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Does anyone want to try Feynman tea ?

  1. Jul 18, 2011 #1
    Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I never read the book "surely you are joking mr Feynman", but I hears the story behind the title. In particular, I was told there was an episode where someone asked Feynman if he wants milk or lemon in his tea, and he said both. Then they responded "surely you are joking mr Feynman".

    It is probably assumed he said it because he was stressed out and didn't think clearly. But, luckilly enough, I think he is onto something! I tried to drink "Feynman tea" where I deliberately put milk and lemon together, and it is actually quite cute. If you put A LOT of lemon, then milk quickly turns into buttermilk and then forms solid pieces, while the tea itself tastes like lemon for the most part. If on the other hand you put mostly milk and a little bit of lemon, you can enjoy the taste of partly-milk partly-buttermilk. It is kind of nice. If it is hot you might want something sour to quench thirst; so if you happened to be milk lover you can always have sour milk instead of sour tea.

    This brings me to another idea. Apart from "Feynman tea" (that is, tea with milk and lemon), you can also have "Feynman drink". Feynman drink involves a hot milk together with lemon, but WITHOUT tea. This way you can focus on milk and lemon part without being disracted by taste of tea. But Feynman tea is also nice. I mean sometimes we have lemondate (lemon without tea) and other times we have tea with lemon. So similarly sometimes we should have "milk lemonade" (Feynamn drink) and other times combine it with tea (Feynman tea). But anyway, both Feynman tea and Feynman drinks are interesting ideas to try. Anyone wants to join me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2011 #2
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    You live and learn. I thought that's what Mrs. Feynmann said when he told her he won the Nobel Prize. I vaguely remember reading that in some book, but I must be mistaken.
  4. Jul 18, 2011 #3
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I have read Surely Your Joking Mr Feynman, though it was a good few years ago now. However, if I remember correctly, the point of the story was that the person who said that to him was, rather patronisingly, trying to cover for him in his social faux pas when everyone present knew that he had just demonstrated his ignorance of the social etiquette for tea drinking. The point is that it was one basis, at least, for Feynman’s subsequent contempt for social conventions among people who knew nothing at all about anything that Feynman would have regarded as important. It is said that Feynman only attended to collect his Nobel Prize because he was persuaded that he actually would have created a great deal more fuss if he had refused. There is a clip available to view on YouTube of a documentary program made about him, in which he is interviewed, actually stood by a river in Yorkshire if I remember correctly, talking about how his father taught him to recognise the false pride people take in believing that they are knowledgeable because they know the names of things, when they actually know nothing at all useful about the things of which they know the names.
  5. Jul 18, 2011 #4
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I had actually never heard of people putting milk in their tea before reading that book. Sounds like it would taste terrible.
  6. Jul 18, 2011 #5
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I completely agree with Feynman's attitude. I have Asperger Syndrome so as a result I have hard time understanding social conventions. This hinders my career because people judge me by the fact that I "look differently" or act differently.

    As far as Feynman tea goes, I never knew that there is a social convention against it. I thought people simply assume it won't taste good. So, suppose the story was different. Suppose someone didn't ASK for "both milk and lemon" but instead he were to simply take a tea and put both milk and lemon in there HIMSELF. Are you saying people will look down on him for that? I don't know one way or the other; it is a genuine question.
  7. Jul 18, 2011 #6
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I’m still not sure if the point is still being missed. I don’t think Feynman ever really thought that mixing milk and lemon in the same drink was a good idea. I suppose that the point is that one gives the drink a sharp acidic edge and the other a smoother, richer taste. So they are perhaps contradictory and don’t make much sense together. But Feynman’s point was about the way he was treated by people who, as you put it casualset, looked down on him. But I think that perhaps part of the point is that they looked down on him before he asked for both lemon and tea in his drink. And I think the broader context is that he didn’t really want to be at the gathering in any case and was further persuaded by his experience of the lack of any need to be concerned about what they thought of him. Perhaps a further point of context about Feynman is to recognise that even those who liked and respected him in his later years, once he had become the giant of 20th century science that he became, recognised that his contempt for these things could be problematic. When he died, one of the British broadsheets titled their obituary of him, Richard ‘Tactless Bastard’ Feynman.
  8. Jul 18, 2011 #7
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I was always assuming that once you are as famous as Feynman, there is no way people can "look down" on you. Now the real issue is that some of the POTENTIAL Feynmans aren't allowed to get there because of people's opinions. That is a different story. But if people are already offering him Nobel Prize, this means that they are positive about him; if they weren't, they won't even consider giving him nobel prize, since they would just "overlook" him as they do any social outcast.

