playlist

Theories of evolution

The enduring ideas, discoveries and observations that define and expand life as we know it.

  1. 11:23
    Juliet Brophy How a new species of ancestors is changing our theory of human evolution

    In 2013, a treasure trove of unusual fossils were uncovered in a cave in South Africa, and researchers soon realized: these were the remains of a new species of ancient humans. Paleoanthropologist Juliet Brophy takes us inside the discovery of Homo naledi, explaining how this mysterious ancestor is forcing us to rethink where we come from — and what it means to be human.

  2. 5:41
    Prosanta Chakrabarty Four billion years of evolution in six minutes

    Did humans evolve from monkeys or from fish? In this enlightening talk, ichthyologist and TED Fellow Prosanta Chakrabarty dispels some hardwired myths about evolution, encouraging us to remember that we're a small part of a complex, four-billion-year process — and not the end of the line. "We're not the goal of evolution," Chakrabarty says. "Think of us all as young leaves on this ancient and gigantic tree of life — connected by invisible branches not just to each other, but to our extinct relatives and our evolutionary ancestors."

  3. 17:08
    Yuval Noah Harari 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? Historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests a surprising reason for the rise of humanity.

  4. 6:05
    Lauren Sallan How to win at evolution and survive a mass extinction

    Congratulations! By being here, alive, you are one of history's winners — the culmination of a success story four billion years in the making. The other 99 percent of species who have ever lived on earth are dead — killed by fire, flood, asteroids, ice, heat and the cold math of natural selection. How did we get so lucky, and will we continue to win? In this short, funny talk, paleobiologist and TED Fellow Lauren Sallan shares insights on how your ancestors' survival through mass extinction made you who you are today.

  5. 13:31
    Suzana Herculano-Houzel 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.

  6. 20:10
    Mark Pagel 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.

  7. 7:43
    Vilayanur Ramachandran The neurons that shaped civilization

    Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran outlines the fascinating functions of mirror neurons. Only recently discovered, these neurons allow us to learn complex social behaviors, some of which formed the foundations of human civilization as we know it.

  8. 17:21
    Harvey Fineberg 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?