Thoughts That Hurt to Think #043 – The dark side of the moon isn’t actually dark!

The first thing we should be clear on is that this discussion has nothing to do with Pink Floyd. I’m a big fan, but I’m not here to discuss whether or not one of their most popular albums was dark in tone or texture. In fact, we’re not here to talk about Pink Floyd at all.

I don’t know why you even brought it up.

We’re here to wonder why people make up phrases that other people know are wrong, only to have those other people repeat the phrase ad nauseam. In particular, we’re here to talk about one especially annoying example.

Everyone knows the moon only ever shows us the one side. No matter how full or clear the moon is in the night sky, the part you can see always looks the same as it did the last time you saw it. Most folks also know that this is because the moon rotates at the same rate it revolves. We’re going to get more into that next week, but right now we have all we need to do a little thought experiment.

If the moon is always facing one direction relative to the Earth, that has nothing to do with the way it is facing relative to the sun. I mean, it does; but since Earth has day and night, so does the Earth’s moon. The only time the entire moon sees total darkness is when the Earth gets between it and the sun. This doesn’t happen very often, and some folks make a big deal out of it when it does. They make an even bigger deal out of it when the moon gets between the sun and the Earth, which we already talked about in ‘Eclipse blindness is greatly exaggerated‘.

What we didn’t talk about then is what was happening on what we call ‘the dark side of the moon’ while it was eclipsing the sun in some parts of the world. It was full daylight, there on ‘the dark side of the moon’. It remained full daylight for a while, too…just like it does pretty much half the time. The part of the moon that is lit up when we see just a sliver is only representing a tiny bit of the full light the moon is getting at the time. We just can’t see it, because it’s shining on parts of the moon we can’t see.

I know, that’s totally obvious. Even if you never thought about it before, you only have to think about it for a few seconds to realize that pretty much every part of the moon enjoys daylight on a regular basis. So why am I so annoyed with the whole thing?

Well, it’s the saying.

You know. ‘The dark side of the moon’.

I mean…it’s wrong!

The dark side of the moon isn’t actually dark, it just faces away from us! How arrogant are we, to call it dark simply because we can’t see it? It’s too much like that eternally bothersome question, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it…

Does it make a noise?

Yes, you ignorant jackass! There’s a whole forest there, birds and bear and deer and elk…definitely coyotes and rats. Certainly bugs. If there’s no forest, there’s no tree; you can’t separate it from its environment, or say the non-human denizens of the forest don’t exist. They almost all have ears, or some way to sense sound; and a forest doesn’t need people to exist or to engage its many hearing mechanisms. Supposing that it does is like supposing that everyone you interact with disappears between those interactions.

Or that the part of the moon you can’t see is always dark.

Even though most of us leave such childish notions behind with childhood, we tend to carry a lot of these common sayings into adulthood. If pressed, I have to admit that I’ve never called it ‘the other side of the moon’ or ‘the side of the moon always facing away from us’. I’ve always called it ‘the dark side of the moon’, like pretty much everyone else, full well knowing that the part of the moon I’m talking about gets plenty of sun.

Because then you know what I mean, instead of wondering if I’m deliberately trying to be a pain in the ass or if it’s just in my nature.

Maybe I’ll start saying ‘the other side of the moon’.

(After all, it kind of is in my nature.)

Don’t get me wrong in any of this; I love the moon. It’s pretty, and it provides a variety of functions. Besides being the object of this and other ridiculously untrue sayings, the moon makes life on Earth the way it is in many ways.

As you probably know, Earth is continually affected by the moon’s gravity. Our ocean tides only exist because the moon does, and quite a few asteroids that would normally burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere or impact its surface actually hit the moon instead. But that’s not all; the moon’s gravity also has another result, which many old people may tend to disagree with. See, the moon is actually causing the Earth to spin more slowly. That always sounded funny to me, and almost led me to call this next post…

‘The moon is slowing us down!’

But that didn’t sound quite right, or make the point I wanted to make. I tend to say what I have to say in long circuitous ways, and I know that; but when it comes to my titles, I like them to sum up what I’m talking about in a short phrase that sounds as catchy as possible. The next post will be largely about the moon, but the thrust of it is about the way the moon is causing our planet to spin more slowly. In this case, the effect is more important than the cause.

So we’ll call it…

‘The days are getting longer!’

I hope you come back for it, next week.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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