Why TED Talks don’t change people’s behaviors: Tom Asacker at TEDxCambridge 2014

Why TED Talks don’t change people’s behaviors: Tom Asacker at TEDxCambridge 2014

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Cristina Bufi-Pöcksteiner Let me tell you what I know. I know that you’ve watched and enjoyed
some very inspiring TED Talks. And it’s also true that you understand
and for the most part accept the various cases made by the presenters. But the truth is this: very few, if any of you,
have changed your behavior based on that knowledge. If you did, if we all did, it would profoundly change
the world in which we live. So, let me be the first to confess. I’ve watched Sir Ken Robinson
make his very moving case for an education system
that encourages and nurtures creativity. And I wholeheartedly agree with him, but I haven’t done a thing
to help make that a reality. I’ve listened to Brené Brown describe passionately
the power of vulnerability. And I agree with her too, but I’m still quite guarded. And I’ve watched Amy Cuddy articulate
how our body language shapes who we are, but I’ve got to tell you,
I did not take a power pose before I walked out on the stage to boost my testosterone
and confidence level. I think maybe I should have, you know. (Laughter) Let me tell what else:
I don’t get enough sleep; I use too many paper towels, I know that; (Laughter) I sit at my desk for hours
on end, without moving; and I still buy bottled water. What am I doing? What are we all doing? Now, Gandhi said the difference
between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems. I know this difference firsthand. I mean, just recently, I was encouraged to hear from executives
at a well-known organization that they fully understood and agreed
with the advice I provided. Yet, when I returned later
to review their progress, I found that they had done
the exact opposite. They’d gone right back
to those stifling routines that existed before I got there. Now, I’m sure you’ve experienced similar
disappointments in your life, right? A loved one who continued to smoke
or abuse drugs, despite the facts, or a friend who resisted change
in the face of overwhelming evidence. So why don’t we do
what we know we should do, what we’re capable of doing, and solve our problems? Why don’t we take the knowledge
we gain from TED Talks and change our world? What’s wrong with us? You see, to me, there seems
to be a disconnect between what we watch, read and hear,
let’s call it the data input, and our subsequent actions,
the behavioral output. Are we all broken computers?
Is that what the problem is? You see, I don’t think so. I think it’s that metaphor that’s broken. It’s a faulty metaphor,
that the brain is a computer. It’s not. Computers are lifeless machines
which deal in facts, they execute static programs. They don’t care, machines don’t care,
computers don’t care about their perceptions,
their changing desires, whether they look good
to themselves or to others. They’re not driven at all
by their futures or their desires. They don’t crave control. Human beings are amazing
warm-blooded creatures who deal in their personal truths. Our minds are dynamic systems, which, like other animals, are influenced by our changing
perceptions and desires. That’s the nature of who we are. And you know, you understand this.
You do. Intuitively, you get it. And that’s why when comedians
make this apparent to us, we start laughing, don’t we? Take a look at this and tell me. If you were a computer, would you suddenly desire
to eat this menacing-looking creature simply because someone changed its name? No. A computer wouldn’t do that, right? It makes no sense. But human beings do. In 1977, a fish wholesaler named Lee Lance was first exposed
to this crazy-looking fish, the Patagonian toothfish, which at the time, fishermen considered junk, throwaway. I mean, if you were reeling this thing in,
wouldn’t you throw it away? I’d throw it away. But Lance, he sensed that people
would enjoy its white flesh and mild taste but not its name. So he began selling this cold-water cod as Chilean sea bass. (Laughter) Now, you heard me right. It’s not even a bass, it’s cod, right? (Laughter) Now, is this important?
Why is this important? Or is it just a fish story? It’s very important to understand, because it tells us how human beings
respond in the world and how they make decisions. To me, Mark Twain put it best. He said, “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear
and life stands explained.” We are not fleshy machines
who make decisions based on facts. We’re mad, feeling creatures who are being pushed and pulled
by our environment, by our instincts, our truths. I know what you’re probably thinking,
some of you, maybe most of you, “Facts, truth, come one.
What’s the difference?” Right? Trust me, there is a profound difference, and if you’re interested in solving
your problems and changing the world, you need to be intimately aware
of what that difference is. The screenwriter Robert Mckee wrote, “What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think
about what happens.” So, here’s a fact. You and I are outgrowths
of a huge living sphere that’s rocketing through space right now
faster than a bullet shot out of a gun, around another ball of fire. (Laughter) That is a fact, but it is not your truth. You see, if it was your truth, if you defined yourself as the world rather than this little
short-term passenger on it, it would profoundly affect
how you live your life. Now listen, certainly we make
decisions based on facts. Let’s end that debate right now, right? Like the price of a cup of coffee,
which I just read is going up. So go get your coffee now. But we only do that if those facts
support our personal truths, and primarily these three. Aesthetics, the look and feel
