Why do we ask questions? Michael “Vsauce” Stevens at TEDxVienna


Translator: Sue Su
Reviewer: Denise RQ What is the best kind of cheese
to use to catch a bear? Someone knows over here? Obviously, the answer is “come here bear.” Camembert! (Laughter) Camembert! (Applause) Thank you. I have a head full of cheese puns, but I was told I had to keep it ‘brie’-f. (Laughter) What did the piece of cheese say when it looked into the mirror? No. It said, “Halloumi.” (Laughter) Hello me! What can I say guys? I love a good pun. Why? I don’t know; because puns are funny, right? Why? Well, because there is
a bit of a surprise factor. You feel outsmarted for a second
until you get the double meaning. Why? Because that’s the way language works. OK. I get what these slides are doing. They’re playing the why game where you keep asking,
“Why, why, but why?” after everything someone says. Kids do it all of the time and adults should do it more often. I’m just kidding. Don’t. It’s annoying. (Laughter) You can ask why, over, and over,
and over again for ever, even if one day, we explain every physical interaction,
and scientific law, and hope, and dream, and regret
with a single elegant equation. You could still ask,
“Why? Why that equation? Why doesn’t the universe operate
with some different equation?” So, yes; the why game
is irritating, it’s annoying, and it’s what I do for a living. Every week, for the past few years, I have researched a big question,
a funny why question. I’ve researched the science’s,
the mathematics’s recent theories behind all kinds of things. I do this on my YouTube channel: Vsauce. So, Vsauce, in the last couple
of years, has grown phenomenally. It’s hard to believe. I’m now doing more than 30 million views
every single month, with five and a half subscribers growing more
than 10,000 new subscribers every day. It’s awesome. I love it. I get to ask
some pretty ridiculous questions. For instance, “Is anything real?” Come on! How can you possible answer that? Well, that’s not really the point. The point is to bring people in
with a great question, make them curious, and once they’re there, accidentally teach them a whole bunch
of things about the universe. (Laughter) Some examples
of other questions I’ve asked: how much does a shadow weigh? What does it mean to ask
a question like that, “What us a shadow?” What color is a mirror? In answering this question,
you could explain a lot about specular reflection,
the physics of light. This is one of my favorites,
“Why are things creepy? (Laughter) I often go into psychology
– that’s more where my background is in – but a question I have yet to answer,
– hopefully, someone out there knows – please tell me
why is this called your ‘bottom’ if it’s technically
in the middle of your body? (Laughter) It’s ridiculous. But it’s a really good question. I ask questions all of the time,
but today, this is my question. Why do we ask questions? Seriously. I mean, what’s the point? Who cares why things are creepy?
They just are. Who cares why this is called my bottom? It’s gross, don’t do that anymore. Questions. How do I get people
to care about these questions? Especially people who think
that learning is boring. I like to believe that the limits
of what you can be interested in are unlimited. And this is my story. I began making YouTube videos
about six years ago, but only recently did I start
making explanatory videos. I’ve no idea what took me so long. I have been explaining things
my entire life. Except, usually, I did it alone, out loud. I talk to myself
when I’m alone; all the time. If you snuck up on me
when I didn’t think anyone was around, you would overhear me explaining
the most mundane stuff. It’s kind of weird, maybe. OK, it’s really weird,
but for me, it is a great way, for me to know that I kind of know
more what I’m talking about if I can verbally explain it. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply,
you don’t understand it well enough.” When I was a teenager, I discovered
a competitive speaking program and one of the events
was informative speaking, where you literally got to write a speech
explaining something to judges, and then you were given points and medals
if you were good enough. My very first informative speech ever
was about ketchup: the history of ketchup.
the etymology of the name, its legal status, the physics
of its viscosity, and how it flowed. It was super nerdy stuff. But at my very, very first
public speaking tournament I took first place. Hey! (Applause) Look at that guy. (Applause) Some of the hair here moved down here,
but other than that, I’m the same guy. Seriously, I’m still doing the same thing. To be at that tournament and to see
the expression on someone’s face when they suddenly understand
and are fascinated by something, in the same way that you are is a phenomenal feeling. I’ve learned two things from this: first of all, people love
a good explanation. They hunt them down. Even people who say they hate learning,
and hate books, and all that stuff, pff, they love explanations. Second of all, if you look closely enough and you take the time, anything can be interesting to anyone because everything is related
in some way to something they care about. Richard Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out”
a “kick in the discovery.” And I agree, but I think
there might be a little bit more to that. Let’s get rid of this picture of me. We want to express ourselves, everyone wants to express themselves. They do it through the music
they listen to, the clothing they wear, the way they act,
but they also do it with knowledge. The things they know
about the stuff they like, Their interests, their hobbies. I’ve noticed
that the most operative motive behind someone sharing one of my videos,
promoting me by word of mouth, isn’t so much about me
as it is about them. “Hey! Look what I found!”, “I like this.” “I am like this.” Whenever you share a video,
whenever you share anything, a few of the attributes
of that thing reflect back onto you. I’ve found that one of the best ways
to gain attentive listeners is not to be who you think
your audience wants you to be, but instead, to say,
and make, and show things that allow your audience or your students
to be who they want to be. I once discussed in a video, “Why the sky is blue?” And backstage, when I was going through
what I want to to talk about, I ran into this girl. This seriously actually happened
backstage, go find her. I said, “Do you know why the sky is blue?” She said, “I think I used to know,