    As far as the tea, are you saying Feynman purposely asked for milk and lemon in order to "make a point" and "rebel" against the conventions of ppl he is pissed off at? I am not sure if that is what you are saying. I guess I am asking you to clarify if you do.

    By the way, I do'nt agree with you that milk and lemon don't go together. I tried Feynman tea myself, and it tastes like buttermilk. I think anyone who likes buttermilk would like Feynman tea too.

    Also, even if you were right about the "contrast" between smooth and sharp, aren't you curious "as a scientist" to find out what would the contrast produce? One thing I kept wanting to do was to take LARGE amount of salt and THE SAME amount of sugar (lets say, one cup each). Them mix them up evenly, and then eat it. I simply can't imagine how is it possible for something to be sweet and salty at the same time. Sure, sometimes they put a LITTLE bit of salt and a LITTLE sugar in food. But the amounts of each are so little that it won't answer my quesiton. I think it would be interesting to see hte mixture of salt and sugar alone, in order to really know.
  9. Jul 18, 2011 #8


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    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    Alas, the majority is always sane*.

    * A Larry Nivenism
  10. Jul 18, 2011 #9
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    coffee-flavored meat, a la masaokis

  11. Jul 18, 2011 #10
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    That's it. I just finished that book again a few days ago.
  12. Jul 18, 2011 #11
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    Hmmm. This is turning into a discussion about Feynman rather than his drink – I was only trying to establish what the quote was about. Okay, firstly, I think that he was an undergraduate at the time or at most a post graduate student. As I say, it is a while since I read it. In any case, he attended a social function he wasn’t really all that bothered about because he had allowed himself to be persuaded that it would be good for his prospects. The host asked him, in front of several other more worldly people, if he would prefer milk or lemon in his tea, and in the pressure of the moment he just blurted out ‘both’ because he wasn’t sure which he was supposed to ask for. It was an awkwardness of youth moment, I suppose.

    Subsequently he worked on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War, and then was an attendee at the Pocono Conference where he and Julian Schwinger were to explain to such luminaries as Niels Bohr and Paul Dirac how they had both independently found a theoretical way to calculate the electron moment and were arriving at answers that agreed with the empirical values – something that thus far no-one else had achieved. Without going too far into it, suffice to say that the result was sparky, to say the least. Apparently, when Feynman introduced his diagrams, Bohr stormed out muttering that Feynman knew nothing about how to do physics properly. But eventually, Feynman and Schwinger shared the Nobel Prize with Tomanaga, a Japanese physicist who had also been working on the same problem in what Freeman Dyson described as ‘the rubble of Tokyo’.

    In the 1960’s Feynman wrote a series of lectures for Physics undergraduates, something that was very unusual for someone of his seniority. The resulting lectures were published, and you’ll find plenty of contributors to these forums who will affirm the reputation of those lectures. I remember something I read about Feynman described him as ‘the supreme educator’. However, throughout his career, he also had a tendency to offend delicate sensibilities and to rub some of his colleagues up the wrong way. Murray Gell-Mann talks of how he was always prepared to refer to their joint work as ‘we did this and we did that’ but Feynman only ever talked about how ‘I did this and I did that’.

    And he had one last return to public attention when it was he, on the team that investigated the Challenger disaster, who worked out that it was the rubber ‘O’ rings that had not coped with the freezing conditions on the launch pad.
  13. Jul 18, 2011 #12
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    The flavor of Earl Grey tea comes traditionally from a citrus fruit, bergamot orange, so the idea of combining lemon and milk in tea isn't that odd. It's oil from the rind that is used though, which apparently isn't acidic enough to affect the milk. So, adding milk to tea flavored with lemon oil shouldn't be a problem, but perhaps it can't be called Feynman tea then. :) The fat content of the milk may also be of importance, I think whole milk is less affected by the acidity of the lemon than skimmed or semi-skimmed.

    Anyway, a great thinker has to go against convention now or then, otherwise he won't create anything new. :)
  14. Jul 18, 2011 #13
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    For reference, here is the relevant passage:
  15. Jul 19, 2011 #14
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    If you put both lemon and milk in tea, the milk curdles. It ruins the function of the milk. It's not a matter of social convention to only have one or the other. It's a matter of not making a lumpy mess of your tea.

