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 14 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.
“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, “Americanah“explores 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Four billion years of evolution in six minutes” by Prosanta Chakrabarty
Prosanta Chakrabarty, a professor of evolutionary biology and ichthyology (the study of fish) at Louisiana State University, wants you to rethink everything you think you know about evolution.
In a TED talk delivered in April but released on Friday, Chakrabarty dispels the notion that humans are the end goal of evolution – and that evolution is linear at all.
“It’s hubris, it’s self-centered to think plants and bacteria are primitive,” Chakrabarty said in a new TED talk. “Think of life as being this book, an unfinished book for sure.”
“We’re just seeing the last few pages of each chapter,” he added.
‘The best stats you’ve ever seen’ by Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling, the late author of one of Bill Gates’ favourite books, delivers the most entertaining statistics lecture you’ll ever see.
In this classic talk from 2006, Rosling enlightens viewers about what the developing world is really like – through statistics – despite all the doom-and-gloom you see in media reports.
“The problem is not ignorance, it’s preconceived ideas,” Rosling said.
His most recent book, “Factfulness,” builds on some of these themes.
“The history of our world in 18 minutes” by David Christian
In this illuminating talk, David Christian, the historian author of “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” gives you a rundown of the history of the universe from the Big Bang to the development of the World Wide Web in just under 18 minutes.
The talk served as the impetus for Christian’s course “Big History” which Bill Gates has touted as one of his favourites.
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