of what we perceive. Control, whether we believe we have
control over what we perceive. And identity, how the choices of what
we perceive will affect our futures, especially the evolving story of who we think we are
and who we want to become. Aesthetics, control, identity. So, let’s start with aesthetics because in our environment,
that’s where we usually start, what draws us in to anything new. So aesthetics is simply our desire
for sensory pleasure stimulation, the look, feel, taste and engagement
of stimuli in our environment. We’re drawn to beautiful, fun
and entertaining objects and experiences, like an iPhone or
the latest blockbuster film. But here’s the thing: like a field exploding with flowers, there’s always a new, colorful,
enticing thing popping into our view, and it is in our nature to be drawn to it, and it’s the nature of the evolving
marketplace to keep producing them. So, like bees and butterflies, we’re being pushed and pulled
by our environment, and we are largely unaware of it. But, unlike simpler creatures, human beings have the amazing capacity
to imagine and construct our future. And that’s why we’re always
making predictions, right? Because we want to be able
to predict and steer our journeys. And what does the environment do? It responds to that desire, with devices, experience and data,
to help us do just that: to predict the results that we can expect and to help us measure
and optimize everything. Like, you know, our calories,
the expenditure of calories; our charitable contributions; even our travel plans. Now, I don’t know,
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Maybe measurement and data, maybe that will solve all of our problems. I don’t know. What do you think?
I don’t know. I have my doubts. A little while back, a couple months ago, I saw this guy at the gym
flat on his back, shaking his hands like this,
and I got really nervous. I walked over and I said,
“Hey, are you okay?” And he says, “Look, I’m fine! My family and my friends, we upload our
activity levels each night to the internet so we can track each other’s progress.” He had that little activity tracker
attached to the glove on his hand. (Laughter) He said, “I’m just adding
more steps to my workout.” (Laughter) This is true! Why? Because he cared about his story, the story about him
and what other people thought. See, Mark Twain
and all the other humorous, they had it exactly right: we are all nuts people! And once we understand that,
everything starts to make sense! Now listen, just as our tastes
change and evolve, our sense of control waxes and wanes. It’s like traveling, or any personal
or professional relationship, right? Sometimes, we’re behind the wheel, we’re in control, and at other times, we’re passengers
on someone else’s trip. So, a sense of control is important in that it helps us feel
engaged, empowered, but it’s not enough to prevent us
from jumping off to a different vehicle. So, what keeps us interested,
engaged, even zealous? You know what your mind
is telling you does that? I know. It’s that faulty metaphor
kicking in again, that dangerous thought that says, “I know what it is, it’s information. If we can get just more data up there and do it in an engaging
and persuasive way, that will keep people
invested, passionate.” But we’ve already learned that’s not true because our brains
are not those types of machines that make decisions based on facts. So, what is it? What does it? It’s not information. Information doesn’t move us. Desire moves us, and desire is ignited and grows
around our most potent personal truth: our identity. The stories we tell ourselves
about ourselves, who we think we are, is why we do what we do. In 2013, I was fascinated by this little study
out of Stanford University. It was called Virtual Superheroes. So, the researchers gave participants
the ability to fly using virtual reality. Some were passengers in the helicopter. Others flew under their own power,
with their arms extended. What the researchers found
was that the people who flew like Superman were later more likely to help
other people in the real world. You know what their theory was? Their theory was that their
inner experiences inspired them to embody the role of superhero, without them having the slightest clue. Well, I’m here to tell you: it’s not a theory, it’s a universal truth. We embody our roles,
our values, our stories. We live in those stories
and we live according to them. We feel like rebels when we zip up our leather jacket
and we hop onto our motorcycles. We imagine ourselves as published authors when we grab another cup of coffee
and sit down to confront a blank page. And sadly, if we think of ourselves
as old and worn out, we become old and worn out. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “A single dream is more powerful
than a thousand realities.” Those thousand realities, those are the facts, the data, and we are hypnotized
by a powerful and dangerous illusion that those realities
will cause us to care, agitate for change and improve lives. But they won’t, because we’re not rational-thinking
machines who deal with facts. We’re amazing passionate creatures
who are moved by our personal truths. Yes, aesthetics, the visual
and the evocative, draws us in. And yes, the sense of control
makes us feel empowered and autonomous. But it’s those imaginative,
invisible stories, our inspiring visions of the future, which turn us on and keep us lit up,
buzzing with possibility. So ask yourself, “Who am I? What story am I living?” Because it’s our identity, it’s our personal narratives
that move us to change the world, and to improve our lives
and the lives of others. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause)


