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Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe
In keeping with the theme of TED2008, professor Stephen Hawking asks some Big Questions about our universe -- How did the universe begin? How did life begin? Are we alone? -- and discusses how we might go about answering them.
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The surprising science of happiness
Dan Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness," challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.
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Why the universe seems so strange
Biologist Richard Dawkins makes a case for "thinking the improbable" by looking at how the human frame of reference limits our understanding of the universe.
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David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and a Times Square's worth of neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.
A Darwinian theory of beauty
TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.
What's so funny about mental illness?
Diseases of the body garner sympathy, says comedian Ruby Wax -- except those of the brain. Why is that? With dazzling energy and humor, Wax, diagnosed a decade ago with clinical depression, urges us to put an end to the stigma of mental illness.
What explains the rise of humans?
Seventy thousand years ago, our human ancestors were insignificant animals, just minding their own business in a corner of Africa with all the other animals. But now, few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we've spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself). How did we get from there to here?
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The hidden beauty of pollination
Pollination: it's vital to life on Earth, but largely unseen by the human eye. Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg shows us the intricate world of pollen and pollinators with gorgeous high-speed images from his film "Wings of Life," inspired by the vanishing of one of nature's primary pollinators, the honeybee.
What is so special about the human brain?
The human brain is puzzling -- it is curiously large given the size of our bodies, uses a tremendous amount of energy for its weight and has a bizarrely dense cerebral cortex. But: why? Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel puts on her detective's cap and leads us through this mystery. By making "brain soup," she arrives at a startling conclusion.
Cute, sexy, sweet, funny
Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet? Philosopher Dan Dennett has answers you wouldn't expect, as he shares evolution's counterintuitive reasoning on cute, sweet and sexy things (plus a new theory from Matthew Hurley on why jokes are funny).
How bacteria "talk"
Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria "talk" to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry -- and our understanding of ourselves.
The gentle genius of bonobos
Savage-Rumbaugh's work with bonobo apes, which can understand spoken language and learn tasks by watching, forces the audience to rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology -- and how much by cultural exposure.
The hidden influence of social networks
We're all embedded in vast social networks of friends, family, co-workers and more. Nicholas Christakis tracks how a wide variety of traits -- from happiness to obesity -- can spread from person to person, showing how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don't even know.
A plant's-eye view
What if human consciousness isn't the end-all and be-all of Darwinism? What if we are all just pawns in corn's clever strategy game to rule the Earth? Author Michael Pollan asks us to see the world from a plant's-eye view.
The real reason for brains
Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert starts from a surprising premise: the brain evolved, not to think or feel, but to control movement. In this entertaining, data-rich talk he gives us a glimpse into how the brain creates the grace and agility of human motion.
Nina Jablonski breaks the illusion of skin color
Nina Jablonski says that differing skin colors are simply our bodies' adaptation to varied climates and levels of UV exposure. Charles Darwin disagreed with this theory, but she explains, that's because he did not have access to NASA.
Will our kids be a different species?
Throughout human evolution, multiple versions of humans co-existed. Could we be mid-upgrade now? At TEDxSummit, Juan Enriquez sweeps across time and space to bring us to the present moment -- and shows how technology is revealing evidence that suggests rapid evolution may be under way.
How language transformed humanity
Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of "social technology" that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.
Bring back the woolly mammoth!
It’s the dream of kids all around the world to see giant beasts walk the Earth again. Could -- and should -- that dream be realized? Hendrik Poinar gives an informative talk on the next -- really -- big thing: The quest to engineer a creature that looks very much like our furry friend, the woolly mammoth. The first step, to sequence the woolly genome, is nearly
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Spencer Wells builds a family tree for humanity
All humans share some common bits of DNA, passed down to us from our African ancestors. Geneticist Spencer Wells talks about how his Genographic Project will use this shared DNA to figure out how we are -- in all our diversity -- truly connected.
Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes
Elaine Morgan is a tenacious proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis: the idea that humans evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats. Hear her spirited defense of the idea -- and her theory on why mainstream science doesn't take it seriously.
