TED Talks, to me, have always been sort of a recipient of my love-hate complex. I love listening to the stories of people with remarkable professions, how they got there, what that entails, and I love hearing innovative ideas that inspire. On the flip side, I hate the hallowed ground that TED Talks tread on. People walk away inspired, but often do nothing to change their lives or improve the world. They simply feel revitalized in a brighter, better future in the hands of all of these geniuses, and continue with business as usual. To me, that isn’t enough. To change things, feeling good about yourself isn’t enough, sorry to say.

It was difficult to find a TED Talk that was willing to go against the grain. When it came to ones with popular appeal, I found only 3. One by Sam Hyde, where he intentionally lied about the subject of his talk and trolled the audience for 20 minutes, one by Benjamin Bratton, where he rather viciously tears down our fetishization of ideas, and finally, one my Neale Martin, where has emphasizes that for TED Talks to matter, the inspiration we feel has to come to action to mean anything.

Your Brain on TED Talks

Martin, a former alcohol and drug counselor, focuses most of his talk on why our conscious brain has a difficult time turning our unconscious thoughts into actions. The conscious brain is lazy, easily distracted, and easily tired out. He says, as I’ve been saying since the class began, ideas aren’t enough. It isn’t enough to be inspired. It isn’t enough to want to do something. Something has to be done.

Martin dedicates the first half of his talk to describing how our human brains have evolved up from primitive, dinosaur-era simian brains, to our squishy, lazy, social-media driven ones that find us bored when travelling 65mph in a steel bullet. Besides his all-important assertions that inspiration and ideas aren’t enough to make change, Martin does make one other main point that I feel is equally important.

Photo CC- by pee vee, and life won’t wait


Emotional Response is the Only Response

We’re taught from a young age to disconnect emotional thinking from logical thinking. Logical thinking is considered superior: we are able to look objectively at a problem and assess it properly without the cloud of human emotion in the way. We make emotional decisions when it’s gut-check time, when our hormones and involuntary responses get the better of us. Right?

According to Martin, wrong. Your emotions tell you what’s important. Your emotions give your logical list of things an order of importance. If you make no emotional connection with something, you will not remember it. Martin says that when we combine emotion with logic, we get the human-specific capacity of judgment. Martin asserts that making a decision without including emotion is nigh but impossible, and that that’s alright. He claims that it isn’t our fault we have such a hard time adhering to diets, New Year’s Resolutions, and new habits – our conscious brain is simply too easy to sway. We get tired, we get hungry, and all “logical” thinking capacity is thrown away.

Trouble in Paradise


I did have a few problems with Martin’s talk, particularly toward the end when he’s describing how to turn goals into habits. At this point in the talk, it begins to feel like just any other TED Talk. We’re being given a “how to do this in -BLANK- easy steps!” list that many probably won’t remember, and won’t abide by. It’s in this particular instance that I would prefer Benjamin Bratton’s crass, rude delivery. Bratton seems like kind of a jerk, but his self-assurance and condescending tone make you pay attention. Anger is a great motivator.

Still, at the end of the day, I think Martin has a great point. Discipline is the only way we can change behavior. To do that, though, we have to care about more than a good idea. Only we’ve got the power to do more than just be inspired.

To close:


  1. Honestly, your first paragraph said it all. I also feel the same way about the talks and having a love-hate relationship with them, and for the same reason as you. Awesome post and video, Thanks for sharing!

    • jamcfarland says:

      I like to think TED Talks, like anything else, can be used for good or evil. I’ve seen some really incredible ones that left me speechless, but I’ve also seen several duds that leave me pretty underwhelmed. I didn’t think Logan LaPlante’s was all that impressive – BUT the kid was like 12, so he’s got me beat on my best day from the get go.

  2. tristyfishy says:

    The cynicism is strong in this one. I dig it. I was there for one of those TED Talks that you mentioned, and we briefly discussed the others. I’ve got to say that they are pretty interesting. This particular TED Talks makes sense to me, and he provides solutions, which to me is good. However, the delivery (as you said) was probably at least a little bit off. Anger is a good motivator, and I realize you would probably know this more than some because of the cynic that you are. ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s