Horoscopes and alternatives

I don’t know how it happened. My Google news feed seems to think I am hooked on astrology.

The Friedel Chronicles
6 min readOct 5, 2023

Suddenly Google has started sending me regular links to the Chicago Sun-Times horoscope page. Guys, I’m really not interested! And if I was, there is a far better solution!

But first some background. In a previous article I described how, in a German TV documentary, we picked a fight with astrologers. One of the experiments we filmed ran as follows: we had the character descriptions of ten persons prepared by a top astrologer, and handed them to the subjects in the studio. They read their testimonials and then moved to one of two areas: to a sign saying “very accurate” or to one saying “not accurate”. Eight moved to the first sign — clear evidence that astrologers can accurately describe personality purely on the basis of birth data. Or so you would think.

Then the host, Hoimar von Ditfurt, who had an impish strain, took one of the testimonials we had handed to the subjects and began reading it out loud for the audience. The other subjects looked puzzled and stared at the papers in their hands. Turns out we had “mistakenly” handed the same testimonial to all ten participants.

The point was that the language used by the astrologers looked quite specific, but it was general enough to apply to 80% of any random sample of human beings — or would be accepted as being accurate by them.

Here’s a recent horoscope that the Chicago Sun’s astrologer Georgia Nicols had prepared for me (a Leo):

This is the perfect day to work alone or behind the scenes. In fact, it’s an excellent day to do any kind of research because you have the right mindset to pursue what you need to find. You won’t overlook details. You’ll be like a dog with a bone.

Right, that came on the day I am writing this article. Amazing! But it also applies to practically every tireless journalist. And can apply equally to dozens of friends who are hard workers.

Now, even if a horoscope like the one above did something for me, I have a better source: ChatGPT or Bard. Asking the latter for a “horoscope for Leo for today” gives me the following, after a few seconds:

Today is your day to shine, Leo! Your confidence is at an all-time high, and you’re ready to take on the world. Go for it! This is a great day to start new projects, launch new initiatives, or simply put yourself out there and make your presence known.

Your communication skills are also on point today, so use them to your advantage. Whether it’s negotiating a deal, pitching a new idea, or simply having a heart-to-heart with a loved one, you’ll be able to express yourself clearly and concisely.

Just be careful not to let your ego get in the way today. It’s important to be confident, but it’s also important to be humble. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and that there’s always room to learn and grow.

And it goes on to provide specific tips:

  • Take a risk and try something new. You’re more likely to succeed than you think.
  • Be assertive and communicate your needs clearly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Spend time with loved ones who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Take some time for yourself to relax and recharge.

That is AI providing me with encouragement on the new day — all based solely on the fact that I was born on August 2nd. Better than Georgia Nicols, I’d say. And equally justified.

Astrologers claim to be able to describe your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, in great detail based on your date of birth. Palmists can do the same by examining the lines on the palms of your hand. They claim to be able to divine a person’s character by examining them. The lines, mounds, and other features can, they believe, reveal information about a person’s past, present, and future. I have had some memorable encounters with people of this ilk.

One early experience was with a semi-professional palmist whom a friend confronted me with. He spent fifteen minutes examining my hand, describing my past, present and future life. And he did it with astonishing accuracy. Initially I was quite stunned.

But then I realized how he had done it: with cold reading! It is a technique used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers and mediums to create the impression that they have special knowledge or insight into a person’s life, without actually having any source of knowledge about them. Cold readers will pay attention to the person they are reading, to their clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, and other physical features. They will also take note of the person’s body language and tone of voice. And there are other tools.

Cold readers usually ask leading questions that allow them to gather information. Depending on the reactions they can follow up with more specific questions or statements. “You had a life-threatening illness when you were a child… No wait, in early youth… Was it during your twenties? And maybe it was not really life-threatening. Appendix? Yes, you clearly had an appendix removal when you were studying in college.” The palmist will be watching your reactions and keeps adjusting his remarks appropriately.

Palmists, astrologers and mentalists also rely on confirmation bias, which is our tendency to pay attention to information that confirms existing beliefs and to ignore information that contradicts them. You are more likely to remember and focus on the statements that were accurate, and to forget or downplay the statements that were not.

The palmist I originally encountered was an excellent cold reader, and I was quite inexperienced at the time. Decades later I was confronted with a (this time professional) palmist.

We were in a restaurant in Mumbai, India, when our host Sagar talked me into subjecting myself to Shree Ganeshay Namah, a well-known palmist, who was offering his services in a corner of the restaurant. I reluctantly agreed — and this time was well-prepared. I sat there while he examined my palm, and I made sure I showed absolutely no reaction to what he was saying. Complete dead-pan.

In the end Sagar and my family agreed: he had got almost nothing right. He knew I was a foreigner, fairly well situated, on a holiday trip, but nothing more. He praised my drawing skills (I am a hopeless artist), my ability to speak many languages (I speak exactly two), my overcoming a major crisis in my early youth (never happened), and so on. For Sagar, who has been exposed to this kind of woo all his life, it was an eye-opener. Remember, in India it is almost mandatory to seek the advice of an astrologer before you marry a specific person.

Let me end this article with a piece by the brilliant British comedy duo Flanders and Swann. They have accompanied me throughout my life, and there is hardly anything better you can do than to spend a few hours listening to their sketches. Here’s their take on astrology:

Lyrics of the piece:

Jupiter’s passed through Orion
And coming to conjunction with Mars.
Saturn is wheeling through infinite space
To its pre-ordained place in the stars.

And I gaze at the planets in wonder
At the trouble and time they expend
All to warn me to be careful
In dealings involving a friend!

There are dozens of Flanders & Swann sketches in the YouTube video page above.

Further reading:



The Friedel Chronicles

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.