I was sitting with a customer at the Admiral Storage Facility, preparing to partake of a cup of tea, when my visitor noted that I was stirring the beverage and asked why.
I looked at him curiously. “Why,” I asked, “are you asking me why?”
“Well,” he replied, “you are forever publishing those little stories on your blog about oddball events, and I thought you might be conducting one of your experiments to see if the tea cools down when you stir it.”
“I would imagine it does,” I replied, and was dismayed when I noticed the esteemed gent looking at me curiously.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I clearly looked puzzled because he went on, “Are you sure that stirring your tea makes it cooler rather than makes it hotter?”
“Why would it make the tea hotter?” I asked becoming both suspicious and perplexed.
“Because you are putting energy into the tea by stirring it,” he said. “The faster the speed the hotter the obect.”
I thought on this for a moment before countering with, “But surely in moving the tea around I am exposing more of the liquid to the cooler air above the surface and that will take the temperature down.”
“However,” my visitor countered, “the faster an object moves the hotter it gets.”
We sat and looked at the cup of tea for a long while, each recognising an impasse when it leaped up and hit us in the face.
“Why don’t you take the spoon in and out of the tea?” my visitor asked at last. “The tea must be hotter than the spoon, so the heat moves from the tea to the spoon. You take the spoon out and it cools down, so you can then put the spoon back in and repeat the trick.”
“Without stirring?” I asked.
“You can stir it if you like,” he said.
I looked at him curiously. “But if I stir the tea, am I not putting energy into the tea, which then should become hotter?”
“I think you’d have to stir it so far to achieve that,” my customer said, “that as a result of the stirring the liquid will go over the top of the sides of the cup.”
“That would cool it,” I said.
“And make a mess,” he replied. “You’d be better off pouring it into the saucer and letting it cool before slurping it up and annoying everyone near you but giving much delight to small boys who have undoubtedly been told off for doing that at home.”
“Is there anything else I can do?” I wondered.
“Just leave it to cool down,” he replied.
“Then why do we have spoons?” I asked.
“To stir in the sugar,” he said.
“Not to cool down the tea?” I queried
I looked at him again for a long moment before venturing to change the subject. “What do you do for a living?” I asked.
“I am a scientist,” he replied. “A physicist.”
“And what are you studying?”
“My colleagues and I are in a team that is about to see a black hole for the first time.”
I nodded, trying to give the impression that I was seriously impressed
“And what will you do if you can’t see it?” I asked, “on account of it being black.”
After that there seemed to be little left to say, and he took his leave. I watched him carefully as he departed in case there was any shaking of the head going on as if to suggest I was not of sound mind. But no, he was nodding.
I felt rather pleased about that and made a cup of tea by way of celebration.