Stephen Fry considers some incomprehensible questions with Sue Perkins, Ross Noble, Professor Brian Cox and Alan Davies.
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CHEERS AND WHISTLING
Good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening
and welcome to QI, where tonight's show is completely and utterly
Venturing into the unknown with me tonight are what's his name...
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
And oh, you know...
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
And, oh, wait, now, don't tell me...
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
No, I've never seen him before in my life.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
Our buzzers tonight are no less perplexing than our questions.
BABY: Doo-di-doo da-da
That's eleven types of wrong just there.
ALAN'S VOICE OVERLAPPING ITSELF
'..dirty old bag.'
-Is that your internal dialogue?
-I think so.
I don't know how they got that.
Now, don't forget, in this series we have the Nobody Knows joker
FANFARE 'Nobody knows!'
There are some questions to which no-one knows the answer
and if you think the question I ask as no known, authoritative answer,
then play your Nobody Knows joker for extra points.
Now, let's start with something that's not even in the same language.
Listen to this and tell me what it means.
-SUE LAUGHS That's a rodent.
-That's a rodent, good.
-Can you narrow it down?
-Is that the squeaky door to his little house?
-He's asking for some oil.
The astonishing thing is we do know what that means, in fact.
I can vouch for this. There are people who study this.
My director on one of my documentaries got a PhD from Oxford
studying frog communication
-and he sat...
-Is that French?
Hey, no. Stop it. Sorry.
He sat there for three years in the Outback somewhere
-and he discerned about three words...
-..which I think were...
-You are absolutely right, Brian.
There are zoologists who try to understand the communication of various species.
-Do you know what this species is?
-It is a gopher.
-A prairie dog.
-A prairie dog, yeah.
It's also known as a ground squirrel. It's a type of squirrel.
Isn't ground squirrel a condiment?
A little ground squirrel, madam?
-Erm... Is it...
-I tell you what, he's only making that face
because he's got Phillip Schofield's hand up his bum.
Oh, that takes me back a bit.
-Is that what the squeaking noise is?
-No, when I say that takes me back a bit...
-Not you as well?
-I don't mean there was a time...
It's all gone wrong.
OK, anyway, there is a scientist, Professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University,
who spent 30 years studying the language of these prairie dogs.
-Do they warn one another of predators?
-Is that one of their words?
He's used computer analysis and they are able to distinguish between different types of predator,
humans, badgers, various other animals.
Not only that, different geometric shapes, right?
-And they have a different sound?
-..different coloured shirts.
-And the noise we heard...
-Yes. The noise we heard in prairie dog was,
"There is a human approaching wearing a yellow shirt."
I know that sounds almost inconceivable.
They can't distinguish between different genders of human
but they can do different heights.
So if a tall human approaches in a yellow shirt,
the leader who's on the look-out will make a series of squeaks
and under computer analysis, you can differentiate
between a tall human approaching in a red shirt
and a short human in a red shirt...
-How wide is their colour palette?
-..a tall human in a yellow shirt and so on.
-If a transvestite in tartan approaches, they explode.
They appear not to be able to determine gender with humans.
It doesn't seem to matter to them.
And now it's time for some interplanetary incomprehension.
What did the Pope's librarian say
when he first saw the rings around the planet Saturn?
-They initially thought the planet had ears...
-..but that was Galileo.
I don't think he actually thought it had ears
because Galileo was a genius.
-Ears in the sense of a jug's ears, wasn't it?
So that's Galileo, who was sensible.
We're talking about the librarian of the Pope.
He genuinely believed that it was possible that after Christ's ascension into heaven,
the rings of Saturn were where he put his foreskin.
Now, you may think, oh, I'm trying to mock the church, this is all nonsense.
But Christ, of course, was a Jewish boy
and like all Jewish boys, he was circumcised.
It's 50,000 miles across. Imagine the size...
-They weren't aware of that.
-I need a peg to hang this massive foreskin on.
-That's some girth.
His name was Leo Allatius and his essay was called
De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba,
a diatribe, a discussion, concerning the prepuce, the foreskin,
of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is how to interest teenagers in astronomy.
