By PHILIP LATHAM
Illustrated by Freas
This, be it understood, is fiction—nothing but fiction—and not,
under any circumstances, to be considered as having any truth
whatever to it. It's obviously utterly impossible ... isn't it?
An interview with Dr. I. M. Niemand, Director of the Psychophysical
Institute of Solar and Terrestrial Relations, Camarillo, California.
In the closing days of December, 1957, at the meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in New York, Dr. Niemand
delivered a paper entitled simply, "On the Nature of the Solar
S-Regions." Owing to its unassuming title the startling implications
contained in the paper were completely overlooked by the press. These
implications are discussed here in an exclusive interview with Dr.
Niemand by Philip Latham.
LATHAM. Dr. Niemand, what would you say is your main job?
NIEMAND. I suppose you might say my main job today is to find out all I
can between activity on the Sun and various forms of activity on the
LATHAM. What do you mean by activity on the Sun?
NIEMAND. Well, a sunspot is a form of solar activity.
LATHAM. Just what is a sunspot?
NIEMAND. I'm afraid I can't say just what a sunspot is. I can only
describe it. A sunspot is a region on the Sun that is cooler than its
surroundings. That's why it looks dark. It isn't so hot. Therefore not
LATHAM. Isn't it true that the number of spots on the Sun rises and
falls in a cycle of eleven years?
NIEMAND. The number of spots on the Sun rises and falls in a cycle of
about eleven years. That word about makes quite a difference.
LATHAM. In what way?
NIEMAND. It means you can only approximately predict the future course
of sunspot activity. Sunspots are mighty treacherous things.
LATHAM. Haven't there been a great many correlations announced between
sunspots and various effects on the Earth?
NIEMAND. Scores of them.
LATHAM. What is your opinion of these correlations?
NIEMAND. Pure bosh in most cases.
LATHAM. But some are valid?
NIEMAND. A few. There is unquestionably a correlation between
sunspots and disturbances of the Earth's magnetic field ... radio
fade-outs ... auroras ... things like that.
LATHAM. Now, Dr. Niemand, I understand that you have been investigating
solar and terrestrial relationships along rather unorthodox lines.
NIEMAND. Yes, I suppose some people would say so.
LATHAM. You have broken new ground?
NIEMAND. That's true.
LATHAM. In what way have your investigations differed from those of
NIEMAND. I think our biggest advance was the discovery that sunspots
themselves are not the direct cause of the disturbances we have been
studying on the Earth. It's something like the eruptions in rubeola.
Attention is concentrated on the bright red papules because they're such
a conspicuous symptom of the disease. Whereas the real cause is an
invisible filterable virus. In the solar case it turned out to be these
LATHAM. Why S-Regions?
NIEMAND. We had to call them something. Named after the Sun, I suppose.
LATHAM. You say an S-Region is invisible?
NIEMAND. It is quite invisible to the eye but readily detected by
suitable instrumental methods. It is extremely doubtful, however, if the
radiation we detect is the actual cause of the disturbing effects
LATHAM. Just what are these effects?
NIEMAND. Well, they're common enough, goodness knows. As old as the
world, in fact. Yet strangely enough it's hard to describe them in exact
LATHAM. Can you give us a general idea?
NIEMAND. I'll try. Let's see ... remember that speech from "Julius
Caesar" where Cassius is bewailing the evil times that beset ancient
Rome? I believe it went like this: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in
our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings."
LATHAM. I'm afraid I don't see—
NIEMAND. Well, Shakespeare would have been nearer the truth if he had
put it the other way around. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in
ourselves but in our stars" or better "in the Sun."
LATHAM. In the Sun?
NIEMAND. That's right, in the Sun. I suppose the oldest problem in the
world is the origin of human evil. Philosophers have wrestled with it
ever since the days of Job. And like Job they have usually given up in
despair, convinced that the origin of evil is too deep for the human
mind to solve. Generally they have concluded that man is inherently
wicked and sinful and that is the end of it. Now for the first time
science has thrown new light on this subject.
