Lithium: an unexpected journey | Ben Lillie | TEDxNewYork

Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: hila scherba So this is Lithium, It’s got 3 electrons, 3 protons
and usually 4 neutrons, and you probably don’t think
about it very much. Umm, right? Show of hands,
who doesn’t think about Lithium? You probably don’t think
about it very much, you probably know
that it’s used in a medication, you know that it’s used in batteries, and… that’s it. A couple of years ago, I was sitting
in my room, very emo and depressed, and listening on repeat
to the song “Lithium” by Evanescence. (Laughter) You might, if you’re slightly older,
know the song “Lithium” by Nirvana, and it struck me as odd that these two intense emotional bands
had both written songs about Lithium, and this isn’t really a thing
that happens, right? OK, people write songs
about Gold and Platinum, but there is no Beryllium song,
there is no Boron song. Why this one? And I started digging, and it turns out that Lithium is one
of the strangest elements in the Universe and I want to tell you about it, starting with the fact that it probably
shouldn’t be here on Earth at all. So, you’ve all heard the phrase
“we’re all stardust.” So what that means is
that way back in the early Universe there was a giant cloud of Hydrogen gas, and somewhere in that cloud of gas
a little bit became denser than the rest, and the gravity of that part
started pulling it in further and further, and as more accumulated,
it’s started pulling in faster and faster, and eventually the whole thing
began collapsing and heating up and eventually it heated up
to the point where nuclear fusion ignited and the force of explosion
from that fusion counteracted the implosion from gravity
and that’s what a star is. Then, inside that star, the Hydrogen,
element number one with one proton, began fusing with
other Hydrogen, one plus one, and you end up
with element number two, Helium. And that went on
for hundreds of millions of years and then eventually,
the Hydrogen was used up, it stopped burning, collapsed,
heated up more to the point where it could fuse Helium,
element number two. So, one plus one gave us two,
element two plus element two gives us element six, that’s right. And that’s because of Quantum Mechanics. The best thing about being a physicist is anytime you want to skip
a long, involved explanation, you just go, “Because Quantum Mechanics.” So, the Helium burns into element
number 6, which is Carbon, as well as 7 and 8, Oxygen and Nitrogen, and this process continues, and you start
creating more and more elements, all of the ones we know,
up to Iron, number 26. Once it hits Iron, it can’t burn anymore, the star shuts off, and if it’s big enough
it collapses more, and as it collapses, it rebounds and explodes as a Supernova,
the brightest thing in the Universe, which can outshine a galaxy
while it’s exploding. In the hot plasma from
that supernova explosion is so intense that all of the heavier elements
can be formed from nuclear fusion, all of the Gold, and the Silver,
and the Xenon, and the Uranium are made there along with all the others. Throughout this, all these elements
are being scattered out into the cosmos, and as they are, they find
another cloud of Hydrogen gas, and this one begins
to collapse into a star. That star ignites, and around it, these heavier elements form
into rocks, and asteroids, and planets, and that’s what Earth is. And that’s why we’re all stardust. Now, a couple of things about this. First, we skipped Lithium,
skipped number 3. So where does it come from? It’s actually even weirder than that, if you had some Lithium,
and you took it and you put into a star, it would melt and go away. So not only do stars not produce Lithium,
they destroy it, if it existed before. It turns out it comes
from a number of places. A small amount of it does come from stars,
in that Supernova explosion, and the other ways that stars die in,
but a lot of it comes from… – think about what did I mean
when I said, “We’re all stardust”? – Turns out that’s not quite right, because in your body,
you’re about 10% Hydrogen, and if you remember, the star started
from a primordial cloud of Hydrogen gas, where did that come from? And that, it turns out,
came from the Big Bang itself. So, moments after the Big Bang, everything was a hot dense soup
of undifferentiated nuclear matter. It eventually cooled, and as it cooled,
little droplets of nuclear matter formed, and those droplets became protons,
which are the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom. And it goes on. During that hot era, the protons can fuse
with each other and they can make Helium, then, unlike stars in the early Universe,
that Helium can fuse to make Lithium, and it’s different there
because Quantum Mechanics. (Laughter) But some Lithium is formed
in the Big Bang, it’s not a lot, it’s 1 part in
ten billion, but that’s enough. And a lot of that comes into this clouds
of gas and ends up here on Earth. The fourth place that we get Lithium
from, is actually my favorite, it goes by the wonderful name
‘cosmic rays foliation’ – it’s a lovely word –
and what it means is Out in the Universe,
cosmic rays are accelerated, these are protons and electrons
and positrons and other things, and they come screaming across the cosmos, occasionally, one of them will intersect
with the Earth, I say occasionally, there is a tremendous
number of these things, we’re being bombarded by them constantly. Sometimes, these cosmic rays come
in through the atmosphere, and they find a big nucleus,
like a Nitrogen or an Aragorn, and they hit that nucleus,
they shatter it; the shattered bits of that giant nucleus
form other elements, sometimes Lithium. So the Lithium we have
