Day 210: How complexity leads to simplicity

Does complex always equal complicated?
Eric Berlow is an ecologist who studies the interconnectedness of species. From nature studies, they’ve learnt some key points about complexity. First is the power of good visualisation tools. Secondly, they’ve learnt the importance of examining the whole ecosystem rather than focusing on one particular part.
With these ideas in mind, Berlow tells us to embrace complexity and presents what he terms, ‘the world’s simplest spaghetti diagram.’In 24 seconds of looking at this, simple answers may emerge. His message? The more you can zoom out and look at complexity, the better your chances are of zooming in on the simple details that matter most.


Day 208: How to tie your shoes.

Yes, this really is a short TED video in which Terry Moore demonstrates that we’ve all been tying our shoelaces wrong. It also was the first three-minute talk at a TED conference, back in 2005. But Moore’s end message is in keeping with a TED philosophy; sometimes a small advantage someplace in life can yield tremendous results someplace else.

Day 205: Mining minerals from seawater

Damien Palin collaborates with bacteria. He opens this TED talk with stop-motion footage of bacteria metabolising, which attracts minerals from their local environment. But what does this mean to us?
Lack of clean drinking water is one of the world’s most pervasive problems. Removing salts from seawater by reverse osmosis is crucial for countries without access to clean water. But it leaves a concentrated salt or brine solution behind, which can be detrimental to local ecology if pumped back into the sea. It’s also a cost prohibitive process for many countries of the world.
Palin studies bacteria, as he imagines a future where bacteria can help to accumulate, precipitate and sediment minerals out of desalination brine. His videos show the beginning of an industry in a test tube, and this short TED talk makes perfect sense.

Day 204: Russell Foster- Why do we sleep?

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” “Money never sleeps.” “Sleep is for wimps.” Sound familiar? In this TED talk, neuroscientist Russell Foster explains why sleep is such an important part of our daily lives. And since we’ll spend an average of a third of our lives asleep, it may be useful to understand this.
Some areas of the brain are more active in the sleeping state than where you’re awake. Sleep arises from a network of complicated interactions between parts of the brain. But why do we sleep?
There are three main ideas, which Foster outlines here. Firstly, is that of restoration. This explanation goes back to Aristotle’s times. It’s currently back in fashion as genes have been found which are solely used for restoration and metabolic pathways. Energy conservation may also be intuitive. However, the energy-saving of sleeping versus doing very little is probably only about 110 calories a night. The third idea is brain processing and memory consolidation. If individuals are sleep deprived, their ability to learn a task is diminished. Sleeping at night enhances our creativity.
The details may vary on which of these is most important, however the fact that sleep is necessary remains the same. Foster asks the audience to assess if they get enough sleep. The symptoms of deprivation are pretty obvious; irritability, weight gain, stress. The side effects can range from mental illness to dangerous behaviours like falling asleep at the wheel.
Foster’s latest project involves the study of sleep disruption as an early warning signal for mental disorders. Understanding the neuroscience of sleep may offer an insight into how such illnesses may be treated. Firstly, we need to change our attitudes towards sleep. In the words of fantasy writer Jim Butcher, “Sleep is God. Go worship.”

Day 203: Making peace is a marathon

May El- Khalil founded a marathon in her home country of Lebanon after an accident which ended her own running career. That isn’t the only contradiction in this inspirational talk. When the starting gun sounds, it may be one of the few moments each year when a gunshot isn’t part of routine violence.
Organising a marathon in Lebanon is different to arranging one in New York. El-Khalil describes how she spent two years travelling all over the country. She met with people from all walks of life; all of whom spoke a common language and wanted to show the world the Lebanese people’s desire to live in harmony. In October 2003, over 6000 runners from 49 different nationalities started the first ever marathon in Lebanon. As the political problems of the country grew, El-Khalil and her team used the marathon to bring people together. In 2005, when the prime minister was assassinated, 60,000 people ran in a 5 kilometre, ‘United We Run’ race.
Through the marathon they learned that political problems could be overcome. When part of the city centre was shut down, they negotiated alternative routes. The November 2012 marathon contained over 33,000 runners from 85 different nationalities. BMA supported charities and volunteers who helped reshape Lebanon, creating a contagious culture of giving. Government officials in the region, such as Iraq, Egypt and Syria, have all asked the organisation for help with structuring a similar event. El-Khalil has seen first hand how people want to run for a better future. After all, peacemaking is a marathon.

Day 202: Inara George- Family Tree

Accompanied by guitarist Mike Andrews, Inara George plays the love song, ‘Family Tree’ at TED.
George is an American singer- songwriter whose music has appeared in shows such as Grey’s Anatomy. She makes up one half of The Bird and the Bee, is a member of the band Merrick, with Bryony Atkinson, and a member of the trio The Living Sisters, with Eleni Mandell and Becky Stark.