How to listen to this talk: Christopher DeCharms looks inside the brain (a TED Talk)
Low-Level Students: You can use the translations to understand this video
Intermediate-Students: Listen and then use the translations to understand this video
Advanced Students: Don’t use the translations.
Before listening Discuss these questions with a partner (or write short answer to them on your own).
How do we control our muscles?
How do we control what happens in our brain?
What are some ways to change our brain?
Do you think it’s possible to look inside your brain?
Listening Click here to go to the TED website (you need to go there to be able to use the interactive transcript. That way you can listen, read, and repeat certain sections of the talk quickly).
There are subtitles in 27 languages. Below the video, you can select the language that you want for subtitles.
There’s also a box to the right of the video. Click on “Open Interactive Transcript” to see all the words. Click on any word to go to that part of the speech.
Comprehension Questions Did you really understand this talk? Try to answer these questions. (Answers are below.)
Why does he ask the audience to wave at the beginning?
What does he think will be possible in the future?
Why does he say: “You had to take a spaceship. Shrink it down. etc.”
What is “MRI”?
What does he say we can do using MRI?
Doctors have been using MRI for years. What’s new about this?
In the past, what were the three ways to try to impact the brain?
What is the fourth way?
What is “chronic pain”? Why does he mention it?
Why does he ask the audience to flex their biceps?
Activity Do this activity to help you remember what you’ve learned.
Imagine you can change things about your personality. What things would you change and why? Post your ideas in the comments!
Discussion Questions Now discuss these questions.
Do you think it will be possible to change many things about your brain because you can look at your brain patterns? Why/Why not?
Is there anything that is dangerous about this technology? If yes, what? Why?
Imagine that this technology works very well. Do you think children should be allowed to use it?
How about athletes? We don’t let athletes use drugs to change their bodies. Should they be able to change their minds?
Why does he ask the audience to wave at the beginning? He wants to demonstrate that if you can see something, you do the same thing.
What does he think will be possible in the future? In the future, we’ll be able to look inside our brain and control what’s happening (just like we can control our arms).
Why does he say: “You had to take a spaceship. Shrink it down. etc.” He’s referencing movies and TV shows where people went into bodies using tiny ships. He’s saying that we’ve been thinking about this technology for a long time. It’s going to be true, but different than how we thought it would be.
What is “MRI”? Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
What does he say we can do using MRI? Basically, it’s a way to look inside the brain. We can see what’s happening inside the brain.
Doctors have been using MRI for years. What’s new about this? In the past, we had to wait to see a scan of the brain. Now we can watch brain activity live (like we watch CCTV/a security camera—in real time, without waiting).
In the past, what were the three ways to try to impact the brain? Talking to a psychologist/psychiatrist, taking drugs, having surgery.
What is the fourth way? The way he’s describing, by looking inside the brain, watching what’s happening and controlling it.
What is “chronic pain”? Why does he mention it? Chronic pain can be different things. In this talk, chronic pain is feeling pain even though the source of the pain is gone. Like, someone’s hand hurts even after the hand was cut off. He mentions it as an example of something we’ll be able to see in our brains in the future.
Why does he ask the audience to flex their biceps? He wants to say that you’ll be able to do the same thing with different brain areas. You’ll be able to flex parts of your brain, so to speak.
How to listen to this Science Experiment
Steve Spangler does a lot of science experiments. ESL students enjoy listening to him because he often works with children, so his explanations are simple. But, while the explanations are simple, he speaks quickly. He speaks so quickly that sometimes he decides to change his sentence in the middle.
For example, in the link below, he says: “The liquid nitrogen’s a liquid, most of the air…” This would be a strange sentence to write, but people say strange things or change their sentences in the middle all the time. So, it’s good practice to listen to someone like Steve. Practice focusing on the important things and ignoring the strange things. You can do it in your language, so you can do it in English too.
Other than a few technical terms, the vocabulary is not too difficult. Listen three times. Then take a look at the discussion questions and answers below. Finally, you can read the transcript at the bottom. But listen several times and answer the questions before reading.
What is liquid nitrogen?
Is nitrogen poisonous?
What happens while the liquid nitrogen is in the bottle under the barrel?
Why does the barrel fly into the air?
What is liquid nitrogen? Nitrogen is normally a gas, but if it is very cold, then it becomes like water (a liquid).
Is nitrogen poisonous? No, most of the air we breathe is made of nitrogen.
What happens while the liquid nitrogen is in the bottle under the barrel? It expands. It becomes 700 times bigger. When liquid nitrogen becomes a gas again, it needs a lot more space. But, it’s in the bottle, so there isn’t a lot of space.
Why does the barrel fly into the air? When there is too much gas in the bottle, it explodes. The explosion sends the barrel into the air.
Alright, so Ellen this is what we did in our office. We’re pouring the liquid nitrogen in here, and I mention it because the police actually came out a little bit because they thought that maybe shots had been fired. The liquid nitrogen’s a liquid, most of the air that we breath is nitrogen, so it goes down inside here, but it expands 700 times its normal size. So, here’s the liquid nitrogen here. Now, Jeff’s going to cap it off, and it goes into the barrel that you see here, and so this goes in, and we thought that we’d just kind of put this over the top. So this goes over the top, and now the liquid nitrogen’s getting bigger and bigger, and that bottle is expanding, and it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger until finally you get this pressure that starts to release. It’s the same thing that we used to use in a steam engine, you know years ago, or on a propane tank there’s a pressure release valve. But, it’s, you can actually hear it inside…[BOOM!]…so that’s what happens. You just kind of, release the pressure. Isn’t that awesome? Back to you, Ellen.