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    KK Akuoku

    I trust my subconscious self-image over force of will to move me forward. It's more fulfilling to internally associate actual effort with the feeling of joy and pleasure & THEN follow through with action with the promise of feeling satisfied (or, at least, contented) during the process than just doing it because my ego nudged me to and expecting my end result to make me happy.

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    Caeyric Hasz

    It did change me a lot, I must say, tedx talks in general along with books and other inspirational talks. My behaviour and my happiness:) I tried out things and it is not easy to put in place some amazing things and follow up with ideas, but it does help me a lot in life. I do move more, take regular pauses, buy less plastic bottles, eat less sugar. So I don't know for some of you, but I do use the knowledge…

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    Just Another

    I'm an introvert. An introvert that's awake all night, works and sleeps all day.
    Naturally, I have a lot of time to think. I use this time to reflect and reteach myself lessons I'm forgetting. I think about the TEDx talks I've watched, and I attempt to apply them every chance I get. I recently got over my fear of public speaking, and all it took was a few talented speakers, and a night to reflect. The knowledge has helped me in so many situations, I've found confidence in situations that used to only bring me anxiety.

    You have the power to do whatever you'd like with the information you've been given, provided you make the effort to use it.

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    kunal ranjan


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    l c

    He is wrong…I always wanted to go to India…after watching the India Defecation chronicles …no way I wanted to go there..

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    Echo Pixel

    You can plant an idea but you can't make people act on it people have to choose to use the knowledge gained or archive it and continue as usual

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    Riya Dey

    The topic is realy great but its helpfulness is questionable ! ! The conclution can not be made before next week. .till then thank you sir.

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    Christopher Savignon

    Guy doesn't understand how computers work, or how people think.
    His fishy metaphor is faulty, changing the fish's name to avoid the negative connotations can easily be equated to the act of creating a new dataset to avoid computation of old linked data. You see a similar phenomenon regularly when unpopular companies buy a bad product's blueprint and sell it under a different name, avoiding all the negative reviews the system collected from buyers of the original product.

    We don't perceive ourselves as little things on a ball circling a big fire, but are self-centered… In AI theory, a "world" is defined as a set of perceptions and obtained data, with a different world for each possible constellation. The AI's world literally is what the AI perceives, just as with humans.

    It just continues with more and more ignorance.
    The metaphor is not faulty, his knowledge is.

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    Tom Asacker

    I'm interested in understanding precisely what I'm missing when declaring that human beings do not operate in the world like computers. Do computers care what others think of their decisions, and therefore modify their output based on those imagined perceptions? Does the fear of death drive computers to maintain faith in belief systems, often to the detriment of other computers who appear to block their pursuit of their beliefs and goals? Yes, computers are like the brains that created them. Brains, however, are not like computers.

