In the nearly 30 years since TED was founded as an innovative conference, its talks have become incredibly famous and — in some cases — pretty ridiculous.
From the more than 1,500 short lectures on all sorts of quirky and fascinating topics that are available online, you can find experts discussing everything from dancing cockroaches to beatboxing and the science of levitation.
We combed through the TED offerings to find some of the most ridiculous talks out there. Often, they’re jaw-dropping, funny, and inspiring. Without a doubt, they’re unforgettable.
This is probably one of the weirdest science experiments featured on TED: a severed cockroach leg waving back and forth to the bass notes of rock music. In 'The Cockroach Beatbox,' a November 2011 talk, Gage uses the insect to demonstrate how brains receive and deliver electrical signals. And don't worry about the leg the cockroach loses -- Gage assures us that it'll grow back.
Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare visual condition that causes total colour blindness. In the early 2000s, however, he teamed up with scientists to acquire an 'electronic eye' that senses colour frequencies and turns them into sounds.
'Life has changed dramatically since I hear colour, because colour is almost everywhere,' Harbisson explains in his June 2012 talk, 'I Listen To Colour.' 'So the biggest change, for example, is going to an art gallery, I can listen to a Picasso.'
Ever seen levitation in real life? Watch Almog's talk, 'The Levitating Superconductor,' and you will have. The researcher makes objects float in midair like a magician, but he does it with science -- specifically, quantum physics.
'We can use them to produce strong magnetic fields, such as needed in MRI machines, particle accelerators, and so on,' Almog explains in his June 2012 talk. 'But we can also store energy using superconductors, because we have no dissipation.'
Yes, you read that right. Wilson constructed a fusion reactor in his garage when he was just 14 years old. The reactor is now housed in facilities at the University of Nevada-Reno. Wilson, now age 18, is using a $US100,000 Thiel Fellowship to revolutionise energy production, cancer treatment, and homeland security with nuclear technology. He discusses his belief that 'kids can really change the world' in this March 2012 talk, 'Yup, I Built A Nuclear Fusion Reactor.'
At first glance, Meade's paintings look like just that -- paintings. But they're not. In 'Your Body Is My Canvas,' a talk filmed this June, Meade describes her entry into the world of 3-D paintings, where people are her canvases and the final image is a photo of her work.
'What I do in my art is I skip the canvas altogether, and if I want to paint your portrait, I'm painting it on you, physically on you,' she says. 'That also means you're probably going to end up with an earful of paint, because I need to paint on your ear.'
What if someone told you that all your life, you'd been tying your shoes the wrong way? That's exactly what happened to Radius Foundation director Moore when he complained to a shoe store owner that his round nylon laces wouldn't stay knotted.
In 'How To Tie Your Shoes,' a three-minute talk filmed in February 2005, Moore demonstrates the correct way to tie the knot. It's easiest to understand by watching yourself, but it's all about the direction you wrap one lace around the other. He says it's not only stronger, but also looks better.
In 'The Orchestra In My Mouth,' a talk filmed this May at TEDxSydney, Thum shows off his ability to imitate everything from traditional Chinese music to dubstep using just his voice. 'Ladies and gentlemen,' Thum says, 'I would like to take you on a journey throughout the continents and throughout sound itself.'
Close your eyes when he does his final number at the end -- a 'smokey downtown jazz bar' -- and see if you can tell it's a cappella.
Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year. That's the striking statistic Oregon activist Joe Smith uses to open his March 2012 talk, 'How To Use A Paper Towel.' If the country reduced its usage by one paper towel per person, per day, Smith argues, that would save 571,230,000 pounds of paper a year.
His trick? 'Shake, and fold.' Shake your hands after washing, and fold your towel before using -- a two-step process Smith enthusiastically demos for his audience with a variety of paper towels. 'The fold is important because it allows interstitial suspension,' he explains. 'You don't have to remember that part, but trust me.'
Performance artist and poet John Rives traces the use of 4 a.m. as a symbol of dread through everything from the film 'The Godfather' to works by artist Alberto Giacometti in his hilarious March 2007 talk, 'The 4 a.m. mystery.'
'Did you ever notice that four in the morning has become some sort of meme or shorthand?' Rives asks. 'It means something like you are awake at the worst possible hour.'
Drawing loose connections between famous authors, singers, artists, and politicians, Rives explains why, exactly, 4 a.m. is so often depicted as the worst of all hours. Part conspiracy theory, part cultural lecture, and mostly pure entertainment, this talk will forever change how you think of 4 o'clock in the morning.
In 'The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold,' Spurlock describes his attempt to make a film about product placement, marketing, and advertising while funding the entire project through those means. His working title: 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.'
Oh, and he also sold the rights to his March 2011 TED Talk for $US7,100 on eBay.
If these talks are all starting to feel a little absurd, then find someone to share them with. In his May 2011 talk 'The Shared Experience Of Absurdity,' Improv Everywhere creator Charlie Todd explains his mission to bring the silly and absurd to everyday life in New York by pulling fun pranks around the city. To date, they've ridden the subway with no pants on (now an annual event), gotten people to go to Best Buy dressed like the employees (the store managers called the cops, who had to explain that it wasn't illegal to wear a blue polo shirt and khaki pants), and run through the New York Public Library dressed as a ghostbuster.
Want more TED Talks but don't have time to watch them all? Consulting firm Oliver Wyman's Wernicke has you covered. With the help of crowdsourcing and inspired by the famous six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway (For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn), he managed to condense the lessons of 1,000 TED Talks into just six words.
In his November 2011 talk, '1,000 TED Talks, 6 Words,' Wernicke reveals the final solution of his project: 'Why the worry? I'd rather wonder.' The phrase nicely sums up the curiosity and desire to learn that underscores all TED Talks.
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