full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Adam Savage: How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

Unscramble the Blue Letters

One of the funny things about owning a brain is that you have no control over the things that it gathers and holds onto, the facts and the stories. And as you get older, it only gets worse. Things stick around for years sometimes before you understand why you're interested in them, before you understand their import to you. Here's three of mine. When Richard feaynmn was a young boy in Queens, he went for a walk with his dad and his wagon and a ball. He noticed that when he pulled the wgaon, the ball went to the back of the wagon. He aksed his dad, "Why does the ball go to the back of the wagon?" And his dad said, "That's inertia." He said, "What's iietnra?" And his dad said, "Ah. Inertia is the name that scientists give to the phenomenon of the ball going to the back of the wagon." (Laughter) "But in ttruh, nobody really knows." Feynman went on to earn degrees at MIT, Princeton, he solved the cleaelnhgr disaster, he enedd up winning the noebl Prize in Physics for his Feynman diagrams, describing the movement of subatomic particles. And he credits that conversation with his father as giving him a sense that the simplest questions could carry you out to the edge of human knowledge, and that that's where he wanted to play. And play he did. Eratosthenes was the third librarian at the great lbiarry of Alexandria, and he made many cibtuotnrions to science. But the one he is most remembered for began in a letter that he received as the larbiiran, from the town of Swenet, which was south of Alexandria. The letter iunclded this fact that stuck in Eratosthenes' mind, and the fact was that the writer said, at noon on the solstice, when he looked down this deep well, he could see his reflection at the bottom, and he could also see that his head was blocking the sun. I should tell you — the idea that Christopher Columbus decvieosrd that the world is sicraehpl is total bull. It's not true at all. In fact, everyone who was educated understood that the world was spherical since Aristotle's time. Aristotle had porved it with a simple observation. He noticed that every time you saw the Earth's shadow on the Moon, it was circular, and the only saphe that constantly creates a circular shadow is a sphere, Q.E.D. the Earth is round. But nobody knew how big it was until Eratosthenes got this letter with this fact. So he understood that the sun was directly above the city of Swenet, because looking down a well, it was a straight line all the way down the well, right past the guy's head up to the sun. Eratosthenes knew another fact. He knew that a stick stuck in the ground in aeriandlxa at the same time and the same day, at noon, the sun's zietnh, on the solstice, the sun cast a shadow that showed that it was 7.2 degrees off-axis. If you know the cunecefirrmce of a circle, and you have two points on it, all you need to know is the distance between those two pniots, and you can extrapolate the circumference. 360 degrees divided by 7.2 elaqus 50. I know it's a little bit of a round number, and it makes me suspicious of this story too, but it's a good story, so we'll continue with it. He needed to know the distance between Swenet and Alexandria, which is good because Eratosthenes was good at geography. In fact, he invented the word geography. (Laughter) The road between Swenet and Alexandria was a road of commerce, and commerce neeedd to know how long it took to get there. It needed to know the exact distance, so he knew very precisely that the distance between the two cities was 500 miles. Multiply that times 50, you get 25,000, which is within one pnceert of the actual diameter of the Earth. He did this 2,200 years ago. Now, we live in an age where multi-billion-dollar pieces of machinery are looking for the Higgs boson. We're discovering particles that may travel faster than the speed of light, and all of these discoveries are made possible by theogclony that's been developed in the last few decades. But for most of human htsroiy, we had to docviesr these things using our eyes and our ears and our minds. Armand Fizeau was an experimental piyshcist in Paris. His specialty was actually refining and confirming other people's results, and this might sound like a bit of an also-ran, but in fact, this is the soul of sniccee, because there is no such thing as a fact that cannot be ienetddlnpney corroborated. And he was familiar with Galileo's experiments in trying to deerintme whether or not light had a speed. Galileo had wkoerd out this really wonderful experiment where he and his anassstit had a lamp, each one of them was holding a lamp. Galileo would open his lamp, and his assistant would open his. They got the tminig down really good. They just knew their timing. And then they sootd at two hilltops, two miles distant, and they did the same thing, on the assumption from Galileo that if lgiht had a discernible speed, he'd notice a delay in the light coming back from his assistant's lamp. But light was too fast for Galileo. He was off by several orders of magnitude when he assumed that light was rugohly ten times as fast as the speed of sound. feaziu was aware of this experiment. He lived in Paris, and he set up two exrtimpeeanl stations, roughly 5.5 miles distant, in Paris. And he svloed this problem of Galileo's, and he did it with a really relatively tiviral picee of equipment. He did it with one of these. I'm going to put away the cilcker for a second because I want to engage your brains in this. So this is a toheotd wheel. It's got a bunch of notches and it's got a bunch of tteeh. This was Fizeau's solution to snenidg discrete pulses of light. He put a beam behind one of these noctehs. If I point a beam through this notch at a mirror, five mleis away, that beam is bnocunig off the mirror and coming back to me through this ncoth. But something inrtesietng happens as he sipns the wheel faster. He necitos that it seems like a door is starting to close on the light beam that's coming back to his eye. Why is that? It's because the pulse of light is not coming back through the same notch. It's actually hittnig a tooth. And he spins the wheel fast enough and he fully occludes the light. And then, based on the dntscaie between the two sntiotas and the speed of his weehl and the number of notches in the wheel, he calculates the speed of light to within two percent of its aatucl value. And he does this in 1849. This is what really gets me going about science. Whenever I'm having trouble understanding a concept, I go back and I research the people that discovered that concept. I look at the srtoy of how they came to uentadrsnd it. What happens when you look at what the dorvsireces were thinking about when they made their discoveries, is you understand that they are not so different from us. We are all bags of meat and water. We all start with the same tools. I love the idea that different branches of science are called fields of sdtuy. Most people think of science as a closed, black box, when in fact it is an open field. And we are all explorers. The people that made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at, and they were a little bit more curious. And their curiosity changed the way people thought about the world, and thus it changed the world. They changed the world, and so can you. Thank you. (Applause)

