Jun 11 2013

Don’t Stare Directly Into the Sun

This is the sort of thing that most people learn when they are very young. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to learn this – light that is bright enough to damage the retina is also painful and will cause you to close your eyes or look away. So telling people not to stare into the sun is the equivalent of telling them not to put their hand into a raging fire.

The exception here is an annular or partial solar eclipse – when most of the sun is blocked out by the Moon but a tiny sliver remains, that sliver is still bright enough to carve out pieces of your retina but too small to cause pain. Telling people not to stare directly at a solar eclipse is therefore useful advice.

Given the human penchant for believing feel-good nonsense it should not come as a surprise that there are those who advocate sungazing – staring into the sun. They believe this will give them magical powers.

Here’s how it works:

During your first 3 months of practice, the suns energy is moving through the eyes and charging the hypothalamus tract, says those who have studied this technique and used it.  The hypothalamus tract is the pathway to the rear of the retina which leads to the brain.  The brain then, over time, becomes activated by the energy supply being received by the sun.  You will first experience a relief of mental tension and worry, since most worry is fueled by the energy received by the foods we eat.  Since food gets it’s energy from the sun, it is said to be readily available to sun-eaters without the trouble of digestion.  Though hunger is said to eventually cease, it is fine to continue eating regularly during initial stages, until appetite disappears naturally.

Here’s some basic neuroscience – the hypothalamus is not a tract, it’s a gland in the brain, below the thalamus (hence the name). It is the primary connection between the nervous system and the endocrine system. It does receive input from the visual system, as light levels are used in the daily circadian rhythm, but it is not a tract nor does it convey light signal to the rest of the brain.

After that bit of neuro-pseudoscience, we have this:

By seven and a half months of gazing, now at 35 minutes, need and desire for food is dwindling.  According to sun gazing experts, food is not actually needed to maintain the body, only energy – and ‘sun-eating’ provides that energy.  By 9 months, all taste for food, including aroma, all hunger pains and cravings disappear.  Those who make it this far say that they report a noticeable ’change’ in the way their brain feels – like it’s “charged up.”

I suspect that all desire for food dwindles because you are dead. According to “sungazing experts” food is only needed for energy. This is patently wrong. We get more than energy from food. If all we needed was energy you could live on pure sugar.

We also get vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and essential amino acids and lipids from food. Vitamins and minerals provide no calories – no energy – but they are needed in order for the body’s biochemistry to work. Essential amino acids and lipids can provide energy, but they are essential because they are also structural elements and our bodies cannot make them for themselves, and therefore have to get them in food (hence “essential”).

I know this is an easy one today – but this is dangerous pseudoscientific advice that gets basic scientific facts completely wrong. A woman in Seattle apparently wants to follow the advice of sungazers.  She plans on recording her attempt to live entirely on sunshine, to eliminate the possibility of cheating. Apparently, others who have claimed to live entirely on sunshine were not believed by many skeptics, who accused them of cheating (getting the occasional Big Mac on the side).

She is therefore going to record her every living moment. She had hoped to live stream it, but apparently there are some technical hurdles there. In any case, let’s hope this does not turn into a snuff film, and that she eventually breaks down and has some food. She has already lost 20 pounds. She believes that when her body is sufficiently starved, then it will switch over to sunlight as a source of energy.

Some people are just destined to be the poster child for scientific illiteracy.

26 responses so far

26 thoughts on “Don’t Stare Directly Into the Sun”

  1. You can also do some basic physics to see that sungazing doesn’t make sense. Staring at the sun for a little bit is not going to provide a noticeable increase in the amount of solar radiation that gets into your brain. There’s already a lot of non-visible light that passes straight through your skull regardless of what you’re looking at, and if it’s not completely dark out, then the sun’s energy is already being reflected into your eyes.

  2. DavidCT says:

    I sense the potential for a Darwin Award. While this could be a learning experience, more likely she will create imaginative excuses. Hopefully she will not also have to cope with physical blindness to match the intellectual kind. It is really scary to observe just how many ridiculous myths continue to be accepted. Sometimes it feels that we are trying to bail out the Titanic.

