Social media and the internet has a bad reputation for spreading false information. Anyone with a fringe theory or a conspiracy theory can reach millions. Bad ideas can spread like a virus. But the internet is also the most powerful tool ever invented for the dissemination of knowledge. Not everyone has the time to study subjects in depth but luckily there are clever people out there who put their time into distilling a lifetime of learning into fun videos for anyone who is interested.
Here are ten YouTube channels that might make you a bit smarter for watching them.
10 PBS Space Time
Let’s start with the hardest thing in the universe to understand – the universe itself. Though the universe is also technically the only thing we can understand. PBS Space Time is a channel that takes on almost every physics topic you can think of in its effort to make the big topic of the universe just a little more understandable.
It also takes on everything from the beginning of the universe (the Big Bang and before) to the potential end. You will also find out what time is, why it is, and what happens if you reverse its direction. Sometimes the topics might get a bit complex for some viewers (I’ll never properly get the geometry of space-time) but they are always fascinating.
Want to know if the expansion of space will eventually rip apart every atom in existence? Then this is the channel to you.
Pop culture is always brain-rotting right? Turns out film and tv can actually be pretty smart. You just need to look at it the right way. Wisecrack is a channel that examines the philosophy behind all of your favourite shows.
Whether it’s nihilism in BoJack Horseman or the cosmic pessimism of Rick and Morty you’ll find out how these shows interact with some of the deepest philosophy ever written. They even do a series of videos called ‘Deep or Dumb’ that will help you work out whether something really is profound or just pretending to be.
They also tackle real world subjects like why democracy is hard and how adverts try to get into your head. At the very least you’ll learn that you are not alone in your existential crisis – everyone is struggling to find meaning.
SciShow is one of the best short science video channels on YouTube. Think of an area of science and they are sure to have done series on it. Want to know how a beetle can survive being eaten by a frog and crawling out of its backside – there’s a video for that. Want the latest news on the coronavirus – they read and summarise the latest scientific studies.
As well as biology they cover physics and chemistry. Put those three subjects together and you have pretty much everything covered. By looking at some very niche subjects they can open up great big topics. Ever wondered why it is that humans have hair on their butts?
If you have a more cosmic turn of mind then there is their sister channel SciShow Space that covers all things interstellar. From the solar system to the edge of the universe there is something here for everyone.
Museums can be static places. Sometimes all the glass cases can make you feel distant from the fascinating objects they house. There are also millions and millions of objects that a museum just has no space to display. Objectivity is a channel that gets behind the glass and into the archives to bring an item’s story out into the open.
Want to know about the Pope’s collection of space rocks? Then there is a video about his chunk of Mars and all his meteorites. You don’t just get to see the collections – you find out the tales behind them. Just how do you pick a piece of moon rock to give to the pope?
As well as incredible science you’ll find more human stories. You can find out which pages of his books Sir Isaac Newton turned down the corners on because he was interest in them. And if you need to clean a mummy then you’ll need a curator with a lot of saliva.
6 Periodic Videos
Not everyone has access to a laboratory so if you want to get a look inside one then you couldn’t do better than watching Periodic Videos. Featuring the magnificent hair of Professor Sir Martyn Poliakof, as well as his decades of chemistry experience, the videos started as just brief explainers of all of the elements in the periodic table. Since then Brady Haran, who also produces the Objectivity videos, has covered some of the strangest reactions in all of chemistry.
Professor Poliakof has an infectious delight in seeing things happen in the lab. Viewers have even taken to sending him samples so that he can carry out weird experiments. If you want to see a metal spoon melting in a cup of tea then there is a video for that.
The team have also visited some great places outside of the lab. For those with a taste for precious metals and diamonds then there are videos of how those are produced. You’ll find out how hard it would be to steal anything though – the lab coats people wear in these facilities don’t have pockets to stop you slipping anything out.
Veritasium is one of the biggest science channels on YouTube and he draws people in because he is willing to throw his whole body into his experiments. Can you swim in a pool of small balls? Derek Muller will try it to find out. Can a centimetre of aerogel stop the heat produced by a flamethrower? Muller will literally stand in the line of fire to see if the flames make it through.
But once the eye catching experiment is over you get the science explained. If you ever wanted to know how to use grapes in a microwave to make plasma then Veritasium will show you, explain why you can do it – and maybe why you shouldn’t.
Plus it is always a joy to see scientists get into nerdy fights. So, at the risk of starting another argument, which really is better: turbulent flow or laminar flow?
4 True Facts
Zefrank who produces a series of videos about various animals has perhaps the best voice of any naturalist – sorry Sir David Attenborough. No one says “Babby” like Zefrank. The tone of his work could not be more different from a traditional nature show however.
While introducing lesser known groups of animals, like the nudibranch, Zefrank will have a bit of fun. You’ll learn about their toothy tongues called a radula – and also why you should not French kiss them.
There is no better way to accidentally learn about the evolutionary groups of the octopus than hearing how one of them looks like “an alien got freaky with a weather balloon.” Zoology has never been this interesting.
3 Minute Physics
Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to watch minute long videos and learn about some of the toughest topics in physics? Yeah, unfortunately Minute Physics is mostly built on a lie. Not many of these videos actually are a minute, but that’s a minute nitpick.
Using cool, hand drawn illustrations this channel explains how everything from subatomic particles to galactic clusters work. You’ll find out how to actually achieve Cold Fusion at room temperature and what shape the universe really has.
It also tackles more every day problems like why is the sky blue, how do bikes work, and just how far can Legolas really see with his elf eyes?
Maths can be a dry subject. Pure maths can seem pointless with its abstract ideas that have nothing, seemingly, with our lives. Yet it turns out that maths can be used to push forward our knowledge of the universe in some crazy ways.
Want to learn whether you can avoid spilling a beer stored in a four-dimensional bottle? As well as dealing with things that are impossible in reality they deal with the reality of mathematicians as human beings. You’ll learn how a mathematician earned a billion dollars or why a mathematician turned down a million dollars.
The videos also show some of the joy in pure mathematics. The video describing a duel between two philosophers to find the largest possible number is like a Royal Rumble for nerds.
Kurzgesact produces videos to describe big topics in a nutshell. And when they say big they mean big. One video examines the biggest stars in the universe and they make our sun look like a speck next to them.
Some of the videos might spark a sense of existential dread. The video dealing with the idea of the false vacuum explains how just one fluctuation in the fabric of the universe might end up destroying it. But don’t worry, there probably isn’t a wave of nothingness expanding at the speed of light that will erase everything…
No need for panic however as Kurzgesagt provides some philosophical videos to help cheer you up after some of their bleaker works. One video explains optimistic nihilism – though how optimistic you find it may be in the eye of the beholder.