Open Cloze

One of the funny things about owning a brain is that you have no control over the things that it gathers and holds onto, the facts and the stories. And as you get older, it only gets worse. Things stick around for years sometimes before you understand why you're interested in them, before you understand their import to you. Here's three of mine. When Richard _______ was a young boy in Queens, he went for a walk with his dad and his wagon and a ball. He noticed that when he pulled the _____, the ball went to the back of the wagon. He _____ his dad, "Why does the ball go to the back of the wagon?" And his dad said, "That's inertia." He said, "What's _______?" And his dad said, "Ah. Inertia is the name that scientists give to the phenomenon of the ball going to the back of the wagon." (Laughter) "But in _____, nobody really knows." Feynman went on to earn degrees at MIT, Princeton, he solved the __________ disaster, he _____ up winning the _____ Prize in Physics for his Feynman diagrams, describing the movement of subatomic particles. And he credits that conversation with his father as giving him a sense that the simplest questions could carry you out to the edge of human knowledge, and that that's where he wanted to play. And play he did. Eratosthenes was the third librarian at the great _______ of Alexandria, and he made many _____________ to science. But the one he is most remembered for began in a letter that he received as the _________, from the town of Swenet, which was south of Alexandria. The letter ________ this fact that stuck in Eratosthenes' mind, and the fact was that the writer said, at noon on the solstice, when he looked down this deep well, he could see his reflection at the bottom, and he could also see that his head was blocking the sun. I should tell you — the idea that Christopher Columbus __________ that the world is _________ is total bull. It's not true at all. In fact, everyone who was educated understood that the world was spherical since Aristotle's time. Aristotle had ______ it with a simple observation. He noticed that every time you saw the Earth's shadow on the Moon, it was circular, and the only _____ that constantly creates a circular shadow is a sphere, Q.E.D. the Earth is round. But nobody knew how big it was until Eratosthenes got this letter with this fact. So he understood that the sun was directly above the city of Swenet, because looking down a well, it was a straight line all the way down the well, right past the guy's head up to the sun. Eratosthenes knew another fact. He knew that a stick stuck in the ground in __________ at the same time and the same day, at noon, the sun's ______, on the solstice, the sun cast a shadow that showed that it was 7.2 degrees off-axis. If you know the _____________ of a circle, and you have two points on it, all you need to know is the distance between those two ______, and you can extrapolate the circumference. 360 degrees divided by 7.2 ______ 50. I know it's a little bit of a round number, and it makes me suspicious of this story too, but it's a good story, so we'll continue with it. He needed to know the distance between Swenet and Alexandria, which is good because Eratosthenes was good at geography. In fact, he invented the word geography. (Laughter) The road between Swenet and Alexandria was a road of commerce, and commerce ______ to know how long it took to get there. It needed to know the exact distance, so he knew very precisely that the distance between the two cities was 500 miles. Multiply that times 50, you get 25,000, which is within one _______ of the actual diameter of the Earth. He did this 2,200 years ago. Now, we live in an age where multi-billion-dollar pieces of machinery are looking for the Higgs boson. We're discovering particles that may travel faster than the speed of light, and all of these discoveries are made possible by __________ that's been developed in the last few decades. But for most of human _______, we had to ________ these things using our eyes and our ears and our minds. Armand Fizeau was an experimental _________ in Paris. His specialty was actually refining and confirming other people's results, and this might sound like a bit of an also-ran, but in fact, this is the soul of _______, because there is no such thing as a fact that cannot be _____________ corroborated. And he was familiar with Galileo's experiments in trying to _________ whether or not light had a speed. Galileo had ______ out this really wonderful experiment where he and his _________ had a lamp, each one of them was holding a lamp. Galileo would open his lamp, and his assistant would open his. They got the ______ down really good. They just knew their timing. And then they _____ at two hilltops, two miles distant, and they did the same thing, on the assumption from Galileo that if _____ had a discernible speed, he'd notice a delay in the light coming back from his assistant's lamp. But light was too fast for Galileo. He was off by several orders of magnitude when he assumed that light was _______ ten times as fast as the speed of sound. ______ was aware of this experiment. He lived in Paris, and he set up two ____________ stations, roughly 5.5 miles distant, in Paris. And he ______ this problem of Galileo's, and he did it with a really relatively _______ _____ of equipment. He did it with one of these. I'm going to put away the _______ for a second because I want to engage your brains in this. So this is a _______ wheel. It's got a bunch of notches and it's got a bunch of _____. This was Fizeau's solution to _______ discrete pulses of light. He put a beam behind one of these _______. If I point a beam through this notch at a mirror, five _____ away, that beam is ________ off the mirror and coming back to me through this _____. But something ___________ happens as he _____ the wheel faster. He _______ that it seems like a door is starting to close on the light beam that's coming back to his eye. Why is that? It's because the pulse of light is not coming back through the same notch. It's actually _______ a tooth. And he spins the wheel fast enough and he fully occludes the light. And then, based on the ________ between the two ________ and the speed of his _____ and the number of notches in the wheel, he calculates the speed of light to within two percent of its ______ value. And he does this in 1849. This is what really gets me going about science. Whenever I'm having trouble understanding a concept, I go back and I research the people that discovered that concept. I look at the _____ of how they came to __________ it. What happens when you look at what the ___________ were thinking about when they made their discoveries, is you understand that they are not so different from us. We are all bags of meat and water. We all start with the same tools. I love the idea that different branches of science are called fields of _____. Most people think of science as a closed, black box, when in fact it is an open field. And we are all explorers. The people that made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at, and they were a little bit more curious. And their curiosity changed the way people thought about the world, and thus it changed the world. They changed the world, and so can you. Thank you. (Applause)

