How do you communicate complicated ideas, let alone persuade people to change their mind about something they think they know? Why do we have to “learn things the hard way” all the time??? These are some of the questions EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed Adam Mastroianni back to discuss in this episode.

Mastroianni says it’s because you can’t reach your brain through ears, a concept not nearly as simple as it sounds. He relates his experience as a graduate student advisor, trying to explain what grad school was really like to prospective students. Why didn’t they *hear* what he was saying? This episode might make you rethink what you think you know. Welcome to the ride!

We hope you’ll take a moment to share your thought with us. Alternatively, maybe you can use the prompts below to enhance your experience with this conversation, or start one of your own offline. Either way, we hope you stay curious!



1- Roberts and Mastroianni both recall instances in which they’ve opined, “Why can’t I just tell you the truth and you know it?” What are some of the reasons Mastroianni suggests this is the case? How is this like the phenomenon of not “seeing” in your mind, as discussed in this episode with Patrick House? (Parents, feel free to relate your experiences as members of the “Leaky Bucket Brigade!)


2- How would you describe the difference between absorbing and learning? Between wisdom and knowledge? In discussing concepts that are simple to define but may take a lifetime to absorb, Russ cites emergent order as an example. What other examples can you add? What does this suggest about the efficacy of the emphasis on testing in education today?


3- What is the “illusion of explanatory depth?” Is it ever possible to know you’re suffering under this illusion? To what extent do you think this poses a problem- for the individual and/or for the community?


4- What is Mastroianni describing when he talks about “the source code and the keep?” What are some things it may be beneficial to have “walled off” in your brain? How might this be an evolutionary equilibrium, as Mastroianni suggests?


5- While both Roberts and Mastroianni have been frustrated by their ability to persuade others of particular positions, Mastroianni suggests it would actually be disastrous “if everyone in the world thought the same way that I do, even though I’m pretty sure this is the correct way to think.” How can he think both these things, and why has Russ found the inability to convince people comforting as he’s gotten older? What’s the problem with “editable” people, as Mastroianni describes?