Variations on the “Alpha Centauri Effect”

The “star” known most commonly as “Alpha Centauri” is the third brightest star in the night sky. Only it isn’t a star. It’s actually two stars in close proximity to one another. It is their distance from the earth, and their level of brightness that makes them appear to be one star when observed with the naked eye from this planet.

In more recent decades it was also revealed that a much smaller star, dubbed “Proxima Centauri” is also nearby. Proxima is not part of the unified illusion we see from earth, however. It is, in fact, rendered invisible to the naked eye because of its lower brightness and its vicinity to the far brighter Alpha Centauri stars. It is drowned out, so to speak.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star(s) to earth, except for the sun of course. The term “close” is relative in space, however, as the distance from here to there is about 4.7 light years. Meaning of course that it would take light itself, (which travels at 180,000 miles per second) 4.7 years to get there. Most of what lies between here and there is quite literally nothing at all, as we understand it. Cold, black, interstellar space, where even atoms themselves, the building blocks of matter, become more scarce. 

Giving whole new life to the old cliché’ “so close, and yet, so far.

Then there is the “Alpha Centauri Effect.” This is not the product of modern science, or anything famous. It has in fact been noticed and named by yours truly.

What is the Alpha Centauri Effect? Much like its name sake, it is actually not just one concept, but several concepts that are close enough in nature to fall under one term. Variations on it exist, which I will attempt to describe to you.

Variation One

Groups of people who choose to be together physically, (or sometimes just emotionally), have their own character. A specific blend of personalities, strengths and beauty. When individuals that are particularly beautiful to us in their own right are together, all the greater is the impression of the collective. Furthermore, while within the framework of that group, each individual is in some way enhanced. Their own personal contributions to the group are strengthened. Their personal beauty more apparent.

To a casual outside observer, the beauty of the whole group may be attributed to any one given member, or series of members. And while each person of course possesses their own unique luminescence, it is not the same, or as powerful, as that of the entire group. It is only once outsiders get close enough that they realize the beauty they were assigning to one individual is in fact that of the collective.

Variation Two

Again, when we first meet someone we like, we tend to see the fairest, brightest qualities within them, when most of what surrounds them is less appealing. (Light and dark.) We overlook the fact that most people are at best a duality of some sort, and are probably multi-faceted, with some facets good, many facets bad. But so shines the brightness of that quality which endears us to them, we see that facet, that presentation, that persona, as the entire picture. We think that what we see is one, complete, convenient package of a “star”, when in fact any given person is many different concepts in very close proximity to each other. Only when we are allowed to get closer do we realize this. If it is not too late, and we do not crash and burn right into the star(s) in question.

Variation Three

This is when people who posses their own brightness, personal beauty, and individual contributions are unnoticed from a distance by others, because of their proximity to other, bigger and brighter stars. In other words, perfectly valid people who find themselves filling the role of the Proxima Centauri, that get lost in the hype, charisma, and popularity of those that others find more “interesting”. They cannot seem to break away from the other group, for various reasons, and form their own system. If they did, they too would be seen and admired for what they were, all by themselves. But as it stands, they remain enslaved by the personal gravity of others, either by association, or by similarity of mission or occupation or environment. A pull from which they cannot escape. An escape they cannot even ask for help in obtaining, because as mentioned, most people do not know they are there, unless closer examination is taken of the situation.

Variation Four

Wherein we perceive that which is bright and beautiful to be closer than it really is. We see people shine somehow, and we think we start to know someone, but we do not. We become convinced that we are loved, but, in fact, we are not. So deep seated is our fear to admit that really most of anything between us and another person is nothing but cold dark empty space, that we use terms like “close”, “bright”, “beautiful” or even “love”. But like Alpha Centauri, close is a relative term, and in fact means that we are not that close to them as a person, (or a group of people) at all.


These are the four known Variations on the Alpha Centauri Effect. You may have noticed that a few things pull all of the variations together.