This is how to do it.
Is it out there as a relic?
Like all the relics, that are 18 places
who claim to have the one true holy foreskin.
Are they really?
Catherine of Siena was one of the weirder of the saints.
She... She believed that Christ gave her his foreskin
-as a wedding ring in their mystical marriage.
-Wow, what a gift.
After her death, her hand was cut off and became a relic
with its invisible foreskin on it as a ring.
She was an extreme anorexic, a peculiar woman
and she also actively sought out degrading experiences.
She once drank a cup full of cancerous pus
from a woman who had abused her, so naturally...
But has she appeared on Mock The Week?
But now, more importantly, more significantly,
how were the rings around Saturn actually formed?
I'm going to play the card, there.
-You are right!
-FANFARE 'Nobody knows!'
-You're a true scientist. Nobody does really know.
There are two major...
Well done. Good.
-I didn't copy, I wasn't copying.
There's a Socratic acceptance of the limits of one's own knowledge
and there's ignorance.
I'm not saying which is which.
No, no. Quite right. There are two major theories.
There are two major theories. Is that right?
It's thought there could have been a moon that was disrupted,
so something hit it and fragmented it,
although they are almost pure water ice,
which, come to think of it, sat here, makes the moon theory a bit unlikely, doesn't it?
Moons are made of rock, so actually...
The other theory is that it could be something to do with the formation of the planet itself,
that something spun off it in some way
and achieved a stable orbit and formed these...
-God spilled his drink.
-The structures are held by the other moons.
There are over 60 moons of Saturn.
Are they part of the rings or separate?
Some of them are inside - small moons called shepherd moons,
which go round and you get rings in between those moons.
Then it's got moons outside the rings,
which affect the structure of the rings as they orbit outside.
-So it's a very complex...
-Any life-carrying moons?
There's a moon called Enceladus, which is about as big as Britain, a small moon,
but it has fountains of ice rising up out of the surface
and that means there may well be liquid water beneath the surface in pockets.
Everywhere on earth that you find water, you find life.
Of all these moons - this is the one thing I wanted to ask -
of all these moons, which one's most likely
to be the home to Ewoks?
-That would be Titan.
It's got a thicker atmosphere than the earth,
so you'd need to be furry.
You'd have to destroy the one that has Jar Jar Binks on it, though.
It's very important when you're studying
-to know which notes to take, not just to take any old notes.
-I saw that. Intelligence at work.
Now, while we're up in space,
what's the main use for the second commonest gas in the universe?
-Oh... Er, the second commonest?
What is the second most abundant gas?
-Hydrogen, I think, is the most common,
-I believe, is the most abundant.
-Helium is the right answer.
-I was going to say filling balloons.
-Making squeaky voices.
-That's not the reason.
-Squeaky voices, squeaky voices.
-No, the reason is...
-HOOTER AND ALARM SOUND
-No, the question is....
The point is, there is a shortage on earth, not in the universe, of helium.
The demand for it has gone up in the last ten, 15 years
-and it's not...
-The balloons are getting bigger.
-..because of party entertainment.
-It's actually for something else.
-We use it for refrigeration.
Refrigeration and there's a diagnostic device,
an expensive but effective diagnostic device that needs cooling.
-MRI is the right answer.
The superconducting coils of these...
They have to be that heavy, otherwise they just float off.
-They came from particle physics technology.
You often get criticised
because exploring the universe is not seen as a useful thing to do, for some reason, in our society.
But the offshoots are unpredictable
and one of the offshoots of exploring particle physics,
the world of the atom and quantum mechanics, was the MRI scanner.
-In fact, we use helium to cool down the LHC.
-Oh, do you?
It's 27km in circumference.
What was unfortunately misprinted as the Large Hard-on Collider.
My spellchecker does that. Large Hard-on Colluder it says.
-You colluded in a large hard-on.
-It runs at minus 271 degrees, 1.9 degrees above absolute zero.
And that's because you need these magnets, the superconducting magnets that you mentioned.
They're made of wire that has no electrical resistance,
so you can put big currents through and have a massive magnetic field.