  3. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Since you linked to it, I’ll go off topic a bit (unless “stupid” is today’s special)…

    The “guardian express”, based in Las Vegas, is a real nut job rag. I discovered them when I ran into this recently:

    There’s a good example of an ignorant reporter diving in and absorbing loads of BS.

  4. ccbowers says:

    A quote from the Seattle woman from her Facebook profile “Living on Light”:

    “Plants live on light, then we eat plants. Are we simply not accessing our inherent ability to live on light? What if it’s simply our unawareness of this ability that we didn’t know we had. After hearing of the possibility that this might be true, I received a ‘calling’ from within, from the Universe, to find out if it is so.”

    Really? She is not even trying to think

  5. Bill Openthalt says:

    I wonder if this type of self-destructive, delusional behaviour qualifies as mental illness.

  6. TheFlyingPig says:


    That article contained too many facepalms to count. But did you notice the last paragraph?:

    “While there is overwhelming evidence showing the safety and benefits of vaccines in children, and parent’s worries though mistaken should be treated seriously. Health professionals have the responsibility to provide accurate information to base your decision.”

    Despite how poorly this is written, it’s clear enough that it’s saying that all the information presented in the article, except for the first paragraph, is wrong. This confuses the hell out of me. What are the trying to do with this article?

  7. NNM says:

    The number of views on prismtube or number of prismbook “friends” affects some people to think they are unique pioneers, without realizing their own ridicule…

  8. autumnmonkey says:

    Check out the breatharians. I wonder by what method someone decides between becoming a sun-eater or a breath-eater.

  9. Bronze Dog says:

    A quote from the Seattle woman from her Facebook profile “Living on Light”:

    “Plants live on light, then we eat plants. Are we simply not accessing our inherent ability to live on light? What if it’s simply our unawareness of this ability that we didn’t know we had. After hearing of the possibility that this might be true, I received a ‘calling’ from within, from the Universe, to find out if it is so.”

    Really? She is not even trying to think

    Wow. Did she flunk grade school? Humans don’t have chlorophyll or anything equivalent. That’s why we can’t live on solar power like plants do. Of course, even plants aren’t purely solar powered, since they get carbon dioxide from the air (not recommended for humans, either) and nutrients from the soil. They “eat” fertilizer (also not recommended).

    Of course, even if she did get a decent education, there’s a whole woo culture out there dedicated to muddling thinking so the gurus can exploit those made vulnerable. She’s probably going to wind up with damaged eyes and possibly dead. If she survives, I worry she’s going to visit more quacks to fix her vision and dismiss the failure as not working “for me” instead of consider that it’s simply a bad idea.

  10. ccbowers says:

    Yeah, Bronze dog. I keep rubbing this coal on my phone but the battery keeps draining. Perhaps draining to 1% will unleash it’s inherent ability to take the energy directly from the coal. A friend of mine dropped his in the toilet, which might have been an attempt at hydroelectric charging

  11. SARA says:

    I think the people who are promoting this “lifesytle” should be held responsible criminally if she dies or gets seriously ill, which seems inevitable.

  12. ChrisH says:

    Though it would be very cool to replace the mitochondria in our skin cells with plastids. We would then be lots of lovely colors, especially green, that could convert solar energy to run our bodies. That way we could cut down on food production.

    Of course we would still need to consume some, especially water and food that provided certain chemicals. And food would still be needed because we are warm blooded and move lots more than plants.

  13. Davdoodles says:

    What a silly, arrogant person.

    All the science and all the experts say it’s utterly implausible baloney, but she knows better.

    Physics, chemistry, human and plant biology, all spectacularly, utterly, wrong.

    And she’s right. Just because nature and wonder and happy thoughts.

    What a silly, arrogant person.

  14. eiskrystal says:

    I would love to know how she would get enough “energy” through her eyes in 35 minutes to power her body for the day…

  15. Bruce Woodward says:

    As someone who loves his food I could not think of anything more appalling than having to live on sunlight alone.

    You have to wonder though, if what she is saying is right, all those starving kids in Africa have been doing it wrong all these years. All they had to do was lie out in the sun to not starve to death!

    How stupid can people be? Seriously… do they not even put their logic to the basest of tests?

  16. micwat says:

    I think this is what “the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” refers to.

    Presumably you should be putting on weight without eating any food if you stay in the sun too long.

