A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for our Destiny in Data

December 10, 2020
A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for our Destiny in Data

An illuminating look at the surprising history andscience of astrology, civilization's first system of algorithms,from Babylon to the present day.Humans are pattern-matching creatures, and astrology is theuniverse's grandest pattern-matching game. In this refreshing workof history and analysis, data scientist Alexander Boxer examinesclassical texts on astrology to expose its underlying scientificand mathematical framework. Astrology, he argues, was the ancientworld's most ambitious applied mathematics problem, a monumentaldata-analysis enterprise sustained by some of history's mostbrilliant minds, from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler.Thousands of years ago, astrologers became the first to stumbleupon the powerful storytelling possibilities inherent in numericaldata. To correlate the configurations of the cosmos with ourday-to-day lives, astrologers relied upon a "scheme of heaven," orhoroscope, showing the precise configuration of the planets at aparticular instant in time as viewed from a particular place onEarth. Although recognized as pseudoscience today, horoscopes wereonce considered a cutting-edge scientific tool. Boxer teaches ushow to read these esoteric charts—and appreciate the complexastronomical calculations needed to generate them—by diagramminghow the heavens appeared at important moments in astrology'shistory, from the assassination of Julius Caesar as viewed fromRome to the Apollo 11 lunar landing as seen from the surface of theMoon. He then puts these horoscopes to the test using modern datasets and statistical science, arguing that today's data scientistsdo work similar to astrologers of yore. By looking back at thealgorithms of ancient astrology, he suggests, we can betterrecognize the patterns that are timeless characteristics of our ownpattern-matching tendencies.At once critical, rigorous, and far ranging, A Scheme of Heavenrecontextualizes astrology as a vast, technologicalproject?spanning continents and centuries?that foreshadowed ourdata-driven world today.