But helium is the only substance that is liquid at that temperature.
Our information is, I don't know what you guys at CERN have,
but it's possible that on earth we will run out of helium by 2035.
-That's not that far away.
-How will we make funny voices then?
And with the collider, there, with all those magnets in a circle underground,
under the hills and everything,
those Swiss cowbells on the cows, when you turn it on,
do they all run in a big circle?
Moo! Moo! Getting dragged around?
We're at 99.99999% of the speed of light around the...
So they go round the 27km 11,000 times a second
and the cows would weigh, if we did that,
-7,000 times more than they do when they're stood still.
-Oh, my brain.
-Well, it's giving me an erection as we speak.
-What, the LHC?
-It's become a Large Hard-on Colluder.
That's it. Exploration. That's the value of exploration.
It's exploration at a human level and at a cosmic level
and at a minute particle level. That's the beauty of it, it's...
Oh, gosh, anyway, I'm going to beat it down and we must carry on.
-So... I'm glad you're all excited because it is good.
Now, this sounds very existential. When is the present?
Oh, I'm not going to fall into that trap.
-Who's going to say it?
-Well, it's not really a trap.
I mean, there are different ways of trying to describe what the present might be.
Let's talk about the present in terms of archaeology.
Archaeologists actually have an acronym, BP, which means "before present"
and they can date the present to an exact date, January 1st 1950.
-That's the present?
-and there's a reason for this and if you can work it out...
-I'd have thought...
-..I'll be impressed.
-Is it plastics?
-Not quite that.
-No, when archaeologists...
Archaeologists are interested in the distant past
and recently, in the last 100 or so years,
certain techniques have enabled us to discover - I say us...
-Carbon dating has allowed us to discover how old things are.
Now, in the 1950s...
Basically, they decided by January 1st 1950
we had so screwed up the atmosphere with nuclear testing
that no carbon dating could be trusted after January 1st 1950,
so that is known as the present.
These archaeologists need to learn a bit of physics, then.
According to Einstein's theory of space and time, which is our best theory,
there's no such thing as a present moment
which spans the universe or indeed even the earth
or in fact two people moving relative to each other.
-It is absurd to think
of an event that might be happening now in a galaxy and me doing this as being simultaneous.
That has no meaning, cosmically, does it?
-You can swap the order of them...
..as long as they're not causally connected.
We don't know how time works, at a very fundamental level.
But Time's Arrow, I actually got my head around that a bit.
You don't need maths
if everything is going forward and as it does, it decays,
so then you understand entropy,
I look for... All you need is analogy that's pertinent to you,
so in my case, all relationships, and then you realise...
Of course. You get that perfect 18 months and then they're dead.
-The second law of thermo... The second law of sexual dynamics.
That's how I - according to me - that's how I extrapolate.
But to make it statistically significant
-you have to have a lot of relationships.
-Oh, I do.
And they really do all suffer from the law of entropy.
Now, who fancies an ingenious interlude?
I have some props that I'm really thrilled about. I love doing this.
Here - candles, see? Candles.
I'm going to light these candles here.
-Red, white and blue.
-Is that from the Ikea Black Mass kit?
-Is this the point where we all have to kneel down
and pray to Jesus' foreskin?
No! I promise you.
I'm going to extinguish these candles, right?
I've a jug, here.
I'm going to extinguish them using an invisible gas.
Not by liquid but using an invisible gas.
I want you to tell me... I'm going to let Brian off.
This to him is like book 1, page 1 of Boy's Wonder Book Of Science
but that's the level I'm at, I'm afraid.
I'm going to put this powder in first.
-Do we know what the powder is?
-Then this liquid.
-It's not custard, no.
-I'm going to cover it up.
Now, watch. I'm not going to pour the liquid onto it, I'm just going to pour the gas
-And out go the candles.
Oh, I like that!
-I've got a feeling...
-Do another one. Do something else.
I should be presenting the Royal Institution Christmas lectures.
So can one of you, who isn't a professor at Manchester,
and a Fellow of the Royal Society, tell me what was going on there?