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    Henryk Stawka

    "Information doesn'st move us. Desire moves us.
    And desire is ignited and grows on our most potent, personal truth – our identity.
    The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
    Who we think we are is why we do what we do."

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    Gail Remp

    U choose…your choice. I have one that has really helped me and good. What I find in this world now is that people want an instantaneous solution to their problems. If the problem was a short problem, instantaneous might work. But problems are what happen as we are growing and as we are learning in our relationships with others and all that good stuff. And you can't solve it by a tweet. You can't solve it by a short email. You can't solve it by griping about everything. You have to dig just a little bit underneath your surface and think. And you have to be mindful of what you're thinking. You have to come up with more than one -letter word than what we are generally utter when we are upset. Use your brain for more than a hat rack. Come up with possible new solutions for yourself and sometimes TEDTalks can help you figure out what you can consider in thinking . They are not panaceas…merely an adjunct…

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    His understanding of computers (or what they could be) is simplistic. The metaphor is good and useful.

    The identity he spoke of is a set of beliefs about ourselves, and these beliefs are rules and could be programmed into a computer.

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    Ray Hebert

    I'm reading Tom's Business of Beliefs book for the second time. I have to agree with some comments that he could have gotten to the point faster. But if you read his book, I believe you will grasp some of his concepts better than in this TedTalk Format. I also believe that some comments relate to having taken the Title of the talk to literally. Of course Ted Talk's have changed behaviours. The real point Tom is making is that the process of weather change happens isn't about the information. It's way more complicated that that… Tom is a thoughtful guy. His work is worth reading. But like everything else, you'll take some and you'll leave some, base one the precise theory he is putting forth in this talk…

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    Craig Benz

    The conundrum of modern life is that STEM education leads to better personal outcomes, but we do not need more stuff. The real unsolved problems of our time are answered by the humanities. Advances in epistemology, for example, will bring more advancement than a faster chip.

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    yes ! yes! yes! Making people WANT to change is the only way to make them change. Art can change the world becuse it has the ability to inspire.Good art affects us because it can touch us in the emotional level.

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    Nigel Robinson

    Tom Asacker, how do you account for the people that do change. In my experience, it may be only one change at a time… changing my posture as per Amy Cuddy's recommendations, but one change becomes 2, then three, etc. Any thoughts on this. I look forward to your feedback, Thanks

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    wow guess what? The two on sugar and diet recently. I've lost 8 lbs since watching. Completely eliminated sugar from my diet as well as flour.

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    brian joseph

    TED talks might not change a persons life but they can change their day. Inspiration, beauty, challenge, survival, how to, know how, name the subject and some one knows something about it. All in a 20 minute package A taste of what is possible is a feast in a time of famine. Because the light bulb didn't want to change doesn't mean I didn't change it. What he is saying is if you don't vision who you want to be it won't happen but when ya back is up against the wall watch all that TED vision come into view. I would rather people hang around the heavenly world of TED than the cesspools of thought and deed that some are sickeningly living.

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    Everyone has their own reality and another thing we are not hanging off a spinning ball flying through space faster than a bullet while circling a ball of fire that's a ridiculous brain washing lie.

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    Moses Rodrigues

    Overall informative and appreciable but he fell short at the end; we should not just ask who/what are we in our story but how and why. Asking the how and why is the key to breaking down social and cultural barriers, which helps us really critique and make sense of why we even have these diversely specific stories about ourselves. Once we grasp that key point, then we can really start asking the profound questions that will truly improve our individual experience and our collective global experience. Get to the roots of a structure and you'll start to see the full picture.

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    tolga tezcan

    I think he is not sure what he wants to describe. The problem is: people dont change. The question should be why ? And the answer should start with because……..thats it

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    Emily Meng

    I keeping watching TEDx everyday to practic my listening for about 1 months more now. The moment what I got moved me much, but after it disappear little by little. Just like Tom said. When I found this fact, I began to take some note at once after watching every time. I'll try to strength my desire to last it. Thank you Tom

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    Jacob Kuntz

    Jesus. Justin Robison is in the audience. I am so proud of him. Spend more time in the discipline. Methods of oral dissertation : The 5 senses and how It relates to the world around you.

