Favorite Ted Talks (and other online lectures)

September 22nd, 2011

It’s not about technology. It’s about people and stories.  – Dean Kamen

A friend recently ask what are the best Ted Talks, and I  thought “what an awesome questions.” Why? Because Ted talks are some of the most engaging, cutting edge and insightful lectures I know of and they are free.  The talks dive into new data that is changing the way we  perceive and interact with our world from technology to morality. For example some talks show how the changes happening in biotech will eclipse the revolution of the computer  and other talks show how the way we makes decisions is flawed from choosing dating partners to investing money, as well as other talks on topics which may sound trite or hackneyed but may be more profound such as how most religions are based upon the golden rule and not upon converting the world. Speaking of religion and spirituality, these talks are my idea of a perfect Sunday morning sermon because there are so many deep  and profound ideas that could change our world for the better.

But if these talks are so good where should one start? There are over 600 talks! I’m not the first person to wonder. Some one actually tried to rate  the talks. The results are in a spreadsheet here.

Another place to start is of course the Ted talks web site, here.

How did I start? I started with a few recommendations from friends and then I downloaded all the audio recordings I could and listened to them on the drive to work. Here is a list just the audio tracks. (or here )

Of the talks I’ve listened to the, the following pop into my mind as my favorite (followed by rating # from above spreadsheet) :

Religion , Morality  and Humanity

  • Karen Armstrong : Charter for Compassion  #320
  • Richard Dawkins on Atheism #107
  • Sarah Jones: Global Village  #393
  • Jonathan Haidt: moral roots of liberals and conservatives #179
  • Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions #14
  • Michael Specter: The danger of science denial
    A kid born in New Delhi today can expect to live as long as the richest man in the world did 100 years ago

How we think, reason, see

  • Dan Pink: Science of Motivation #1 candle problem, incentives work against creativity
  • Dan Ariely: Are we in control of our own decisions #18
  • Dan Ariely: our buggy moral code  #93
  • Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception #177  patterns gone astray, ghosts, UFOs , etc
  • Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory #64  happy in the now or in the memory of it
  • Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice #73 choice makes us unhappy
  • Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy? #69 paraplegic or lotto winner, we make happiness
  • Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight #27
  • Sebastian Seung: I am my connectome #?


  • Angela Belcher: Using nature to grow batteries #? bio-nanotech creations
  • Joe DeRisi solves medical mysteries  –  DNA matching chips 
  • Juan Enriquez shares mindboggling science – species reboot


  • David Pogue says “Simplicity sells”
    Yes, I’ve seen Hans Rosling, but the above resonates much more with me

Marketing and Product design

  • Don Norman on 3 ways good design makes you happy beauty matters
  • Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
  • Seth Godin on standing out – best thing since sliced bread


  • Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

A few words about the favorite talks listed above.

Section 1, Religion , Morality  and Humanity: The first talk I’ve listed is  the most important.  Though science and technology may be the most exciting, the majority of the world is religious and  and thus the way religions are organized, operate and ask us the think may be the most important area to examine in humanities daily lives. The first talk by Karen Armstrong beautifully clarifies that the worlds major religions are founded upon one teaching : for us to love one another. The second talk from Richard Dawkins on “militant atheism” might sound a bit confrontational but I highly recommend it. The lecture  is an erudite, sharp, scathing and funny treatise which puts religion in perspective.  The third talk is wonderful on audio – it has some fun turns of perspective and is a rollick through human perspectives that makes humanity easier to love and encourages tolerance. Finally the fourth talk on the roots of liberals and conservatives again encourages tolerance and shows the benefits of boths sides : liberalism which fights for justice and independence and conservatism which builds community and safety. (speaking of safety and security there is a good talk on that as well )

Section 2,  How we think, reason, see: The first 7 talks give surprising evidence that the way we reason is often not in our best interest with specific ramifications  that are detrimental for the way business and wall street is run and are the roots of the recent financial crises. The last two, Jill Botle and Sebastian Seung, share fascinating insights to the way our brain works.

Sectionn 3, Biotech:  Biotech is quick becoming the revolution to change all revolutions and Angela Belcher’s talk gives us an inkling why.


While on the subject of awesome audio lectures, here are some other good sources:

Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner

These lectures are geared to startups and entrepreneurship.  One of my favorite which dovetails with Ted biotech talks is

  • Innovation in a Disruptive Environment

NPR’s  This American Life 

These talks are  give a personal view on experiences with  humanity, American in particular. For a place to start with, a couple of good ones  that dovetails with the above Ted talks on religion are

  • 209: God said, huh? (start at minute 29:00 )
  • 304: Heretics

One good trick to know with This American  Life is that the mp3’s are available at

http://audio.thisamericanlife.org/jomamashouse/ismymamashouse/[episode #].mp3



see another trick to downloading episodes at


 Santa Fe Institute

good source of interesting intellectual lectures.  A good place to start with the Santa Fe Institute is

  • The evolution of intelligence on Earth.

another interesting resource I’ve yet to check out from Google:  http://www.zeitgeistminds.com/


Follow Up: many more ideas on the best Ted talks at Quora: http://www.quora.com/TED-Talks/What-are-some-must-see-TED-talks

More Ted talk suggestions: http://blog.hubspot.com/15-phenomenal-ted-talks


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