How to Find the Universe in a Glass of Wine: A Drinking Experiment

Richard Feynman, one of the most famous physicists of all time, once said:

“If we look in a glass of wine closely enough, we see the entire universe.”

I love the work of Richard Feynman. He’s a brilliant thinker, Nobel prize winner, and incredible explorer of the laws of our Universe.

But I didn’t know what he meant by that statement.

I’m deeply interested in exploring our understanding of the Universe and our experience of Reality. And, I love wine (love wine!). And now here’s Feynman, one of the most brilliant people of all time, hinting at a connection between the two.

But how?

Do you know what he means? How could you and I see the entire Universe in a simple glass of wine?

I didn’t know, but I felt a Feynman-like curiosity to find out.

So I poured a glass of wine and stared at it.

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If you’re feeling compelled at all, join me in this exploration. Get yourself a bottle of wine (I recommend Dry Farm Wines), pour a glass, and look at it. Closely.

Despite looking at it with open and accepting eyes, I didn’t see anything particularly special. I mean, I saw wine. I saw liquid. I saw the color, the “legs” on the glass, the reflection of light. But I certainly did not see the Universe.

“Closely enough” he had said…

So I looked closer. [You should look closer too]

I pressed my face up against the glass, as close as I could get, and looked. I saw movement and colors, a symphony of reds. I saw the wine’s opacity and the way it distorted shapes behind it. Being so close, other senses became engaged too. I could hear the quiet, gentle sound of the liquid. I could smell a few of the more expressive notes. I could feel the smooth shape of the glass.

But still, no Universe.

“Richard!” I wanted to scream at the glass, “How much closer must I get?!”

I stuck my right eyeball inside the glass, looking.

I poured some wine into the palm of my hand and held it up to my face, looking.

I carried the glass to new locations and held it under new lighting, looking. Closely.

No sign of the Universe. No clarity to the meaning of all things.

Are you feeling as frustrated as me? I wanted to understand what Feynman saw, but I was failing to do so.

I’ve now been thinking about this Feynman quote for weeks, and I have three possible explanations. Let’s explore each and see if any of them hold the clues to solving this great mystery. Maybe, if we’re attentive and diligent explorers, we’ll find the entirety of the Universe within our simple glass of wine.

*Interactive Request* After reading, let me know which of the three explanations you find the most compelling, and which the least.

1. Everything is Connected
2. Everything is Experienced
3. Everything is Beyond Labels

You ready?

Explanation #1: Everything Is Connected

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Do you know how wine is made?

It is the natural byproduct of grape juice fermentation.

To ferment grape juice, you need grapes and yeast. To get grapes, you need vines grown in soil. To get soil, you need the organic materials, bugs, microorganisms, rock, water, and all else that creates this upper layer of Earth’s surface. To have all this material, you need the proper climate conditions, which requires the Earth and the sun, and the rotation of the planet, which requires the forging of matter into large celestial bodies, which requires the Universal forces like gravity and the creation of all matter, originating from the Big Bang.

So to make the wine in your glass, you must first create the Universe.

Then, all the sequence of events that follow must happen exactly as they did, through all 13.8 billion years of the Universe’s history, such that you could be holding this precious glass of wine in your hand exactly as you are right now.

By looking deeply enough into this glass of wine — into its creation and its history — you find yourself staring all the way back at the origin of our Universe.

Whoa. That’s one special glass of wine.

“If we look in a glass of wine closely enough, we see the entire universe.” Can you see it?

We can look at this another way, too.

In this wine, there are particles whose movement is guided by the laws of physics. In the yeast and bacteria in the wine, which you can see under a microscope, is the study of biology, of life. In the process of fermentation is the study of chemistry. In the materials of the glass and the understanding of the soil from which this wine gets its composition is the study of geology. In the thoughts and actions of the growers who produced this wine is the study of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. These and all other fields of study are available for tasting within this glass. Pick any subject and you can see it there.

It is these same subjects that outline the study of our Universe. To understand our Universe, to truly see it in its entirety, we must understand these subjects, all of which are in the glass that sits in front of you.

But as Richard Feynman himself said, “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!”

The Universe, he implies, like the micro-universe in this glass, is divided into parts only in our minds. To Nature, there is no division, no separating into parts or subjects of study. Everything in this glass is connected. Everything in our Universe is connected.

Pull on any one thread, and the entire tapestry is revealed.

If we look in a glass of wine closely enough, we see the entire universe.”

Do you see it?

Explanation #2: Everything Is Experienced

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Let’s do an experiment.

Lift your glass, and in a moment, close your eyes and take a sip. While sipping (with closed eyes), look for the moment when you first experience the wine and the moment when you last notice the wine before it disappears from your senses.

Okay? Let’s try it.

… (closing eyes) …

Interesting, right?

There is a clear experience of the wine appearing in your field of sensation, and of the wine disappearing from your field of sensation.

Where does it go? And from where does it initially arise?

Rationally, it’s easy to explain. Our senses have boundaries. As the liquid approaches, it’s movement oscillates the air particles in a way that creates a small wave at a certain frequency that hits our eardrum, converts to an electrical signal, and finds its way into our neural pathways, where it’s processed as a soft “swoosh” sound. The particles floating off from the rim of the glass enter our nose, tickle our smell receptors, become signals, and are likewise processed by our brain, and we smell it. As the wine first touches our lips, we feel it. It nudges a touch receptor that signals to our brain, and we process it as a feeling of touch. As it first swirls in our mouth, touching our taste buds, we taste it.

Then, when it leaves our mouth to begin its journey through the rest of our digestive track, it moves beyond the area with taste buds, touch receptors, and smell receptors to an area outside our field of sensation, and it disappears from our view.

