But When Is It?

I was using my favourite aircraft tracking site 360Radar when I noticed that they have built in the terminator into the view:


In this picture you can see the lines of the terminator, the line of the end of sunlight across the globe. But, it’s more complicated than that isn’t it? There are two lines and I suspect that one is the onset of sunset and the other is when the sun has dropped below the horizon. Rather, what happens is that the Earth rotates more so the Sun drops below the local horizon.

That gets you to thinking about sunset and when it is. According to Wikipedia, which is a perfectly good reference for most things scientific, sunset is the moment the sun dips below the horizon. After that there are different types of twilight!:

Twilight subcategories.svg
By TWCarlsonOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I hope this doesn’t over complicate issues too much for you all.

One of the things that humans like to do is have simple black and white answers for all problems. We can’t live in a society without rules. We need them to ensure we give everyone a similar set of values and guidelines. We use heuristics all the time. These are brain shortcuts so we don’t have to think about things from the very start. Stereotyping is an heuristic. It allows us to make quick judgements about people so that we don’t have to think too much. The problem is that stereotyping is wrong most of the time and our brain is wrong. Heuristics while brain efficient are mostly wrong.

The question “when is twilight” leads to a multitude of different types and times. Most things in society aren’t really black and white. There are always complications. There are always times when other factors seem important. We love these rules but often they need to be tempered by knowing the circumstances. The media like forcing that black or white notion, they like to implement simple thinking in society to make everything simple. Most people don’t want to think about things or over complicate them. Most people want a simple life where they don’t have to think or consider others.

It’s good to learn that we should always spend extra brain power thinking about the issues are reasons more. As the author Ben Goldacre put it:

I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.


I intend for this to be a short communication. It is something that I often think when faced with many headlines proclaiming things to be wrong or right trying to give a sense of black and white.

A good simple lesson to remember for pretty much any issue you could face is:

It’s probably a continuum

Murder is wrong. Yes, most often, but there are grey areas, it could be argued that it is justified sometimes and the law takes account of that.
Stealing is wrong. Yes, but there are grey areas, the law takes account of that too.

As humans within a social structure we like to have rules and laws and we think we need them to maintain a cohesive structure. However, we do not apply these rules blindly. We use our sense of right and wrong (not given to us by god) and we decide on a case by case basis. It’s what our court system or individual judgement is for.

As an example:
I will set a detention if someone does not complete their homework to a good standard and on time. I would, however, be considered a bastard if that student had just lost a close family member and still punished him. I use my judgement to decide whether the punishment is morally correct to be applied.

Another example:
I might want to wear a political badge at work. Maybe it says “Save the NHS”. I don’t think that should be too much of a problem. Now suppose I was backing a slightly harsher political view “Stop All Immigration”. Should I be allowed to wear that? You can see there is a line or at least a point where the message says too much. That line might move from time to time. It’s hard to quantise where the line stands, it comes to judgement and it may be the case that one type of message is allowed and another similar isn’t.

The application of the rules is carefully considered and applied with a sense of fairness. We can not have fairness if we apply the rules rigidly.

Sometimes the rules are applied differently from time to time and each case is judged on its own merits. We like to “draw a line” we like to have hard and fast arrangements so we know where we stand but life isn’t like that and we should all appreciate that there is no “line” and even if we could say there was it would be wobbly and move around.

I think most about this argument when I hear of racism or discrimination. Let’s say there are counties where a black person isn’t allowed to sit at the front of the bus. How black do you have to be? How white do you have to be? The colour of us is a CONTINUUM. If I am white but have a black grandfather does that mean I can’t sit near the door of the bus. What an utterly ridiculous and pathetic way to classify people.

How about a place where homosexual people aren’t allowed. How homosexual do you need to be? How can they tell? Sexuality is a scale from strongly heterosexual to bisexual to strongly homosexual [it’s a CONTINUUM]. If you have had sex with someone of the same sex once does that make you gay? How many times would make you gay? This is another ridiculous way to classify people.

Nationality is another of these. If I am Scottish and live in Scotland I can vote in the upcoming referendum. How far into Scotland do I have to be born? If I was born in Longtown I would be English. If I was born in Gretna I would be Scottish. Where is the line. If my mother was giving birth and she straddled the border where would I be born. The matter of a couple of miles or even inches determines my entire identity? What a load of rubbish. Just ask the people of Alsace.

When this sort of argument is used it is called a FALSE DICHOTOMY. In mathematics answers are generally correct or not [although there ARE grey areas in mathematics]. On the whole your answer to a mathematical problem will be a dichotomy – correct or not. Whether you are blue eyed or you are not is a FALSE DICHOTOMY. How blue do your eyes need to be? What if one is not blue but the other is? What if you have specks of green in your eyes? It’s a ridiculous concept.

We seem to spend so much of our energies defining things using black and white statements and yet most of the time we ignore the grey areas. Every time we do humanity struggles.