here on Earth, like us, is part stardust, part primordial dust,
and part Earth dust. And now, you’re probably
sitting there thinking, I have thrown a blizzard
of sciences at you, I have talked about
cosmology and astronomy and nuclear physics and particle physics,
and I’m not going to stop, because now it keeps going. The Lithium nucleus binds
through electromagnetism to electrons to form the Lithium atom itself,
and once it’s formed the Lithium atom, it combines with other elements
through chemistry to form compounds, and those compounds get
into all the systems in the Earth, they’re dissolved in the ocean,
and evaporated, and they’re deposited in salt flats, and some of them get into
the underwater water waves. The geochemistry and geohydrology
take that Lithium through the Earth and deposit it in certain places,
like Bolivia, and Chile, and Argentina. And it’s fascinating
how the geochemistry means that it ends up in Bolivia
and not in Topeka or Brooklyn. And once it’s there,
and we find those deposits, we can take tools
we’ve made of iron and steel, and we can dig it up
and use it for things. It’s one of the lightest elements
that can be used to make a battery, so it powers all of our mobile devices. It can be used in ceramics, lubricants,
fireworks, and the shattered It can be used to make Tridium,
which is important for nuclear fusion, both power plants and bombs. And because of all
these technological applications, the geochemistry that deposited it gives away to the geopolitics
of mining ethics and colonialism. And then we can take some of that Lithium and combine it with Carbon and Oxygen
to make Lithium carbonate, and we take the Lithium carbonate,
put it together with a white powder, and mill it into pills,
that we can then ingest; and once they are inside us,
they go into our stomach where they are dissolved
and enter the blood stream. Once there, the Lithium atom moves away
from the rest of the compound, crosses the blood brain barrier and enters sodium and potassium
channels in our neurons. And once it does that, through a process
which I cannot even say quantum mechanics because we do not know how this works, it becomes an incredibly
effective medication for certain psychiatric disorders,
particularly bipolar, for which it can bring down
the highs of mania, and lift up the lows of depression. This one atom, number 3, which possibly
came from the Big Bang itself, has a profound affect on what we think
of as our personality, on our psychology. And this of course is why Nirvana
and Evanescence wrote songs about it. (Laughter) And I was listening to this and thinking,
this changes my view of what my brain is. I’m not a dualist, I don’t think that the mind
is some special mystic force that’s separate from the brain. If you ask me, “does the mind
come from the brain?”, I would say, “Yes, of course it does.
I’m a good scientist, ” But I don’t think that, I don’t feel that. I’ll say things like: “My brain hates me,”
or “My brain is making me do this,” as if it is separate from who I am. This is why I like the story of Lithium, because it makes visceral, something that
before I had only known in the abstract. That the same forces,
that shape our personality, are the same as the forces the shape
everything else in the Universe. And I really like these stories
that connects us to the science around us. There is a myth, you probably
know this about Isaac Newton. He is sitting under a tree, and an apple
falls and hits him on the head. And as the apple falls and strikes him, he realizes the force that is pulling
the apple down, gravity, is the same as the force that is keeping
the planets in orbit around the Sun. And when he realizes this,
he realizes that there is no difference in the laws of nature on Earth
and the laws of nature in the Heavens, and when he does that,
he erases the distinction between the Earth and the Heavens, brings Earth up to the Heavens
and the Heavens down to Earth. Now that is a myth in two senses. First, it didn’t happen (Laughter) not quite like that; he did see an apple,
it did not hit him on the head, and he certainly did not have
a complete, sudden realization. But it’s a also a myth in the sense
that it’s the kind of story we tell to explain to ourselves
how the Universe works, what our place in it,
and how we should live in that world. And this particular myth
is really important to scientists because this is the myth that says,
“if I do an experiment here, and I do an experiment over here,
I am going to get the same answers.” That the laws of nature
are not capricious. In that sense, it’s the myth that gives
meaning to everything that scientists do. And so we keep telling the story,
over and over again because it locates us in the world, we might not realize that is
what we’re doing when we tell it, but that’s how myths function. We don’t normally think of stories
about science as being important for our personal identity,
or our cultural identity. There are few exceptions like the debates
over evolution, or climate change, but other than that, we think
that the chemistry of Lithium, or biochemistry of Lithium even,
seems like this very clinical thing, that is very disconnected
from who we are as people. And that’s why I like the Lithium story. Again, it makes very visceral
this thing that was abstract. I think if we’re serious about
living in a scientific world, if we’re serious about living in the world
that has been revealed to us by science, then we need to be telling
more of these stories, we need the story of the atom from
the Big Bang can affect our personality. We need stories that cut across all
the different sciences and the humanities, the stories that show us that everything
out here, really is, deeply connected. Thank you. (Applause)

