The Universe Revealed in a Cup of Coffee

Let the Spoiled Half-and-half Guide You

During my normal morning routine, I make myself a cup of coffee. It’s not usually worth mentioning, but I observed an interesting effect that got my mind racing with today’s Cup O’ Joe.

I poured some half-and-half into my cup, and noticed the appearance of some minute chunks of curdled or “turning” half-and-half remained on the surface of the coffee. Shit, I thought—the half-and-half is going bad and I’m going to have to use milk instead—which just isn’t as good.

I wondered to myself, does it really matter, and should I make another cup, since sometimes our half-and-half can spoil quickly and I didn’t want to deal with that this morning.

I took a spoon from my cereal and stirred the cup, and this is when the fascinating part happened . . .

I noticed the small bits of half-and-half on the surface swirling and breaking apart, and I thought to myself, “wow that looks like the formation of the universe, sped up.” What’s more is that the exact speed and pattern I was observing was very peculiar—it actually completely took me out of my morning for a moment, and all I could think was, “I wonder if we’re in a black hole after all . . .”

The reason I wondered this, which isn’t a new curiosity by any means, is that the pieces of half-and-half moved at different speeds relative to their different locations as they approached the outer rim of the cup. I was thinking of this representation in terms of light traveling down a very long distance, perhaps, an almost infinite distance—and how it may appear to the observer as cylindrical in nature. The half-and-half represented various star clusters, and the center of the cup represented the asymptotic infinity that I can’t see, because it’s governed by time. I started to wonder if there was a way to capture a sort of model for systems that enter (or are born inside, or into) a black hole, and how they would move relative to each other within such a predicament. Would they orbit each other as our planets and systems do? Would they adhere to a high level organization, or spin around aimlessly? And how does one find themselves within such a system? Does the big bang signify an explosion or more of a drastic entry into the super small and almost incomprehensible compression of a black hole’s entry way—and how does any measure of time come into play during such an event?

After I removed myself from this line of thinking, I indeed made another cup of coffee (having thrown the first magical cup out), and pondered how often I choose not to capture these ideas. Does it matter, who knows? I’ll only know when I get to the end of my cup.

Nick Warren

Nick is the Founder & CEO of MetaSensor, a venture-backed internet of things startup located in Silicon Valley, and a Behavioural Product Designer at Duke's Center for Advanced Hindsight (with Dan Ariely et al.). | Read Full Bio »

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