but it didn’t really mattered.” Exactly. Exactly. And I knew
that was going to be a problem. It turns out that the sky is blue because of the way light
scatters in our atmosphere. It’s called Rayleigh scattering. A light of shorter wave lengths
scatters more, so, greens, blues, and violets. That’s why when you look at the sky
away from the Sun, you see this beautiful sky blue; it’s all of those shorter
wave lengths combining. When you look directly at the Sun
– which you shouldn’t do very often; don’t do it ever – you see the longer wave lengths
which are surviving that scattering. That’s why the Sun looks yellow
during the day. Of course, when the Sun’s light
needs to travel through a whole lot of air to get into your eyeball, a lot of scattering occurs, and only really, really long wave lengths
make it all the way there directly from the Sun, which is why it looks orange,
or sometimes red at sunrise or sunset. I think that’s really cool,
but obviously, some people – including someone
backstage right now -, don’t. Or maybe they already know it, or could probably figure out
if they thought about it. So what do you do? I’m trying to collect
the largest audience possible that I can, I want to appeal to and attract
as many people as possible. So what I do is
I camp out with the subject. In this case, Rayleigh scattering. I’ve learned as much about it as I can. What else is it responsible for? Who is it named after? Who did he love? Whatever I can find
that could become a great hook to bring in just the right person. So, in this case, I’ve read
about Rayleigh scattering, and I realized–
I didn’t realize, I learned, that blue eyes are blue
for the exact same reason. Blue eyes do not have
blue pigment in them. Ouch! That would hurt if that was real. Blue eyes don’t have blue pigment in them any more than the air
has blue pigment in it. If you were to rip out my iris,
I would be like, “Ouch!” but then (Laughter) if you grounded it up into a fine powder,
it wouldn’t be blue anymore it would be
a dull brownish-blackish color. Instead, blue eyes are blue
because at a microscopic level, their texture scatters light just like the air in our atmosphere
scatters the Sun’s light to make the sky blue. Maybe you already know
why the sky is blue, maybe you don’t care, but maybe you will be fascinated
by something like this. This is why my episodes often seem
to go all over the place. It’s not just because I’m crazy
it’s also because I want to have as many hooks out as possible to catch as many people
and to make them interested. I once did a video about rainbows. I thought, “Some people
might think rainbows are lame.” I’ll teach about rainbows. What other types of bows are there? Well, like when a string, like a knot… Is a bow a knot? Why do headphones
always get tied up into knots? I researched the mathematics
behind this; it’s fascinating. ([Laughter) I’ll spare you all of the details; also, this will allow you
to go check out my videos and give me many, many views
rather than just one. In the 1950s, Harold Edgerton
took a series of amazing pictures of nuclear explosions. This is a detonation just milliseconds after happening, with an exposure time
of one billionth of a second. You can see the energy
of this plasma ball, the energy of the explosion is vaporizing
the metal wires holding up the tower. That’s where these glowing,
spindly legs come form. His work attracted wider and new interest
to physical phenomenon simply because he featured something that people couldn’t help
but want to look at. A moment you couldn’t witness alone. He famously said, “The trick to education is to teach in such a way that people only find out
they’re learning when it’s too late.” (Laughter) It works for me. So recently, I took on
the most difficult question ever, but also the most requested, “How do I know that the colors
I see are the same to you? How do I know
that when I look at something red, you don’t look at the same thing
and see what I would call green, but you call it red because that’s
what you’ve always heard, and we both agree,
and go on our separate lives never knowing just how different
our perceptions were. There’s no such thing
as a stupid question, but there are questions
that makes us feel stupid. This is one of them because there is no way for me
to crawl inside someone else’s mind to see the world as they see it. I thought that might be
frustrating to my viewers, that there really wasn’t a good answer. I couldn’t finish this once and for all. So I started looking
more generally into questions. And the more I read
about them, and their history, the more I realized that questions
might be quite unique to humans. Apes that have been taught to use
sign language can communicate with us. They can answer complex questions, they can convey novel thoughts,
and they can express their emotions, but an ape who knows sign language has never been observed to ask a question. Soliciting information from an organism
belies this assumption that other organisms, in some way,
have access to information that you don’t; that they have different,
unique intentions or desires. It’s often called the Theory of Mind, and it is incredibly difficult to show
that animals have such a thing. But of course,
we intuitively feel that we do. Chimpanzees are clever, but they fail a pretty simple,
seeming test – deciding who to go to to get food that’s been hiding in a room: a person who was literally in the room
and saw where the food was hidden, or a person who was also in the room, but has had a bucket
on their head all day. Whether or not animals have the capacity
to ask questions is still being debated. But after reading all of this, I realized
that questions are very special. We ask them because it’s fun. Learning things is a fun experience, it’s what Feynman called,
“a kick in the discovery.” We also ask questions because learning things allows us
to explore what we like and to show off what we know about it,
to show what we are. But we also ask questions because we can; because perhaps uniquely here on Earth,
we know that other people can help. And that’s a great reason
to ask more and more questions, to celebrate more and more whys. We all want to be “kicked
in the discovery,” it feels great, but we don’t all have
a discovery in the same place. Taking the time to find
where someone’s discovery is so you can give them a kick there isn’t just about whys,
it’s also a very wise thing to do. And as always, thanks for watching. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why do we ask questions? Michael “Vsauce” Stevens at TEDxVienna

