TED Conversations

Stewart Gault


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What is the most awe inspiring fact you know?

Quite self explanatory really, To say one I love the idea that the carbon atoms in my fingers could have been part of a T-Rex at some point :)

  • May 29 2012: Growing up, my father told me the most important thing in life was to take action. If you are down, take some kind of action even if it is just walking around the block. Take action by setting a goal to change circumstances, take action by making a plan, read a book / learn something new… stand up for what is right... the possibilities are endless… Over the years I have found this to be literally the best advice I ever received. I have especially enjoyed learning that science backs up my father’s advice…
    • May 29 2012: Lucky you. Wise dad!
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      Jun 2 2012: Actions ... taking actions ... great advice. thank you for sharing.
    • Jun 3 2012: I teach this to my kids all the time, but I'm terrible at practicing it. I need to do this more.
  • May 28 2012: That my atoms formed in the bellies of stars. That I would not survive one femtosecond the conditions necessary for my atoms to exist. That my atoms traveled to places far beyond my most extravagant travels within this little planet. That just that makes me one with the universe. That I am an instance, and an instant, of this universe, this matter, this energy, thinking about itself. Thinking! That whatever time I have, I have, and it's astounding.
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    Jun 9 2012: I think it is awe inspiring that we are all here together, right now, at this moment in time and space.
    The probability of a sun and "goldilocks" planet like ours ever forming seems to be really... well, rather small. That Earth has all the right geological and chemical conditions for life to begin also seem to be pretty darned lucky. The odds that self aware forms of life like us could ever evolve seems to be almost (but not quite) miraculous. Yet, here we are. Of course, in a century (or 2 perhaps :) everyone that we know and love will be dead and gone forever. Everyone you every loved, everyone that shaped who you are, or moved you to tears. In several billion years our planet will no longer support life, but the universe will stretch on continually for unimaginable epics.
    When we look around at other people on the street we are looking at the culmination of a truly unimaginable set of circumstances. If we could ever truly understand how awe inspiring this is I imagine we would just drop everything and embrace eachother in the streets... clinging together like life rafts on a vast and endless ocean...
    Knowing all this, it is still nearly impossible for me to chat to the stranger next to me on the bus.
    • Jun 10 2012: Wow! Print this out and take it with you when you ride the bus. When you are on the bus, read it, and pretend a stranger wrote it. Then you will realize what a precious moment you are sharing with that stranger sitting next to you. You might show them the paper, and just tell them look what someone wrote. Life is too short. Make the most of every opportunity.
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      Jun 12 2012: Adam, this is a wonderful view on life, i think we should all print it off and take it on the bus with us
  • May 29 2012: The more we learn the more we realize how little we know.
  • May 29 2012: I guess that the coolest thing I ever learned and that was when I was nine years old and had a telescope that the futher you look out in space that the futher back in time you are looking at because of the speed of light and so on a starry night look up and you will be looking back in time. Been doing that ever since. Anyone can do it. Imagine looking at a star that took thousands of years for its light to reach here. That's looking back into time. Now that is a awe inspiring fact that we can look hundreds if not thousands of years back in time by looking out into space on a clear night.
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      May 30 2012: Love that Terry..that was my first encounter with awe as well..my Dad bought a telescope to track Sputnick when I was 11. .One bitterly cold January night he put the telescope on Andromeda and as I looked at it through the scope , he told me it was so far away and the light took so long to get here to us that it might not be there anymore. I just became suspended, somewhere beyond analysis and comprehension, beyond the precision and math of our nightly collaboration of exact time, declination and azimuth.
      • May 30 2012: Thank you Lindsay for your comment to what I said. Its amazing what a little math and science can do with observation. Even the light from our own sun takes a little over 8 minutes to reach here.
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      Jun 2 2012: And how does that make you feel ? the fact that you can look back in time and see things happening in millions of years ago and millions of light years away ... what does that mean ? I also feel the awww but my mind is trying to make some sense out of it ... what does that tell us ? - by the way thank you for sharing this great fascinating fact
      • Jun 2 2012: Thank you for replying Sina. I will try to answer your questions from the heart as well as the head. I was nine when my father explained to me about the speed of light and how to use that knowledge to look at the universe in other ways. I lived in and still live in a area where you can see the night sky really well even without a telescope so before I had one I would on clear nights just lay outside and was awed by what I seeing. All the different points of light. It was and still is awsome to do that. By knowing that with using the speed of light with distance that I was actually looking by into time as well made what I was already amazied by even more awe inspiring. I know that man has been gazing up at the universe since man has been arround with awe. For a nine year old to be able to realize that for all those objects in space there is distance and with distance comes time, It was a awe inspiring fact. That I could look back into time was awsome. How does that make me feel? More knowledgable about what I am seeing, still awestruck. The fact that we can with our best telescopes look back into time almost to when the big bang happened. For me its like a history book of our universe that we can check out. There are more questions than answers about our universe but with technology and math we are getting closer to understanding it and how it works.But anyway its still something awe inspiring to think about.
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          Jun 2 2012: "its like a history book of our universe" ... I couldn't think of a better way of putting it. Thank you a million times for sharing this wonderful experience. I will view the night sky from this windows you created the next time I have the luxury of watching it outside the light pollution of city.
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    May 29 2012: I think these are a few of the best unmentioned ones, we're only 1% different genetically from chimps, we're all related to the grass in your garden, if an alien in a different galaxy made a big enough telescope to see earth they would see it millions/ billions of years ago, don't think anyone mentioned the moon landing, if you took all the neurons in your body and unraveled them they'd go around the earth 2.5 times and would take 6 hours to send a signal the length of it,
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    May 29 2012: that we know absolutely nothing about dark matter(25%) and dark energy (70%) of which most of the universe is comprised..trhat the part we know only a tiny bit about is such a small part of the universe.(5%).
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    Jun 4 2012: The fact that a map of the universe looks very much like synapses in a human brain.
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      Jun 5 2012: Some time ago I looked through a telescope and thought the same thing... I found it awe inspiring that something on such a large scale looks the same as something on such a tiny scale... I tried to explain this to someone with not much luck... you have just explained it so simply and elegantly. Thank you :)

