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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Platonic Spectrum

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“The world’s full of light!”, they shout at your side, and the voices don’t let you think. You look for a corner of silence, a refuge of solitude from which to look before speaking. There the light looks almost like darkness. Something is missing in this cavern. Something else must be outside. But the others only see what the light shows, and it’s only you feel the chains.

You pull once, and again, and once more until the shackles break. The unknown noise draws some attention, and now shouts of rejection turn towards you. Your tremulous body rises and takes the first step. Your lethargic legs stumble upon the chains, and you fall down towards the voices. But nobody grabs you. They would have to move by themselves to do that. You rise again, and new steps follow the first one. The shouts are now echoes in the distance.

The exterior opens in front of you. You’re blinded, yet you see more than ever. The light is only a piece of a whole spectrum that before remained invisible: there are rays that darken your skin in plain sunlight, twinkles that blind you without ever being seen. The light was not enough before, now the spectrum is too much. You try to understand blindly, reaching for a glimpse of clarity. Your own thoughts exhaust you. You have one breath left, and you go back with it to the cavern.

“There is something else out there. What we see is not everything”, you say, but the outraged whispering becomes a howl, louder than your clam voice. “Madman!”, they shout, because you don’t shout with them. That word resonates inside your head with echoes of doubt, and for a moment you look for comfort in the dark light of the cavern. But you saw more, you still see more, and slowly hear less and less those who shout.

The spectrum speaks louder than the crowd, and holds you up when you rise. The second time is easier to go outside, and the third one even easier. Several trips make you understand the spectrum. It is nothing but an extension of light, some of it more vibrating, some of it less. As easy as changing colour, as difficult as listening in silence.

You’ve realised how the outside influences the cavern, how the latter is a part of the former. There is something you’ve understood, and there are things you can change. You use the invisible energy to improve life inside the cavern. A little invention here, a little adjustment there, and now the cavern is a more comfortable place. You celebrate your achievement, and you almost hope to find acceptance, even admiration.

People use your inventions, yet despise, in a louder or lower voice, your madness. Some of them admire you without understanding you, while others completely forget you. They all now wait for the next novelty without caring where it comes from. You don’t find the strength, not even inside you, to make the next trip. The noise grows in your head and pierces your eardrums. Maybe you should leave it all, maybe you should shout with the rest. It looks liberating somehow.

With the energy you no longer have you look around one last time, and finally, you see something different. Something shines in the darkness. Where the shouts almost don’t let you see, a mirror returns your gaze. In the distance another madman listens, another madman waits. He also was blinded by the spectrum outside, he also thought impossible colours. It is a madness of another kind, sure, but a madness after all.

When you see this light the cavern becomes mute. The chains fall at your side and cease to exist. The way out is now easier knowing someone else waits. You find each other beyond the voices, and your silence introduce you. You don’t walk, you run at each other’s side towards those invisible lights. Far too well you know that at the end of the day you’ll have to go back to the cavern, but now the way out will always be open.

The Science behind the Story

The story is an extension of Plato’s Cave myth that illustrates the Electromagnetic Spectrum. The original story describes a cavern where people only see shadows of real objects, while the true world waits outside.

Scientists and engineers see light as a part of a whole spectrum. The only difference between the sections of the spectrum is the frequency of vibration. Apart from visible light, there are many other electromagnetic waves. For example, UV light are the “rays that darken your skin in plain sunlight”, while the gamma rays are the “twinkles that blind you without ever being seen”. Microwaves, X-rays, infrared and radio waves complete the spectrum.


Picture: Public Domain Images – Cave Red Rocks Light Beam Cavern

 

El Espectro Platónico (Spanish version)

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“¡El mundo está lleno de luz!” gritan a tu lado, y las voces no te dejan pensar. Buscas un rincón de silencio, un refugio de soledad desde donde mirar antes de hablar. Allí la luz casi parece oscuridad. Algo falta en esta caverna, algo más debe existir afuera. Pero los demás sólo ven lo que la luz enseña, y sólo tú pareces sentir las cadenas.

Tiras una vez, otra, otra más, hasta que saltan las argollas. Ese ruido desconocido atrae la atención, y ahora gritos de rechazo se giran hacia ti. Consigues alzar tu cuerpo tembloroso para dar el primer paso. Tus piernas aletargadas tropiezan con las cadenas, y caes hacia las voces. Pero nadie te retiene, para eso tendrían que moverse por sí mismos. Te levantas una vez más, y a un paso le siguen otros. Los gritos son ya ecos en la lejanía.

El exterior se abre ante ti. Cegado, ves más que nunca. Reconoces la luz como un pedazo de todo un espectro antes invisible: rayos que oscurecen tu piel a plena luz del día, destellos que te dejarían ciego sin ser vistos. Si antes la luz no era suficiente, ahora el espectro te satura. Buscas entender a ciegas, arañando una fibra de entendimiento. Tu propio pensamiento te agota. Te queda sólo un último aliento, y vuelves con él a la caverna.

