10 Best Ted Talks From The Minds Of Random Geniuses

comments

ted2012_038923_d31_3685_600Reggie Watts turns TED on its head. Photo: Courtesy of James Duncan Davidson/TED.
TED spells the end of boring conversation. If ever you find yourself in a social setting with no chat fodder beyond job talk and weather observations, go home and watch a TED Talk or two (they range from two to 30 minutes). You’ll never fall back on convo kindling again. Thanks to Netflix and TED's own site, these talks — by hyperintelligent visionaries on a vast array of topics like life, love, food, confidence, body language, and riding the subway without pants — have earned a cult-like following and more than a few parodies. Where else will you find Al Gore high-fiving Tony Robbins, or Mary Roach talking about the sex life of animals? We went deep-diving into the archives to find the most absurdly brilliant lessons from the minds of TED talkers.

10. Terry Moore: "How to Tie Your Shoes"

Moore is a professor in the school of life, or so his adorable attire implies. He cuts right to the chase in the two minutes we have. Did you know we've been tying our shoelaces incorrectly all this time? There is a strong knot, and there is a weak knot, and after learning which is which, your warm-up on the treadmill (both real and symbolic) is bound to get a lot more graceful.

9. Joshua Foer: "Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do"

In his 20-minute talk, you will definitely enjoy all of it. Foer recounts his visit to one of New York's uniquely attended memory contests and explains how your average preoccupied person can be a "memory-tician" with a few simple tricks. It's all fast and fun, but if you want to get right to it, you should close your eyes as Foer takes you through his quirky intro and then travel to about minute 9:40. He even validates the “Memory Palace theory” employed in BBC’s Sherlock as a way to keep tabs on all things going on at once, and if it’s good enough for the insufferable Mr. Holmes, it’s good enough for us.

8. Reggie Watts: "Beats That Defy Boxes"
Reggie Watts is a mad man, and we want in. Watts can be seen everywhere: "band-standing" in IFC's newly renewed Comedy Bang! Bang! and in viral bits by his comedy team, JASH (Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera...and us, in my wildest, most beautiful dreams). But, here he is alone with his setup and is powerfully and gracefully strange. Watts' musical talents are vagabond-like in nature, and the first three minutes of his talk will leave you pleasantly in the dark.

7. Lisa Bu: "How Books Can Open Your Mind"

Lisa Bu's voice is so melodious, we'd buy MP3s of her reading nutrition facts off a cereal box. The media veteran turned TED Talks content manager reminds us that literature can teach anything and everything. Bu came to America very young and would read two books at once dictated by a similar theme — two biographies on different people who had experienced the same historical event, for example. She would compare American wisdom to Chinese lessons and benefit from the translation. Here, she invites us to be open to what we can become through books and trusts that the possibilities are actually endless. In a world of hyper-abbreviated digital content, it's a refreshing reminder of the value of long-form.

6. Bobby McFerrin: “Watch Me Play...the Audience!”

Sometimes you mosh through the pit that is Midtown at 5:30 p.m. only to trip over someone’s rolling luggage and lose out on a subway seat. And, other times, we all spontaneously make beautiful music together, unannounced and totally organized. McFerrin concludes this excerpt with a lovely sentiment: "Regardless of where I am…every audience gets that." Hearken back to this organic cooperation next time you wade through Trader Joe's near dinnertime.

5. Gary Slutkin: "Let's Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease"

This one will stun you for a little bit. Gary Slutkin is an expert on curing epidemic diseases; he's seen outbreaks of cholera, tuberculosis, and AIDS while stationed in Africa for a decade. When he finally needed a break, he came to back to the States, only to find that we were fighting our own epidemic: extreme human violence. Slutkin applied the same science he had used on medical epidemics to cities with growing occurrences of violence, and the results were surprising and, most definitely, controversial.

4. Shawn Achor: "The Happy Secret to Better Work"

Shawn Achor reminds us of a more intelligent, more likable Daniel Tosh. He explains how our brains are 30% more functional at a positive state than when neutral or stressed. Achor, who happens to be hilarious, goes on to blow our minds with the theory that it's not success that makes us happy, but very much the reverse. File this under things that make you go "hmm."
3. Mary Roach: "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm"
This is one of TED's most viewed talks of all time for a reason. Roach — bestselling author of Stiff, a book about the afterlife of cadavers — came to talk about different species' orgasms, and she came with VIDEO FOOTAGE. There’s no ignoring that. We know you've always wondered about the sexual pleasure of farm animals, so you can finally cross that off your invisible list of nightmare visions. This talk, as ridiculous as it sounds, is intriguing to the last fact — even if Roach's odd humor brings out our fever-dream sweat.

2. Rives: "The 4 A.M. Mystery"
Rives is a word sculptor and a very, very sexy man. Watch him investigate the mysterious hour that is four in the morning, and then watch it again for everything else. A TED conference host and performance poet (the "poet 2.0" as he's been lauded), this guy knows how to carry a crowd. Bopping around the stage, he begins to instill a delightful paranoia in listeners about why 4 a.m. is the "worst possible hour" to be awake. At one point, he shows a clip from The Simpsons, turning to the crowd and simply addressing his next question to Matt...Because, of course, Matt Groening is there. (For extra credit, type Rives’ name into the search bar at TED.com and watch "Mockingbird" and "Encyclopedia Game," too.)

1. Meg Jay: "Why 30 Is Not the New 20"

"You need a plan and not quite enough time," says Meg Jay in her outlook-altering speech about the third decade of our lives, and why it matters. She flattens the misconception that our 20s are merely downtime while we gear up for adulthood; she insists, with some very impressive statistics, that our quarter-life period is when we design who we are and who we’ll become. This one is 15 minutes long, and all 15 are suggested, if not absolutely and completely necessary. Congrats on your imminent epiphanies, fellow 20-somethings!