When I get a fortune cookie I usually just use it to make some kind of
a joke with the people I’m dining with. But often a fortune cookie will
have a lucky number written on the back of it, and one feels inclined
to punt a lottery ticket on it. Fortunately, by the time we get out of
the restaurant and to the gas station or food store, I’ve lost the
Likewise, I sometimes see my own horoscope, or someone else’s. I find
it pretty hard to take horoscopes seriously, since it’s obvious that if
they were correct there would be roughly only twelve ways for things to
go with all the people in the world at any time.
There’s only one case
I heard of when horoscopes were useful to someone, and that was when
there was a small newspaper whose astrologer was sick. One of the cub
reporters was assigned to fill up the column, and he wrote the
star-sign of a girl he was interested in a way that made her want to go
out with him. Another man I knew in Scotland tried a similar trick —
seeing a pretty girl in a bar reading the paper — with the page of the
funnies and the horoscopes open in front of her — he went up to her and
said “Well, what’s in your stars for tonight, then, hen?” She looked at
the column and said “It says ‘Be on your guard against @$$***s’”. He
should have answered, “Oh, well, I’ll stay here and protect you, then”,
but he didn’t, so that didn’t work.
But I think I’d want to say a word in favour of horoscope as against
lucky or unlucky numbers. The heavenly bodies, I think, in general
don’t affect us, but they are the sorts of things that could affect us.
If a piece of Jupiter flew off and wandered through the solar system
until it hit me on the head, that would affect me, though I don’t think
it would matter what sign Jupiter or the sun was in at the time.
Alternatively, wait until some enemy of yours has a horoscope which
reads “The Moon is particularly adverse and could bring about disaster
for you today”, and then persuade them to go down to the beach with you
(this might not be easy). Then chain them to a post well below the
high-tide mark and wait till the gravitational attraction of the moon
brings the tide in. You’ll have got rid of your enemy, and you’ll have
proved that horoscopes are sometimes correct.
The heavenly bodies, then, are the sorts of things that can affect us —
in fact, they are physical bodies, as we are, and they can or could
affect us physically, even if they don’t in fact affect us in the ways
that astrologers say. But numbers aren’t physical objects. They don’t
have bits that can fall on our heads — they don’t exert gravitational
attraction which could pull up the water on Earth to drown us. As
people say nowadays, there’s no interface between us and numbers.
Heavenly bodies can be lucky or unlucky for you, in extreme cases,
through their physical interface with us: numbers haven’t got any such
interface, they can’t. I’m not suggesting you should believe your horoscope or
your fortune cookie — all I’m saying is, for heaven’s sake, don’t
believe in lucky numbers. Above all, don’t bet on them.
Christopher Martin teaches philosophy at the University of St Thomas in Houston, Texas.