“Hay algo más ahí fuera. Lo visible no lo es todo”, dices, pero ya el murmullo indignado se convierte en un aullido más alto que tu voz calmada. “¡Loco!” te gritan, pues no gritas con ellos. Esa palabra resuena en tu interior con ecos de duda, y por momentos buscas cobijo en la oscura luz de la caverna. Pero tú viste más, aún ves más, y poco a poco oyes menos a los que gritan.

La luz habla más alto que la multitud, y te sostiene cuando te levantas. La segunda vez cuesta menos salir al exterior, y menos aún la tercera. Tras varios viajes entendiste el espectro. No es más que una extensión de la luz, alguna más vibrante, otra menos. Tan fácil como cambiar de color, tan difícil como escuchar en silencio.

Ahora ves cómo el exterior influye en la caverna, cómo la una es parte del otro. Algo has entendido, y algo puedes cambiar. Puedes incluso aprovechar esa energía invisible para mejorar la caverna. Una pequeña invención aquí, un pequeño ajuste allá, y la caverna es ahora un lugar más cómodo. Celebras tanto tu logro, que casi esperas encontrar aceptación ahí dentro, admiración incluso.

Y aunque la gente utiliza tus invenciones, a la vez desprecia, en voz más o menos baja, tu locura. Unos pocos te admiran sin comprenderte, mientras los demás olvidan que eres tú quien trajo las mejoras. Ya todos esperan las siguientes novedades sin preocuparse de dónde vienen. Y ya no encuentras fuerzas, ni fuera ni dentro de ti, para el próximo viaje. El ruido vuelve a crecer en tus oídos y te perfora los tímpanos. Quizá deberías dejarlo, quizá deberías gritar con los demás. Parece liberador de alguna forma.

Con la energía que ya no queda miras a tu alrededor una vez más, y al fin, ves algo diferente. Algo brilla allí en la oscuridad. Donde los gritos casi no te dejan ver, un espejo te devuelve la mirada. A lo lejos otro loco calla, otro loco mira. Él también quedó cegado con la luz de afuera, él también pensó colores imposibles. Una locura tal vez distinta a la tuya, sí, pero una locura al fin y al cabo.

Al ver esta luz la caverna queda muda. Las cadenas caen a vuestro lado y no parecen existir. El camino a la salida es más fácil sabiendo ahora que alguien espera. Os encontráis más allá de las voces, y vuestro silencio basta para presentaros. Y no andáis, corréis el uno al lado del otro hacia esas luces invisibles. Demasiado bien sabéis que al final del día habrá que volver a la caverna, pero para vosotros el camino de vuelta al exterior estará ya siempre abierto.

La ciencia detrás de la historia

Este relato es una ampliación del mito de la Caverna de Platón para explicar el Espectro Electromagnético. En la historia original los habitantes de la caverna sólo ven sombras de los objetos reales, mientras todo un mundo real espera fuera de la caverna.

Para los científicos e ingenieros la luz que todos vemos es sólo una parte de todo un espectro, cuyas regiones se caracterizan por tener distinta frecuencia de vibración. Así, además de la luz visible, existen otras ondas electromagnéticas. Por ejemplo, los conocidos rayos UVA son los que “oscurecen tu piel a plena luz del día y los rayos gamma son los “destellos que te dejarían ciego sin ser vistos”. Las microondas, los rayos X, los infrarrojos y las ondas de radio completan el espectro.


Foto: Public Domain Images – Cave Red Rocks Light Beam Cavern

Occupation

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Mirembe had married Jabari two years ago. She had renounced her inheritance to marry the man she loved. She never had been poorer, or happier. Their little house at the end of the street stood proudly as a refuge for peace and love. For some reason she never fully understood, the houses in her street were less and less opulent as she walked along it. The first one was occupied by her friend Abimbola and her husband, and it had everything one could wish for; the last one was occupied by Mirembe and Jabari, and it only had everything they could wish for.

With one young couple in every house, it was the liveliest street in the small village. People would dance around and wander among the crowd with no direction. Money made the world go round and the people go around, and it was no wonder that the richest neighbours went out to the city more often. Mirembe, on the other hand, had to work all day long, and stayed home after sunset. But a night in was never a bad night for her.

One morning Mirembe went out and felt unnaturally cold for that time of the year. The warmth of people had disappeared from the streets. She knocked on her neighbours’ door, but only a nervous noise came out from the inside. Suddenly a rifle clicked behind her. A bunch of helmets and uniforms walked towards her, shouting threats in a language she did not understand. She put her hands up. Among all the incomprehensible shouting she could only make out the friendly “Go home” coming out one of the houses. The guns pushed her back home, and finally she collapsed on the floor by the door, embracing it in search of support.

Jabari woke her up and Mirembe looked at him, happy to let go of her bad dream. Suddenly someone knocked on the door, and the shouting from her dream echoed back into reality. Jabari helped her up, and opened the door with caution. There they were again: the guns and the angry shouting. They took them to the square at the end of the street, where more guns were waiting. They took their money and their colourful clothes, and covered them with grey one-piece uniforms. A soldier wielding a razor shaved Mirembe’s head, then Jabari’s, then everyone else’s. By the end of the day, those long hairs and dresses were gone.

