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TED Radio Hour / Found in Translation | TED Radio Hour

Found in Translation | TED Radio Hour

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In this episode of the TED Radio Hour, we explore the power of translation and the incredible discoveries that can be made when lost manuscripts are recovered, the value of nature is translated into dollars and cents, bacterial whispers are decoded, and the secrets of language learning are unlocked. Join us as we delve into the fascinating world of translation and its impact on various aspects of our lives.

Main Takeaways

Lost Manuscripts and Multispectral Imaging

  • Gregory Hayworth, a textual scientist, discovered and translated lost manuscripts, including a Telemann concerto that had been forgotten for centuries.
  • Many of Telemann’s scores were badly damaged during World War II and remained illegible until 2009 when Gregory used new scanning technology to rescue them.
  • The Telemann concerto had only existed in one manuscript and was nearly impossible to read due to mold stains and damaged notes.
  • Gregory and his team spent two years working on the concerto and were able to recover most of what was gone, resulting in the first performance of the piece in hundreds of years.
  • Multispectral imaging can recover lost texts and reveal hidden details.
  • Multispectral imaging uses 12 wavelengths of light to reveal things the naked eye can’t see.
  • Statistical algorithms help enhance the images and decipher the manuscript.
  • Spectral imaging can recover a second story behind every object, the story of its creation and history.
  • Recovered texts can reveal mistakes, changes of mind, uncensored thoughts, and imperfections of human imagination that make history more real.
  • Thousands of manuscripts worldwide are illegible due to water damage, fading, mold, and chemical reagents, which could contain unknown classics that could rewrite the canons of literature, history, philosophy, music, and cultural identities.
  • Textual science is a necessary field to preserve parts of our past that could be lost forever in the next 50 years.
  • Multi-spectral imaging can also be used to recover recent documents, including those written by prisoners of war in Syria.

Whales and the Value of Nature

  • Ralph Shammy saw his first whale up-close in Mexico’s Gulf of California and was moved to tears by its magnificence.
  • Ralph left a stressful job at the International Monetary Fund after 25 years.
  • Ralph joined a whale expedition in 2017 and was tasked with clocking when the whale breached.
  • Ralph learned about the importance of whale carbon and how it helps capture carbon dioxide.
  • Phytoplankton, the foundation of ocean life, needs the nutrients found in whale poop to survive.
  • Whales are a great ally in the fight against climate change due to their role in the cycle of ocean life.
  • Whales are dying due to ship strikes, pollution, and entanglements.
  • Ralph Shammy, a financial economist, wanted to help by translating the value of whale services into dollars and cents.
  • A living whale can be valued at least $3 million in terms of lifetime earnings from capturing carbon, but there is currently no standardized way to price carbon.
  • Science-based Finance puts a value on nature.
  • Sea grass in the Bahamas is worth $150 billion.
  • Microsoft can offset their carbon footprint by investing in sea grass.
  • Investing in sea grass impacts food security, fauna, and communities.
  • Investing in sea grass creates employment and brings new businesses.
  • Nascent markets are subject to gold rush behavior, double counting, and cheating numbers.
  • Conservation is no longer a cost proposition; it’s a profit-making proposition.
  • Humans prefer to speak the language of dollars and cents, leading nature to die.
  • The speaker aims to change people’s behavior and translate science into the language we have chosen.

Bacterial Whispers and Language Learning

  • Fatima Alzara Alatrakty is a researcher and founder of Predigach Nose, creating sensors for bacterial infections.
  • Bacteria communicate with each other through signaling molecules, coordinating their activities based on their communication.
  • Fatima’s sensor can interpret these molecular conversations between bacterial cells, predicting what they’re up to and possibly diagnosing infections before they spread.
  • In one trial, Fatima’s device cut bacterial conversations in more than half of the patient samples that were diagnosed as negative by traditional methods.
  • Bacteria can coordinate a synchronized attack by whispering to each other, and Fatima’s device can detect these whispers.
  • Understanding bacterial communication can lead to better diagnosis and alternative treatments with fewer antibiotics.
  • Long-term vision is for patients to be able to self-administer bacterial detection tests at home.
  • Learning new languages can be daunting but there are good reasons to keep learning.
  • Polyglots have a method that enables them to learn languages faster than others.
  • All polyglots enjoy the language learning process.
  • Finding enjoyment in the process of learning languages is crucial.
  • Effective methods, consistency, and time management are also important for achieving fluency in a foreign language.
  • Polyglots have “carefully handmade flashcards, and their statistics about learning vocabulary using apps, or even how they love to cook based on recipes in a foreign language.” – Unnamed speaker.
  • “We simply found ways how to enjoy the process, how to turn language learning from a boring school subject into a pleasant activity which you don’t mind doing every day.” – Unnamed speaker.
  • “If you try to memorize a list of words for a test tomorrow, the words will be stored in your short-term memory, and you’ll forget them after a few days.” – Unnamed speaker.
  • Create a plan for learning to make time for it.
  • Learning in small chunks every day in an enjoyable way can lead to visible improvement.
  • Personal success is a great motivator for language learning.
  • Anyone can learn a language with the right method and persistence.
  • Success in language learning is achievable even without a “language gene”.


Lost Manuscripts and Multispectral Imaging

Gregory Hayworth, a textual scientist, has dedicated his career to discovering and translating lost manuscripts. Through the use of multispectral imaging, Gregory and his team have been able to recover and decipher texts that were once illegible due to damage and decay. This technology has not only allowed for the restoration of historical musical scores, like the Telemann concerto, but it has also provided insights into the creative process and imperfections of human imagination. With thousands of unreadable manuscripts worldwide, the field of textual science plays a crucial role in preserving our cultural heritage.

Whales and the Value of Nature

Ralph Shammy, a former financial economist, embarked on a journey to translate the value of whales and nature into monetary terms. By highlighting the role of whales in capturing carbon dioxide and supporting ocean ecosystems, Ralph aims to demonstrate the economic value of conservation. Through science-based finance, investments in natural resources like sea grass can have far-reaching impacts on food security, employment, and community development. By speaking the language of dollars and cents, Ralph hopes to change people’s behavior and prioritize the preservation of nature.

Bacterial Whispers and Language Learning

Fatima Alzara Alatrakty’s groundbreaking research focuses on decoding the molecular conversations between bacterial cells. By understanding these whispers, her sensor can predict and diagnose infections before they spread. This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and reduce reliance on antibiotics. Similarly, language learning can be approached with effective methods and a focus on enjoyment. Polyglots have developed strategies that enable them to learn languages faster, emphasizing the importance of consistency, time management, and finding personal success. With the right approach and persistence, anyone can become fluent in a foreign language, regardless of innate abilities.


The power of translation extends beyond language. From recovering lost manuscripts to valuing nature and understanding bacterial whispers, translation allows us to uncover hidden stories, preserve our cultural heritage, and make informed decisions. Whether it’s in the realm of music, environmental conservation, or healthcare, translation bridges gaps and opens doors to new possibilities. By embracing the process of translation, we can gain a deeper understanding of our world and create a more interconnected and harmonious society.

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