I just doubt it. Kind of a lot, like REALLY a lot.
Counters are very useful and so are grids. Fine. Lots of things we can count and keep track of, armies, villages, sacks of rice, mapping the farm or the sky, yes that all makes a lot of sense. A go set would make a fine substitute for a map or an abacus in a pinch.
But let me ask you this, how many Go players do you know who are into astrology or other metaphysical approaches to problem solving? How many accountants, engineers (software or otherwise) or generals do you know that truly rely on palm reading, tea leaves or which birds are flying on a given day to make a choice? Are they successful? Am I being an overly rhetorical smart ass? Wrong answers only please.
The idea that somehow a scant few thousand years ago we were all just superstitious primitives, problem-solving through divination just does not make sense to me. Were there people back then who did that kind of thing? I am certain of it because such people exist now. Were people in general more superstitious then than now? Probably so, they had less data with which to make rational decisions.
However, the attitudes and approaches needed for grids and counting would preclude such lines of thought. And specifically, the type of person who is attracted to abstract logic for fun, as in a game such as Go, simply does not seem like the kind of person who leaves their destiny up to fate. Those who believe in ‘fortune’ enjoy gambling on dice or horse racing, but don’t so often play go. Some people just like games, any kind of game. I am one of those people, but I play Go a lot more than I gamble at the casino. The mental approach needed for a game of Go is almost antithetical to fatalistic ‘will-of-the-gods’ type of approaches to life embodied by astrology.
I believe this origin story idea originates from confusion about which came first and the explanations people come up with for things they don’t understand. For example, Western astrological signs are based on astronomical observations. The astrologer uses a system of understanding time to divine the nature of a person’s spirit and soul. This system is fundamentally a calendar. When you study astronomy, it becomes clear really quickly which one is the origin and which is the outgrowth. The names of the different signs and their meanings are of human invention, but the part of the sky covered by each is not. Divide the orbital disk into twelve arcs, one zone for each month, and there you have it.
An ignorant bystander watching a couple of ancient astronomers staring at the sky and arguing about the import of the Sun being in Leo vs. Cancer might cause them to think it was a spiritual or religious conflict, but that wouldn’t make it so. Go players arguing over the status of a group of stones could also become passionate in their fervor over the situation. Still wouldn’t make it up to the gods to decide the fate of that group of stones, or the game. The rules might be imperfect, but they are the rules agreed upon by people, trying to do things in an orderly way, not the will of capricious gods.
Sometimes people who are technically focused make up simple explanations for things they are doing just to get someone off their back. That is especially true if they believe the person they are talking to won’t understand or be interested in the explanation if they gave it. Perhaps that is the origin of the presumed connection with astrology.
Who created the grid because they needed it? Who needed contrasting counters or tokens? Was it the astronomers or the astrologers? I know which group of people, which ways of thinking, I would put my money on, what about you? Does my thesis make sense, or am I missing some other intangible factor that somehow turns this thought experiment on its head?