Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Makes me want to be a druid

Oh John Michael Greer, you are my one true man crush. Naughty, naughty man.
[L]et’s consider the future of astronomical observatories.  An observatory big and high-tech enough to contribute significantly to the advance of astronomy can be a very expensive proposition—the Palomar observatory outside San Diego, for example, costs over US$10,000 a night to operate—and the ebbing tide of prosperity in the industrial world is starting to make those costs hard to cover...
Observatories are particularly vulnerable in this context because they don’t make a profit for anybody...These days, the sciences are being sorted out into two camps, those that produce technologies useful to government and business and those that don’t; I’m sure my readers need no help figuring out which of those camps is getting the lion’s share of research dollars these days, and which is being left to twist in the wind.

...It so happens that astronomers do have another potential source of income available to them—a funding source that could probably support many if not most of the existing observatories in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, and would be completely independent of government grants and the whims of university administrations alike...
It’s as simple as it is elegant, really.  All that would be required is that observatory staff would have to learn how to cast and interpret horoscopes.
Yes, I’m well aware that that’s not going to happen, and in a moment we’ll talk about the reasons why, but let’s set that aside for now and consider the thing in the abstract.  Despite the fulminations and wishful thinking of the rationalists among us, astrology’s not going to go away any time soon.  It’s been a living  tradition for well over two millennia in close to its current form, and is as lively now as it’s ever been.  The rationalist crusade against it has been a resounding flop, having failed to make the least dent in its popularity; today astrology supports its own economic sector of publishers, computer firms, annual conferences, correspondence schools, and many other businesses, not to mention thousands of professional astrologers who make a living casting birth charts, annual progressions, horary charts, and other astrological readings for a large and enthusiastic clientele.
Not only could astronomers tap into this market, it actually takes a continuing effort on their part to avoid doing so.  I’ve been told by astronomer friends that observatories in the US routinely field calls from people who are a little confused about the difference between astronomy and astrology, and want someone to cast their horoscopes. Put a new message on the answering machine, teach the receptionist how to take down birth data, and that’s fixed...
Nor would this be anything new in the history of astronomy.  Johannes Kepler paid the bills while he was working out the laws of planetary motion by casting horoscopes; Claudius Ptolemy did the same thing more than a millennium earlier while he was writing the Almagest...
Much more could be said along these lines, but it’s probably better to stop here, so that my rationalist readers don’t fling themselves at their computer screens in a purely reflexive attempt to leap through cyberspace and wring my neck.


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