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TED Talks  Ideas worth spreading

It’s too easy to be distracted these days thanks to phone alerts, never-ending emails, bingeable TV shows, and more. Neuroscientist Amishi Jha has some mindfulness exercises to help us strengthen our ability to pay attention. You can even try one of them right now: Sit in a comfortable, upright position and focus all of your attention on the sensation of breathing. Your brain might start to wander, but gently refocus it back to the feeling of bringing air in and out of your chest. Practice 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for about 4 weeks, and you’ll likely see your attention improve —even under stress. Other benefits associated with mindfulness include reduced anxiety, protection from depression relapse, and improved working memory. Still, it takes dedication. “Begin with whatever you consider a reasonable goal and cut it in half, and make a commitment for some period of time,” says Amishi. By reclaiming your own attention, you will be able to connect more fully to the world around you. For more exercises, visit go.ted.com/mindfulness

GIF by @mengxinli

You’re looking at an aerial view of Western Australia’s Mount Whaleback iron ore. Author and artist Benjamin Grant captures satellite images that showcase the effects human beings have on Earth. He strives to provoke the feeling of overwhelming, life-changing awe that many astronauts say they experience when they look down at our planet from outer space. “If we can adopt a more expansive perspective, embrace the truth of what is going on and contemplate the long-term health of our planet, we will create a better and safer and smarter future for our one and only home,” Benjamin says. To watch @benjaminrgrant's #TEDTalk, visit go.ted.com/earthfromabove

You’re not likely to ever see this guy swimming by your side. He’s a creature of the twilight zone: the vast, virtually unexplored world 200 to 1,000 meters below the ocean’s surface. Since this area is incredibly difficult to study, there are so many things we don’t know about it. Ocean scientist Heidi M. Sosik wants to change that. She’s launching a large-scale exploration of the twilight zone, beginning with expeditions in the North Atlantic. There are already signs that migration in the twilight zone might be keeping carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and limiting the effects of global warming, but there’s still so much left to discover. Heidi’s work exploring this glorious part of the world will forever change our relationship to our oceans. “The decisions we collectively make over the next decade will affect what the ocean looks like for centuries to come,” she says. “We can't turn back the clock on decades of overfishing in countless regions of the ocean that once seemed inexhaustible. How amazing would it be to take a different path this time?” To watch her #TEDTalk, visit go.ted.com/exploretwilight

Video courtesy of Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory/WHOI

This is an architectural rendering of what Lagos, Nigeria could look like in the future, as imagined by artist Olalekan Jeyifous for his series, “Improvised Shanty-Megastructures.” Lagos has an estimated population of around 21 million, and it is one the fastest growing megacities in the world. Olalekan’s goal is to spark a conversation about how we can involve low-income communities in urban development. “I’m fascinated by marginalized communities and how urban planners and developers don’t often consider them in any real way when they’re looking to grow and evolve cities,” he says. “I hope this project gets people thinking about these communities, less as this aggregate, poor slum and more about the individuals who live there.” To see more of Olalekan’s work, visit go.ted.com/megastructures

Image courtesy of @kidcadaver

Ever heard of “yarn bombing?” It’s a global movement to decorate everyday objects with colorful knit and crochet works. Textile artist Magda Sayeg accidentally started it when she knitted a door handle out of boredom. People were enamored by it, so she then did the same to a stop sign pole, and her project has taken off from there. This knitted city bus was her first large-scale piece. The “yarn bombing” movement has now spread all over the world, creating a community connected in a way Magda never even dreamed of. It has shown her that we all have skills that are waiting to be discovered — we just have to get out there and try. “If you think about our hands, these tools that are connected to us, and what they're capable of doing — building houses and furniture, and painting giant murals — and most of the time we hold a controller or a cell phone,” she says. “What would happen if you put those things down? What would you make? What would you create with your own hands?” To watch @magdasayeg's #TEDTalk, visit go.ted.com/yarnbombing

When a limb is amputated, the connection between the nervous system and the muscle is broken. An artificial limb can’t send the same signals to the brain about where the prosthesis is in space, making the patient unable to feel the prosthetic joint without looking at it. Bionics designer Hugh Herr understands that feeling. He had both his legs amputated due to a mountain climbing accident in 1982. Now he works at MIT building a new class of biohybrid smart prostheses that allow people with amputation to walk as if their legs were biological. His team’s latest invention is the agonist-antagonist myoneural interface (AMI), which is a method to connect a person’s nerves to their bionic prosthesis. Hugh’s work proves that there is no limit to human potential (and also that we all might become cyborgs one day). “During the twilight years of this century, I believe humans will be unrecognizable in morphology and dynamics from what we are today," Hugh says. "Humanity will take flight and soar." To learn more about Hugh’s groundbreaking work, watch his latest #TEDTalk at go.ted.com/bionicbody
Photo by @ryanlashphotography/TED