    The story isn't about his distain for social convention, it's simply a chapter in "The Education of Richard Feynman." He learned there's a whole different, upper class, round about way of correcting someone than what he was used to. The book is a collection of just such "epiphany" stories. Each story is the story of him realizing something or figuring something out.

    To the extent Feynman was "tactless" it was simply a matter of his having been raised in middle class Jewish Culture in a suburb of NY City. He wasn't tactless within that culture, and I'm sure it was a shock to him to find all kinds of unspoken taboos against saying and doing things in his more direct, blunt way in the world outside that culture. I don't think he had any distain for the world outside where he grew up, but I don't think he ever totally got the hang of it either.

    As for the Nobel Prize, he never articulated it this way, but I think winning it bothered him because it represented an arrival at the finish line way before his racing days were over, as it were: "Welcome to Mt. Olympus. There's nowhere higher to go. Your greatest achievement is behind you."
  16. Jul 19, 2011 #15
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    Well, zoobyshoe, clearly we are both entitled to our own interpretations. I would only make these points. Somewhere, I forget where, I remember reading in Feynman’s own words his stated contempt for awards and prizes that he saw as meaningless. That does not necessarily suggest that he saw the Nobel Prize as meaningless, but the impression I gained is that he was conscious of the danger of appearing to be inconsistent on this issue in accepting his Nobel Prize with all the hoo-ha and ceremony that surrounded it.

    The obituary title was not, of course mine, and even the British newspaper that used it was quoting someone who was a close colleague of Feynman. The obituary obviously dealt extensively with Feynman’s achievements, but also discussed this aspect of Feynman’s personality.

    And I would suggest to you that the reason for recounting the anecdote, and titling the memoir with that quote, is because, aware of that part of his reputation, Feynman was offering some kind of explanation for it – it seems to me that is to be found in the passage that Jimmy has kindly provided.

    And the comment by Gell-Mann is available to view on the Web of Stories website. On that same website you can see Freeman Dyson talking about Feynman. He had the deepest respect and indeed a great fondness for Feynman – he has likened his relationship with him to that between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. But Dyson talks, quite amusingly actually, about this same aspect of Feynman.

    Believe me, Feynman is my great scientific hero, but I don’t doubt that he would have had no time at all for me and would have had no compunction whatever about offending me. But I only know him through his writings and through what others have said and written about him.
  17. Jul 19, 2011 #16
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    That is a bit surprising. Do'nt everyone drink tea when they are home all by themselves? Why do you need to socialize in order to know what it is?
  18. Jul 19, 2011 #17
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    A tea is not a cup of tea, it is a tea party.
  19. Jul 19, 2011 #18
    Re: Does anyone want to try "Feynman tea"?

    I recall reading the same things, but he wrote them all after having gotten the prize. I am suggesting the actual reason he wanted to recast the prize as meaningless is because of the psychological effect winning such a prize can have on the recipient. I thought I described that effect pretty well.

    You seem to be offering support for the notion that he had a reputation for being tactless. I am not sure why you're doing that because I never denied he had that reputation. What I am saying is that the qualities others regarded as tactless in him were very likely not personal shortcomings specific to him. Rather, they were habits of behavior he picked up from the culture in which he was raised. Within that culture he wasn't considered any more or less tactless than anyone else. Outside that culture he often came off as too blunt and careless about how he phrased things.

    The tea story is a story about culture shock. In Far Rockaway a hostess offering tea to a kid might be likely to say, "What? You want both? Are you meshuggeneh? The lemon will curdle the cream!" The incident at the high tea in Princeton was an epiphany for Feynman, a kind of realization that he wasn't in Far Rockaway anymore. Instead of being directly told you've said or done something stupid, that information is communicated more indirectly by causing you to feel confused and embarrassed. I think that line was chosen as the title because it was the most poignant, sharpest of the epiphanies he recounts. I don't see any evidence in the quoted passage he's offering it as an explanation for his reputation.

    He does tell one story in his second book about an incident in which he realizes he's phrased something so ambiguously that the person he addressed was at liberty to take it as an attack on his character. As I recall he's not all that apologetic. It's more like "I can see how I kinda put my foot in my mouth, but, c'mom people, give a guy a break, " sort of thing. He didn't seem very interested in figuring out why he was considered tactless, or in apologizing for it. If anything he seems to have regarded his directness as an asset: it was why Bohr chose him as a sounding board. He was the only one with the courage to question Bohr and Bohr wanted an honest challenge to his ideas. "Yes men" would constitute no test of his ideas.
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