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  • Have you ever noticed that people speaking Spanish sound like they're talking really fast?

  • Does this mean they are able to communicate information faster than English speakers?

  • One reason why Spanish sounds so fast is because more syllables are spoken per minute than in English.

  • However, analysis has shown that each Spanish syllable conveys less information than each English syllable, so the information per minute is almost identical.

  • But what about written language?

  • The square format of Chinese characters appears to fit better into our central visual field than the longer, slimmer words of English.

  • This led linguists to suspect that Chinese would be read faster than English.

  • But experiments show that English readers can perceive seven to eight letters at once, compared to just 2.6 characters for Chinese.

  • However, those Chinese characters are denser in meaning than the English letters and so both languages have basically an identical reading rate of 380 words equivalent per minute.

  • This suggests that what limits the speed of our communication is not language but our cognitive ability to process information.

  • But how can you really quantify information?

  • Well the smallest amount of information you can have is the answer to a yes/no question, like have you seen the movie Frozen?

  • Yes. Yes or no, heads or tails, we can represent this single outcomes with a one or a zero.

  • One binary digit, it's one bit of information.

  • A roll of the dice has six possible outcomes, so three bits of information are required to cover all the options.

  • To uniquely represent all 26 letters of the English alphabet requires five bits of information.

  • But if you include lower case, punctuations, specially characters and number, that takes the total number of symbols to 95.

  • So you actually need seven bits of information to encode all these symbols.

  • That was first done in 1963 as the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or ASCII for short.

  • Now as the next closest power of two, computers adopted eight bits as the fundamental unit of computation, and they called it the bite, where they intentionally replaced the i with a y, so that it couldn't accidentally be confused with a bit.

  • So how much information does it take to make you?

  • Well, your entire genetic code is contained in the sequence of four molecules, represented by the letters T, A, G, and C in your DNA.

  • Each of these four options can be encoded by two bits of information.

  • And multiplying by the six billion letters of genetic code in your genome, and dividing by eight bits per byte, that yields 1.5 GB of information.

  • So you could fit your entire genetic code on a single DVD with room to spare.

  • Now your body has an estimated 40 trillion cells in it and each one contains a full copy of your DNA.

  • So you actually contain sixty zettabytes of information. That's sixty followed by 21 zeroes.

  • Just to put this in perspective, by the year 2020, all of the digital information in the world is estimated to be equal to forty zettabytes of information.

  • You could store all of that on 100 grams of DNA.

  • That is less than you have inside your body.

  • But now consider this, you share 99.9% of your genetic information with everyone else on Earth, meaning that less than one part in a thousand is unique.

  • So the information that makes you you could be stored in less than a megabyte.

  • You could put it on one of these, a floppy disk, in case you don't know what that is.

  • In contrast, video can contain a lot of information.

  • To specify the colour of each of two million pixels thirty times a second for this entire video would require 100 gigabytes of information.

  • But you can watch this video in HD on Youtube with just a thousand that amount.

  • Now the reason you can send such a big video with such a small file size is because video, like Spanish, has a lot of parts that are redundant.

  • Hey Michael, you know what I've been thinking about?

  • What have you been thinking about Derek?

  • Information. Go on.

  • It's a physical thing. It's embodied in actual objects.

  • How's that?

  • We know like the words we say, they are actual vibrations in the air, right?

  • They're not just concepts. They are real physical things that you could measure and detect.

  • That's true and they don't go away, they don't disappear even after they've, for instance, moved through the air. Right.

  • After we've said these words, they have actually interacted with everything around us.

  • So you're saying that technically, I could look at the world and if I knew enough about it and the position of its particles, I could trace back and extrapolate all the information that's ever occurred through them or at them?

  • That's right.

  • You could in principle figure out exactly what we've said here, today. Woah.

  • This episode of Veritasium was inspired by the book The Information by James Gleick.

  • You can actually download this book for free by going to or you can pick any other book of your choosing for a one month free trial.

  • Audible is a leading provider of audiobooks with over 150,000 titles in all areas of literature including fiction, non-fiction, and periodicals.

  • Now if you've already read The Information you may want to check out Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman.

  • It's my favourite book by a scientist. It is absolutely hilarious and you will thank you for downloading it.

  • So go, check it out.

  • I really wanna thank Audible for supporting me, and I want to thank you for watching.

Have you ever noticed that people speaking Spanish sound like they're talking really fast?

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B1 US information genetic genetic code spanish audible chinese

How Much Information Can Your Brain Take?

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    Emily posted on 2019/03/27
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