I love TED talks. They’re informational, engaging, and brief enough to watch on a study break. TED talks challenge me to think deeply, because they cover every topic under the sun from unique and creative perspectives. Given that thousands of talks are available on their website, it can be hard to know where to start. So here, in no particular order, are 7 TED Talks I think you should watch.*
1. Is our universe the only universe? Brian Greene (here).
This talk will have you questioning everything. Greene covers some unanswered mysteries in theoretical physics, and presents a highly controversial solution: that our universe is part of a complex of universes called the “multiverse.” It’s an excellent example of the way big questions can — and should — drive scientific exploration. Greene’s own enthusiasm is palpable, and his talk will inspire awe at the world we live in.
2. Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality (here).
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on another Sam Harris rant about the “self as illusion.” This TED Talk doesn’t strive to convince you your consciousness is fake, but rather that your experience of self is deeply grounded in internal biological mechanisms that are meant to keep you alive.
I highly recommend Seth’s talk for two reasons. First, it fleshes out (no pun intended) what it means to be embodied, and how cognition of the world is inextricably related to perception of your body from within. Second, he emphasizes that human consciousness is not the only way of being aware of the world. This is particularly important, because it allows us to be open to other ways of experiencing reality — like mysticism — and it helps us cultivate wonder and awe at our place in creation.
3. A simple way to break a bad habit, Judson Brewer (here).
As you know, personal growth happens through changing your habits. This can be tough, especially when it comes to getting rid of self-destructive or counter-productive behaviors. I appreciate Brewer’s simple strategy to break bad habits, which merges the psychology of habit-formation with the brain mechanisms behind curiosity.
4. Atheism 2.0, Alain de Botton (here).
In a fascinating talk that strives to overcome the divide between believers and non-believers, de Botton advocates for “Atheism 2.0.” In his view, the secular world view would benefit from incorporating elements of a religious one — such as an openness to questions of ultimate meaning, a focus on ritual practice, an awareness of embodiment, and experiences of transcendence. Without them, secularism is “full of holes.”
5. What makes a good life, Robert Waldinger (here).
Okay, yes, this is one of the most popular TED talks of all time. But for good reason. Waldinger, a psychiatrist, shares the lessons he learned from the longest study on human happiness. His talk explains the unparalleled role of loving relationships in our well-being (for our bodies, brains, and spirits!) and challenges you to lean into these connections.
6. Why the only future worth building includes everyone, His Holiness Pope Francis (here).
Yes, the Pope gave a TED talk! By Skype, admittedly, but still. In his talk, Pope Francis reminds us of our fundamental interdependence, and invites us to encounter and forgiveness. He calls us to orient our work toward a more just economic and social order, according to equality and solidarity. This work, Pope Francis reminds us, will help us cultivate hope in our hearts. Finally, he invites us to a “revolution of tenderness” toward others, ourselves, and our common home.
7. How to sound smart in your TED talk, Will Stephen (here).
Most of the time, TED talks are remarkably engaging. But if you watch too many, you start to see a pattern… Stephen identifies the foolproof presentation skills that will make audiences think you’re brilliant.
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*Needless to say, I don’t agree with everything contained in these talks.