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January 20, 2007

TED Talks

I've had a wonderful Saturday morning watching various TED Talks. Here's an assorted list of good ones. Most of them are about 18 minutes long.

Richard Dawkins. Normally, I can only handle Dawkins in small doses since I've heard most of his polemics on religion before. But here, he waxes philosophical about the nature of our ability to understand the world around us, and the peculiar biases we have as a result of growing up (as a species) on the savannah.

David Deutsch. Echoing Dawkins' sentiment, Deutsch (a reknown quantum theorist) walks us through his thoughts on why genuine knowledge production - and by this he specifically means our learning how to model the world around us with increasing accuracy - is the thing that sets humans apart from all other pieces of matter.

Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson is apparently known as an expert on creativity, although I'm not sure why. His talk touches on many of the same themes that Dawkins and Deutsch mention, although he focuses more on the importance of cultivating our innate and differing abilities to produce knowledge.

Larry Brilliant. The year after I was born, smallpox was declared eradicated, and the man who helped oversee its eradication was Brilliant. In this talk, he describes that work, but also impresses on us just how devastating a global pandemic would be, both economically, socially and culturally. His messsage: early detection, early response.

Steven Levitt. The author of Freakonomics gives a fascinating account of the economics of gangs during the crack-cocaine era. The best part is the quotations at the end where gang members explain basic economy theory, but translated into the language of hustlers.

Barry Schwartz. I remember Prof. Schwartz from my freshman psychology course - he's a highly entertaining speaker and, apparently, still loves to use New Yorker cartoons to illustrate his points. Here, he talks about how having more choices makes it harder to choose, and less likely that we'll be pleasantly surprised. A nice counter-point to Malcolm Gladwell's talk on the benefits of diversity of choice.

Michael Shermer. When I was a teenager just getting interested in science, I remember being fascinated by Shermer's column in Scientific American where he debunked bad science of all kinds. His talk is like a live version of one of his columns.

Peter Donnelly. On a similar note as Shermer, Donnelly, a statistician from Oxford, gives an excellent talk about just how bad humans are with reasoning through uncertainty - a topic everyone should be better educated about, given how much authority our society places in numbers today.

Also, I see that Murray Gell-mann will be a speaker at TED 2007 in March.

posted January 20, 2007 12:24 PM in Things to Read | permalink