One-Minute Stands

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The year was 8000 BC. Close to the River Dee, in what today is Aberdeenshire, lived a little tribe of hunter-gatherers. Among them was Warren: the bravest, the fastest, and above all the most passionate hunter the world had ever seen. Blood pumped through his veins every time a prey succumbed; pierced by his arrow, or better yet stabbed by his knife. The moment the life of his prey left its body, he was filled with rapture.

Warren’s passion took him too far sometimes, and often it carried him too close to danger. That day only his friend Peter caught up with him; that arrow only skimmed the deer’s skin; that deer only had to turn to sink its antlers into Warren’s chest. Peter’s sudden motion shifted the attention of the animal, which left Warren with a bleeding thorax, and focused it on Peter’s head. Unable to move, Warren had to watch his prey turn into predator, and his friend turn into an inert body that fell by his side.

The pain in his chest was fast gone, but the pain from immobility remained. Abandoned in a corner, his passion waited to run free again, but lying there made him vulnerable to another hunter: a wounded one. Mourning Peter’s death, his wife looked for comfort in other arms. The unexpected pleasure Warren felt was more paralysing than his pain, and those lips were sweeter than any victory he had ever tasted before. That night a new fire sparked in his heart.

It was no wonder that with Peter dead and Warren wounded, another hunter died the following day. It was no surprise the new widow snuck into Warren’s arms the following night. But something did surprise him. This woman was stronger than the previous one: more aggressive, even rough at times. The novelty overcame the pleasure. If those two nights had been so different, what else could he be missing out there?

Once Warren recovered, women would not find him alone any more. It was now his time to hunt them, and he knew how to do that. But with only a few single women in the tribe, Warren’s appetite craved for more. Not that he did not value his friends, he just valued their wives more. In this hunt it was every man for himself. Every man had to run to survive, and Warren would run over anyone in his way.

Another man in the middle just meant another step to plan. A little distraction, a whispered word, and prey would move at his will. He lied in wait for it, he jumped, he talked, he stalked and got the quarry between his arms before the night was over. But then the night was over for him when a jealous hand punched him away from his hunting trophy. As Warren ran, he looked back to see many torches coming after him. He would never lay a finger on that woman again, or on any other woman he had ever met.

He wandered the land hunting to survive, but he was missing his other hunt. No lonely woman would come across his way. Women moved together at that time, and men always followed. So when he finally found a pack, his only option was to join the whole tribe. He would sort out the prey later. When it came to making himself valuable to these new people, he did not have a problem, not after showing his hunting skills.

The mere company of people satisfied him for a while, but once his survival was guaranteed, new goals had to be reached, and those goals were just walking past him every day. After his previous failure, he would separate women to hunt from women to avoid. But this was a timing issue rather a proper decision. For Warren avoiding just meant coming back later with a better plan.

A limit was only a limit for a limited time. Then it had to be pushed, it had to be crossed, and a new limit had to be set. Painfully he learned some limits just would not give in, would push him away, would wield a knife and make him walk in front of the whole tribe. While women in this tribe were different, the tradition of punishing men who laid with married women seemed regrettably familiar, and Warren was sent into exile again.

Warren’s life was very much divided into seasons: spending the autumn alone, finding people for the winter not to face the cold on his own, enjoying easy targets during spring, and crossing the wrong limits in the summer. He no longer had a place he could call home. His home was the hunt itself, and it was only a home as long as it kept moving forwards. Regrettably, always moving forwards inevitably leads to unavoidable obstacles.

This obstacle in particular had long blonde hair, which reflected sunlight directly into Warren’s face. That she should never be seduced was written on her aquamarine eyes, half-closed every time she looked at a man that was not her husband. But where would the new limit be otherwise? It took Warren some time to talk to her, a bit longer to make her talk, and ages to arrange a private encounter; but when he got to the place they agreed on, it took him a split second to realise she was not alone.

