Altered States

Russ Roberts on Lessons from F.A. Hayek and Nassim Taleb, Decision-Making Insights from Charles Darwin, The Dangers of Scientism, Wild Problems in Life and the Decisions That Define Us, Learnings from the Talmud, The Role of Prayer, and The Journey to Transcendence (#613)

Artist's rendering of Russ Roberts.
Illustration via 99designs

“What was once destiny is now a decision.”

— Russ Roberts

Russ Roberts (@EconTalker) is the President of Shalem College in Jerusalem and the John and Jean De Nault Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Russ is interested in making complicated ideas understandable. He founded and hosts the award-winning weekly podcast EconTalk: Conversations for the Curious — with more than 800 episodes available in the archives. Past guests include Christopher Hitchens, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Lewis, Angela Duckworth, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His two rap videos on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and F.A. Hayek have more than 13 million views on YouTube.

His latest book, Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us, explores the challenges of using rationality when facing big life decisions. He is also the author of Gambling With Other People’s Money, How Adam Smith Can Change Your LifeThe Price of EverythingThe Invisible Heart, and The Choice.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

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#613: Russ Roberts on Lessons from F.A. Hayek and Nassim Taleb, Decision-Making Insights from Charles Darwin, The Dangers of Scientism, Wild Problems in Life and the Decisions That Define Us, Learnings from the Talmud, The Role of Prayer, and The Journey to Transcendence

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Want to hear a podcast episode with someone who frequently collaborates with Russ Roberts? Listen to my interview with devoted economics educator Tyler Cowen, in which we discuss his goal to teach economics to more people than anyone else in the history of the world, the mental benefits of listening to complex music, remaining meta-rational during times of duress or panic, fiction recommendations for nonfiction purists, learning from those who offend us, the writing process, committing to kindness, and much more.

#413: Tyler Cowen on Rationality, COVID-19, Talismans, and Life on the Margins

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Russ Roberts:

Website | Twitter | YouTube


  • [06:42] How Russ’ father chose to cultivate fatherhood.
  • [10:51] Does quality time demand quantity time?
  • [12:37] What does Shalem mean?
  • [14:16] What’s wrong with scientism?
  • [21:02] The curious task of economics, according to F.A. Hayek.
  • [23:24] What is a Hayekian?
  • [25:15] What prompted Russ to write Wild Problems?
  • [29:11] How Russ’ ideas about data have changed over the years.
  • [33:10] Making decisions: Charles Darwin vs. Homer vs. Russ.
  • [43:36] What makes people ideal life partners?
  • [52:25] Marriage as a form of growing up.
  • [56:59] Life lessons from Bill Belichick.
  • [1:02:10] Why Russ and his wife decided to move to Israel.
  • [1:07:51] Impressions of Jerusalem since making the move.
  • [1:13:40] The role of religion in Russ’ life.
  • [1:22:06] Life lessons from Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
  • [1:29:22] Thoughts on The Talmud, reading, and spending time in a finite life.
  • [1:35:20] You don’t have to be religious to have transcendent experiences.
  • [1:41:37] Tips for staying humble.
  • [1:48:54] Parting thoughts.


“There are two kinds of ignorance. There are the things we don’t know, and then there are the things we think we know that aren’t true. The things we know that we don’t know that we wish we understood, we wish we had access to the truth. There are things we think we’ve discovered as true that in fact are not.”
— Russ Roberts

“Yes, sometimes the future is somewhat like the past, except for when it isn’t and then it smacks you in the face.”
— Russ Roberts

“The sources that make our life deeply meaningful and purposeful are not just the day-to-day things. There are overarching senses of who we are and how we see ourselves and the meaning and purpose we have in life that are ultimately more important in these kinds of decisions. And these kinds of decisions—which are whether to get married, whether to have kids, how many kids to have, whether to move to Israel, whether to take a new job, whether to study something crazy at college—those decisions are not amenable to data.”
— Russ Roberts

“I don’t like it when people say, ‘You have to work at your marriage. You have to work at it.’ That’s not the way I think of my marriage. I work at crossword puzzles. I work at ditch digging. I work at brightening up my notes for my next podcast. But what you do have to do is you have to treat your partner as a partner, as opposed to somebody who lives with you, who’s a plus to have as a roommate. They’re two different things.”
— Russ Roberts

“Religion, meditation, psychotherapy, marriage—they’re all about self-awareness, if they’re done well. They’re all about recognizing that you’re a part of a much bigger picture than you feel like most of the time. I think that’s really helpful and incredibly satisfying when you sense it.”
— Russ Roberts

“One of the things you learn from economics is trade-offs. Trade-offs are really obvious when you think about them, but like many things we’re talking about in this conversation, they’re hard to remember to think about.”
— Russ Roberts

“What was once destiny is now a decision.”
— Russ Roberts

“If you read a book a week, which is a lot, you’re going to read about 50 books a year. If you’re around for about 50 years of reading, maybe a little more, but it’s 2,500 books. That’s it. That’s it. There’s 100,000 books, I think, maybe more, I don’t even remember now how many books are published a year — maybe it’s a million. It’s a big number.”
— Russ Roberts

“The world often emerges from the bottom up and not just from the top down. And many things that are orderly, that we see around us, are not designed by anyone, but rather emerge from the individual choices we make.”
— Russ Roberts


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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