LATHAM. How is that?
NIEMAND. Consider the record of history. There are occasional periods
when conditions are fairly calm and peaceful. Art and industry
flourished. Man at last seemed to be making progress toward some higher
goal. Then suddenly—for no detectable reason—conditions are
reversed. Wars rage. People go mad. The world is plunged into an orgy of
bloodshed and misery.
LATHAM. But weren't there reasons?
NIEMAND. What reasons?
LATHAM. Well, disputes over boundaries ... economic rivalry ... border
NIEMAND. Nonsense. Men always make some flimsy excuse for going to war.
The truth of the matter is that men go to war because they want to go
to war. They can't help themselves. They are impelled by forces over
which they have no control. By forces outside of themselves.
LATHAM. Those are broad, sweeping statements. Can't you be more
NIEMAND. Perhaps I'd better go back to the beginning. Let me see.... It
all started back in March, 1955, when I started getting patients
suffering from a complex of symptoms, such as profound mental
depression, anxiety, insomnia, alternating with fits of violent rage and
resentment against life and the world in general. These people were
deeply disturbed. No doubt about that. Yet they were not psychotic and
hardly more than mildly neurotic. Now every doctor gets a good many
patients of this type. Such a syndrome is characteristic of menopausal
women and some men during the climacteric, but these people failed to
fit into this picture. They were married and single persons of both
sexes and of all ages. They came from all walks of life. The onset of
their attack was invariably sudden and with scarcely any warning. They
would be going about their work feeling perfectly all right. Then in a
minute the whole world was like some scene from a nightmare. A week or
ten days later the attack would cease as mysteriously as it had come and
they would be their old self again.
LATHAM. Aren't such attacks characteristic of the stress and strain of
NIEMAND. I'm afraid that old stress-and-strain theory has been badly
overworked. Been hearing about it ever since I was a pre-med student at
ucla. Even as a boy I can remember my grandfather deploring the stress
and strain of modern life when he was a country doctor practicing in
Indiana. In my opinion one of the most valuable contributions
anthropologists have made in recent years is the discovery that
primitive man is afflicted with essentially the same neurotic conditions
as those of us who live a so-called civilized life. They have found
savages displaying every symptom of a nervous breakdown among the
mountain tribes of the Elgonyi and the Aruntas of Australia. No, Mr.
Latham, it's time the stress-and-strain theory was relegated to the junk
pile along with demoniac possession and blood letting.
LATHAM. You must have done something for your patients—
NIEMAND. A doctor must always do something for the patients who come to
his office seeking help. First I gave them a thorough physical
examination. I turned up some minor ailments—a slight heart murmur or a
trace of albumin in the urine—but nothing of any significance. On the
whole they were a remarkably healthy bunch of individuals, much more so
than an average sample of the population. Then I made a searching
inquiry into their personal life. Here again I drew a blank. They had no
particular financial worries. Their sex life was generally satisfactory.
There was no history of mental illness in the family. In fact, the only
thing that seemed to be the matter with them was that there were times
when they felt like hell.
LATHAM. I suppose you tried tranquilizers?
NIEMAND. Oh, yes. In a few cases in which I tried tranquilizing pills of
the meprobamate type there was some slight improvement. I want to
emphasize, however, that I do not believe in prescribing shotgun
remedies for a patient. To my way of thinking it is a lazy slipshod way
of carrying on the practice of medicine. The only thing for which I do
give myself credit was that I asked my patients to keep a detailed
record of their symptoms taking special care to note the time of
exacerbation—increase in the severity of the symptoms—as accurately as
LATHAM. And this gave you a clue?
NIEMAND. It was the beginning. In most instances patients reported the
attack struck with almost the impact of a physical blow. The prodromal
symptoms were usually slight ... a sudden feeling of uneasiness and
guilt ... hot and cold flashes ... dizziness ... double vision. Then
this ghastly sense of depression coupled with a blind insensate rage at
life. One man said he felt as if the world were closing in on him.