Dozens of faceless hands grabbed him. Warren might be the fastest and the strongest, but they were the most numerous. He struggled, he screamed, he pushed, he bit, and still dozens of faceless feet kicked him into the fire. It was when his skin started to burn, that regret came. First, he regretted not bedding that beauty with aquamarine eyes, then came regret for the lost opportunities, for those limits he would never cross. Only at the end, trying to find comfort in the number of women he had been with, he realised how little he knew about them. He no longer remembered their names or their faces, just a number.

In his final moment, when he was no longer a man and his body was no longer a body, he realised his whole life had been a repetition. He had always looked for the new and the exciting, while the true novelty would have been to stay with a woman for longer, to see her change, to understand her. In that final moment, he prayed to the gods to have a final chance to get to know one, just one woman.

The gods were generous, and revived him from the fire. With a body made of smoke he wandered the world like a ghost. They were so generous that they would grant him to be with every woman he had ever been with. But gods also have a sense of humour. As Warren had spent only one night with every woman, they would grant him only one minute to see them again, to observe them from the shadows. Look but do not touch. That was the deal.

To complete the joke, the women were not even at the same age he had met them. The gods sent Warren back and forth in time to see that some of his women were just born, others about to die, and only a few at a moment he would recognize. For some of them, he only got to see their graves.

In one minute he saw no change at all, and grasped little understanding of them. Finally, after those short minutes, he dissolved into thin air and ashen tears.

His curse passed on to his many descendants. They could still interact with people, but they would feel the urge to turn their gaze toward the sky. For nights they would contemplate the stars, each one of them shining at a different moment of its life. They saw them unchanging, unmoving for many years. They looked at them one by one, looking but not touching, and never understanding.

Generation after generation Warren’s descendants gaze at the stars for a time that seems an eternity to them, but a blink of an eye to the distant lights. It is only very slowly that they remove the curse of having so many possibilities, and yet so little understanding. Warren’s descendants are known today as astronomers.

The Science behind the Story

Astronomers are never able to follow the whole evolution of a star, because its life is millions of years long. Their method is to look at many of them, looking but not touching. Because stars are naturally at different moments of their lives, astronomers can reconstruct the complete evolution for one of them. Since there are many types of stars, they do this for all possible categories, that is, they reconstruct different evolutions. Another analogy for this method is provided in this paper by William Herschel.

Moreover, light takes a certain time to reach us from the stars. This means we are looking at them at a previous state in their lives and do not yet know what state they are in at the present moment. This is analogous to Warren travelling in time to see his lovers. Some stars may change a huge deal before we notice, and some of them may have already died.

The name of the character is a reference to the Warren Field Calendar, considered today as the oldest calendar in the world. It consists of a series of pits excavated in the ground to keep track of the lunar phases. It is indeed located in Aberdeenshire, close to the River Dee, and it was built around 8000 BC by hunter-gatherers.


Image: “Estrellas la noche del cielo” –  Licence: Public domain

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Science is a Story

Science is a story: a powerful, complex, predictive story, but a story after all. It can help us understand and change the world. It uses concepts like energy, temperature and force. These concepts are very useful, but have you ever seen a force? We tend to associate it to muscular effort or to how something pushes us or pulls us. It is a very handy concept to understand how the world works, but still I would not be unable to point at it.

Science runs parallel to the real world. It needs to keep in touch with reality. Its results have to be observable or have a connection with a natural phenomenon. But science is a story after all, a story with certain rules that we have established. The point is: can we tell the story in a better way? If what we do is telling a story that produces results through mathematics, computer simulations and observations, why do we not take a little detour to make it more entertaining?

In this blog I will use fiction short stories whose plots connect with physical concepts. I will use different characters and situations to make physics more accessible, and hopefully a bit fun, too. This approach can be useful for people from outside the field who want to know a bit more about physics in an entertaining way, for high school students who are studying the subject for the first time and even for physicists who need an image for a concept to remember it better.

Please leave your comments and send me your feedback to make this blog even better. Enjoy!