About the author


  1. This is actually one of the MOST USEFUL TED Talks I have ever come across- it shows how Universe and Self are two sides of the same coin- and matter in its various forms are so biocentric. Lithium by its very nature and effects is a true epitome for that which underlines this syllogism-from the way it transforms human beings' personalities viscerally, to its Big Bang origins – everything is so fascinating about Li and he brings it out so very eloquently. I found a deeply spiritual meaning that connects modern chemistry with ancient mysticism in this talk.

  2. I am amazed. He speaks as though he saw it happen and was measuring the chemical compositions of the different parts of the universe as it was proceeding. I always tell my grandkids, "Ask yourself 'What did they actually see?' If they didn't see it then they are just making it up."

  3. lovely talk 🙂 – i dont like the word choice of "changes personality" – lithium dosnt change your personality, it controls moods. but i guess that is just splitting hairs.

  4. an insightful well formulated p o i n t o f v i e w. Taught me a lot. I was however disappointed by the lack of in-depth research on the effects of lithium on the personality. Just when it got interesting, when he talks about the brain neurons chemically changing after absorbing(/being infiltrated by) the lithium, and the effects on the personality- he even talks about wether or not the mind is derived from the brain or a something more, and how his scientific and human points of view differ on that subject because he can't deny he f e e l s…well etcetera- but there is no elaboration about the actual effects of lithium on either. We don't k n o w exactly what lithium does in the brain he says. So the only measurable effect is the behaviour (yet again). What is missing imo is data and report of personal experience (the scientist himself taking lithium and registering the effects, even on a "normally functioning" brain, to gain truly 'new insight' on the matter).

  5. Why doesn't gravity affect Hydrogen and Helium? If Apple's had been mostly Hydrogen than we would be focused on density. Science is flawed. Gravity is Ionic Charge or Polarity in a Plasma. When an Astronaut is in space, right, space, they are falling with other polarized matter. This just reinforces a lie.

  6. Positively surprised here… A TED talk that was actually interesting! Great!
    I thought TED-talks were nothing but leftwing ideological mumbo jumbo feelgood blabbering shallow headed 'think with your feelings' type nobodies who mindlessly applaud humanity, design, science and technology… turns out interesting people can appear on a TED stage after all

  7. Another globalist orphan obfuscating the true magic of Lithium Orotate – 'Stupid Pharma' does not want you to use it.

  8. Quantum Mechanics is a shibboleth, a term meant to obfuscate. Lithium is like pouring cement into your cerebral spinal fluid—it generalizes a dumbing of the entire nervous system. The so-called specific anti-manic effect is false. TedTalks are an advanced form of sophistry—

  9. he forgot to tell that lithium makes you a Zombie , you exist somewhere between life and being aware of it and nothing , or total unawareness , it is the worst anti depression drug i have ever heard of , but if he is happy with his lithium congratulations most of the people on lithium commit suicide one day ( but this here is TEDx so i don´t expect more then unimportant facts about a drug which makes us die as a human being and get reborn as a a zombie . one of the worst videos i have seen on ted x , ( instead of banning ppl like rupert sheldrake you should consider more wisely who you let talk on your stage with an audience . )

  10. So great, the first minutes… to hear someone talk about something no-one can prove at all. Its just a theory..I mean this space talk and supernovas. Its so far fetched that he must be laughing (if he is aware) or he is just doing his job.He is great at his job. 🙂 And people buy this . Yes he think we are star dust, we exploded and we were created. Big bang! What wasted time but this is like a religion, science is a religion. I go for NO religions.