One of the common threads between all four variations is the distance. The “illusions” we see, about people or about stars, are due in large part to the distance we stand from them. From a safe distance things are easier. They require less energy to take in. We don’t get close enough to see the individual, or the facets of an individual because that is work. We enjoy the brightness they give off to us, and absorb whatever energy they may be giving off, until such time as we move on from them, out of boredom, laziness or fear.

Yet another more positive common thread may be present amongst the Four Variations. The idea that we all look to the night sky, with naked eyes, to see what is there. To capture beauty “naturally”. The things telescopes and satellites can show us are amazing to the intellect, but lack the poignant beauty of looking straight up into a starry night, unencumbered by technology.

Floating around in our blackness, we long for beauty, and brightness. And the same is true with people. We want to be around that which is beautiful among people. We are so starved for it that we will eventually accept what our eyes see amongst the night time of our lives, even once our mind knows otherwise. We look to the sky, and accept that two stars are in fact one big star, the third brightest in the sky. We do so because a single bright star is a thing of beauty to us, even though our mind remembers it is really two stars. Our eyes and our heart see but one thing…Alpha Centauri…and that is the truth we accept.

Is doing so a folly? In human affairs does a desire to love and be enraptured by the beauty we perceive trump the knowledge that says it is more than we see? Are we wrong to seek the beauty of the stars or of people? Are people wrong to not look closer at what a star really is? Is it a sin to want to lie to ourselves sometimes, if only to escape the fact that 4.7 light years of nothing lies between us and the next closest being? 

And is what we see really an illusion, just because it is not scientifically true??

I don’t know. Do you?


  1. Laura W.

    I think maybe a person’s perception of what they see in another, and how it affects them, is what’s valid to them even if it is an illusion. Even if what they see isn’t true, it affects their interactions, choices, feelings, and beliefs. I also think we should be aware of and questioning of how we perceive others and why.

    To me, most people are like Impressionist paintings. Seen from a distance, they present a coherent, often beautiful picture. Seen up close, you can see the messy brushstrokes that make up a person. An Impressionist painting lets you see how it was made if you look at it up close. And sometimes, the up-close, in-detail impression is really ugly. Other times, it’s neutral, or it makes the at-a-distance view make sense, or it seems even more beautiful, or you’re just bewildered by how abstract it is and want the comfort of the at-a-distance image to return. But — which is the “right” or “real” version of the painting? The up-close view, or the view at a distance? The truth is that both are valid versions of the painting; they are the same painting, but it just depends on what your perspective on it is and how you look at it.

  2. That’s an interesting point, about validity. Certainly we must allow ourselves our perceptions at any given moment, though as you said, we should always remain aware of our perceptions. We should stay aware of at least the possibility that our perceptions do not reflect the reality of the person, and be willing to change them, should we come to know more.

    The Impressionist painting metaphor is a fascinating one. While I would agree that an up close inspection of a painting is equally valid, and may sometimes yield an uglier detail, we may also sometimes find the brush-strokes and details more beautiful if we experience the wider, total view first. We come to admire/appreciate/become attracted to the “distant” view of somebody, and we want to see more of their “brush strokes”, to know more about from whence the overall beautiful picture came, even though it is still the same picture.

  3. Laura W.

    That’s a nice point about what image you see first. I remember being taught about Impressionist paintings first in elementary school. We were shown a detail of one and asked what we thought the image was. None of us could figure it out and were predictably frustrated…until shown what it looked like at a distance. So for me I’ve always assumed a sequence of brush strokes –> painting, but it could be the other way around. The idea that if you only focus in too closely on some unpleasant aspects of a person, you miss the bigger picture, or how those traits work to make an admirable quality somewhere else.

  4. Agreed. In other words, at least to me, truly knowing the totality of someone, if it is possible, is certainly not accomplished right away. As time goes on, I tell myself more and more than people are complex, and that’s worth remembering. Doesn’t mean I have to like everyone, but that there is more to even the people I don’t like than may appear.

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