make movies that justify patriarchal and similar oppressive power structures.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Zizek , psychoanalysis and literary theory

Recently one of my friend showed me this video which is a interview of famous intellectual noam chomsky  on philosopher slavoj zizek . Chomsky has sharply criticised postmodernism and related work in critical theory etc.  below is my views on the video and related matters of psychoanalysis and literary theory .

1. I agree with Noam Chomsky that one should try to simplify things and academics and intellectuals shouldn’t act like high priests in a ivory tower but should try to share their knowledge with common people. For academics it would be a good idea that their work in public education  say  writing popular books etc should be  given importance for granting tenure etc. what do you think of this idea?
2. Literary theory : as alan sokal and others have shown there is lot of nonsense is there in literary theory. But I won’t dismiss it altogether at least part of what I have read of literary theory (from critical theory a friendly guide) most of it is applying  Marxism, feminism etc to literary works to identify hidden form of class bias, sexism, racism etc. Learning these theories will help us to identify these prejudices in our day to day real world interactions. From my personal experience I have learnt that eventhough “intellectually” we are against these form of exploitative forms it takes time and effort to put them in practice.
3. Lacan psychoanalysis: I am unable to understand the intellectual status of psychoanalysis. Popper criticised Freudian psychoanalysis  for being unfalsifiable  and psychologists have rejected most of the concepts of psychoanalysis . But many people say that it is a interpretive theory and it can’t be judged by the same standard of natural sciences (Reference : ch 4 philosophy of social science  by alex Rosenberg).
 For example philosopher Habermas  says (from habermas a very short introduction pg 18)
Habermas remained critical of the view that all knowledge, particularly knowledge of the social world, must conform to the canons of  natural science. Eventually, he developed the view that the different  kinds of knowledge – theoretical, practical and critical – take shape   within different frameworks, and serve different human interests.
Theoretical knowledge is based on the human interest in technical  control over nature; practical and moral knowledge is based on the  human interest in understanding one another; while critical social theory and psychoanalysis are based respectively on the collective  and individual interest in emancipation, in freedom from illusion, in autonomy (Mündigkeit), and the realization of the good life.

It leads to never ending debate about naturalists and their critics in philosophy of social science which I don’t have much knowledge about (see for a short summary

4. Zizek : I have only read his book first as tragedy, then as farce and few of his lectures. I think he repeats himself and repeats many of the examples. His main message his simple and original. he explains them using examples from popular culture which makes them accessible. His mix of technical jargon and popular culture is unconventional and sometimes I got the feeling that he got those insights first and then tried to fit them into technical jargon.