  17. Bruce Woodward says:


    By that logic you have hit on a brilliant diet idea… The Darkness (TM) Diet*… get your quota of Darkness (TM) every day and you will lose weight.

    We can charge people per minute in our specially calibrated Darkness (TM) Rooms or sell special Darkness (TM) Lights for all the Darkness (TM) you need.


    *Works best with moderated calorie intake and regular exercise.

  18. Kawarthajon says:

    This is so utterly ridiculous, I don’t know where to start. I watched a couple of the videos this woman has posted and it made me feel extremely embarrassed for her. If you read the comments below her videos, the vast, vast majority of commenters are making fun of her, ridiculing her or just pointing out how silly her plan is. I hope that she has some sort of epiphany and learns to recognize how ridiculous she is behaving. More likely, she will explain away her failure to survive off of sunlight with some sort of twisted logic.

  19. NNM says:

    People’s reaction to this (around me) is always, and immediatly:
    “but what about children starving in Africa? Has she never heard of that?”
    (followed by comments about the intellect of americans in general…)

    They (starving children in Africa) get more sun than she does, and even less nutrients (she drinks tea and probably other types of “healing” beverages which contain some nutrients.

  20. steve12 says:

    The author’s page is a must read:

    I defy the greatest headliner writers at the NY Post to do better:

    “Endangered African White Lions Really Reincarnated Spiritual Masters?”

    and my favorite:

    “Naked Journey Leads to Unknown Outcome”

  21. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Just to throw us for a loop, they have both a reporter who is very concerned about the rain forest…


    …and another one who thinks global warming is a lie invented by communists and nazis:


  22. ProSubzero says:

    Shouldn’t somebody sitting there staring at the sun be a bit darker? She is reaching Tom Petty levels of whiteness.

    Bright side of this story, it inspired me to listen to some “TV on the Radio”. Thank you whack job lady.

  23. DrSkunkApe says:

    Let’s also not forget that light hitting the retina causes lots of neuron firing that actually expends energy.

    But my question is, have parents, teachers, and doctors been lying to us all this time about not staring into the sun? If these people have been doing it for a half hour or so a day, why aren’t they all blind?

  24. Calli Arcale says:


    Actually, they haven’t been *exactly* lying. It’s still not good for your eyes, but staring at the sun will not blind you — under normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, your eyes employ a method to reduce the amount of light entering them to safe levels — the irises contract. (This is, of course, a rather serious problem with the suneaters’ claims, that the eyes’ aperture decreases reflexively to exclude as much sunlight as possible.) Staring for half an hour will probably still do damage, but you won’t be totally blind, because your irises are doing a good job of protecting you.

    The problem is that your pupils contract to protect you from the Sun, but if the Sun is eclipsed, they might not be triggered to do so because it’s suddenly not as bright. It’s still emitting a lot of UV radiation, though, and you can focus the heat of a mostly-eclipsed Sun and still burn stuff with it, so although it’s too dim at that point to trigger your eyes’ defense mechanism, it’s still almost as dangerous.

    So objectively, eclipses release less damaging radiation, but in practice they do more harm because your eyes are unprotected.

  25. jre says:

    I ran across this idea a few years ago at the website of America’s Most Prosperous Natural Nutjob: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/01/08/feasting-on-sunshine.aspx

    Sadly, the fact that Mercola endorses staring at the sun is overlooked by those who like his other stuff. There’s a tension between the paranoia and the promise of miracles that is like catnip to some brains.

  26. Kawarthajon says:


    Naveena has stopped trying to live on light as of June 19. You can read her twisting of logic in her explanation that she posted online. In short, it seems as though she was being kicked out of her apartment, had no money for phone or electricity and was starving to death.

    Even thought she failed to live on light, still believes that people can live just on light and is encouraging people to only live on light. Here is her description of her opinion on the matter.

    “I would say that the “Living On Light” experiment has been amazingly successful. It did not do what I thought it was going to do but it did do what Existence wanted it to do. That is what I call “perfect”.”

    There we go. She seems to have learned nothing from this experience. I feel sad for her, given that she is penniless and homeless and seems completely unaware of her predicament.

    In her video, she claims that she has opened up this area to science and her actions will change the world. Nonsense.

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