  1. You all asking the wrong questions. Try "why" instead of how/when and then watch how your "ever expanding" fantasy is going to crumble

  2. 0:48
    What did the peace of cheese say, when it looked into the mirror
    Croud: Cheesus

    Bruh hahahha

  3. "Hey! Vsauce, Michael here, why do we ask questions?" YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT MAN! XD
    EDIT: damn it Michael, you know how to make me think all the things i never thought i could thinks

  4. air go whoooosh on top,

    air go whoooosh on bottom,

    certain whoooosh make plane fly

    how planes work.

  5. Well he actually did teach us a bunch of stuff before we knew we were learning something

  6. I’m still cracking up about the fact that he said “five subscribers and growing everyday”

  7. Because we want to know the answers….there I just saved you 17 minutes

  8. I believe we ask questions because we are fractals of god. Trying to return back home to omnipotence.

  9. "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
    Is in itself a simplification of the principle of adaptive interpretation, where you change the way you phrase a non-spoken concept, in such a way that the person you are talking to not only understands it, but understands it perfectly.
    Where you don't explain it so thoroughly that it bores another, but not too briefly where they have no idea what you are talking about.
    To pull this off properly, you need to not only correctly assess another individual's intelligence, but also how much they know about a certain subject, how well you can phrase it, how quickly the other person can pick up on new concepts, and so on.
    Quite simply, if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough… But if you can't explain it complexly, the same is true.

    Language is a tool to convey intelligence, for which you need knowledge of the language itself.
    Just because you don't understand something, doesn't mean you can't.

    For many, learning isn't fun, because they are bored.
    But when you take learning to an individual level, the explanation can be changed to better suit the other's capacity for interpretation.
    Learning is fun.
    It's just the repeating that makes something boring.
    Because 'If you're bored by an explanation, you either understand it too well, or not at all.'.

  10. 2:57 Man i really thought he would have more than 5 and a half subs by now

  11. Just to answer his question, I think it’s called the bottom because that’s the last part material comes out of and it’s the place we sit on.

  12. "Anything can be interesting to anyone because everything is related in someway to something they care about."- "Michael Vsauce"
    The reason I'm watching Michael Today isn't because i was interested in him originally, i saw him as another nerdy guy asking too many questions…
    but that quote is why I'm watching him today.

    I ended up watching him because I love space travel the thought of it, then i learn about the difficulties of it, learn about the sun, earth, how things work, and the ideology of existence in the first place if this is a real existence and not some matrix these questions led me to watching Vsauce.

    i had no interest in anything but when you think about it, everything is intertwined in someway,
    and what i personally learnt from school is.. really nothing, because teachers didn't want to teach me to be entertained by learning but just to be forced into subjects that i had not interest at that time… that quote is more relevant then anything and and im sure you can use it to compare any two or more things. Michael taught me to love learning, and I've learnt more from my 1 year out of school then my countless years in school.

    -Thanks Vsauce

  13. 2013: nah
    2014: nah
    2015: maybe
    2016: definititly not
    2017: Nope
    2018: still nope
    2019: let puts this in Everyones recommendets

  14. I've learned more from Michel than I've learned in all my years in school. I've learned Morse code. Fudging Morse code!

  15. That one year when you had that teacher that made things interesting, like Michael. Lol jk, all of my teachers hated their job.

  16. Listening to the intro using headphones be like ○_○ ●_● ○_○ ●_●

  17. 2:53
    "More than 30,000,000 views every month, with 5 and a half subscribers"…. impressive.

  18. Great video but what a dead crowd 🙁

    Edit: at least they clapped decently

  19. The real question is: does a molecule exist? Why does stuff just blows up out of nowhere and creates matter?

  20. I was expecting for someone to blast his music when he said “why?”

  21. Wow, 5 and a half subscribers? I have at least 8. I could be the biggest YouTube channel in the world.

  22. You know hes a youtuber when he ends the speech with «thanks for watching» 😂👌🏻

  23. Incomplete: We also ask questions, not to find out more information, but to socially engage more with other humans.

  24. 14:30 Du café bu dans une tasse bleue paraitra plus amer : notre bleu est commun.

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