In one of my favorite books, the cult classic “Fooled by Randomness”, an unforgiving deconstruction of financial markets’ forecasting, Nassim Nicholas Taleb relates an interesting little anecdote concerning an inexperienced and naive philosopher asked to observe the setting of the sun over a period of time.
This particular exercise goes on for much longer than expected – about 2 years - and when asked what he can deduce from his 500+ observations of the setting sun (some sunsets were unseen, obscured by clouds), the young philosopher states that since he never once failed to see the sun set, it could be rationally concluded that the sun would continue to set in the sky for the rest of eternity, in saecula saeculorum.
But informed by his teacher that he had given the wrong answer, the young philosopher was not discouraged - even though he was told to observe the setting of the sun for another 2 years.
This time, after experiencing a mind blowing epiphany of the glorious nature and true meaning of the universe, the young philosopher is only too eager to finally tell his teacher the correct answer.
“Master”, he said in a trembling voice. “I have watched the sun set for over 4 years now, on every evening without exception. There has not been even one occasion on which I have failed to see the sun set. This can only mean one thing….”
“…I am immortal and I will live forever!!!”
However, the day will eventually come when the philosopher will not see the sun set again – he will be dead – although it will be much longer – much, much longer, in fact - before no one ever sees a sunset again because there is no sunset to see.
Transversing time in the other direction and we have the equally intriguing question as to who was the first person to ever see a sunset? And on what date did they see it?
But such epistemic matters aside, the sunset will always be a beautiful thing.
The way the sun just seems to sit there in a blood soaked sky of oranges and reds, taking its time about what to do – and teasing you to stare it squarely in its fiery face – before it suddenly dives below the horizon to mark the end of yet another brutal and energy sapping day in the city and the beginning of the cooler, introspective night.
But what about the sunset’s alter ego, its other half, the sunrise or dawn – when the sun’s rays finally come cascading down to mark the birth of a new day and the hard struggle ahead of us?
How does it differ from a sunset in visual terms? And if you were to replay a videotaped sunset back in reverse would it appear as a sunrise? Or would there obviously be something wrong about it?
Well, according to some, there is a difference:
The red and orange color of the sky at sunrise and sunset can be explained by the Mie theory. Sunsets are typically more vibrant than sunrises because there are typically more particles in the atmosphere at sunset. During the night, many of the particles fall to the ground, thus there are less particles in the sky to scatter the sunlight in the morning. Occasionally, sunrises can be more vibrant than sunsets, but that's usually only if there is a fire or an erupting volcano to the east of the observer.
But I’m not so sure.
Have a look at some photographs of my sunsets and sunrises and see if you can tell the difference. You just might not find it that easy…
Lembongan Island, Bali
The Big Durian. But is it dawn or dusk?