The word lunatic is often thrown around carelessly, but what does it really mean to be a lunatic?
A lunatic is a person who is mentally ill and behaves in a dangerous, erratic way. The word derives from lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck“
Before we start pointing accusing fingers at who is or isn’t a lunatic let me break things down for you.
Lunar means Moon. What, you might ask, does the moon have to do with people who tic mentally? I’ll break it down further. The best-known effect of the moon is its gravitational pull on Earth’s oceans, which results in two high tides and two low tides every day.
If you find yourself getting erratic and a little emotionally unstable during a full moon -don’t go hunting for vampires just yet- it doesn’t mean you are a werewolf. Or does it? Pensive thinking. It could simply mean that… drum roll… you are a lunatic! I know, the horror, right? Relax, it’s not as horrifying as you think. The moon affects the water. This effect is more pronounced the closer the moon is to the earth. William Shakespeare once said:
“It is the very error of the moon.
She comes more near the earth
than she was wont. And makes
—William Shakespeare, Othello
The human body in general is made up of 60% water. The brain on its own ranges between 75% – 80% water. The full moon affects water. Do the math.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle and Roman historian Pliny the Elder suggested that the brain was the “moistest” organ in the body and thereby most susceptible to the destructive influences of the moon, which triggers the tides.
An article published on Scientific American stated that one survey revealed that 45 percent of college students believe moonstruck humans are prone to unusual behaviours, and other surveys suggest that mental health professionals may be still more likely than laypeople to hold this belief. In 2007 several police departments in the U.K. added officers on full-moon nights in an effort to cope with presumed higher crime rates.
Does this mean that we are all lunatics? I would like you to ride this wave -pun intended- of ‘we are all lunatics’ with me, after all, it gives us an excuse for bad behaviour, right? Wrong! We must look at the scientific evidence.
According to Scientific American, first, the gravitational effects of the moon are far too small to generate any meaningful effects on brain activity, let alone behavior. As the late astronomer George Abell of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted, a mosquito sitting on our arm exerts a more powerful gravitational pull on us than the moon does. Second, the moon’s gravitational force affects only open bodies of water, such as oceans and lakes, but not contained sources of water, such as the human brain. Third, the gravitational effect of the moon is just as potent during new moons—when the moon is invisible to us—as it is during full moons.
The difference in the potency of the moon’s gravitational effect on earth is largely dependent on the distance the moon is from the earth.
In the 2003 Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty, Carrey’s character suddenly acquires God-like powers and uses those powers to lasso the full moon and pull it closer to Earth to woo his beloved. Later in the movie, background shots show TV news reports of massive, unprecedented flooding around the world.
Scientists believe that if the moon were half the distance from Earth as it is now, the tides would be eight times higher. That puts a new fear into ‘randomly floating objects in the solar system’. Let’s all hope she sits tight in her position.
Let’s talk about the Super Moon. Dun dun duuuuun! What’s a super moon? According to Nasa, a supermoon occurs when the Moon’s orbit is closest to Earth at the same time the Moon is full. During a supermoon, high and low tides are more extreme and can cause major problems on some coasts.
Now we know that the moon, especially a super one has a major effect on open bodies of water and not the human brain, how do we explain insane asylums that have recorded their patients acting more erratic on a full moon? Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full moon induced insane individuals with bipolar disorder by providing light during nights that would otherwise have been dark and affecting susceptible individuals with Insomnia. This might explain why certain insane asylums report more erratic behaviours with their patients on a full moon.
In conclusion, evidence suggests that although you could be a lunatic, the moon is not to blame for it… or is she? I could go on forever. On a more serious note, going crazy on the night of a full moon is most likely an astronomical and psychological urban legend as there isn’t enough researched evidence to prove otherwise. Or… Or… hear me out, you could be a hybrid between a lunatic and a werewolf. End of!
If there is anything to take from this post it should be: don’t go swimming in an open body of water during a Super Moon.
Arkowitz, H, & Lilienfeld, S, 2009, Lunacy and the full moon, Scientific American, viewed 3 February 2022, <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lunacy-and-the-full-moon/>
Nasa, 2021, what is a supermoon, Nasa science. Solar system exploration, viewed 3 February 2022, < https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/922/what-is-a-supermoon/>