Lectures for a New Year: Fourth Week in Review

For the month of January I'm bringing you a great lecture every weekday. This week I picked my favorite RSA Animate Talks, along with their associated full lectures. In case you missed one, here's a review of the lectures posted this week.

Our Broken Educational System

First up, an “RSA Animate” talk — a whiteboard drawing done by hand (although edited a bit to speed it up), along with the audio from a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson. The lecture, like all of Robinson’s work, discusses what’s wrong with our educational system, at a deep level — in a very brief talk, he lays out a cogent argument that our educational system is predicated on systems of thought that are hundreds of years out of date, and thus fundamentally flawed. The whole thing is very active — it moves rapidly, is full of jokes, and is just eleven minutes long. But at the same time, there’s a lot to dig into here. If you enjoy this, you’ll also like Robinson’s talk highlighted last week, How Schools Fail Creative Kids, or the hour-long source lecture that this animation was based on (see below).

Read more and watch the lecture.

We are Empathic Monkeys

Economist Jeremy Rifkin discusses emerging research on empathy. It’s a fast-paced, smart talk — and it deals with the core question what is empathy? More than wondering what it is, Rifkin discusses how we observe it arise in each human (anyone who has been around kids has observed this progression), research on animals that demonstrates the neurological basis of empathy, and the philosophical implications of empathy for our world. Why does empathy matter? Ultimately because we’re all gonna die — and we might as well make the world a nice place to share.

Read more and watch the lecture.

The Divided Brain

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains how our notion of the hemispheres of the brain being ultra-separate is a drastic oversimplification, and has had consequences for how we think about our behavior, our culture, and our society. This talk complements Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk (posted in this series two weeks back), in which she discusses the profoundly different minds present in her own hemispheres — and how she experienced the world differently during and after her stroke. McGilchrist comes across in this condensed animation as exceedingly academic — I frankly felt a bit lost at times — which is why, under ‘Bonus Points’ below, I’ve included the somewhat longer original talk, which isn’t condensed, and thus does a better job of making these points without hurrying. My advice: if you watch this animation and find it intriguing but confusing, just switch to the next video. You’ll get a lot out of it.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Is Time on Your Side?

As Zimbardo says, “Most of us are here because we’re future-oriented. We have learned to work, rather than play — to resist temptation. But there’s another way to be future-oriented. Depending on your religion, life begins after the death of the mortal body. To be future-oriented, you have to trust that when you make a decision about the future, it’s gonna carry out.” He proceeds to discuss how in different cultures, people have different paces of life, different time orientations, and how that affects their societies’ function. He also goes into a detailed discussion of how computers and technology change our perception of time, and what that means for things like technology. Basically, Zimbardo makes a powerful argument that our individual (and collective) perception of time affects our health, wellbeing, and work habits. This is great stuff.

Read more and watch the lecture.

What Motivates Us, Aside from Money

Author and former Al Gore speechwriter Dan Pink discusses a series of studies about what motivates people — and more practically, what motivates workers. He takes apart the simplistic notion that monetary rewards result in better performance; such rewards do improve performance for purely mechanical tasks, but when you get into knowledge work, it’s not just about the money. In this talk, Pink lays out a simple set of guidelines that will help any worker or employer understand what actually improves performance — and that could lead to a better workplace for all of us. Have a look! Also, keep an eye open for an onscreen misspelling of “weird.”

Read more and watch the lecture.

Up Next

Sadly, January comes to a close next week. I have an enormous back catalogue of lectures that didn't make it into this month's experiment. I'll show you a few of those favorites, then we can get to talking about what happens next on the lecture front.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we'll check it out!

5 Classes You Can Take With Celebrities

Traditional wisdom says that in order to become the best, you should learn from the best. Whether you’re trying to perfect your tennis serve, write a play, or launch your own fashion empire, here are helpful classes, tutorials, and learning programs offered by some of the most famous names in the business.


Chef Dan Barber
Chef and restaurateur Dan Barber
Rob Kim/Getty Images

At the New York Culinary Experience, aspiring chefs can spend an entire weekend stirring, sautéing, and seasoning their way to culinary greatness alongside some of the food industry’s most famous figures. Hosted by New York Magazine and the International Culinary Center, the event offers participants the chance to take classes with star chefs, participate in Q&A sessions with key food industry players, and hobnob with other gourmands.