  11. DON'T TAKE LITHIUM CARBONATE. TAKE LITHIUM OROTATE. No side effects and it will change your life! Research it.

  12. america. Where stories of innocent souls lives could have been saved!… It is such a pity how uninformed and totally un united _ Not United We're a society so not organized when it comes to health issues perhaps so many other issues otherwise avoided from tragedy, poorness, lack of unity and information like "Health" and thus the lack of insurance. We"re living as or worse than a third world country. Furthermore social status determines how one lives, the quality of life almost to the point of selfishness, yes we don't look out for each other as other countries do Example: Switzerland looks out for all of their people regardless of social or economic status. In this sense we as a developed country should lead by example to the world. The topic of mental health is taboo why?…. We've lost so many Star's because we refuse to look at the stars which is what we're all are superstars, That's right same material as a star…..
    Please Mr. Ben Lillie contact me if you wish my enforcement not financial;( unfortunately but don't be discouraged anything is possible, hopefully I can help make a difference in your journey to educate all an hopefully save lives. I refuse and disagree on keeping it quiete that there's a solution and a medicine that may help the mentally ill, bipolar, depressed, and many other disorders lithium helps relieve. We may not have so many unexplained suicides and that is from th popular stars, and what about the stars that aren't popular and we don't hear of in the news?….
    Finally I love science it is a magical part of this beautiful earth we live in, and we're all unique amazing living beings in a beautiful living mother earth, and Papa time, the most powerful both, most of it is Father time not on our sides and we must work quicker organized as one. Please don't hesitate to contact me at your "earliest" convenience .
    Thanks a million for your word, and time.


    Moritz C.

    Brooklyn, New York

  13. Take "LITHIUM OROTATE"…5 mg…
    Not the "Lithium Carbonate" Big Pharma drains your brain & bank with…Big difference!!!

  14. I have been taking Lithium Orotate for a little over a month now. It will change your life whether you have and do not have any mental illnesses.

  15. Just to be clear, his talk was a philosophical journey most profound for a TED Talk. Well done Ben, for explaining lithium.

  16. Major source of lithium in food is mustard seed. It is major plant in Bible, Talmud and it is mentioned by Buddah. Coincidence?

  17. Maybe it's just me but I found this talk EXTREMELY difficult to sit through. Too much babbling and nothing of any substance.

  18. Lithium is the only medication that can prevent Alzheimer's and other Dementias. There have been research publications in top Journal such the British Journal of Psychiatry, the Journal of the AMA among others which have reported Lithium's preventative effects.

  19. So…lithium is a gift from the "great beyond". Great. If you are religious you can call it heaven sent. If you are not then maybe it contains magical curative powers from another Galaxy. Or…..or…..oh wait. I forgot to take my lithium. Again. The joys of hypomanic insomnia. Great presentation.

  20. “…because quantum mechanics.” Every time he says this it comes across as a lack of understanding.

  21. Thank you so much for this concise and to the point presentation. That was years of education blasted at us in 11 minutes and I feel wiser having listened to it.

  22. Lithium is really cool in how it wants to act like sodium & potassium but can't quite do it. It will react furiously in water but mostly never explodes (sodium & potassium = different story). If you hold a match to it it'll burn the brightest red you've ever seen. Then toss it in water after it's on fire it's the only alkali metal that dances into fragments as those fragments explode into smaller and brighter red sparks it acts nothing like sodium or potassium. Just the way it reacts with water & other salts, it's unique energy being close to hydrogen, something about what it does to the brain is fundamentally balancing it needs more & better research spread across more salts. I don't know but I suspect that big pharma funds a couple lithium salts it knows are more dangerous since the safer salts people may realize both its effects but also how easy it is to make. Free lithium and acids are everywhere in all markets across all societies.

  23. So many saying "Take lithium orotafe" but not one shares specifics if their experience: BP type 1 or 2; daily dose; number of manias or depressions a year as compared with Li carbonate; duration of use; dosage; frequncy of doses; side effects, long term effects; other psych meds taken concurrently. People want to know.

  24. This lecture has made me feel very depressed. Man this is really messed up. Where is he getting his info from regarding Lithuim. ???

  25. At least 20% of patients on prolonged lithium treatment develop chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease. It also can wreak havoc on the thyroid.

  26. If you didnt know better, you would believe that people that use this technique of speaking know what their talking about.

  27. Lithium Orotate 100X more bio-available and at least 10000X more effective then lithium carbonate that this "scientist" is talking about

  28. From test groups, it's been proven to be the only medication on the market to lessen/eliminate suicidal ideation for Borderline Personality Disorder.

    If anyone else lives with this, with or without additional diagnoses, please comment. I just need to not feel like a leper

  29. What a waste of 11 minutes. This dude needs to meditate and use floatation therapy! I really was hoping for some useful information on this incredibly serious drug but all I could think is how unaware this guy is of himself and the fact that almost no one is going to find what he says helpful in terms of the effects of lithium.

  30. I love this talk but, also, as a lithium user, I feel the need to clarify that it doesn't alter our personality, just our mood. We're still the same people.

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