Youtube is great.
Not only is it a great source of entertainment, it’s also a great way to drown out the ever growing numbness accompanying the vague, yet menacing void slowly encompassing everything that is and ever will be.
Also, it can be extraordinarily educational if you stumble upon the right channels.
I want to give you some recommendations on where to start your dive into the endless pit of stuff to watch, but as I prepare a mental list, I realize that I have no idea how to group or organize that list. And that’s why I’ll just start somehwere and see how it goes, so there’s that.
Brady Haran is infamous for having more Youtube channels than CGPGrey has uploaded videos, and there’s some truth to that. Just look at his site and browse for yourself to see the range of topics he covers. His videos are usually interviews with various people in the respective area of expertise, usually aided by some animations, or in case of Numberphile, the iconic brown paper. Brady used to be a journalist1, which might be the reason why he seems to be very good at asking questions that spawn interesting answers. Not all of his channels are equally active though, and some seem to be on hiatus or hibernation, but the following few are those that I both watch regularly and are also updated fairly frequently:
The first math channel I discovered. Brady talks to mathematicians of all kinds of fields about all kinds of topics, usually in corporation with the University of Nottingham if memory serves me right, which is also the basis for other channels in this list. I could list dozens of videos I still rewatch if they happen to pop up in the related videos section, but you’d do well by just browsing the channel page and click on something that seems interesting, or at least familiar to you. From prime numbers2 to π to topology and then suddenly weird things to do with paperclips, I wouldn’t know where to start listing the reasons why I love this channel, but needless to say, I love it.
Oh, and there’s Cliff Stoll, presumably known by most Numberphile viewers as this absolutely magnificient guy with the Klein Bottles3 who makes you learn about topology4 by talking about eating pizza.
Watch the videos about/with him, he’s a treasure of a human being.
The history of computing, computer science, hardware, software, current topics like cyber attacks and how they work.
To this day, when I have to handle time-related things in code, I still think of this wonderful video about why you just shouldn’t deal with timezones yourself. That video features the great Tom Scott, who also deserves his own section, but I learned about him through Computerphile, so this is where he’ll go.
I have a soft spot for astronomy, astrophysics, and the elemental parts of physics. I’m by far no expert in these fields, but that’s why I love SixtySymbols so much: It allows me to get an idea of and learn about various fascinating things.
I can only recommend browsing the channel page and take a look for yourself, there’s a lot of great stuff – and if you enjoy Numberphile, this is basically the next best thing with regards to physics and astronomy.
Channels I know of but don’t frequently watch, even though they’re also great:
- DeepSkyVideos: Astronomy! Everybody thinks it’s cool, some people actually know stuff about it, and this channel is where the two groups can intersect.
- Objectivity: Treasured historical artifacts with interesting histories and/or great importance to science. It’s really neat to see things like original manuscripts by famous mathematicians in real life(ish).
- PeriodicVideos: A lovely chemistry professor talks about pretty every element. I’m not big into chemistry, but it’s still pretty cool.
standupmaths (Matt Parker)
Avid Numberphile viewers will know Matt Parker already, I mean he is the inventor of the famous Parker Square. Besides his Numberphile fame, he’s also an incredibly funny performer, combining stand-up comedy and maths – something that’s really hard to deduce from his channel name.
He’s also part of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and I can only recommend watching the Full Frontal Nerdity show while I’m waiting for a digital release of their current show. He also writes stuff which is arguably as funny and interesting as his performances.
Overall, 10/10 math person.
Oh, and when I mention Matt, I have to also mention Steve Mould, the originator of the famous Mould Effect and physics person. He’d probably deserve his own subsection, but to be honest, I haven’t followed him long enough to fill it, so he’ll have to remain a mention in Matt’s section. Sorry.
If this channel had existed when I was in school, I might have enjoyed math class even more than I already did5. It’s absolutely fantastic if you want to really understand mathematical concepts from the ground up. It’s not about “here’s how derivatives work”-lectures, but rather “let’s visualize the core concepts used by derivatives, what the idea is and how you can think about it to better grasp what’s going on”.
I’m not done watching all of his videos, but I recently watched through his Essence of Calculus playlist, and while it’s not something you can easily have playing in the background to be mildly interesting, it’s absolutely worth your full attention. From the quality of his animations to his talent for explaining complicated concepts in intuitive ways, I can’t recommend this channel enough to anyone who would even remotely benefit from having a better understanding of core mathematical concepts6.