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      Jun 9 2012: What about all the things that don't look like a brain synapse?

      What about all the other things that look like other things?

      It is amazing we see patterns. Our brain is amazing
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    Jun 3 2012: This is also a realization.

    All reasoning individuals, those that reason everything, question their own belief system continuously. Because they do, they are always in doubt of what is "right".

    All those who believe are never in doubt of what is "right".

    This means that those who live in doubt, are always in a state of weakness. And those who are in a state of faith are always in a state of strength.

    However, it is the reasoning doubting ones who are really strong because they can live in this weakness of strength and discovery. Just the fact that scientists have more cause to celebrate when a theory is disproved and a new paradigm is created.
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        Jun 4 2012: Thank you for your comment.

        I agree with "it is illogical to make any claim about "all" people in any grouping". I really meant to point towards the majority that sustains a major idea, be it science or faith. There may still be a problem with generalization here, however the idea is to find a common distinction between the scientific group (that strictly believes in science) and the other group (that largely accepts science in the paradigm of faith).

        So my understanding was, one would believe in something, only because there are reasons to believe in it.
        Once reasons run out, we turn to faith. As a result, we try to reason away any uncertainty with "faith".

        The advantage of uncertainty is, if we could learn to live with uncertainty, there is a greater chance that we would reach new answers and better questions, opposed to a situation where we do away with uncertainty with faith.
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      Jun 9 2012: Depends if what you have faith in is anything close to the truth or is useful.

      It is nonsense to state a made up an absolute truism like faith = strength.
      Doubt = weakness.

      Questioning has led to science and technology - medicine etc. What good has fundamentalism related to any dogma given humans.

      Certainty about things not backed up with reasonable evidence is delusion. It may be useful, it may not.

      Absolute faith in nonsense is potentially dangerous.

      I suggest what takes us closer to the truth is more useful than believing in nonsense.

      No issue with practical knowledge that can be proven e.g. I have two eyes.

      Faith in claims that are extraordinary without reasonable evidence, without evaluation is locking in ignorance.

      Give me healthy skepticism, reason and evidence any time over fundamentalist claims about what is true or right.

