The Sunset Paradox


On a recent flight from New York to Los Angeles, I experienced an extended sunset as we traveled West, chasing light.

Objectively, there is no such thing as a sunset: it’s as subjective as a rainbow. Imagine seeing a sunset from a plane, where the horizon might be hundreds of miles away. Call somebody in the place where the sunset appears to be, and tell them, “Look out the window! There’s the most amazing sunset over you right now!” They won’t see it, because the sun hasn’t yet set where they are. And yet with a fast enough plane, we could follow the sunset around the world, seeing it with our own eyes in perpetuity.

A sunset can’t exist without a person to perceive it; and a person can’t perceive a sunset without the atmospheric conditions that create it. It takes both our mind AND the world to create.

The sunset paradox, then, is that a sunset “happens” in two places at the same time. From our point of view, a sunset is always happening somewhere else. But since it wouldn’t be a sunset if we stood in the place where it appears, the sunset also happens right here, exactly where we are.