Another that he felt the people around him were plotting his
destruction. One housewife made her husband lock her in her room for
fear she would injure the children. I pored over these case histories
for a long time getting absolutely nowhere. Then finally a pattern began
LATHAM. What sort of pattern?
NIEMAND. The first thing that struck me was that the attacks all
occurred during the daytime, between the hours of about seven in the
morning and five in the evening. Then there were these coincidences—
NIEMAND. Total strangers miles apart were stricken at almost the same
moment. At first I thought nothing of it but as my records accumulated I
became convinced it could not be attributed to chance. A mathematical
analysis showed the number of coincidences followed a Poisson
distribution very closely. I couldn't possibly see what daylight had to
do with it. There is some evidence that mental patients are most
disturbed around the time of full moon, but a search of medical
literature failed to reveal any connection with the Sun.
LATHAM. What did you do?
NIEMAND. Naturally I said nothing of this to my patients. I did,
however, take pains to impress upon them the necessity of keeping an
exact record of the onset of an attack. The better records they kept the
more conclusive was the evidence. Men and women were experiencing nearly
simultaneous attacks of rage and depression all over southern
California, which was as far as my practice extended. One day it
occurred to me: if people a few miles apart could be stricken
simultaneously, why not people hundreds or thousands of miles apart? It
was this idea that prompted me to get in touch with an old colleague of
mine I had known at UC medical school, Dr. Max Hillyard, who was in
practice in Utica, New York.
LATHAM. With what result?
NIEMAND. I was afraid the result would be that my old roommate would
think I had gone completely crazy. Imagine my surprise and gratification
on receiving an answer by return mail to the effect that he also had
been getting an increasing number of patients suffering with the same
identical symptoms as my own. Furthermore, upon exchanging records we
did find that in many cases patients three thousand miles apart had
been stricken simultaneously—
LATHAM. Just a minute. I would like to know how you define
NIEMAND. We say an attack is simultaneous when one occurred on the east
coast, for example, not earlier or later than five minutes of an attack
on the west coast. That is about as close as you can hope to time a
subjective effect of this nature. And now another fact emerged which
gave us another clue.
LATHAM. Which was?
NIEMAND. In every case of a simultaneous attack the Sun was shining at
both New York and California.
LATHAM. You mean if it was cloudy—
NIEMAND. No, no. The weather had nothing to do with it. I mean the Sun
had to be above the horizon at both places. A person might undergo an
attack soon after sunrise in New York but there would be no
corresponding record of an attack in California where it was still dark.
Conversely, a person might be stricken late in the afternoon in
California without a corresponding attack in New York where the Sun had
set. Dr. Hillyard and I had been searching desperately for a clue. We
had both noticed that the attacks occurred only during the daylight
hours but this had not seemed especially significant. Here we had
evidence pointing directly to the source of trouble. It must have some
connection with the Sun.
LATHAM. That must have had you badly puzzled at first.
NIEMAND. It certainly did. It looked as if we were headed back to the
Middle Ages when astrology and medicine went hand in hand. But since it
was our only lead we had no other choice but to follow it regardless of
the consequences. Here luck played somewhat of a part, for Hillyard
happened to have a contact that proved invaluable to us. Several years
before Hillyard had gotten to know a young astrophysicist, Henry
Middletown, who had come to him suffering from a severe case of myositis
in the arms and shoulders. Hillyard had been able to effect a complete
cure for which the boy was very grateful, and they had kept up a
desultory correspondence. Middletown was now specializing in radio
astronomy at the government's new solar observatory on Turtle Back
Mountain in Arizona. If it had not been for Middletown's help I'm afraid
our investigation would never have gotten past the clinical stage.
LATHAM. In what way was Middletown of assistance?
