Some Great TED Talks

For a couple of years now I’ve been mildly addicted to watching talks online at I was thinking to put together a list of my top 5 favorites, but the list quickly grew longer than that. So, here are ‘Some Great TED Talks’, though not necessarily my favorites and in no particular order:

Sheila Patek clocks the fastest animals: The mantis shrimp catches its food through what is the fastest known predatory strike by using an anticlastic membrane that acts a spring. I like how the presenter stops to explain hyperbolic paraboloids and pressure-driven cavitation as if they’re not common knowledge.

Are We in Control of Our Own Decisions?: MIT economist Dan Ariely covers some of the ground in this presentation that he covered in his excellent book Predictably Irrational, such as loss aversion – people’s tendency to count losses more than equivalent gains – and anchoring – people’s tendency to evaluate quantities based on historical values.

Monkeynomics: Through a series of experiments with capuchin monkeys, Laurie Santos finds that many of the same fallacies of economic logic that afflict humans are also found in lower primates.

Build a tower, build a team: Tom Wujec has had hundreds of people work in teams of 4 to produce the tallest possible tower out of uncooked spaghetti, tape, string and a marshmallow. Unsurprisingly, engineers do best and recent business school graduates do worst, on average. Successfulness seems to depend most on the number of iterations of attempts teams are able to do in the allotted time. I’ve heard this elsewhere, but interestingly, adding a financial incentive to win the competition made teams do worse.

Lessons from an Ad Man: Rory Sutherland argues that, in a world of cheap material goods, ‘intangible value’ (or ‘perceived value’) becomes increasingly important and he shows several humorous examples of how changing perception can often be easier, cheaper and better than changing reality.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita Predicts Iran’s Future: I have no special interest in this topic, but having read a couple of his books, I am intrigued by this man’s methodology.

Daniel Kraft Invents a Better Way to Harvest Bone Marrow: A great 5-minute talk on the process of inventing a new medical device to harvest bone marrow.

Philip Zimbardo, who devised the famous Stanford Prison Experiment gave two great talks I’ve found on TED’s website: In one he talks about the prison experiment and the insight it sheds on the events at Abu Ghraib. In the second, he talks about how one’s perception of time affects personal happiness.

Theo Jansen makes wind-propelled machines that walk:

Johnny Lee Demos Wii Remote Hacks: A fast-paced 5-minute talk where Johnny Lee shows the cool computer interface devices he’s built from Wii parts.

David Blaine: How I Held My Breath for 17 Minutes: David Blaine explains his training and preparation for holding his breath for 17 minutes, as well as other physically extreme undertakings of his. This talk deals as much with iterated discovery as Tom Wujec’s talk about building a marshmallow tower.

How Bacteria Communicate: Bonnie Bessler appears in the July/August 2010 special 40th anniversary issue of Smithsonian magazine and, in this TED talk, she reviews her research on how bacteria communicate.

If you find great talks on TED that I’ve missed here, please let me know which they are and why you like them.


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