TED Radio Hour takes us “To the Edge”

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to_the_edge_art“By inspiring ourselves, we inspire others.” These are the words of tightrope walker Philippe Petit in this week’s TED Radio Hour from NPR, “To the Edge.” hosted by Guy Raz. The episode overflows with speakers who have gone to the edge in some way: rowing across oceans; exploring caves as deep as Mount Everest is tall; and wire-walking thousands of feet above the ground, like Petit. The big question: why?

Ben Saunders, explorer of all places cold and white, kicks off the episode with the story of his journey to the North Pole. In his talk from TED2005, Saunders repeats a famous quotation from mountaineer George Mallory. He was asked why he wanted to climb Everest. Mallory responded, “Because it is there… What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, and joy, after all, is the end of life.” Saunders agrees. Although nature can feel like the enemy during a climb, “true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge; from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown.” Saunders is addicted to “tasting life at the edge of what is humanly possible.” And so it seems, are the other three speakers on the show.

Raz introduces Bill Stone next, a TED speaker who explores the depths of the earth, descending into caves as deep as Everest is tall. Drawing on his talk from TED2007, Stone calls these holes “the last terrestrial frontier for humans” and shows how he and his team put themselves through months of sensory deprivation for the sake of a few extra squiggles on a map. Stone describes a “crushing psychological remoteness that begins to hit every member of the team once you get about three days inbound from the nearest entrance.” It’s a sentiment shared by Ben Saunders in his perpetually white surroundings.

Roz Savage, the marketing consultant who traded her gray cubicle for the Atlantic Ocean, had a different perspective on that feeling of remoteness, as she says in her TED Talk from 2010. Having spent 20 years feeling like a battery-farm chicken in her overpopulated office, Savage decided that her real calling in life was rowing across the world’s greatest expanses of water. The experience was liberating: “I just felt incredibly tiny and humble but at the same time very much connected to and part of it all. A lot of time on the ocean I just lost track of self … you’re just another creature. There’s real freedom to be found in that simplicity.”

Philippe Petit is the final speaker in the episode. While all the speakers here pushed themselves to the edge of human capabilities, Petit went to the edge and then stepped off. He walked on a thin steel wire strung up on some of the world’s greatest stages: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Notre Dame Cathedral and between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. For Petit, “impossible is a human invention,” as he illustrated in his dynamic TED Talk from 2012.

To close out the episode, Petit wonderfully encapsulates the essence of all 4 TED speakers featured on this episode and hundreds of others testing the limits of science, language and humanity:

“Certainly to enter a world of terror you should not be pushed. You should be called by someone, you should be curious; you should have the heart of an explorer.”

Check out your local NPR schedule to find out when TED Radio Hour’s “To The Edge” airs or listen to it via the NPR website »

You can also head to iTunes, where the podcast is available now »