The Sun’s Green Flash

Regular blog readers will know that I am a bit of a fan of Robert Pirsig’s book, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘. I’m just about to finish the sequel, ‘Lila‘, which is also a bit of a positive mind-bender (that is if you have some alternative views, and possibly a negative one if you consider yourself a conformist. Come to think of it, a conformist wouldn’t buy the book, and if they stumbled across it would be unlikely to start it and if they did start it, would be extremely unlikely to finish it.)

Pirsig takes on some massive philosophical beasts in both books, but the freshness of his approach can sometimes be seen best in the way he deals with more simple and natural phenomena. This is his take on the fabled ‘green flash’ of the setting sun,

‘When Phaedrus started to read yachting literature he ran across a description of the “green flash” of the sun. What was that all about, he wondered. Why hadn’t he seen it? He was sure he had never seen the green flash of the sun. Yet he must have seen it. But if he saw it, why didn’t he see it?

This static filter was the explanation. He didn’t see the green flash because he’d never been told to see it. But then one day he read a book on yachting which told him, in effect, to go see it. So he did. And he saw it. There was the sun, green as green can be, like a “GO” light on a downtown traffic semaphore. Yet all his life he had never seen it. The culture hadn’t told him to so he hadn’t seen it.’