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The Moon-Illusion Approach To Problems

Photo by Edmund E. Kasaitis

Ever wonder why the moon looks bigger when it is low on the horizon and smaller when it is high up in the sky?

The most common explanation is that objects such as buildings, trees, or even the ground itself, make the moon appear comparatively bigger. A matter of simple contrast, that’s all.

Another theory suggests that big fat juicy rising moons have to do with the fact that our brains perceive the sky as being farther away than the moon, like some faraway wallpaper, in front of which the moon glides. When our satellite is high in the sky, we see what we see, but when it is low on the horizon, close to the ground, our brain gets scrambled. The sky appears to be closer, the immensity of outer space now eradicated, and the moon is automatically magnified in our eyes.

Others believe that it is exactly the opposite. Objects in the sky directly above our heads, clouds for example, are by default closer to us than those in the horizon. They change size as they travel. When overhead, they are size A, but as they move away, into the horizon, they diminish to size B.

We are so used to this spatial arrangement that we expect all things to appear smaller when in the horizon than when directly above us.

But our satellite is big enough and far enough not to change size no matter where it is in the sky. Its dimensions remain the same, and so does the image caught by our retinas. Our brain is thus caught by surprise. Expecting the moon to shrink in size, it tries to compensate for the discrepancy, making it look bigger.

What does this have to do with problem solving? Well, poetically speaking, let’s just say that if you have a problem rising in your horizon, any problem, you don’t need to examine it in the midst of other stuff. Best thing to do is remove it from everything else, lift it up high and hold it steady, in the clear sky, in the midst of emptiness, and it will instantly shrink down to size.

Or try looking at it upside down. Rumor has it that when looking at a low moon when on your head, the illusion disappears. Why should problems be any different?

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