      I will give you that in some circumstances it is better to rely on your intuition and make a snap judgement e.g. in times of immediate danger. The rest of the time you are wasting that brain of yours if you don't question, if you don't reason, if you don't look for evidence etc.

      Your path of believing what you want to believe is true or right without evidence clashes with other equally ignorant assumptions. Sad really if you can not see that this stops us from learning, from dialogue and discussion about what is true and good etc.
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      Jun 11 2012: Guarav - "This means that those who live in doubt, are always in a state of weakness. And those who are in a state of faith are always in a state of strength"

      The opposite is true in my opinion. To have doubt is actually to have great strength.

      Voyages of discovery are seldom made entirely with the comforting assurances of the 'known'.

      “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” (Andre Gide).

      Faith and belief are not strengths. I think they are comforting, homely assurances for those who need to feel emotionally grounded somewhere, and who may NOT actually have the courage to leave that shoreline.
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        Jun 12 2012: Allan, I agree with you whole heartedly.

        I could not have better summaried my sentiments.

        I feel what you call "emotionally grounded" is what I meant by being in a "state of strength"... i.e. feeling strong, perhaps by feeling grounded, comforted or by believing in the fact that there is a god that is omniscient and therefore can protect from everything.
  • Jun 2 2012: The fact that when you walk around in any house, nearly every item was originally just an idea or figment of imagination in someone's mind.
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      Jun 9 2012: Wow Owen, that is really an amazing insight, and something I had never even considered. I will try to use it as my new awareness overlay :)
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    May 31 2012: That there is really something called subconscious mind ..and we can experience a lot of happiness if we program it positively
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    May 31 2012: This world is never 'black and white', it's just shades of grey.
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  • Jun 2 2012: That Honey Badgers exist
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    May 31 2012: If we leave something alone the natural tendency is for it to go from a state of order to disorder as per the laws of thermodynamics. this explains the flawed nature of the entire universe. It has helped me to deal with the imperfections in human condition
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    May 31 2012: 1) Even impossible has the word possible.
    2) You have lost the war even if you have won it.
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    Jun 16 2012: I just figured that a billionaire who had 30 Billion dollars had more money than 39 of the poorest countries put together.

    Also, he had more money than the whole nation of Democratic Republic of Congo earns in an year, and Congo has 72 Million people!!
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    Jun 8 2012: That there are the same amount of numbers between 0 and 1 as there are between 0 and 2
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    Jun 4 2012: that you are never too old to set new goals or dream new dreams. C.S. Lewis.
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    Jun 4 2012: It is this: the more you know the less you know.
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    Jun 2 2012: That light waves can travel for 13 billion years across the universe with its electric and magnetic fields continually interacting according to Maxwell's equations and they never even get slightly out of synch. It seems to me like the most exquisite example of physical exactitude, following a mathematical description, that I have ever heard of.
  • May 30 2012: I read somewhere that they found worms in Tchernobyl, that ingest radioactive soil and reject a healty medium. That showed me the true strenght of nature and to me, THAT is truly awe inspiring.
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    May 30 2012: Another one that I find awe inspiring is as follows:

    Our "Perceptual Contexts", the way it affects what we are able to see. Just like the limits of our senses ... the way we could only perceive a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum (and perceive that as reality... which, come to think of it, is another awe inspiring fact)

    This perceptual contexts gives us reasoning as follows:
    If we know that the space is expanding, we immediately start thinking that it must be expanding into something. Or what may lie beyond its current expanse?

    This human perceptual context thrills me every day of my life, just as I think.
  • May 29 2012: No matter what you know, or how much you've seen, there is something even better just waiting to be discovered.
  • May 29 2012: The discovery that planets are common in our Galaxy really amazes me. Until two decades ago we had never observed a single planet outside our solar system; until last year we had observed a few hundred of them; and today we know there is around a billion planet in our own galaxy. That makes it really hard to believe we are alone in the universe.

    I'm going to go watch MIB3.
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      May 29 2012: To expand on this, I am always amazed when I think about how many stars there are... there are (quite likely) more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth. Have you ever been to a Beach? There is a *LOT* of sand. Mathematicians at the University of Hawaii estimated there are 7,500,000,000,000,000,000 grains of sand on Earth. That is 7.5 x 10^18.