-Is it magic?
-It's not... Well...
-I think it's carbon dioxide... going in.
I took sodium bicarbonate, a very common household thing
you use for indigestion or for cleaning purposes, and vinegar.
And I put them together and they precipitated CO2,
-Heavier than air.
-Heavier than air.
And simply pouring it there snuffed out the candles.
I've never seen anyone pour a gas before.
I know. You don't think of gas as being a pourable thing.
I can't tell you how relieved I am that it worked.
Thank you, anyway.
Well done, everybody, especially me.
If you're ever tempted to carry liquid nitrogen in a lift,
-which in physics departments you are...
-Liquid nitrogen is very cold.
It is but they don't let you carry it in lifts
because if you spill it, you get nitrogen gas and that's heavier than air
-and it pushes all the oxygen to the top.
Even though it's nitrogen, which the air is mainly made of.
Every al-Qaeda cell watching this tonight are going,
-"Where's the nearest tower block?"
-Running around with ewers of nitrogen.
I remember a chemistry lesson, one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen,
The master came in. Someone had prepared some liquid nitrogen -
we didn't know what it was - and he came in with a rose he'd just picked
and he dipped the rose in for a second
and then smashed it on the table
and it shattered like glass into 1,000 pieces.
You may say, "How destructive," but it was staggeringly beautiful,
the idea that you could alter the state of something at such speed
that it could suddenly become, from being the softest, most malleable thing.
-Isn't that lovely?
-I think you're humouring me.
-You want me to go back to foreskins.
No. I think it's a hilarious Valentine's Day prank.
There you go. Wah! Not for you!
Can you imagine the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan.
-That's so cold that's got liquid methane.
-I know Titan.
Titan's the one where the Ewoks live. Titan is the Ewok planet.
-That's the place.
-Hang on, I've got it.
I've got it. So basically, you're saying you can shatter an Ewok?
-Yes. Because it's got lakes of liquid methane.
Methane behaves exactly like water on earth,
so you get methane rain, you get methane snow, methane ice
and lakes of methane.
There's a lake there which is as large as Lake Superior.
-Methane is essentially a fart. Liquid fart.
I don't want to go there. Strike it off.
If I could stand on a planet and throw an Ewok into a lake of farts,
that would just be... That would be like...
-Smash it into a fart.
-You couldn't, because it would shatter.
Right. So I could be tossing Ewoks into a lake of farts.
-Your heaven. Everyone has their own heaven, that's yours.
When you say tossing Ewoks into a lake of farts...
-No, that's exactly what I meant.
You know what, after this show finishes, I'm off.
I don't care. You'll never see me again.
"Where is he?" "He's off tossing Ewoks again.
"Into his lake of farts on a pedalo make of smoke."
-MAKES EWOK NOISE
-Is liquid methane flammable...
-in the same way that methane gas...?
-This could be a great question for this show.
No but why? On Titan.
-Because the lakes...
-Because there's no oxygen or...?
-Ah! No oxygen.
-There's no oxygen.
-If there was oxygen...
-..it would be?
All you're thinking of is things to do in the pub.
That's ruined it. It's not the image of him, tossing an Ewok.
So you don't want to go there because you can't light your farts.
The great Sydney Smith said heaven was eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets.
You have redefined it. Tossing Ewoks into lakes of methane.
It's nothing to do with heaven, it's just things to do on Titan.
That's in the guide book, Things To Do On Titan.
It's on the front of the guide book.
"If only have access to a Wookiee, you will need a bigger lake."
That's just basic science. I could tell you that.
-A test now of your nautical knowledge.
What variety of lettuce did they serve on board the Titanic?
-ALARM AND HOOTER
-Well, bless you.
-I took one for the team, as it were.
You did take one for the team.
The iceberg lettuce had been developed in Pennsylvania
-but it was not available in Europe.
-Was it rocket? Lollo rosso?
-The answer is we don't know.
We do know there were 700 heads of lettuce on board...
-You make them sound like heads of state.
Most grand of all the lettuce, the head of lettuce.
Why did they only have 700 lettuce? How many people were on board?