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    Back Country Pastimes

    Yeah, although I absolutely love Ted talks and watch them a lot and completely agree with a lot of the advice in them, yet I don’t make any moves or changes to follow them through. It’s like I’m too scared to leave my comfort zone. I know that if I put into action the advice from these talks it would change my life, but I don’t. Funnily enough, there’s a Ted talk called “how to get what you want” and the speaker makes the point that even though everyday we have life changing ideas, we just throw them away because we get too comfortable in our comfort zones and don’t leave them enough.

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    Avery Stratton

    I just watch ted talks for story time or to get angry about something that I want to change but do not have the power to do so

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    Well depends on the topic. I've changed quite a lot. It's about willingness to change and efforts made towards that end. Some things I've learned was too high a goal for me for the moment and I consciously ignored but others I could stomach and I actually did. I am very grateful for TED's videos. Did not view the above video though 😁

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    Felix E.

    This Ted talk has so few actual worth, the first 10 minutes just propose an excuse to be lazy and dont change anything. In the last 6 minutes he then finaly searche`s for a solution but does it in such a negative fashion that you stil feel bad after whatching it. Its true that the Ted talks dont change behaviours but what he clearly isn`t getting is how the Ted talk`s affact people. You see people working on there passion and comming on the stage with such an energie that you yourself can just think to i want to be like this. And like he said the talks then affact our self image which is the main driving force for improvement in humans. Factualy its true what hes saying but hes doing it in the way that got us in this lethargic way that got humans in this position in the first place. The talks can never change your behavior thats not even physicly possible, but they help you to strive to be the best person you can be, everyday.

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    You are honest with yourself, because so many people know but like yourself don't take action to change yourself. So do one thing that can make a change…I did

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    Robin Fletcher

    TED talks won't change behavior for the same reason this one will not. Perhaps there are exceptions, but for the most part there are way too many steps that need to fall into place for actual change to happen, including at a minimum and in a best case scenario, the following:

    * that the speaker conveys his message with authenticity and in integrity – intellect/feeling and body are integrated
    * that the message needs to be conveyed in a manner that matches the subjective needs of the listener; since audiences range hugely, this factor alone predisposes any talk to being ineffective at changing behavior.
    * timing has to be exactly right and is under the influence of controllable and uncontrollable factors (eg. just think back to a time when you got advice a million times, but heard it one time in particular)
    * for those who resonate with the talk, and for whom the timing is right, they have to care enough to stop (on the inside) and listen (this sounds so simple and easy and yet in our device – addicted culture, its an unpracticed if undervalued ability – inner stillness.)
    * And for those who get that far, they have to allow their spark of curiosity to ignite their will to act (and in the process, overcome self-doubt, mind chatter, rationalization, compensation, etc etc)
    * And for those who actually start, they have to continue. and that is enormously difficult…just think back on how hard it was to stop a daily (bad) habit.

    In my opinion, we're much better off being honest with the fact that motivational talks don't "change" behavior. No. People themselves change their own behavior under very specific conditions and only when they are completely ready/desperate. On the other hand, being honest with the limited influence a motivational talk has – whether you call it TED, Bob or Socrates – IS and actual step toward changing behavior. And what behavior is that? Self – deception.

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    LindaJ Moore

    I disagree. TED Talks have and are changing my life. I am exercising, drinking water, going out in the sun. I no longer spend countless hours in front of my phone playing games. All of my games have been deleted. I have bought a bathing suit for exercise three times a week. I have decided that there is hope. I have decided to live and not die. I have decided to reinvent my life. I have decided to be positive and not negative. TED Talks have already made me a different and better person. I look forward to what is happening and what is going to happen. I started listening to TED Talks because my nineteen year old daughter told me that I should give a TED Talk. I looked them up and started listening. I am honoured that my daughter compliminted me on such a grand scale.

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    This is ridiculous. He assumes that nobody else changes just because he doesn't. TED talks and YouTube videos have profoundly changed my life because I've learned so much from I've watched. Some people do. Others don't.

