Three TED Talks for Cloudy Nights

TED is just great. Of course I think that. I’m a nerd. TED is hard-core nerd. So is Prezi, the fluid online presentation platform that many TED speakers use to great effect. TED isn’t perfect. They bungled Nick Hanauer’s talk on how rich people don’t generate jobs, for example. But overall, the internet, and our world, is a little richer because of TED’s work. I’d love to do TEDxGeneva. Anyone want to help?

Anyway, I thought I’d highlight three great TED talks on themes astronomical. All three thought-provoking, and models for what I would uphold as good presentation of science to the public.

First is Jill Tarter’s talk about SETI. This is classic Jill: “We, all of us, are what happens when a primordial mixture of hydrogen and helium evolves for so long that it begins to ask where it came from.” It’s almost Douglas Adams in its wryness, and its insightful power. Her talk is a gold mine of such nuggets. Her talk explains SETI as science. And yes, Tarter was the basis for Carl Sagan’s Ellie Arroway, a heroine after every (atheist) nerd’s heart. Here’s the talk. She’ll even invite you to participate in SETI yourself.


Brian Cox is up next. CERN physicist and a popular figure in the UK for making hard science understandable to everyone. Cox once said “If people don’t have an understanding of what science is and what scientists do, then they can tend to think that global warming, for example, is just a matter of opinion.” Exactly. I should be so pithy. I’m going to clone Brian Cox and put each clone on a bicycle with a portable screen and projector, and set them loose to journey across the highways and byways, explaining to the general public what science is, and why exploration should remain a revered and encouraged part of our culture. Maybe people will be swayed by the accent. And the fact that he’s so pretty.


Last up is Brian Greene, a superstring theorist and author of popular science books. Another excellent science communicator, and one with a flare for humanizing his topic that I really admire. I can’t explain string theory to you, because I can’t quite grok it myself, but Brian does a great job of getting us to be in awe of that almost-understanding. And he’s raising his children correctly: “I was holding [my four-year-old daughter] and I said, ‘Sophia, I love you more than anything in the universe.’ And she turned to me and said, ‘Daddy, universe or multiverse?’”

Good question.



Is there a TED talk on astronomy that you love? Link it in a comment. I haven’t watched them all. I have to cut my toe-nails sometime, after all.


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