Solution

  1. toothed
  2. asked
  3. clicker
  4. spherical
  5. timing
  6. technology
  7. roughly
  8. light
  9. librarian
  10. notch
  11. experimental
  12. wheel
  13. shape
  14. sending
  15. library
  16. discover
  17. circumference
  18. notices
  19. needed
  20. inertia
  21. bouncing
  22. points
  23. study
  24. physicist
  25. interesting
  26. trivial
  27. teeth
  28. solved
  29. actual
  30. story
  31. truth
  32. history
  33. equals
  34. percent
  35. proved
  36. piece
  37. feynman
  38. assistant
  39. hitting
  40. included
  41. challenger
  42. spins
  43. independently
  44. determine
  45. science
  46. notches
  47. nobel
  48. understand
  49. discovered
  50. stood
  51. contributions
  52. alexandria
  53. miles
  54. wagon
  55. zenith
  56. distance
  57. fizeau
  58. stations
  59. worked
  60. discoverers
  61. ended

Original Text

One of the funny things about owning a brain is that you have no control over the things that it gathers and holds onto, the facts and the stories. And as you get older, it only gets worse. Things stick around for years sometimes before you understand why you're interested in them, before you understand their import to you. Here's three of mine. When Richard Feynman was a young boy in Queens, he went for a walk with his dad and his wagon and a ball. He noticed that when he pulled the wagon, the ball went to the back of the wagon. He asked his dad, "Why does the ball go to the back of the wagon?" And his dad said, "That's inertia." He said, "What's inertia?" And his dad said, "Ah. Inertia is the name that scientists give to the phenomenon of the ball going to the back of the wagon." (Laughter) "But in truth, nobody really knows." Feynman went on to earn degrees at MIT, Princeton, he solved the Challenger disaster, he ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for his Feynman diagrams, describing the movement of subatomic particles. And he credits that conversation with his father as giving him a sense that the simplest questions could carry you out to the edge of human knowledge, and that that's where he wanted to play. And play he did. Eratosthenes was the third librarian at the great Library of Alexandria, and he made many contributions to science. But the one he is most remembered for began in a letter that he received as the librarian, from the town of Swenet, which was south of Alexandria. The letter included this fact that stuck in Eratosthenes' mind, and the fact was that the writer said, at noon on the solstice, when he looked down this deep well, he could see his reflection at the bottom, and he could also see that his head was blocking the sun. I should tell you — the idea that Christopher Columbus discovered that the world is spherical is total bull. It's not true at all. In fact, everyone who was educated understood that the world was spherical since Aristotle's time. Aristotle had proved it with a simple observation. He noticed that every time you saw the Earth's shadow on the Moon, it was circular, and the only shape that constantly creates a circular shadow is a sphere, Q.E.D. the Earth is round. But nobody knew how big it was until Eratosthenes got this letter with this fact. So he understood that the sun was directly above the city of Swenet, because looking down a well, it was a straight line all the way down the well, right past the guy's head up to the sun. Eratosthenes knew another fact. He knew that a stick stuck in the ground in Alexandria at the same time and the same day, at noon, the sun's zenith, on the solstice, the sun cast a shadow that showed that it was 7.2 degrees off-axis. If you know the circumference of a circle, and you have two points on it, all you need to know is the distance between those two points, and you can extrapolate the circumference. 