Grey appears with Brady on Hello Internet7, but it’s a little known fact that he also has this really small-time Youtube channel few people know about.
In my mind, Grey is the archetypical “person explains and discusses interesting topic using animations”-Youtuber, and while his upload frequency is excrutatingly low, every single one of his videos is pretty much a guaranteed hit in some way or another.
He’s not specialized to a single discipline like the aforementioned math channels, but rather talks about a variety of topics. I personally enjoyed his videos on voting is done suboptimally in many places. There’s a lot about politics, geography and history, but he also likes talking about the future of humanity in the face of automization or psychological phenomena.
I could go in more detail, but his videos are short enough for you to just binge through them in an afternoon or alternatively appropriate timespan in the context of your biorhythm.
So just do that.
Short videos with hand-drawn explanations of… physics, I guess.
The channel has been around for quite a while, and it’s probably safe to consider it a classic in this category. So if you ever wanted to know how long it would take to fall through the earth or why computer color is weird or what the deal with antimatter is… you get the idea.
Imagine if CPGGrey had a bigger budget for animations and a bit more people to work with. In a way, that’s where Kurzgesagt comes from. Really high quality videos about all kinds of things.
They tend to cover big picture questions, like the origin of humanity, the refugee crisis or genetic engineering.
Also, when I first saw that last video featuring CRISPR, I wasn’t sure if that was a sci-fi scenario they wanted to talk about to spark an interesting discussion or if that was actually real. Absolutely fascinating stuff, both the actualy technology and their video about it.
Honestly can’t recommend that channel enough to everyone, everywhere.
Hank and John Green might be what you could consider a native Youtubian. They’ve been around for a while as vlogbrothers, and since the olden days, they’ve expanded a lot. VidCon is one example of their attempts to bring Youtube creators together, and it seems to work quite nicely.
Probably my favorite of their projects. A channel with series about various topics, in crash course format, meaning you’ll probably get the gist of what a discipline is about or what the important concepts in said discipline are. If you’re already an expert in, let’s say, chemistry, then you might not get a lot out of their series, but for the regular viewer it’s definitely worth a go.
This is where I get a lot of my regular science news. Besides explainers about various scientific topics, there are also regular updates about current events and new research in the science world. If that’s too general for you, there are also the spin-offs SciShow Space and SciShow Psych for space and psychology respectively, and oh boy do I enjoy them.
I don’t even know where to start, so here’s bulleted list of stuff:
- WendoverProductions: Seemingly about almost everything, and all of it is great.
- RealEngineering: Why are airplane windows round? Fascinating animated videos showing why things are designed the way they are
- RealLifeLore: Also seemingly kind of about everything, also great.
- SecondThought: Yeah, same.
- KnowledgeHub: Yip, still about almost everything, still pretty cool.
- AlternativeHistoryHub: If alternative history is your thing, you’ll like this. The channel explores various alt-history scenarios and uses what we know about history and politics to make an educated guess about what would happen. Great fun.
Naturally, there’s the elephant in the room of educational Youtubers, and they shall be named as well:
- Vsauce: Start with a seemingly simple or weird question and start a deep dive into whatever topic is at hand.
- Smarter Every Day
- Mark Brown: About game design. Very cool.
- NativLang: About language. If you have a linguistic soft spot, this is your channel.
- This Exists: There’s so much stuff, and some of it is unexpected and fascinating. From musical subgenres like vaporwave8 to sub-cultures dedicated to, well, being weird on SoundCloud
There’s a lot more to say about all of these channels, but I just wanted to make a quick list… which now has taken be a couple of days to write up and collect all the links for.
By now you should have a decent enough primer to go exploring for yourself. Don’t hesitate to click on related channels coming up in collaborations or something, that’s basically how I collected this list over the years.
The paper kind, you know, of the olden days when information was put on compressed trees. ↩︎
SO many prime number videos. All of them worth it. ↩︎
Do you have a favorite four-dimensional shape that’s projected on three dimensions? Mine’s a Moebius loop in the shape of a Klein Bottle. ↩︎
…or geometry? Or calculus? Well, math stuff. Need to rewatch that one. ↩︎
My brief excursion into university math might have also been a little less frustrating. ↩︎
To be fair, as a math and science enthusiast, I think that kind of applies to everyone. ↩︎
Which I, as a matter of fact, absolutely love. ↩︎