      Now, in our galaxy alone (the Milky Way), the most frequently stated estimate is approximately 400,000,000,000 (that's 400 billion) stars, with a 50% error plausible in either direction. So somewhere between 200,000,000,000 and 600,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy. The Hubble Space Telescope can detect about 80,000,000,000 (80 billion or 8 x 10^10) galaxies, however this does not account for all galaxies.

      Assuming that our galaxy has a normal number of stars with conservative estimates (2 x 10^11), and use the amount of galaxies the HST can detect (8 x 10^10)... (2 x 10^11) x (8 x 10^10) = 16 x 10^21.

      Going back to our estimate of grains of sand on Earth, that was 7.5 x 10^18. Dividing (16 x 10^21) / (7.5 x 10^18) = 2133.33...

      That means for every grain of sand on Earth, there are over 2,000 stars in the universe.
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        May 29 2012: Someone also calculated this required the formation of an average of 30,000 stars PER SECOND from the estimated time of the Big Bang.

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    May 29 2012: This is the greatest moment that you and I have ever lived !

    As long as we believe there was a better yesterday or that tomorrow holds for us some guarantee, we are missing out on the greatest moment that we will ever have and that is right now.
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      May 29 2012: YES Mwenjew...YES, YES, YES to this moment:>)

      The most awe inspiring fact I witness in this moment, is that the gardens are beautifully washed with the gentle rains all night.........GORGEOUS...in my humble perception:>)

      Yesterday and the day before were perfectly sunny and I had the opportunity to plant more vegetables. Today is perfectly rainy to water the new seedlings and seeds....how perfectly awe inspiring is that???
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        May 29 2012: Just sitting here wondering...... who came up with this "weekly number of ratings for a user"

        thumbs up ! ( they cant max these out ) ;-)
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          May 29 2012: HA!!! I still have some thumbs up left for you this week, and THAT my friend, is AWESOME...the MOST AWESOME thing in this moment:>)
  • Jun 10 2012: We experience a model of reality.
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    Jun 7 2012: Loving all the posts thus far...couple of my favorites:

    1. Humankind has experienced 0.004% of the Earth's total history.
    2. The presence of dark matter suggests there may be a multiverse.
    3. We've only explored 5% of the ocean.
    4. Tesla. Was. Awesome.
  • P C

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    Jun 7 2012: Hydrogen formed shortly after the formation of the universe. What began as little imperfections while the universe was small, later created extra areas of density that later evolved into strings of galaxies each of which contain billions (I mean BULLIONS!) of stars.

    Every star goes through a life cycle where through fusion new elements are created, form in their cores, then themselves become the fuel of still denser elements, until we get to iron. At the end of its life, the star has shells of iron, silicon, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, helium, and hydrogen. Shortly thereafter the balance between heat and gravity swings wiildly until the star dies and explodes. The energy released in the final explosion outshines the rest of the galaxy and simultaneously creates all of the rest of the elements in the periodic table (the supernova elements!).

    But from our perspective, here's where the story gets interesting. The shells explode through one another and mix together. Also the denser elements at the core of the star don't travel as far as the lighter elements. This explain why the inner planets have iron cores and why the Oort Cloud has so many comets that contain water. Somehow the giant gas cloud collapses back into itself again and we get our Sun. While the gas cloud is forming it flattens into a disc. Heavier elements create pockets of density that eventually become gravitational distortions. These distortions spin more slowly than the rest of the disc and eddy forces build up until they spin in opposite direction of the disc. Then one day the center of the new gas cloud becomes dense that gravity implodes it into a new star. Then the shockwaves explode outward clearing out the planetary disc leaving planets made of heavier elements.

    All of the elements the Earth and we are made of were first forged in a previous star. We are literally star dust!
  • Jun 7 2012: A generation is about 30 years. A line of people 67 generations long stretch back to the time of Christ. Not a very long line.
  • MR T

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    Jun 6 2012: Many spiders use a technique called 'ballooning' they stand at the tip of a leaf or other precipice and release a strand of silk into the air, once this strand is long enough and the wind exerts enough pull on the spider, it releases its grip and floats away. Spiders can travel 100's of kilometres this way and as a result are often the first to colonise volcanically born islands.