Hod Lipson builds "self-aware" robots
Hod Lipson demonstrates a few of his cool little robots, which have the ability to learn, understand themselves and even self-replicate.
Memes and "temes"
Susan Blackmore studies memes: ideas that replicate themselves from brain to brain like a virus. She makes a bold new argument: Humanity has spawned a new kind of meme, the teme, which spreads itself via technology -- and invents ways to keep itself alive
Are we ready for neo-evolution?
Medical ethicist Harvey Fineberg shows us three paths forward for the ever-evolving human species: to stop evolving completely, to evolve naturally -- or to control the next steps of human evolution, using genetic modification, to make ourselves smarter, faster, better. Neo-evolution is within our grasp. What will we do with it?
Engineering and evolution
Insects and animals have evolved some amazing skills -- but, as Robert Full notes, many animals are actually over-engineered. The trick is to copy only what's necessary. He shows how human engineers can learn from animals' tricks.
The loves and lies of fireflies
Biologist Sara Lewis has spent the past 20 years getting to the bottom of the magic and wonder of fireflies. In this charming talk, she tells us how and why the beetles produce their silent sparks, what happens when two fireflies have sex, and why one group of females is known as the firefly vampire. (It's not pretty.) Find out more astonishing facts about fireflies
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How technology evolves
Tech enthusiast Kevin Kelly asks "What does technology want?" and discovers that its movement toward ubiquity and complexity is much like the evolution of life.
Using nature to grow batteries
Inspired by an abalone shell, Angela Belcher programs viruses to make elegant nanoscale structures that humans can use. Selecting for high-performing genes through directed evolution, she's produced viruses that can construct powerful new batteries, clean hydrogen fuels and record-breaking solar cells. At TEDxCaltech, she shows us how it's done.
Louise Leakey digs for humanity's origins
Louise Leakey asks, "Who are we?" The question takes her to the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, where she digs for the evolutionary origins of humankind -- and suggests a stunning new vision of our competing ancestors.
Finding life we can't imagine
How do we search for alien life if it's nothing like the life that we know? At TEDxUIUC Christoph Adami shows how he uses his research into artificial life -- self-replicating computer programs -- to find a signature, a 'biomarker,' that is free of our preconceptions of what life is.
To upgrade is human
In this prophetic 2003 talk -- just days before Dolly the sheep was stuffed -- biotech ethicist Gregory Stock looked forward to new, more meaningful (and controversial) technologies, like customizable babies, whose adoption might drive human evolution.
Tracking ancient diseases using ... plaque
Imagine what we could learn about diseases by studying the history of human disease, from ancient hominids to the present. But how? TED Fellow Christina Warinner is an achaeological geneticist, and she's found a spectacular new tool -- the microbial DNA in fossilized dental plaque.
Paul Ewald asks, Can we domesticate germs?
Evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald drags us into the sewer to discuss germs. Why are some more harmful than others? How could we make the harmful ones benign? Searching for answers, he examines a disgusting, fascinating case: diarrhea.
Why we love, why we cheat
Anthropologist Helen Fisher takes on a tricky topic – love – and explains its evolution, its biochemical foundations and its social importance. She closes with a warning about the potential disaster inherent in antidepressant abuse.
The evolution of compassion
Robert Wright uses evolutionary biology and game theory to explain why we appreciate the Golden Rule ("Do unto others..."), why we sometimes ignore it and why there’s hope that, in the near future, we might all have the compassion to follow it.
What will humans look like in 100 years?
We can evolve bacteria, plants and animals — futurist Juan Enriquez asks: Is it ethical to evolve the human body? In a visionary talk that ranges from medieval prosthetics to present day neuroengineering and genetics, Enriquez sorts out the ethics associated with evolving humans and imagines the ways we'll have to transform our own bodies if we hope to explore and
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Clues to prehistoric times, found in blind cavefish
TED Fellow Prosanta Chakrabarty explores hidden parts of the world in search of new species of cave-dwelling fish. These subterranean creatures have developed fascinating adaptations, and they provide biological insights into blindness as well as geological clues about how the continents broke apart million of years ago. Contemplate deep time in this short talk.