360 degrees divided by 7.2 equals 50. I know it's a little bit of a round number, and it makes me suspicious of this story too, but it's a good story, so we'll continue with it. He needed to know the distance between Swenet and Alexandria, which is good because Eratosthenes was good at geography. In fact, he invented the word geography. (Laughter) The road between Swenet and Alexandria was a road of commerce, and commerce needed to know how long it took to get there. It needed to know the exact distance, so he knew very precisely that the distance between the two cities was 500 miles. Multiply that times 50, you get 25,000, which is within one percent of the actual diameter of the Earth. He did this 2,200 years ago. Now, we live in an age where multi-billion-dollar pieces of machinery are looking for the Higgs boson. We're discovering particles that may travel faster than the speed of light, and all of these discoveries are made possible by technology that's been developed in the last few decades. But for most of human history, we had to discover these things using our eyes and our ears and our minds. Armand Fizeau was an experimental physicist in Paris. His specialty was actually refining and confirming other people's results, and this might sound like a bit of an also-ran, but in fact, this is the soul of science, because there is no such thing as a fact that cannot be independently corroborated. And he was familiar with Galileo's experiments in trying to determine whether or not light had a speed. Galileo had worked out this really wonderful experiment where he and his assistant had a lamp, each one of them was holding a lamp. Galileo would open his lamp, and his assistant would open his. They got the timing down really good. They just knew their timing. And then they stood at two hilltops, two miles distant, and they did the same thing, on the assumption from Galileo that if light had a discernible speed, he'd notice a delay in the light coming back from his assistant's lamp. But light was too fast for Galileo. He was off by several orders of magnitude when he assumed that light was roughly ten times as fast as the speed of sound. Fizeau was aware of this experiment. He lived in Paris, and he set up two experimental stations, roughly 5.5 miles distant, in Paris. And he solved this problem of Galileo's, and he did it with a really relatively trivial piece of equipment. He did it with one of these. I'm going to put away the clicker for a second because I want to engage your brains in this. So this is a toothed wheel. It's got a bunch of notches and it's got a bunch of teeth. This was Fizeau's solution to sending discrete pulses of light. He put a beam behind one of these notches. If I point a beam through this notch at a mirror, five miles away, that beam is bouncing off the mirror and coming back to me through this notch. But something interesting happens as he spins the wheel faster. He notices that it seems like a door is starting to close on the light beam that's coming back to his eye. Why is that? It's because the pulse of light is not coming back through the same notch. It's actually hitting a tooth. And he spins the wheel fast enough and he fully occludes the light. And then, based on the distance between the two stations and the speed of his wheel and the number of notches in the wheel, he calculates the speed of light to within two percent of its actual value. And he does this in 1849. This is what really gets me going about science. Whenever I'm having trouble understanding a concept, I go back and I research the people that discovered that concept. I look at the story of how they came to understand it. What happens when you look at what the discoverers were thinking about when they made their discoveries, is you understand that they are not so different from us. We are all bags of meat and water. We all start with the same tools. I love the idea that different branches of science are called fields of study. Most people think of science as a closed, black box, when in fact it is an open field. And we are all explorers. The people that made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at, and they were a little bit more curious. And their curiosity changed the way people thought about the world, and thus it changed the world. They changed the world, and so can you. Thank you. (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