Last year's event featured hands-on tutorials by Blue Hill at Stone Barn’s Dan Barber, Nobu executive chef Ricky Estrellado, and chocolatier Jacques Torres. Dates for this year’s New York Culinary Experience haven’t been announced yet, nor have guest chefs or ticket prices. That said, sharing a kitchen with figures like Barber, Estrellado, and Torres doesn’t come cheap: Last year’s attendees paid $1695, a fee that included four classes, meals, and private closing receptions on both days.


Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg
John Lamparski/Getty Images

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention MasterClass, the digital education platform that connects internet students of all skill levels and interests with celebrity “teachers” like comedian Steve Martin, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, or country star Reba McEntire. The virtual “classes” cost $90 and include streaming videos and reading materials.

All videos are pre-recorded, but participants can seek feedback from their classmates in an online forum or in comment threads. Occasionally, they're given the chance to receive direct critiques from their famous teachers (although it's unclear how often it happens). To bridge any communication gaps, instructors hold "Office Hours," in which they post online answers to select student questions.

Not interested in writing jokes, composing award-winning movie scores, or singing about souped-up Chevys and broken hearts? Brand-new MasterClass course offerings are currently in the works, including a fashion course taught by designer Diane von Furstenberg; a dramatic writing class by David Mamet; a photography course by Annie Leibovitz; and an architecture/design course taught by Frank Gehry.


American comic book writer and editor Danny Fingeroth
Marvel Comics writer/editor Danny Fingeroth and Stan Lee.
Mat Szwajkos/Getty Images

For years, Danny Fingeroth worked at Marvel Comics as the group editor of the company's Spider-Man book line, and wrote issues of The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man, Avengers, and other comics. He has also written books about comics and graphic novels, including an upcoming biography of Stan Lee. Amid his busy schedule, Fingeroth takes time to teach aspiring comics writers.

In addition to lecturing at universities and museums, he offers online writing classes for up to six students, and provides one-on-one tutorials via email or phone. Fingeroth’s next online class begins on November 5, and the registration deadline is October 15. It’s six weeks long and costs $450. As for individual classes, they’re available upon request, and prices are determined on an hourly or per-project basis.


Tennis Player Andre Agassi
Tennis Player Andre Agassi
Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Tennis player Andre Agassi retired in 2006, following a 21-year career that saw him win eight Grand Slam tournaments and a 1996 Olympic gold medal. Today, the athlete runs an education nonprofit, the Andre Agassi Foundation, and he recently took time to do his own teaching, teaming up with learning platform Udemy.com to share his secrets to a successful match.

The online course costs $10, marked down from its original $100, and includes one hour of on-demand video lectures. Agassi walks viewers through his signature moves (including his famous return of serve), shares his go-to drills, and explains his mental strategies for staying focused and in control on the court. The course is recommended for advanced-beginner and intermediate tennis players, but anyone with a computer or mobile device with internet connection can technically follow along.


The cast of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" performing onstage.
The cast of Hamilton performing at the Grammys.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Dreaming of making it big on Broadway? Before seeing your name in lights, you’ll need to fine-tune your dance moves, perfect your auditioning skills, and train your voice to hit all the right high notes. That’s where the Broadway Artists Alliance comes in: Located in New York City’s Theater District, the performance arts training center hosts master classes for advanced students, taught by Broadway performers, casting directors, and Tony Award winners or nominees.

Classes are often themed and range in technique from monologue performance to scene study and song interpretation. Upcoming classes include a half-day session with Hamilton actor Thayne Jasperson and an Anastasia-themed full-day class for young actors taught by Christy Altomare, star of the same-titled Broadway musical.

To enroll in a master class at the Broadway Artists Alliance, you’ll need to apply online and submit a headshot and resume. Half-day classes typically cost $175, and full-day classes (which are typically recommended for students 21 and younger) cost $250.

YouTube // TED
What Happens When You Reply to Email Scams
YouTube // TED
YouTube // TED

Comedian James Veitch took it upon himself to do something I think we all consider sometimes: He started responding to email scammers, stringing them along.

When scammers emailed him with shady business propositions—offers of gold, or bizarre inheritances—Veitch replied, expressing interest, or in some cases critiquing the specifics of the business idea. And, predictably, things got weird.

In this hilarious TED Talk, Veitch walks us through the experience, showing just two email exchanges from his three years of correspondence. Enjoy:

For a complete transcript, check out Veitch's TED Talks page.

This is apparently just part of a much larger project called The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everyone with an Internet Connection, which Veitch began performing in 2014. He later wrote up the experience in a book called Dot Con.

With that, I leave you with Veitch's instant-classic signoff: "Bonsoir my golden nuggets; bonsoir."


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