11 mind-expanding TED Talks to watch if you have 20 minutes to spare

TEDMegan Phelps-Roper TED talk.

Over the past several years, TED talks have brought insights from the most prominent academics, business leaders, and writers to the masses.

If you want to get some quick enlightenment, look no further than this list of some of the most thought-provoking and mind-expanding TED talks available.

These talks will change the way you look at yourself, and the world around you.

There are worse ways to spend 15 or 20 minutes.

See below for 11 of the most mind-expanding talks:

“Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality” by Anil Seth

It’s not every day that a 15-minute talk can leave you questioning the very nature of your own existence. But Anil Seth, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, will do just that.

Seth posits that our brains are “hallucinating” all the time – and when our hallucinations match up with others, we call that “reality.” Prepare to re-think everything you’ve ever known.

Duration: 17:01

“The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian-born novelist, said in her talk.

Adichie’s most recent work, “Americanahexplores the experiences of a Nigerian immigrant to the US, and the differences and the common threads that bind us all together. In her talk, Adichie highlights the power of storytelling, and how we must seek diverse stories and opinions to truly understand a place.

If we only hear a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding, Adichie said.

Duration: 18:42

“My stroke of insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor experienced something very few neuroscientists have: A life-threatening stroke.

It gave her a unique opportunity to actually see and feel the things she dedicated her life to researching. As she watched her brain functions shut down, including her speech, motion, and finally self-awareness, she came away with profound insights into how our brains work, and what it means to be a human being.

Duration: 18:33

“Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” by Tim Urban

Tim Urban, the author the popular Wait But Why blog, is a master procrastinator.

In this humorous talk, Urban takes us through his process for accomplishing difficult tasks – like writing a long-form article – with some excellent illustrations.

Urban wants us to think deeply about why we’re procrastinating. Don’t let the “Panic Monster” get to you.

Duration: 14:02

“I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left” by Megan Phelps-Roper

Megan Phelps-Roper’s conversion from a card-carrying member of the extremist Westboro Baptist Church to leaving the church and becoming an activist is a rare testament to the power of social media in building bridges across ideological divides.

In her powerful talk, she discusses what it was like to grow up under the sway of the church – and how she was ultimately stirred into converting by a man sharing Israeli desserts while she was holding a “God Hates Jews” sign in New Orleans.

Duration: 15:17

“Our story of rape and reconciliation” by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger

This is one of the more unique talks on the list – and it’s also one of the toughest to watch. Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger are an unlikely pair. As an 18-year old exchange student, Stanger admitted to raping Elva, then only 16-years old.

After disconnecting for years, the two got in touch. And the story they bring to the TED stage is one of reconciliation, without hiding from blame.

It’s especially pertinent now in light of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements about shame, sexual violence, and a restored faith in humanity.

Duration: 19:06

“Do schools kill creativity?” by Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson, an author and university professor, wants us to think about school a little differently. Instead of rote memorization, Robinson thinks the education system should nurture curiosity, and put less emphasis on standardised testing.

Robinson criticises American schools for encouraging conformity rather than creativity, starting from a very young age. Robinson’s talk is one of the most-viewed TED talks of all time, with over 50 million views.

Duration: 19:22

“We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads” by Zeynep Tufekci

Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina and a New York Times writer, is one of the most prominent voices holding big tech companies – the Facebooks, Googles, and Amazons of the world – accountable for their actions.

In this illuminating talk, Tufekci warns that the algorithms powering the big search and social-network companies’ advertising businesses can be co-opted by malicious actors to organise the information you see.

It’s worth a watch.

Duration: 22:56

“The new bionics that let us run, climb, and dance” by Hugh Herr

Hugh Herr, a former professional climber who lost both of his legs in an accident, never intended to be an engineer: He just wanted to climb again.

Now the head of MIT’s Biomechatronics Group, Herr is working on building prosthetic limbs that fuse together nature and cutting-edge technology.

In his talk, Herr discusses his personal story – going from a rock-climbing prodigy with little interest in school to a PhD in physics from Harvard – all while showing off his brilliant prosthetic limbs.

Duration: 19:00

“6 ways mushrooms can save the world” by Paul Stamets

Paul Stamets is a mycologist: He studies fungus for a living. And to him, the mycelium fungus, or mushrooms, can save the world in ways you wouldn’t imagine.

In his talk, Stamets lists all the amazing things mushrooms can do – from remediating soil, to treating infectious disease.

Duration: 17:33

“The paradox of choice” by Barry Schwartz

According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, the more choices you have, the worse off you will feel. This phenomenon applies to everything in the modern world, from salad dressings to career choices.

In his talk, Schwartz breaks down the assumption that freedom – and options that come with it – always improve our welfare. Sometimes, it’s better to be a little constrained.

Duration: 19:30

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