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Interview with Bill Lauritzen in the Argonaut

by Bill Lauritzen

December 19th, 2002

Local winter solstice events educate, entertain, mystify


Winter solstice is coming up on Sunday, December 22nd, and one local psychologist wants to explain why he thinks most people who plan to watch the solstice sunset are "delusional." Bill Lauritzen, a psychologist and professor at Los Angeles City College, plans to lecture on mass misconceptions about winter solstice on Sunday, December 22nd, on Venice Beach.

Lauritzen plans to discuss the solstice in terms of both astronomy and psychology, his two strongest disciplines, he says.

There's no confusion that solstices occur twice in the year, marking the beginning of winter and the beginning of summer. The confusion is in how people perceive sunrises and sunsets, says Lauritzen.

It's been scientific knowledge since at least the 17th century and the time of Galileo that the earth rotates around the sun, but here in the 21st century, people still perceive the sun as something that rises and sets or moves across the earth's sky, explains Lauritzen.

"You see the "sunset'. You see the "sunrise'. However, as a psychologist, it is my duty to tell you that you are delusional," says Lauritzen. "The sun does not move. We live in a heliocentric, not a geocentric system. Hence, if you see it move, if you see it rise or set or even travel across the sky, you are seeing something that is not possible."

Traditionally, the concept of the solstice is based on the sun's position on the celestial sphere. The celestial sphere is an imaginary sphere of infinite radius in which the earth is considered the center rather than the sun. The sphere is used in astronomy to describe a solar entity's position or distance in relation to the earth. During the solstices, the sun appears to reach its highest point above or below the equator.

But the sun doesn't "reach" anything, reminds Lauritzen. Rather, it is the earth that is in motion. Lauritzen says that the solstice is best conceptualized in its "modern, correct way" rather than from the ancient angle.

What the solstices and equinoxes actually symbolize, he says, is the four most significant orbital points in the earth's yearly rotation around the sun.

During both equinoxes, night and day are of equal length, and they mark the beginning of the spring and autumn seasons. The two yearly solstices mark the beginning of summer and winter.

Since it's common knowledge that the earth revolves around the sun, why do people still speak and conceptualize in terms of the sun rising and setting? Ancient delusions die hard, he supposes.

"The brain has a model of how we interpret sensations," says Lauritzen. "The model currently imbedded in our brains' is based on the earth as the center of the solar system."

Though Lauritzen accuses the public of perpetuating "mass delusion," his diagnosis is not terminal. A purely semantic cure exists, he says. He'd like people to use the terms "spin-in" and "spin-out," describing the earth's movements in relation to the sun, rather than sunrise and sunset.

Lauritzen also plans to hold a meditation exercise at the event. He'll begin speaking at 3:48 p.m. and continue for about an hour as the sun "sets."

Venice Beach was chosen because it is a prime location to watch the sun "spin-out" over the ocean as opposed to other nearby beaches in Malibu, where the sun typically sets over the mountains, he says.

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