Either they'd already eaten that much and that much was saved
or they didn't order that much.
They saved the lettuce but not the people?
1,500 people died on that ship.
"Get the lettuce, for crying out loud."
Oh dear, I misread my card.
It was - hold the front page - 7,000 heads of lettuce.
No wonder the bloody thing sank. It was full of lettuce.
Before they even start...
-Well, why did it sink, then?
What is wrong with these people?
-Where do you think the most valuable icebergs are?
-Lettuce icebergs or icebergs?
-Not necessarily on earth but in our solar system.
I'm thinking of Neptune or Uranus.
No, no, no, no.
It's thought the crushing pressure might create lakes of liquid diamond
-filled with solid diamond icebergs.
-I don't know who thinks this.
She was... She was the one that thought of that.
"How heavy are they? I'll be there."
-Does it seem to you to have any value?
-Yes, it could, in principle.
-There is a lot of pressure.
-Huge pressures deep down, yeah.
Now, I'd like you to fill in the gaps in these slogans
for various places or institutions.
We start with County Donegal's slogan, OK?
-"Up here it's..."
-It really is windy there.
-"Up here it's different."
That's Donegal's slogan, you'll be pleased to know.
Northumbria police, however, "Total..."
-"Total policing," I'm sorry to say.
"Welcome to Northamptonshire. Let yourself..."
Let yourself out.
The nearest exit. Poor Northamptonshire.
-Charming place. Let yourself...
-Breathe is good, relax is...
-Let's yourself go.
-That is disgusting.
-Let yourself go, yeah.
-Let yourself grow into a larger person.
This is an optimistic one.
"Welcome to Tower Hamlets. Let's make it..."
Let's make it out alive.
-Let's make it happen.
-Let's make it happen.
There's no H on happen there. Let's make it 'appen.
There was another slogan that said, "It did happen on Friday 17th.
"If you witnessed it, please ring this number."
We could go on like this forever but we're simply not going to.
So we stumble now into the gaping maw of General Ignorance.
Fingers on buzzers, quick as you can.
What's the definition of a galaxy?
-I'm going to make a...
-FANFARE 'Nobody knows!'
-Yes! You're right.
Essentially, there is no absolutely official decision
but there are scientists trying to work out precisely what a galaxy might be.
It's Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University in Australia
and Pavel Kroupa, the University of Bonn in Germany.
They launched an on-line survey and we have been allowed at QI
to be the first people to see the results of the poll so far.
Based on that, there is already one new galaxy that fits.
A globular cluster, Omega Centauri, seems to qualify,
according to those criteria, as a galaxy.
In that image, the Hubble Deep Field image,
this year, the most distant galaxy ever discovered was found in that photograph
and it's 13.2 billion light years away.
So the earth's been here for, what, 5 billion years,
so for most of the journey of the light from those galaxies you can see in that image
the earth wasn't even here. It wasn't formed.
It was formed when they were almost halfway...
The further away you look, the further towards the birth of the universe you're looking.
How do you know which direction to look? Did it begin here or there?
-Are we on the surface of a balloon?
-It began here.
The Big Bang happened here, at every point in space.
The picture is that space and time began at that point
and it's been stretching ever since,
so all of space and all of time, in some sense,
were there at the Big Bang, so the Big Bang happened everywhere.
-There's no centre.
-You can't see it because black's a very slimming colour.
That's true. I just think it's all beautiful and wonderful.
And finally, the scores, which are as baffling as always.
It's fascinating, it's remarkable, it's wonderful, it's exciting.
In last place, it's Sue Perkins with minus 17.
A highly creditable third place with minus 6 - Ross Noble.
But surely putting himself in contention for a Nobel Prize
some time in the next few years, on plus 2,
-Thank you very much.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
And it can come as no surprise
that the mop-top from Oldham is our winner.
On plus five, it's Professor Brian Cox.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
So, it only remains for me to thank Brian, Sue, Ross and Alan
and to leave you with an observation from Will Rogers.
"An ignorant person is one who doesn't know
"what you have only just found out."
-APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
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