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  • Clouds.

  • Have you ever noticed how much people moan about them?

  • They get a bad rap.

  • If you think about it, the English language

  • has written into it negative associations towards the clouds.

  • Someone who's down or depressed,

  • they're under a cloud.

  • And when there's bad news in store,

  • there's a cloud on the horizon.

  • I saw an article the other day.

  • It was about problems with computer processing

  • over the Internet.

  • "A cloud over the cloud," was the headline.

  • It seems like they're everyone's default

  • doom-and-gloom metaphor.

  • But I think they're beautiful, don't you?

  • It's just that their beauty is missed

  • because they're so omnipresent,

  • so, I don't know, commonplace,

  • that people don't notice them.

  • They don't notice the beauty, but they don't even notice the clouds

  • unless they get in the way of the sun.

  • And so people think of clouds as

  • things that get in the way.

  • They think of them as the annoying, frustrating obstructions,

  • and then they rush off and do some blue-sky thinking.

  • (Laughter)

  • But most people, when you stop to ask them,

  • will admit to harboring a strange sort of fondness for clouds.

  • It's like a nostalgic fondness,

  • and they make them think of their youth.

  • Who here can't remember thinking, well,

  • looking and finding shapes in the clouds

  • when they were kids?

  • You know, when you were masters of daydreaming?

  • Aristophanes, the ancient Greek playwright,

  • he described the clouds as the patron godesses

  • of idle fellows

  • two and a half thousand years ago,

  • and you can see what he means.

  • It's just that these days, us adults seem reluctant

  • to allow ourselves the indulgence

  • of just allowing our imaginations

  • to drift along in the breeze, and I think that's a pity.

  • I think we should perhaps do a bit more of it.

  • I think we should be a bit more willing, perhaps,

  • to look at the beautiful sight of the sunlight bursting out

  • from behind the clouds and go, "Wait a minute,

  • that's two cats dancing the salsa!"

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • Or seeing the big, white, puffy one up there

  • over the shopping center looks like

  • the Abominable Snowman going to rob a bank.

  • (Laughter)

  • They're like nature's version of those inkblot images,

  • you know, that shrinks used to show their patients

  • in the '60s,

  • and I think if you consider the shapes you see in the clouds,

  • you'll save money on psychoanalysis bills.

  • Let's say you're in love. All right?

  • And you look up and what do you see?

  • Right? Or maybe the opposite.

  • You've just been dumped by your partner,

  • and everywhere you look, it's kissing couples.

  • (Laughter)

  • Perhaps you're having a moment of existential angst.

  • You know, you're thinking about your own mortality.

  • And there, on the horizon, it's the Grim Reaper.

  • (Laughter)

  • Or maybe you see a topless sunbather.

  • (Laughter)

  • What would that mean?

  • What would that mean? I have no idea.

  • But one thing I do know is this:

  • The bad press that clouds get is totally unfair.

  • I think we should stand up for them,

  • which is why, a few years ago,

  • I started the Cloud Appreciation Society.

  • Tens of thousands of members now

  • in almost 100 countries around the world.

  • And all these photographs that I'm showing,

  • they were sent in by members.

  • And the society exists to remind people of this:

  • Clouds are not something to moan about.

  • Far from it. They are, in fact,

  • the most diverse, evocative, poetic aspect of nature.

  • I think, if you live with your head in the clouds

  • every now and then, it helps you keep your feet on the ground.

  • And I want to show you why, with the help of

  • some of my favorite types of clouds.

  • Let's start with this one. It's the cirrus cloud,

  • named after the Latin for a lock of hair.

  • It's composed entirely of ice crystals

  • cascading from the upper reaches of the troposphere,

  • and as these ice crystals fall,

  • they pass through different layers with different winds

  • and they speed up and slow down,

  • giving the cloud these brush-stroked appearances,

  • these brush-stroke forms known as fall streaks.

  • And these winds up there can be very, very fierce.

  • They can be 200 miles an hour, 300 miles an hour.

  • These clouds are bombing along,

  • but from all the way down here,

  • they appear to be moving gracefully, slowly,

  • like most clouds.

  • And so to tune into the clouds is to slow down,

  • to calm down.

  • It's like a bit of everyday meditation.

  • Those are common clouds.

  • What about rarer ones, like the lenticularis,

  • the UFO-shaped lenticularis cloud?

  • These clouds form in the region of mountains.

  • When the wind passes, rises to pass over the mountain,

  • it can take on a wave-like path in the lee of the peak,

  • with these clouds hovering at the crest

  • of these invisible standing waves of air,

  • these flying saucer-like forms,

  • and some of the early black-and-white UFO photos

  • are in fact lenticularis clouds. It's true.