NIEMAND. It was the old case of workers in one field of science being
completely ignorant of what was going on in another field. Someday we
will have to establish a clearing house in science instead of keeping it
in tight little compartments as we do at present. Well, Hillyard and I
packed up for Arizona with considerable misgivings. We were afraid
Middletown wouldn't take our findings seriously but somewhat to our
surprise he heard our story with the closest attention. I guess
astronomers have gotten so used to hearing from flying saucer
enthusiasts and science-fiction addicts that nothing surprises them any
more. When we had finished he asked to see our records. Hillyard had
them all set down for easy numerical tabulation. Middletown went to work
with scarcely a word. Within an hour he had produced a chart that was
LATHAM. Can you describe this chart for us?
NIEMAND. It was really quite simple. But if it had not been for
Middletown's experience in charting other solar phenomena it would never
have occurred to us to do it. First, he laid out a series of about
thirty squares horizontally across a sheet of graph paper. He dated
these beginning March 1, 1955, when our records began. In each square he
put a number from 1 to 10 that was a rough index of the number and
intensity of the attacks reported on that day. Then he laid out another
horizontal row below the first one dated twenty-seven days later. That
is, the square under March 1st in the top row was dated March 28th in
the row below it. He filled in the chart until he had an array of dozens
of rows that included all our data down to May, 1958.
When Middletown had finished it was easy to see that the squares of
highest index number did not fall at random on the chart. Instead they
fell in slightly slanting parallel series so that you could draw
straight lines down through them. The connection with the Sun was
LATHAM. In what way?
NIEMAND. Why, because twenty-seven days is about the synodic period of
solar rotation. That is, if you see a large spot at the center of the
Sun's disk today, there is a good chance if it survives that you will
see it at the same place twenty-seven days later. But that night
Middletown produced another chart that showed the connection with the
Sun in a way that was even more convincing.
LATHAM. How was that?
NIEMAND. I said that the lines drawn down through the days of greatest
mental disturbance slanted slightly. On this second chart the squares
were dated under one another not at intervals of twenty-seven days, but
at intervals of twenty-seven point three days.
LATHAM. Why is that so important?
NIEMAND. Because the average period of solar rotation in the sunspot
zone is not twenty-seven days but twenty-seven point three days. And on
this chart the lines did not slant but went vertically downward. The
correlation with the synodic rotation of the Sun was practically
LATHAM. But how did you get onto the S-Regions?
NIEMAND. Middletown was immediately struck by the resemblance between
the chart of mental disturbance and one he had been plotting over the
years from his radio observations. Now when he compared the two charts
the resemblance between the two was unmistakable. The pattern shown by
the chart of mental disturbance corresponded in a striking way with the
solar chart but with this difference. The disturbances on the Earth
started two days later on the average than the disturbances due to the
S-Regions on the Sun. In other words, there was a lag of about
forty-eight hours between the two. But otherwise they were almost
LATHAM. But if these S-Regions of Middletown's are invisible how could
he detect them?
NIEMAND. The S-Regions are invisible to the eye through an optical
telescope, but are detected with ease by a radio telescope. Middletown
had discovered them when he was a graduate student working on radio
astronomy in Australia, and he had followed up his researches with the
more powerful equipment at Turtle Back Mountain. The formation of an
S-Region is heralded by a long series of bursts of a few seconds
duration, when the radiation may increase up to several thousand times
that of the background intensity. These noise storms have been recorded
simultaneously on wavelengths of from one to fifteen meters, which so
far is the upper limit of the observations. In a few instances, however,
intense bursts have also been detected down to fifty cm.
LATHAM. I believe you said the periods of mental disturbance last for
about ten or twelve days. How does that tie-in with the S-Regions?
NIEMAND. Very closely. You see it takes about twelve days for an
S-Region to pass across the face of the Sun, since the synodic rotation
is twenty-seven point three days.
LATHAM. I should think it would be nearer thirteen or fourteen days.
