When President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Washington D.C. in December of 1987 the stakes were high. A year earlier in Reykjavik, Iceland, these two sides failed to reach an agreement on the Strategic Defense Initiative, otherwise known as SDI. This meant that the two sides were still entrenched in the very dangerous policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. But this time things were different. Unlike the previous year, the USSR was in an economic free fall. Nuclear arms races are expensive propositions, and Gorbachev could no longer afford to keep up such furious spending. As a result the Soviet leader relented and signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, the first agreement to reduce nuclear weapons and a major inflection point in the ending of the cold war.
These facts are in the history books, but what many may not know is that the timing of this summit was no accident. Indeed, summit details such as the location, attendees, menu, agenda, and timing are never left to chance. But in the case of this particular summit great care was taken to build the entire event around one specific moment in time: December 8 at 2 p.m. (EST). The reason for this was simple: This was the time that Nancy Reagan’s astrologer told her that Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s astrological charts best aligned.
As much as we might find Nancy Reagan’s decision to consult an astrologer to help set the President’s schedule amusing (or perhaps even a little disquieting), the truth is that she was simply displaying a trait that is common in all of us: A need to find order and meaning in a chaotic universe. Early in our history our need for order gave birth to a variety of superstitions which attempted to rationally explain the world and its invisible forces. Some of these playfully persist today, such as knocking on wood or hanging horseshoes over doorways.
Over time people began to come up with a more complex ways of explaining the workings of these invisible forces that liked to play tiddlywinks with our lives. Divination, such as astronomy, numerology, and other arts came into vogue. Magi looked up to the heavens seeking omens that would help guide everything from important state decisions to when best to plant and harvest the crops. Ancient priests assigned numbers to letters in an effort to find hidden meanings in the scriptures. Prospectors used magical artifacts such as dowsing rods and seer stones to find water, oil, gems, or other treasures. Like superstitions, many of these practices are still widely used around the world today. Case in point, the much beloved Farmer’s Almanac bases its predictions for the upcoming year in part on such sources as astronomical signs, planetary positions, and sun spot activity.
Eventually our models for explaining the unexplainable became more and more sophisticated. Religion offered mythologies, histories, allegories, and parables to help us understand the nature of our being and our role in a mysterious universe. Intellectuals, eager to understand the universe through dispassionate and methodical observations, approached the same mysteries through the scientific method. Regardless of the means, be it superstition, divination, mysticism, religion, or science, all serve the same purpose: To offer a construct by which we can superimpose meaning and order over that which seems to have none. Granted, some models are more sophisticated and perhaps even more accurate that others, but in the end they are all offering the same promise: Order.
Given our intense desire to find order in the universe, it should come as no surprise that we attempt to find the same order in our dealings with people. Has anyone ever asked you your sign? Doing so is a way we try to understand someone’s behavior based on astrological principles. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs profiles, IQ tests, the DISC assessment, and other psychometric instruments are designed to impose order over human behavior. But understanding human behavior through astrology or even psychological instruments is like trying to measure the width of an atom with a ruler. Still, we try. And what’s more, it doesn’t matter if the explanations we contrive are correct or not, just so long as they assure us that there’s order in the universe and allow us to move on with our lives.