  • A little rarer are the fallstreak holes. All right?

  • This is when a layer is made up of very, very cold

  • water droplets, and in one region they start to freeze,

  • and this freezing sets off a chain reaction which spreads outwards

  • with the ice crystals cascading and falling down below,

  • giving the appearance of jellyfish tendrils down below.

  • Rarer still, the KelvinHelmholtz cloud.

  • Not a very snappy name. Needs a rebrand.

  • This looks like a series of breaking waves,

  • and it's caused by shearing winds -- the wind

  • above the cloud layer and below the cloud layer

  • differ significantly, and in the middle, in between,

  • you get this undulating of the air,

  • and if the difference in those speeds is just right,

  • the tops of the undulations curl over

  • in these beautiful breaking wave-like vortices.

  • All right. Those are rarer clouds than the cirrus,

  • but they're not that rare.

  • If you look up, and you pay attention to the sky,

  • you'll see them sooner or later,

  • maybe not quite as dramatic as these, but you'll see them.

  • And you'll see them around where you live.

  • Clouds are the most egalitarian

  • of nature's displays, because we all have a good,

  • fantastic view of the sky.

  • And these clouds, these rarer clouds,

  • remind us that the exotic can be found in the everyday.

  • Nothing is more nourishing, more stimulating

  • to an active, inquiring mind than being surprised,

  • being amazed. It's why we're all here at TED, right?

  • But you don't need to rush off

  • away from the familiar, across the world

  • to be surprised.

  • You just need to step outside,

  • pay attention to what's so commonplace, so everyday,

  • so mundane that everybody else misses it.

  • One cloud that people rarely miss is this one:

  • the cumulonimbus storm cloud.

  • It's what's produces thunder and lightning and hail.

  • These clouds spread out at the top in this enormous

  • anvil fashion stretching 10 miles up into the atmosphere.

  • They are an expression of the majestic architecture

  • of our atmosphere.

  • But from down below, they are the embodiment

  • of the powerful, elemental force and power

  • that drives our atmosphere.

  • To be there is to be connected in the driving rain

  • and the hail, to feel connected to our atmosphere.

  • It's to be reminded that we are creatures

  • that inhabit this ocean of air.

  • We don't live beneath the sky. We live within it.

  • And that connection, that visceral connection to our atmosphere

  • feels to me like an antidote.

  • It's an antidote to the growing tendency we have

  • to feel that we can really ever experience life

  • by watching it on a computer screen, you know,

  • when we're in a wi-fi zone.

  • But the one cloud that best expresses

  • why cloudspotting is more valuable today than ever

  • is this one, the cumulus cloud.

  • Right? It forms on a sunny day.

  • If you close your eyes and think of a cloud,

  • it's probably one of these that comes to mind.

  • All those cloud shapes at the beginning,

  • those were cumulus clouds.

  • The sharp, crisp outlines of this formation

  • make it the best one for finding shapes in.

  • And it reminds us

  • of the aimless nature of cloudspotting,

  • what an aimless activity it is.

  • You're not going to change the world

  • by lying on your back and gazing up at the sky, are you?

  • It's pointless. It's a pointless activity,

  • which is precisely why it's so important.

  • The digital world conspires to make us feel

  • eternally busy, perpetually busy.

  • You know, when you're not dealing with

  • the traditional pressures of earning a living

  • and putting food on the table, raising a family,

  • writing thank you letters,

  • you have to now contend with

  • answering a mountain of unanswered emails,

  • updating a Facebook page,

  • feeding your Twitter feed.

  • And cloudspotting legitimizes doing nothing.

  • (Laughter)

  • And sometimes we need

  • (Applause)

  • Sometimes we need excuses to do nothing.

  • We need to be reminded by these

  • patron goddesses of idle fellows

  • that slowing down

  • and being in the present, not thinking about

  • what you've got to do and what you should have done,

  • but just being here, letting your imagination

  • lift from the everyday concerns down here

  • and just being in the present, it's good for you,

  • and it's good for the way you feel.

  • It's good for your ideas. It's good for your creativity.

  • It's good for your soul.

  • So keep looking up,

  • marvel at the ephemeral beauty,

  • and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

Clouds.

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT cloud laughter atmosphere sky everyday nature

【TED】Gavin Pretor-Pinney: Cloudy with a chance of joy (Gavin Pretor-Pinney: Cloudy with a chance of joy)

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    VoiceTube   posted on 2013/09/03
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