Mirembe hadn’t seen Abimbola on the square. Soldiers had settled into her house, and she was nowhere to be seen. “She left the moment she smelled danger”, said someone in the crowd. She was not the only one gone. The neighbours from the richest houses had all evaporated. The military had occupied their houses, and they threatened to expand further. Mirembe and Jabari made it back home, and held each other for an eternity that didn’t last nowhere enough. Another couple came knocking on their door, homeless and hopeless. As hours went by, more couples joined them in their poor house. What would have normally been a reason for celebration felt now like a cold isolation.

Jabari, a quiet and peaceful man, was screaming inside his squeezed mind. He needed to go out, and soon. Others in the house wanted to fight back, to steal the soldiers’ guns. Mirembe didn’t want to hear any of this, and just hoped for things to pass. She had seen what soldiers were capable of, and she did not even dare to go out. This would end some day. It had to.

The discussion about what to do and what not to do went on and on for days. There was no plan or agreement, only shouting as incomprehensible as the one outside. Desperate, unable to hold the pain inside him any longer, Jabari stormed out of the room. He just wanted to go out and shout. And he did go out, but he did not get to shout. A bullet pierced his head and ended his pain in a split second. Mirembe wanted to cry, to shout, to hurt herself, but above all she wanted to hug her husband one last time. Prudence held her back through her neighbours’ arms.

She cried until her eyes were empty, and all meaning had abandoned life. She could not move, and she would not have if other neighbours had stopped coming into her house, but they did not. Out of options, out of space, there was nowhere to go, but outside. She would not go very far on her own, but talking to others would end up in endless wandering. So she did not talk. She stood in the middle of the room, grabbed her friend’s hand at her side, and walked the first step. Other hands joined the chain, and other feet joined the march. Only crossing the door was left.

It was a cold dark night outside. What came out of Mirembe’s house was a bunch of people so close together you could not tell them apart any more. The first soldier who saw it ran scared at the image of the crowd, moving together with one goal in mind. He ran to a second soldier, and the second one to a lieutenant, and after ten minutes they had nowhere to run, no one to run to.

That was not the end of it. It took many neighbourhoods in the city, many sacrifices to get the soldiers out for good. But when those people with their shaven heads and their grey uniforms moved as one, their clothes, their hair, their city was theirs to claim.

The Physics behind the Story

At the beginning, people in the neighbourhood are all different, and we can tell them apart by the house they occupy and their sex. I’m going to assume, strictly for the sake of the analogy, that all couples are made up of a woman and a man. There is a type of subatomic particles in physics that behave in a similar manner; they are called fermions. There may be many identical fermions in a system (e.g. many electrons in an atom), that are distinguishable by the level of energy (that would be the house in this story) and their spin (their sex). Mirembe’s and Jabari’s house is at the bottom, at the lowest energy level, while Abimbola’s one is at the top. It is important to remember that energy is quantised at the subatomic scale, that is, one may live in a house or another, but not between houses.

The moment the soldiers occupy the neighbourhood, people drastically change their behaviour and now behave as a group of bosons. The difference with fermions is that an unlimited number of bosons can occupy the same level of energy and have the same spin. This is portrayed in the story by making people of both sexes look alike by shaving their heads (that would be the same spin) and later occupying the same house (same level of energy). It is important to remark that in real life fermions do not turn into bosons, and this change of particle type is done in the story to illustrate the difference between these two types of particles and their associated behaviours.

The whole process of people moving into Mirembe’s house is analogous to the forming of a Bose-Einstein condensation (see also this link). First of all, the richest people like Abimbola or the bosons in the highest levels of energy disappear from the system, or in real life, they evaporate (metaphor here). Then, the temperature (money in the story) is reduced so the mobility of all people/bosons is limited. They all end up concentrating in the poorest house or in the state of smallest possible speed. Actually the temperature is so low that Bose-Einstein condensates are sometimes referred to as the “coldest place in the Universe”.

At the very end of the process, the Bose-Einstein condensate is properly formed. The number of people allowed to live in other houses is limited by the soldiers, and they are all pushed down to Mirembe’s and Jabari’s house, the lowest level of energy. When the number of people is high enough, as it happens at the end of the story, they behave as a group rather than a collection of separated bosons. This is the moment when they all march as one and get rid of their enemies. It is important to remark that all bosons in a Bose-Einstein condensate are in the same level of energy (Mirembe’s house) but in real life that does not necessarily mean that they are close together in space, even if people are close in the analogy.

Bose-Einstein condensate behaves in a way that is fundamentally different from solids, liquids or gases, and therefore is considered to be a different state of matter. It is not only of theoretical interest, but it can be applied to create new technology, including quantum computers.

Other metaphors

Other analogies have been offered before for the Bose-Einstein condensation. For example, the Science magazine designed a cover with bosons portrayed as soldiers, being the role of soldiers completely different to the one in the story above. Other metaphors describe the process in terms of dancers and cars.


Image from absfreepic.com, used with license CC0 Public Domain.

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

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!