Why opposites attract and other scientific mysteries

Why do opposites attract? Personally, I don’t have a clue. I don’t think anyone else does either.

Historically, humans discovered that two things were sometimes attracted to each other, and they called it magnetism.

Scientists have studied this phenomenon quite a bit and can tell you a lot about which things attract which things. They even know a lot about the forces magnetism exerts, their direction and distances over which they work.

But the fact that there are two opposites that attract each other in some materials is “simply so.”

Then, similar things repel each other? We call that a part of magnetism also, just the opposite force. But we really don’t know why north repels north. Sometimes we don’t even call it north or south, but positive and negative. I wonder how we decided which one was which.

It gets even more confusing when you start to apply this stuff to relationships.

They say opposites attract, but all the matchmaking sites advertise their abilities to find someone just like yourself. I cannot imagine anything more frightful than to be married to someone just like me! I found a wife who is kind, compassionate, intelligent, capable, honest, sincere, frugal, and good-looking — nothing like me. Much more exciting.

I think science believes it knows everything now, and all that’s left is to work out the details by doing experiments around the edges of our previous assumptions.

This bothers me a little. There are a lot of important matters about which we don’t have a clue. Why some things attract opposites is the perfect example. 

And how do carrier pigeons find their way home? Some scientists say they use magnetoreception, but that doesn’t make any sense. If they are blindfolded and taken to new places, magnetoreception allows them to detect the magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude and location. But it won’t tell them which direction to fly or how far. 

Magnetoreception is present in some bacteria, many insects, some mollusks and some members of every taxonomic group of vertebrates. It apparently helps them all align with the earth’s magnetic field.

I have no idea why aligning with the magnetic field is particularly useful to anything. As I recall, I was facing southeast when I first met my wife. Did our direction in the magnetic field have anything to do with the attraction? 

Some bacteria have tiny nanometer-sized particles of magnetite, called magnetosomes, inside their cells. These attach to one another — you guessed it — because one end of the magnetosome is attracted to the other end of a different magnetosome.

The whole string of them lines up with the magnetic field of the Earth. This, in turn, causes all the little bacteria to line up pointing north and south. 

You know what would be cool?

If we could insert little elctromagnetosomes into the bacteria. Like the magnetic field around a wire, these could be turned on or off by inserting an electrical field across the petri dish in which they grew.

Then, by moving the pole of the electrical field around, they could be made to dance in formation like synchronized swimmers.

Of course, no one would be able to see them without a 1000x microscope. 

You know, science decided almost 200 years ago that everything was “matter.” The world, and everything in it, is a machine made of matter, according to science.

The mind is nothing more than all the chemical reactions that take place there. Matter and the laws under which it operates is the sum total of existence. 

I’m not quite sure how they can know this last fact, since any non-material thing wouldn’t be material that they can investigate.

But they have pretty much convinced a large part of the world of their beliefs, although they have no idea why any of the laws exist, or work. So, why do opposites attract?   

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
eTear Sheets/ePayments

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy