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Kevin Myers: Falling victim to the dark side of the moon

Historians will look at many things to explain the collapse of the Cowen regime. How many of them will consider the role of the moon? For that is the great satellite of unreason. Its orbits drive poets to madness and lovers to abandon.

Moonlight is the great enchanter, the lantern of the benighted traveller, the guide of the lonely wayfarer. No light is quite like the light of the moon, no benediction as benign as its midnight glow. From the sickle-crescent of its birth, to the radiance of its fullness, it is our unfailing friend.

Only it's not. Ask anyone who woke up around three last Tuesday morning: the sudden wide-awakeness of a very bad nightmare, except there was no nightmare, just the silent uproar of a baffled, whirring mind. I found myself wide-eyed, my brain a tumult, as the moonlight physically pressed against the curtains like a following breeze on a tea-clipper's mainsail. Beyond that curtain, the moon stood huge and round and sinister, glaring down at the earth. This was not the moon of poets, but the baleful thing at which wolves howl. This was the moon that every hospital casualty-unit dreads, as under its spell men break bottles in faces, a usually pleasant wife lifts the midnight carving knife from the drawer with unforeseen purpose, and takes a step towards her snoring husband, and ministers conspire against the man who leads them.

That was Tuesday. The moon on Wednesday evening rose over a frosted landscape in a perfectly clear and cloudless sky. It had the innocently lethal look of a serial killer wandering into a Montessori playground, and the light that it shed cut through the dark like a cheese-wire through neck-flesh. The fields glowed blue and beaten beneath it. You could actually feel its power on your temples, not so much striking as smiting. Once again, right across Ireland at around three, people woke, up, alert, mystified, ill. So disorienting and disturbing was it that I had to get out of bed and walk around, my brain like boiling magma. Was this the prelude to death? Or plain madness? It could have been either, for what the moon did to my mind was not just an ordinary disorder. Where once I had a mind, I now housed a lunatic asylum. Outside, the moon stood proudly in the sky, large and round and deranged. Couples would not have kissed under its unwinking baleful gaze, but cringed. Sleep was not possible. Thought was not possible. Madness was. Yet by the following night, the curse was gone with all madness departed, and while the moon shone gently on a blue-frosted nightscape, a full night's sleep passed completely undisturbed. Circadian insanity became circadian slumber. But the damage to Brian Cowen was already done.

We can put man on the moon, but we cannot measure what that lump of granite can do to a man's mind, or know when the gentleness that bewitches poets will suddenly vanish, and be replaced by the glowering lunatic malevolence that filled the nightskies during the first full moon of year. And then that dark-spell departed and peace returned, yet we do not know why.

We shall never know why, for all scientific enquiry results in a new mystery. Even David Attenborough, an ideological evolutionist, admitted as much in his recent television series about the beginnings of worldly life. He merely stated that the first living cells somehow emerged in the horrors of early earth: and then suddenly there were convenient collagen molecules. Ah yes, collagen molecules, quite so, quite so: as wikipedia says, the collagen molecule "is a subunit of larger collagen aggregates ... . It is ... made up of three polypeptide strands (called alpha chains), each possessing the conformation of a left-handed helix (not to be confused with the commonly occurring alpha helix, a right-handed structure). These three left-handed helices are twisted together into a right-handed coiled coil, a triple helix or "super helix", a cooperative quaternary structure stabilised by numerous hydrogen bonds."

And all, apparently, created by accident.

Perhaps this week's moon-madness was reinforced by the BBC2 'Horizon' on Monday, naturally, entitled 'What is Reality?', in which immensely clever scientists concluded earnestly, "Actually, we haven't got a clue." Though of course, they didn't quite say that, because the possibility of grasping "reality" is the driving conceit of science. All existence -- we were told -- is now known to be based on 16 different quarks. But we secretly know that one day a family of sub-quarks will be discovered, and fresh horizons promised, beyond which lies the key to everything. Ad infinitum.

Our quest for knowledge merely creates increasingly sophisticated levels of ignorance. Time and space swap places, and the only tool of comprehension is a mathematical calculation so abstruse that it can no more be described in words than a sunset can be conveyed by a sum.

Fine. But I still await the day when science can explain to me what turns the moon from passive and pale benignity into a government-wrecking lunar rage; and of course, I shall wait in vain.

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