Any Dungeons & Dragons fans out there? We’ve got good news for you: playing might make you more compassionate and creative! Fantasy role-playing games can actually help turn you into a better person in real life, says writer Ethan Gilsdorf. They teach you how to collaborate, quickly problem solve, develop empathy, become a more perseverant person, and have a more vibrant imagination. “Deep inside each of us is a dungeon with a powerful dragon. You won’t know whether you can defeat it — or even befriend it — unless you try,” says Ethan. To learn more about the benefits of role-playing games, visit go.ted.com/d&d

Illustration by @cdaura

This plant is called the Welwitschia, and it has only two leaves. Nope, that’s not a typo. Two! It looks like more because it has been shredded by the harsh desert conditions in coastal Namibia over time. Each leaf started growing around 14 A.D. and the plant will never shed them. Artist Rachel Sussman snapped this image on her journey traveling to each continent in search of the world’s oldest living things. “These organisms have so much character,” she says. “It's my hope that, by going to find them, that I can help draw attention to their remarkable resilience and help play a part in insuring their continued longevity into the foreseeable future.” To watch Rachel’s #TEDTalk, visit go.ted.com/oldplants

Photo courtesy of @_sussman_

This is art created by electricity. It’s part of artist Fabian Oefner’s series, “Nature’s Drawings,” which focuses on the process of creating art over the final product itself. Fabian likes to blend science into his work, and in this piece, he generated an electrical circuit across paper to produce a Lichtenberg figure (a tree-like pattern made by a high voltage electrical discharge). The result is an image that looks just like a lightning strike frozen in time. “You can’t really define what the Lichtenberg figure is going to look like in the end,” Fabian says. “You just create all the ingredients, and the forces define the look of it. I think that’s very poetic, very beautiful.” To see more from @fabianoefner's project, visit go.ted.com/electricart
Video courtesy of Fabian Oefner

Meet Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo, two 18-year-olds working to help every American learn how to understand, navigate and improve our racially divided world. It’s a daunting task, but they make it fun by pairing personal stories from real people all over the United States with research and statistics. They call their method “connecting the heart-mind gap,” and their work as founders of @princetonchoose gives people a deeper understanding of race, culture and intersectionality. “We all need to work together to create a new national community, a new shared culture of mutual suffering and celebration,” Priya and Winona say. “A place where we not only feel proud of our own backgrounds, but can also invest in others' experiences as if they were our own." The two traveled to all 50 US states collecting stories from over 500 people. Check out our Instagram story to learn more about a few of the faces they met on their journey, and visit go.ted.com/heartmindgap to watch their #TEDTalk.
Photo by Nataraj Vulchi
Graphic design by Marie Louise James

Isn’t this Tokyo apartment so joyful? It was designed by artist Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins, who believe our dreary living spaces are literally killing us. The floors undulate, so residents can bounce around the room, and bright colors are everywhere. Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee looks for artists and designers who are working to bring more joy into regular life. Joy can be a swimming pool, blooming cherry blossoms, bubbles — anything that makes you want to jump up and down. And while we can’t all go to Japan to see this apartment, we can practice looking around for joy in our own lives. “Maybe instead of chasing after happiness, what we should be doing is embracing joy and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often,” says Ingrid. “Joy isn't some superfluous extra. On the most basic level, the drive toward joy is the drive toward life.” Watch her #TEDTalk at go.ted.com/findjoy and follow her at @aestheticsofjoy

Imagine if you had a device that could feed you popcorn, as shown here. Or an alarm that hit you in the face to wake you up. Or a helmet that brushed your teeth for you. Inventor Simone Giertz has made all of these inventions. The thing is, they all kind of fail, but that’s precisely the point. She creates useless robots on purpose, and the results are overwhelmingly fun and wacky. Once she stopped pressuring herself to build something perfect, she developed a love of robotics and engineering that she now shares with over 1 million fans online. “To me that's the true beauty of making useless things, because it's this acknowledgment that you don't always know what the best answer is. And it turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works,” Simone says. “And maybe a toothbrush helmet isn't the answer, but at least you're asking the question.” To watch @simonegiertz's #TEDTalk, visit go.ted.com/uselessrobots

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