Feynman on Wine

A poet once said, ‘The whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he meant it, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflection in the glass; and our imagination adds atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization; all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure; drink it and forget it all!

Richard Feynman (1918-1988)



9 Responses to “Feynman on Wine”

  1. This is the last paragraph of The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I, Chapter 3, “The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences.” It was originally recited by Feynman ) in 1961 in the Caltech physics lecture hall (E. Bridge 201), with the (then, all-male) Freshman class in attendance.

    Mike Gottlieb
    Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics

  2. I’ve googled the “glass of wine” quote, but although there are thousands of Feynman hits, no poet ever said it, so far as I can see.

    • Maybe the poet was Feynman himself. 🙂

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Memory_Yet_Green says:

      In Memory Yet Green, In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954, is the first volume of Isaac Asimov’s two-volume autobiography.[1] It was published in 1979. This first volume covers the years 1920 to 1954, which lead up to the point just prior to Asimov becoming a full time writer. The second volume is In Joy Still Felt.

      The publisher, Doubleday, disliked Asimov’s original title, so they asked him to provide another, suggesting he find a good quote from an obscure poem.[2] Asimov suggested the following poem:

      In memory yet green, in joy still felt,
      The scenes of life rise sharply into view.
      We triumph; Life’s disasters are undealt,
      And while all else is old, the world is new.

      Doubleday agreed to Asimov’s new title, but couldn’t find the source of the verse he had given them. When Doubleday inquired, Asimov confessed: “I wrote it myself”.[2] In the end, the poem was attributed to “Anon.”

      Feynman’s ego was probably about the same size as Asimov’s.

    • telescoper Says:

      I also wondered who the poet might be that Feynman mentioned, but have also been unable to find a convincing candidate..

  3. Perhaps Feynman was echoing Blake’s

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
    And eternity in an hour.

    Poets are traditionally expected to build on the work of their predecessors.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    It seems clear that he was paraphrasing a poet and did not intend those quotation marks which appeared when his words were transcribed. Perhaps Veritas in vino?

  5. Feynman could have quoted Persian poets Omar Khayam or Hafez Shirazi who numerously used such metaphors. Especially there is a phrase by Hafez “Jam-e Jahanbin” meaning “The goblet you can see the world through” or “The goblet that sees the world”! Apparently, fortunetellers used to look into a cup to tell the future, so foreseeing the future could allude to seeing the world.

  6. He’s probably just quoting something a friend of his said at one time or another…

  7. no he is quoting omar khayam, omar loved wine!

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