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What if Everything You Know is Wrong: Bob McDonald (Transcript)

Bob McDonald at TEDxVictoria 2013

Full text of science journalist Bob McDonald’s talk: What if Everything You Know is Wrong at TEDxVictoria conference.

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Bob McDonald – Science journalist

Are you kidding?

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming back. We were all worried that once we let the audience out at four o’clock, it wouldn’t come back. So thank you for being here.

I am in a very privileged position to do what I do. I watch science happen. And then I write stories about it for radio or television or print.

But I feel like a surfer on the cutting edge of our knowledge as we penetrate our ignorance and we emerge into enlightenment. That’s what I do for a living.

I watch science happen. And in watching science happen, and this is also a significant year for me. 2013 is my 40th year of doing that. Can you believe it? 

It’s taught me a couple of things:

  • That science makes you see the world in a way that goes beyond your intuition and beyond your five senses.
  • It’s a pair of glasses that you put on and when, as soon as you look around, everything is different.
  • And it has shown us that the way we actually see the world is wrong. And it’s through science that we’re starting to get it right.

And that is why I would like you to ponder the question:

What if everything we know is wrong?

And the reason I’m asking that is because throughout almost all of our history here on this planet, we have been wrong in how we’ve seen it. So our lineage as homo-sapiens goes back. Well, the whole lineage of upright humans goes back about 6 million years.

And back then somebody, and we don’t know who had an idea to change our locomotion. We changed from being knuckle-walking quadrupeds to upright-walking bipeds.

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And when we did this, by the way, I don’t think that was somebody’s idea. That’s not how evolution happened. There was an evolution of our pelvic joints that allowed our legs to point straight down instead of being permanently bent.

But this revolution enabled us to look up. Our head is now a meter or so above the ground. Our eyes are pointing forward, not down. And our hands are free so that we can carry things as we walk. And we did walk, we walked out of Africa.

It took a long time; took thousands of generations. It actually took millions of years to do that. And as we did, we built tools with our opposable thumbs. And we emerged out of Africa, into Europe and Asia. And we spread ourselves around the world.

What a remarkable journey!

But during this whole time, as we explored our planet, the way we saw it was actually incorrect.

Because if you think about the way you see the world right now, you just go inside and look around, it looks pretty solid. It doesn’t move, just sits there. You walk in any direction, doesn’t matter which way you go, if you walk long enough, you will come to an ocean. So we live on an island.

The sky looks like this big blue dome over our head. Actually, it’s two colors. Half of it’s blue, half of it’s black and it rotates around. And the sun is stuck to the blue side and the moon and the stars are stuck to the black side. That’s what it looks like.

And it’s no wonder why the ancient Hindu model of the earth was that. This is how you see the world to your five senses. Of course, the Hindu asked what’s the world standing on; what’s holding it up?

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So why not put it on the world’s biggest animals? So the elephants are standing on the back of a giant sea turtle that is swimming in that endless sea that surrounds us. That’s not too bad. That’s how you see it with your five senses. And when those elephants get uncomfortable, I guess that’s an earthquake.

How far we have come. How far we have come. It took so much science. It took so much engineering, so much technology, so much philosophy to go from this, to the fact that we live on a ball.

We live in a ball. It doesn’t look like a ball, but there are as many stars under your feet right now, as there are over your hand. And not only that, it moves. “It moves”, there was a fellow named Galileo, got into a lot of trouble for saying that, but it moves.

Do you know that since this time yesterday, you’ve been all the way around the world? You have. The world took you with it. And you’re moving pretty fast.

Victoria, which is right here. Victoria is moving right now around the center of the earth at about the speed of a jet airliner.

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