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How Sitting Is Harming Your Body and What You Can Do to Counter Its Perils

“Bodies are built for motion — not for stillness.”

More than a century after Thoreau’s magnificent manifesto for the rewards of walking and the evils of sitting, we have finally put data around the all too obvious fact that the human body, a marvelous machine animated by motion, is not meant for extended stillness. As someone deeply partial to verticality and a longtime standing desk user, I was delighted by this animated PSA from TED-Ed, which delves into the science of all the atrocities that sitting inflicts upon our bodies and what we can do — right now — to alleviate them:

Bodies are built for motion — not for stillness.

Should you find yourself wanting to raise the bar on non-sitting, this wooden wobble board has been my choice of standing surface for years. Balancing on it is surprisingly easy as soon as you have even a single touchpoint with a stable surface, such as your fingers on the keyboard — but it does keep your spine aligned and prevents you from contorting your pelvis by putting more weight on one leg, which we tend to do when standing on the floor.

For more stimulating TED-Ed animations, see why some people are left-handed, how melancholy enhances creativity, what makes a hero, how you know you exist, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.

BP

Why Some People Are Left-Handed

An evolutionary parable of how the contradictory forces of competition and cooperation shaped human destiny.

Your two hands are radically different from the other — not only in the distinct microbial populations they carry but in their cultural baggage as well. The symbolism of the right hand as the doer and the left as the dreamer compelled the pioneering Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner to write an entire book about it — one of the most insightful books ever written, no less. Even as modern science disperses centuries-old superstition, the evolutionary mystery of handedness continues to fascinate.

The enduring enigma of why a tenth of all humans are left-handed is what the fine folks at TED-Ed distill in this animated primer:

Handedness seems to be determined by a roll of the dice, but the odds are set by your genes.

Dive deeper into the scientific detective story of left-handedness here, then revisit other stimulating TED-Ed animations exploring how melancholy enhances creativity, what makes a hero, how you know you exist, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.

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The Science of How the Universe Will End, in a Poetic Animation

The lyrical symmetry of how the cosmos was born, how it will die, and what to make of the mystery in between.

“Death,” wrote Rilke in a beautiful 1923 letter, “is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” The beloved poet may well have been a secret astrophysicist, for his immortal words contain the poetics of the universe’s birth, its eventual death, and the enchanting mystery of the cosmic blink between the two.

That poetic and enthralling science is what South African cosmologist and TED Fellow Renée Hložek explores in this fascinating animated short from TED-Ed:

Lest we forget, “thinking about death clarifies your life” — what is true on the scale of the personal seems at least as true on the scale of the cosmic.

Complement with Carl Sagan on how stars are born, live, and die, then see more excellent TED Ed animated primers on what makes a hero, how you know you exist, why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity, how melancholy enhances creativity, why bees build perfect hexagons, and Plato’s parable for the nature of reality.

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The Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics, Animated

How a lineage of scientists pieced together the puzzle revealing the dual nature of the universe.

Ever since Heisenberg stood on the shoulders of giants to pave the way for quantum mechanics, this captivating branch of science and its central fact — that light can behave both as a particle and as a wave — has challenged us to grapple with the perplexing duality of the universe, inspiring everything from critical questions about the future of science to mind-bending meditations at the intersection of theology and astrophysics to philosophical children’s books.

That central mystery of quantum mechanics is what particle physicist Chad Orzel, author of the illuminating and intelligently entertaining How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog (public library), explores in this animated primer from TED Ed.

Orzel writes in the book:

Classical physics is the physics of everyday objects — tennis balls and squeaky toys, stoves and ice cubes, magnets and electrical wiring… Modern physics describes the stranger world that we see when we go beyond the everyday… Modern physics is divided into two parts, each representing a radical departure from classical rules. One part, relativity, deals with objects that move very fast, or are in the presence of strong gravitational forces… The other part of modern physics is what I talk to my dog about.

He points out that quantum mechanics is woven into the very fabric of modern life:

Without an understanding of the quantum nature of the electron, it would be impossible to make the semiconductor chips that run our computers. Without an understanding of the quantum nature of light and atoms, it would be impossible to make the lasers we use to send messages over fiber-optic communication lines.

Quantum theory’s effect on science goes beyond the merely practical — it forces physicists to grapple with issues of philosophy. Quantum physics places limits on what we can know about the universe and the properties of objects in it. Quantum mechanics even changes our understanding of what it means to make a measurement. It requires a complete rethinking of the nature of reality at the most fundamental level.

Quantum mechanics describes an utterly bizarre world, where nothing is certain and objects don’t have definite properties until you measure them. It’s a world where distant objects are connected in strange ways, where there are entire universes with different histories right next to our own, and where “virtual particles” pop in and out of existence in otherwise empty space.

Quantum physics may sound like the stuff of fantasy fiction, but it’s science. The world described in quantum theory is our world, at a microscopic scale. The strange effects predicted by quantum physics are real, with real consequences and applications.

Those consequences and applications are what Orzel goes on to explore in the wholly fascinating How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog. Complement it with Alice in Quantumland, an allegorical explanation of quantum mechanics inspired by Lewis Carroll, then revisit TED Ed’s stimulating animated primers on what makes a hero, how you know you exist, why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity, how melancholy enhances creativity, why bees build perfect hexagons, and Plato’s parable for the nature of reality.

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