The Force of Love

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Once upon a time there were seven physicist brothers with seven inquisitive minds. As young men, they were very interested in love; as good physicists, they were all trying to figure it out.

Isaac, the oldest brother, would look at someone and see how much they had in common, how deep inside all people were the same. That recognition created a soft but unbreakable attraction that dragged him close to everyone. He moved through life without any fixed agenda and always giving his full attention to people around him. It was not a strong passionate love what he felt for others, but a universal connection to everybody.

Peaceful as he was, Isaac still lived many adventures. If there happened to be two people around, as he was able to connect with both, he wouldn’t mind jumping into an unusual relationship. It was a bit chaotic, for sure, but he would give it a go. Other times, some people would come close to him but never dare to speak. They would move around him at a safe distance, feeling the attraction but not coming closer. Isaac wanted to get to them, but no matter how much he moved, the others still would be too far, and eventually they would walk out of his life.

James, the second brother, partied hard every night, looking for girls and guys around him without knowing what was going on. He would wake up in the afternoon surrounded by friends and strangers. Some people came into his life, some people went away. Some would stick around without making a move, as it happened with Isaac. Others would move with him accompanying in his path.

When James finally took his time to breath he learned he was like Isaac, just more passionate and more selective. He decided he liked women, just women, and he would push away guys just to get rid of the competition. He would see a woman and just fly to her without thinking of the consequences. A look was enough as long as the girl and himself took their time and didn’t mess around.

Hideki, the third brother, was clearly into women, but was so anxious about them that the only happy moments he experienced happened when love was out of his mind. Every time he played football with his mates and love was off the table, he experienced a friendship stronger than the love Isaac or James had ever felt. This partnership, this “I love you, bro”-moments were something else.

There was of course the odd moment when a goal celebration kiss landed on somebody’s lips. Then, an instant separation, a look saying “No shit, bro” and another look replying “Of course not, bro” fixed it all. Hideki recognised this feeling of companionship as a reflection of something stronger inside him. A true love and respect for himself that everybody felt in the team. It was natural than when they saw each other, this inner love would come out to form a solid team.

Enrico, the fourth brother, liked the challenged. He would go after women with partners just to prove he was able to break them apart, and he was. When women saw Enrico, they were taken by his aura of mystery. He was the promise of things they’d never felt before. They would leave their partners in the middle of an engaging conversation or a passionate kiss just to meet this stranger.

Every time the woman got close however, something inexplicable happened. All her sudden passion was gone the moment they got close to Enrico. His shy smile suddenly removed all the mystery. The woman felt cheated, confused, and Enrico never knew how to react and ended up saying something inappropriate. She ran back to her partner, but by that time, the boyfriend would feel used and ignored, and he would break up with her. Enrico was a master breaking couples, not creating them.

Sheldon, the fifth brother, rather than creating new strategies, learned from his brothers. He liked the variety of James relationships, but also recognised the indisputable talent of Enrico getting rid of the competition. If only he could combine both. He normally behaved as James, but if he had to break up partners from time to time, he didn’t mind. He was a bit more subtle than Enrico, though.

One day Sheldon was with a friend at the pub and they saw the most gorgeous woman coming in. “Oh my God, she’s hot”, said Sheldon. And then it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that she had a boyfriend, it didn’t matter whether he had to behave like James or Enrico, it just didn’t matter at all. He flew to her and did all he knew at once, started at her, at her boyfriend, and ended up telling him “You’re so hot”. The girl laughed so much it hurt, almost as much as the punch Sheldon received from the guy. It took a bit longer than the usual, but Sheldon got the girl in the end.

Peter, the sixth brother, quite liked the combined approach of Sheldon. However, he also thought Hideki knew what he was doing, and he learned to integrate it all. For him romantic and fraternal love were all part of the same thing. He analysed everything, broke apart every little feeling and sensation until he understood what was attractive to him. Sometimes he needed to switch from one approach to the other, but it all made sense to him, and with that careful analysis he was so far the most successful of the brothers.

Albert, the youngest one, was naturally closest to Peter, and learned a lot from him. He saw his brother was successful with any person he fancied. However, Albert also appreciated the graceful acceptance of Isaac. His oldest brother was not needy or without standards, as some people said. He genuinely wanted to be close to people and enjoy everyone’s unique beauty. Albert liked that, and he wanted to combine it with Peter’s success.

