Learn English with Stories: “A cosmic love story”

Hi everyone,

How was your weekend? We hope it was fabulous!

Love. We all look for it, some of us find it, some of us continue searching. Ever wonder what the mathematics behind love are? Well, today we are going to watch a video, a story about a guy named Carl, who is looking for his soul-mate.


1. Read the text
2. Understand the vocabulary
3. Watch story


Today I’m going to tell you what a nuclear physicist and the search for aliens can teach us about finding love! Ok, so scientists don’t know exactly how love works or what it does to our brains, but that’s a topic for another show. But what we DO know, is that at some point, almost everyone on Earth goes out looking for love. But with 7 billion other humans out there, why can love be so hard to find?!

Sometimes you feel like saying “Where is everybody?!”.

That’s exactly what Enrico Fermi asked, except that HE was talking about alien life. Fermi thought that in a galaxy of billions of stars and planets, if even a tiny fraction have life, billions of years should be plenty of time for an alien to pop over and say “Hey! Welcome to the neighborhood”. It’s called Fermi’s Paradox.

An astronomer named Frank Drake took Fermi’s question and answered it with an equation, because that’s what astronomers do. If you plug in some data about the galaxy you can estimate how many civilizations there might be out there. Let’s play around with his “Drake Equation”and see what we get.

“N star” is the number of stars in the Milky Way, a low estimate being 100 billion.

“f sub p” is the fraction of stars with planets, which NASA’s Kepler mission now says is 100%, or a planet for every single star!

“n sub e” is the fraction of planets that could support life as we know it. One recent guess put that at 2.5 billion possibly habitable planets, so let’s plug in 4%.

“if sub little L” is the fraction of those planets that actually develop life, calculated recently at 13%.

That leaves “f sub i”, the fraction that develops intelligence, “f sub c”, the fraction that develops technology and “f sub L, “the fraction of a time a civilizations exists before they destroy themselves. Those last three are hard to calculate, but let’s use Carl Sagan’s numbers to be safe, because we can trust Carl.

Plug it into your calculator and you get 52,000 possible communicating civilizations. Yes, that’s absolutely a guess, but it’s a scientific guess, so it’s ok. I think it means we’ve got no reason to feel lonely if we just stay optimistic, right?

So… what about finding another life form here, on Earth? Is there a way to calculate your odds of meeting a special someone? Or maybe many special someones?

Let’s say you’re a 25 year-old woman named Ann who lives in new York City.

“N sub p” is her target population, or 8,244,910 people for New York City.

“F sub g” is the fraction of Ann’s target gender, which is about 50% no matter her preference… unless it’s both, then she’d plug in 100%. About 44% of Americans are single at any time, so plug that in for “F sub s” since Ann’s not looking to break up any couples.

“F sub e” is the fraction Ann might encounter, which would be small if she only goes out to meet people at bars or parties. But about 27% of singles use online dating, so that maximizes her chances.

Based on the “age/2 + 7 rule” and the “creepy old guy rule”,  Ann’s looking for someone between 20 and 34, which is 24,6% of New Yorkers (“F sub y”). Ann wants someone who speaks English, 96% for “F sub Ll”.

“F sub a” is the fraction of people Ann finds attractive, a very subjective number that an online poll of my friend says is about 13% for the average person who happens to be friends with me.

Then there’s “F sub a2” the number of people that think Ann is attractive, so 13% again. Ann also wants someone who shares her love of science, so at the very least it has to be at least one of the 32,4% of New Yorkers with a college degree, “F sub i”.

Crunch the love numbers and there’s 871 special someone’s out there for Ann, like maybe this guy with the dark hair and turtleneck.

Of course, like any equation there’s a factor we call “X”. Are they funny? Do they share your political beliefs? Do they prefer Star Trek or Star Wars? Maybe your last relationship didn’t go well and you’ve got a “crazy ex” factor. When you do the math, the more rules you make for how you define love, the fewer special people there are out there for you to find.

So if we keep an open mind when we look for life and love, there’s a lot to feel hopeful about.

Sometimes, the galaxy can feel like a big, lonely place, but like that guy with the turtleneck reminds us: “for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love”.

So how many people are out there that YOU could love?


for_small_creatures_such_as_we_by_ztarr-d4vu7frTiny – very small.

Fraction – a part or amount of something.

Plenty – a large number or amount of something : a number or amount of something that is enough for a particular purpose.

Pop over – to visit someone.

Parad0x – something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.

Equation – a statement that two expressions are equal.

Plug in – to put (information, such as a word or number) in something.

Estimate – a guess that you make based on the information you have about the size, amount, etc., of something.

Support – to give help or assistance to (someone or something).

Habitable – suitable or fit to live in.

Destroy – to cause (something) to end or no longer exist : to cause the destruction of (something).

Odds – the possibility that something will happen : the chance that one thing will happen instead of a different thing.

Target – something that you are trying to do or achieve.

Break up – to end a romantic relationship, marriage, etc.

Creepy – strange or scary : causing people to feel nervous and afraid.

Subjective – relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind.

Poll – an activity in which several or many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to get information about what most people think about something.

Crunch – to process (numbers, information, etc.) : to examine and analyze (numbers, information, etc.).

Turtleneck – a high collar that covers most of your neck even when the collar is folded over itself ; also : a knit shirt or sweater with this kind of collar.

Vastness – very great in size, amount, or extent.

Bearable – possible to bear : able to be accepted or endured.


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