The Moon Illusion.

September 2, 2020

The Moon Illusion.

May 29, 2023

Last night was a full blown, full moon show here in Northern California. Driving through the hills of West Marin the moon appeared as a huge pumpkin colored disc on the horizon. Every detail of its surface magnified into startling clarity.

‘Take a picture daddy’ my seven year old son urged me. I tried to explain that the moon wouldn’t look so big in a picture because of what is known as “the moon illusion.”

The basic idea is that when the moon is close to familiar-sized objects near the horizon, our brain automatically recalibrates and makes the moon seem bigger. The science seems fuzzy on why this is the case but the truth of it is easy to prove. Take a picture of a massive moon on the horizon and a moon high in the night sky. They are both the same size in the picture.

This moon illusion made me think about some of the other illusions in perspective we might be slaves to right now. How do things become disproportionate when they enter the heart of our lives as opposed to when they are out there in the universe?

I’m thinking of the massive face of the coronavirus and how that compares to my reaction to SARS or Ebola virus. I’m thinking of the all-encompassing face of our nation’s president in our daily narrative. I’m thinking about the immediacy and desperate urgency of Black Lives Matter and the creeping chasm of the threat to our global economy.

How many moons can we see in any given night sky before we are forced to think about perspective? How do we create practices to understand and evaluate the real size of the things we face relative to their actual size and importance within the broader cosmology of our lives?

Where in your life are there vast, seemingly unavoidable issues you are facing? What are the things you do to ensure you have tested your perspective for illusions?


Jeff Hamaoui is one of the cofounders of MEA and the Chief Education & Innovation Officer.

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