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    But compulsively watching TED Talks really HAS changed my life… my girlfriend left me, I lost my job, I have a bad neck and poorer vision, plus now I have at least a thousand hours less to live. Go figure!

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    Arnold Polin

    The ancestor also learned that everyone is insane , the ones who do not know it are dangerous. To know your insane , you've solved all your problems. You are now harmless to yourself. , and others.

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    Vahan Good

    This one may be the last Ted Talk I watch. 😂 But the guy has good points. It's REALLY HARD to make changes – ask any aspiring chess player. 🙂

    But, on a positive note, we must note that we, after listening to these types of talks, slowly change our perspective and evolving. The changes may not be immediate, but the message has a chance of catching up some time down the line. And that already is infinitely better than nothing. ✌️

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    Tanner Eckmann

    This is all wrong, Where does our idea of our identity come from? Our idea of our identity usually comes last. I might think i'm some types of person and then find out that i'm totally wrong. Most of the time no one has any idea how their behaviors would be classified into some kind of identity (by a behavior pattern comparing, out side, observer).

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    Well alright.
    So, I've got a destiny to accomplish. And I'm gonna be the one to get it done as it is my desire to do so… I got this one opportunity to be clutch and get it how I live. With that, I know, however difficult it may seem or actually be… I will get a spot on my current college Football team and I will be an impressive force to be reckoned with… Just TRY ME… I want you to BRING IT ON… CUZ I KNOW I GOT THIS!!

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    I'm trying to strive for my "truth" being that life is made up of a series of experiences.. Although I know that there's gonna be something that I'm leaving out (and will thus forget on my journey and won't take advantage of inevitably). But that maybe everything that I may have already accumulated over the years can just stick without too much mental effort and I can just begin to implement this… You see, cuz there's this retraction that's gotta happen with me and technology, otherwise, I may never achieve my, very diminishing of an opportunity, career goals of being in the NFL…

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    echo lightvalley

    "The difference between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world's problems" Finely said, and with a ring of hope, yet the truth is somewhat rose-tinted perhaps: Problem being transforming what we are currently doing into what we could be doing seems like it is a world of a difficult thing to do in the first place, seeing how someone will say we could always do better.

    The other, and perhaps much more major, problem is the catch of solve "most" the world's problems, and then it gets you wondering which are the ones it wouldn't solve? I'd suppose if it didn't solve things like finally figuring out what Shakespeare's sonnets meant, who they were for, and whether they were male, female, other or shrimp in a thousand islands dressing; and profound philosophical issues such as whether us, numbers and stuff are real things, or whether real things are other things, or whether other things are just things; and misplaced keys (It's your own fault more likely than not!). But i guess it could be things like war, famine, homelessness, the rest of suffering still happening, all that boring theological stuff which I think needs solving (philosophy will be happy idling away), and what about problematic printers? Unless we were totally paperfree by then? Still I guess I can waive printers in any case, given suffering, war, theology etc…

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    yolanda jerginson

    Maybe not everybody who watches or listens but I’ve changed my eating habits because of a few aligned TED talks. He painted with a wide brush on that one.

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    Joseph Blake

    What story can you begin to tell yourself about who you are that will improve your life and the lives of others? I'll start… I am someone who can show compassion to others who do not usually receive it. I will try and make that my truth.

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    Ross Galan

    "Why TED Talks don't change people's behaviors" It's simple – TED presenters themselves do not practise what they "preach" in their talks simply because NOT ALL WE SAY, WE DO. NO ONE does what they say. It's easy to say but so difficult to do. If we did, the world would be different to and from what it is in right now.

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    This is somewhat of a shallow interpretation of truth and perception, and how we frame information around them… Presenter could build on top of others rather than come up with something that rhymes.

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    Ірина Кравцова

    I watch TED for a year now, and this year gave more for my personality than 5 years of University.
    A single TED can't fundamentally change you, but it changes you step by step, talk by talk.

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    just random

    Same old wisdom. We're still animals in the core of our being – but we are on the path to God! And it could take millions of years maybe forever

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