He struggled to put it all together, though. When unconditional love carried him away, he missed the nuances Peter saw. When he focused too much on the details, he was picky and did not accept the other person. Peter had put together a lot already, but still none of the brothers was getting what the oldest one had, that unconditional happiness. Albert studied the matter for ages, experimenting, perfecting his theory and scribbling endlessly on papers. Finally, after much work, Albert put his notes aside and went down to the pub.

Five pints later he came out held by a woman. “You’re hilarious when you drink, Albert!”, said she. “It’s the ethanol, my dear”, said he, and pointed his right index up to the sky. “Ha! Ethanol has taken me further than all my physics research. You know what that means, my dear?”. “What’s that?”, asked she, half intrigued, half drunk. “Love is, after all, a question of chemistry”.

They got married a year later.

 

The science behind the story

As usually stated, the characters here are purely fictional and any similarity with real people is unintended. However, the name of every character stands for a physicist, in particular a physicist who studied forces that behaved in the same way the characters do in the story. There are four basic forces in nature and there are theories that combine then. Let’s see this in detail.

Isaac behaves himself as if following the gravitational interaction (studied of course, by Sir Isaac Newton). This force or interaction is universal, that is, every body is attracted to all the others. The strength of this force is inversely proportional to the distance. That’s why Isaac focuses more on whoever is closer to him.

This universal attraction doesn’t result in everything collapsing together. As we see in the story and in real life, gravitational interaction leads for example to closed orbits like the ones described by Isaac’s lovers that never dare to talk to him, or like the Earth revolving around the Sun. Gravitational interactions between three bodies can easily be chaotic. It’s up to the reader to decide how this last statement compares to love affairs.

James behaves as if experiencing electromagnetic forces, that were unified by James Clerk Maxwell. Motion under these forces includes all type of trajectories: ellipses, hyperbolas, helices, and that’s why James experiences all kind of relationships and crazy adventures.

When charged particles (the only ones that experience electromagnetic forces) are at rest, the situation is much more simple, and there’s simply attraction between the opposite charges and repulsion between the charges of the same sign. That’s why James flies into women and repels men. In general, the idea of opposites attracting each other is extrapolated to many descriptions of love.

Hideki stands for Hideki Yukawa, the first Japanese Nobel Laureate. He characterised what is the third type of force in nature: the strong force, or strong nuclear interaction. This force holds the protons together in the nucleus despite the electric repulsion. That’s why it’s said that Hideki’s love is stronger than Isaac’s or James’, because the strong interaction is much more intense than gravity or electromagnetic interactions. This attraction between protons becomes repulsion when these particles are too close together. That’s why the guys in the story separate quickly they moment they get too close.

It’s important to state that this attraction between the protons is a side effect of the much stronger interactions between the quarks, elementary particles that form the protons and neutrons, among other particles. That’s why Hideki recognises his bond with his team mates as something that reflects something much stronger inside him.

Enrico represents the weak force, first modelled by Enrico Fermi. The weak force is responsible for the radioactive desintegration of subatomic particles (hence the break-ups), but produces no bound state. That’s why the Enrico of the story can never get a girl, he only separates them from their partners.

The character of Sheldon is a tribute to Sheldon Glashow who, along with Abdus Salam  and Steven Weinberg, contributed massively to the unification of electromagnetic and weak interactions theory. This unified description receives the name of Electroweak interaction. That’s why the Sheldon in the story tries to combine James and Enrico’s approach. It’s important to state that if the temperature is high enough, then the electromagnetic and the weak interactions combine into the same force. So when Sheldon spots a really hot girl, he just throws everything he has at once.

Peter follows the standard model, that gained even more strength recently when the Higgs Boson, postulated by Peter Higgs and others, was detected. This model unifies three of the four forces types in physics: electromagnetic, weak and strong. It is based on a systematic classification of subatomic particles to explain all these forces, and that’s why in the story Peter deconstructs, equally successfully, each of his complex feelings.

Finally, Albert’s approach is actually the one that Albert Einstein followed in real life (apart from the drinking in the end). It was his dream, and many other physicists’, to unify the four basic forces of nature into a single theory, sometimes called a Theory of everything. Einstein did improve Newton’s work wonderfully with his general theory of relativity, which is to date the most accurate description of gravity. However, it’s incompatible with the Standard Model and with any quantum description of reality. This unification of forces, along with a physical understanding of love, remains still an unsolved mystery.


Photo: La palabra amor en la arena.  License: Public Domain.

The origin of this idea comes from my first feature film in which the main character, a physicist, describes love using the four types of forces (LVOE, from 41:42 to 42:47).

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