Imagine a field around you. This is easier to do with your eyes closed, so read this first and then let’s try another experiment. Imagine a field. This field emanates out from you, encompassing everything you can experience. This is your field of sensation.

In a moment, close your eyes and observe anything that appears in your field of sensation, in the same way the wine appeared and disappeared in your mouth. While this can be done with eyes open, it’s much easier to notice sensations with your eyes closed. So again, just close your eyes, and notice all sensations that appear in your surrounding field.

… (closing eyes) …

You might notice sounds as they appear and fade.

You might feel pressure and heat in the area of your hands, and notice how that, too, appears and fades within this field of sensation. For example, while you’re sensing your hands, do you feel your nose? Once that becomes an object of your attention, do you see how the sensation of it arises in your field, and how the sensation of your hands lessens or even disappears entirely?

You might notice the feeling of your head. Notice the pressure, the heat, the movement. All are experienced within this field of sensation.

Now think a few words to yourself. Like, “Hey Me! You’re so awesome. Have I told you how special you are?”

Did you notice where those thought-words came from and went? From where did they arise, and where did they go? Try it again and pay close attention this time.

… (closing eyes, talking to self) …

Did you see it? The appearing and disappearing of these thoughts, also in the field of sensation?

Now take a moment to open and close your eyes a few times. Notice how, when your eyes are open, light hits your eyes and you see the world around you. Close your eyes and everything suddenly disappears from your vision. Open your eyes and sights appear again. Just like sounds, like touch, like smells, like tastes, and like thoughts, what you see is also appearing and disappearing from your field of sensation.

Everything you experience, from the sound of air brushing past your ears, the feeling of your hands existing in space, the flavors of your wine, the smell of the different scents, the sight of the stars, the thoughts in your mind, the anger or joy or anxiety or excitement of your emotions… all of it appears within your same field of sensation. Everything in the Universe, or more precisely, everything in your Universe, is experienced in this same field.

We know that everything in the Universe is made from matter — from atoms, which attract together into particles, which themselves form together to create objects. This is the material substance of our world.

But our experience of everything in the Universe, what is that made from? What is the substance of our experience? Is there a foundational layer of experience that is the “matter” of everything experienced in our world? Could it be that everything we experience — everything we see, taste, smell, touch, feel, think, etc — all arises from the same building blocks of our experienced reality?

The sight of your wine is composed of this same “experience matter” (what some call consciousness) as everything else.

If we look in a glass of wine closely enough, we see the entire universe.”

Look in the glass and what you see is an appearance in your field of experience, in your field of consciousness, in your field of sensation. Smell it and another sensation appears. Taste it and there’s another sensation.

Your wine, like everything, is simply experienced.

Explanation #3: Everything is Beyond Labels

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In front of you sits a glass. In that glass is red wine.

“Red wine”

What is that?

You can imagine a different glass of red wine of a different style and from a different region. Clearly, not all red wine is the same.

This is an obvious but important distinction. It gets us to a study of labels.

Red wine is too broad of a label to tell us much about the liquid in our glass. We can get more specific. It’s an Austrian red wine. But not all Austrian red wines are the same either. So it’s an Austrian Zweigelt. Again, not all Austrian Zweigelt’s are the same.

Continue adding descriptors — region, winemaker, vintage, vineyard — but we always fall into the same trap. No two bottles of wine are the same. Take two sips of the same wine, and even those are different.

There’s a famous Buddhist saying: “a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger is needed to know where to look for the moon, but if you mistake the finger for the moon itself, you will never know the real moon.”

Labels are the finger. “Red wine” is a finger. But it is not the liquid in your glass. You must look beyond the finger to understand the reality.

Peel away the layers of labels. Go beyond “red”. There are infinite variations of reds. Go beyond “Austrian”. There are infinite possibilities of wines that may come from the soils within Austrian borders.

Taste the wine and say out loud the tasting notes you perceive. These, too, are pointers. When you say you taste “blackberry”, you are applying a useful label, though an imprecise one. It is not blackberry you taste, but something of the essence of blackberry. Blackberry, too, is a label. Take two blackberries and you walk down the same path.

When you remove all labels, what remains? What is it then? What is beyond our pointing, our words?

Take another sip. See and taste as a child would, with fresh awareness. We can then experience something entirely unique, alive, in motion. There is no word for the reality in your glass. Each sip is a fresh experience, disentangled from the expectations of prior experience. Each sip is independent and entirely whole.

Labels freeze reality at a level we can understand. We can understand a “red wine”. It is conceptualized, frozen. But reality flows.

Stretch the mind to experience without labels. It is not “red”, not “blackberry”, not “wine”. Beyond labels, it simply is. In the same way religions speak of God, or the spiritual speak of the Universe.

It is beyond description. It is whole. It is everything.

It is the entirety of the universe right there in your glass.

Can you look past the finger to see the moon?

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If we look in a glass of wine closely enough, we see the entire universe.

Which of the three explanations feels most compelling to you? And which the least? I’d love to know your thoughts.

1. Everything is Connected
2. Everything is Experienced
3. Everything is Beyond Labels

Or maybe this wine, like the universe, is simply beyond our scope of understanding. And if that is so, let’s just raise our glasses to the beautiful and mysterious wonders of the cosmos.

And then, let’s drink.

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Photo credits: Yannik Rohrer, Dry Farm Wines

Written by

Partner and Health Evangelist at @DryFarmWines. Aspiring writer with 3rd-grade drawing abilities. @Bulletproofexec conference emcee. Previously CTO @Factor75.

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