NIEMAND. Apparently an S-Region is not particularly effective when it is
just coming on or just going off the disk of the Sun.
LATHAM. Are the S-Regions associated with sunspots?
NIEMAND. They are connected in this way: that sunspot activity and
S-Region activity certainly go together. The more sunspots the more
violent and intense is the S-Region activity. But there is not a
one-to-one correspondence between sunspots and S-Regions. That is, you
cannot connect a particular sunspot group with a particular S-Region.
The same thing is true of sunspots and magnetic storms.
LATHAM. How do you account for this?
NIEMAND. We don't account for it.
LATHAM. What other properties of the S-Regions have you discovered?
NIEMAND. Middletown says that the radio waves emanating from them are
strongly circularly polarized. Moreover, the sense of rotation remains
constant while one is passing across the Sun. If the magnetic field
associated with an S-Region extends into the high solar corona through
which the rays pass, then the sense of rotation corresponds to the
ordinary ray of the magneto-ionic theory.
LATHAM. Does this mean that the mental disturbances arise from some form
of electromagnetic radiation?
NIEMAND. We doubt it. As I said before, the charts show a lag of about
forty-eight hours between the development of an S-Region and the onset
of mental disturbance. This indicates that the malignant energy
emanating from an S-Region consists of some highly penetrating form of
corpuscular radiation, as yet unidentified.[A]
LATHAM. A question that puzzles me is why some people are affected by
the S-Regions while others are not.
NIEMAND. Our latest results indicate that probably no one is
completely immune. All are affected in some degree. Just why some
should be affected so much more than others is still a matter of
LATHAM. How long does an S-Region last?
NIEMAND. An S-Region may have a lifetime of from three to perhaps a
dozen solar rotations. Then it dies out and for a time we are free from
this malignant radiation. Then a new region develops in perhaps an
entirely different region of the Sun. Sometimes there may be several
different S-Regions all going at once.
LATHAM. Why were not the S-Regions discovered long ago?
NIEMAND. Because the radio exploration of the Sun only began since the
end of World War II.
LATHAM. How does it happen that you only got patients suffering from
S-radiation since about 1955?
NIEMAND. I think we did get such patients previously but not in large
enough numbers to attract attention. Also the present sunspot cycle
started its rise to maximum about 1954.
LATHAM. Is there no way of escaping the S-radiation?
NIEMAND. I'm afraid the only sure way is to keep on the unilluminated
side of the Earth which is rather difficult to do. Apparently the
corpuscular beam from an S-Region is several degrees wide and not very
sharply defined, since its effects are felt simultaneously over the
entire continent. Hillyard and Middletown are working on some form of
shielding device but so far without success.
LATHAM. What is the present state of S-Region activity?
NIEMAND. At the present moment there happens to be no S-Region activity
on the Sun. But a new one may develop at any time. Also, the outlook for
a decrease in activity is not very favorable. Sunspot activity continues
at a high level and is steadily mounting in violence. The last sunspot
cycle had the highest maximum of any since 1780, but the present cycle
bids fair to set an all time record.
LATHAM. And so you believe that the S-Regions are the cause of most of
the present trouble in the world. That it is not ourselves but something
NIEMAND. That is the logical outcome of our investigation. We are
controlled and swayed by forces which in many cases we are powerless to
LATHAM. Could we not be warned of the presence of an S-Region?
NIEMAND. The trouble is they seem to develop at random on the Sun. I'm
afraid any warning system would be worse than useless. We would be
crying WOLF! all the time.
LATHAM. How may a person who is not particularly susceptible to this
malignant radiation know that one of these regions is active?
NIEMAND. If you have a feeling of restlessness and anxiety, if you are
unable to concentrate, if you feel suddenly depressed and discouraged
about yourself, or are filled with resentment toward the world, then you
may be pretty sure that an S-Region is passing across the face of the
Sun. Keep a tight rein on yourself. For it seems that evil will always
be with us ... as long as the Sun shall continue to shine upon this