By Laura Jenski © 2022
I first noticed the phenomenon when I lived in West Virginia, three miles outside a small town. Rarely did I meet a car on my daily drive to and from work, but without fail, traffic appeared when I came to the one-lane bridge. At least one car faced me; one or more vehicles drew close behind mine. Granted, the road was curvy and wooded, but I never saw anyone approach from a distance. One moment I was alone on the road. The next, we all converged at the one-lane bridge. Every day this happened, year after year, for the five years I lived there.
Later, since I fancied myself an observant scientist, I formulated a theory to explain the one-lane bridge spectacle and other convergences. Such as, why do bicyclists choose to pass parked cars on my right only when massive trucks approach on my left? Or, what causes a deserted supermarket aisle to suddenly fill with shoppers as I push my cart toward the cereal boxes? These things can’t be random, I told myself. There must be a scientific explanation.
Untethered by facts or data, I drew upon chemistry, specifically, induced dipoles. When a nonpolar molecule—one without positively and negatively charged ends—interacts with a charged one, electrons in the nonpolar molecule are disturbed. This produces transient positive and negative ends in the previously nonpolar molecule, i.e., an induced dipole. The transient dipole can, in turn, induce a dipole in an adjacent nonpolar molecule. Picture a “wave” occurring within the crowd in a football stadium—a wave of weak attractive forces.
My social theory puts this on a macro scale; that is, I induce other vehicles to appear at the one-lane bridge. A bicyclist passing cars produces a force that brings me and the oncoming truck together. A succession of induced dipoles attracts shoppers to the Cheerios boxes. While the theory works for me—I see it validated every day—is it real?
My initial response is, of course not. I made it up. Still, is my cynicism too hasty? We—the “royal we”—know very little about matter and energy in the universe. Physicists know more than I do, and I know more than my dog does. Not my cats, but that’s a different law of nature to explore.
In Part Two, “What You See Isn’t…Relevant,” I point out how unimportant I am, you are, and everyone and everything else. What we view as totality is “rounding off error” in the cosmic scheme of things.