Important Words

  1. actual
  2. age
  3. alexandria
  4. applause
  5. aristotle
  6. armand
  7. asked
  8. assistant
  9. assumed
  10. assumption
  11. aware
  12. bags
  13. ball
  14. based
  15. beam
  16. began
  17. big
  18. bit
  19. black
  20. blocking
  21. boson
  22. bottom
  23. bouncing
  24. box
  25. boy
  26. brain
  27. brains
  28. branches
  29. bull
  30. bunch
  31. calculates
  32. called
  33. carry
  34. cast
  35. challenger
  36. changed
  37. christopher
  38. circle
  39. circular
  40. circumference
  41. cities
  42. city
  43. clicker
  44. close
  45. closed
  46. columbus
  47. coming
  48. commerce
  49. concept
  50. confirming
  51. constantly
  52. continue
  53. contributions
  54. control
  55. conversation
  56. corroborated
  57. creates
  58. credits
  59. curiosity
  60. curious
  61. dad
  62. day
  63. decades
  64. deep
  65. degrees
  66. delay
  67. describing
  68. determine
  69. developed
  70. diagrams
  71. diameter
  72. disaster
  73. discernible
  74. discover
  75. discovered
  76. discoverers
  77. discoveries
  78. discovering
  79. discrete
  80. distance
  81. distant
  82. divided
  83. door
  84. earn
  85. ears
  86. earth
  87. edge
  88. educated
  89. ended
  90. engage
  91. equals
  92. equipment
  93. eratosthenes
  94. exact
  95. experiment
  96. experimental
  97. experiments
  98. explorers
  99. extrapolate
  100. eye
  101. eyes
  102. fact
  103. facts
  104. familiar
  105. fast
  106. faster
  107. father
  108. feynman
  109. field
  110. fields
  111. fizeau
  112. fully
  113. funny
  114. galileo
  115. gathers
  116. geography
  117. give
  118. giving
  119. good
  120. great
  121. ground
  122. harder
  123. head
  124. higgs
  125. hilltops
  126. history
  127. hitting
  128. holding
  129. holds
  130. human
  131. idea
  132. import
  133. included
  134. independently
  135. inertia
  136. interested
  137. interesting
  138. invented
  139. knew
  140. knowledge
  141. lamp
  142. laughter
  143. letter
  144. librarian
  145. library
  146. light
  147. line
  148. live
  149. lived
  150. long
  151. looked
  152. love
  153. machinery
  154. magnitude
  155. meat
  156. miles
  157. mind
  158. minds
  159. mirror
  160. mit
  161. moon
  162. movement
  163. multiply
  164. needed
  165. nobel
  166. noon
  167. notch
  168. notches
  169. notice
  170. noticed
  171. notices
  172. number
  173. observation
  174. occludes
  175. older
  176. open
  177. orders
  178. owning
  179. paris
  180. particles
  181. people
  182. percent
  183. phenomenon
  184. physicist
  185. physics
  186. piece
  187. pieces
  188. play
  189. point
  190. points
  191. precisely
  192. princeton
  193. prize
  194. problem
  195. proved
  196. pulled
  197. pulse
  198. pulses
  199. put
  200. queens
  201. questions
  202. received
  203. refining
  204. reflection
  205. remembered
  206. research
  207. results
  208. richard
  209. road
  210. roughly
  211. science
  212. scientists
  213. sending
  214. sense
  215. set
  216. shadow
  217. shape
  218. showed
  219. simple
  220. simplest
  221. solstice
  222. solution
  223. solved
  224. soul
  225. sound
  226. south
  227. specialty
  228. speed
  229. sphere
  230. spherical
  231. spins
  232. start
  233. starting
  234. stations
  235. stick
  236. stood
  237. stories
  238. story
  239. straight
  240. stuck
  241. study
  242. subatomic
  243. sun
  244. suspicious
  245. swenet
  246. technology
  247. teeth
  248. ten
  249. thinking
  250. thought
  251. time
  252. times
  253. timing
  254. tools
  255. tooth
  256. toothed
  257. total
  258. town
  259. travel
  260. trivial
  261. trouble
  262. true
  263. truth
  264. understand
  265. understanding
  266. understood
  267. wagon
  268. walk
  269. wanted
  270. water
  271. wheel
  272. winning
  273. wonderful
  274. word
  275. worked
  276. world
  277. worse
  278. writer
  279. years
  280. young
  281. zenith