Neil deGrasse Tyson — How to Dream Big, Think Scientifically, and Get More Done (#389)

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“What matters is: Are you a good problem solver? Are you moral? Are you a hard worker? Are you a good leader? Do you have insights into the field? These are the questions that matter.”

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) was appointed the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in 1996. Dr. Tyson’s professional research interests are primarily related to the structure of the Milky Way galaxy, and the formation of stars, supernovas, and dwarf galaxies.

Dr. Tyson graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, received his BA from Harvard, and earned his PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University in 1991. In 2001 he was appointed by President Bush to serve on the 12-member Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. In 2004 Dr. Tyson received a second appointment from President Bush, this time to the nine-member President’s Commission on the Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy (dubbed the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” commission). In 2016 he was appointed by the US secretary of defense to be an advisor to the DoD on the future of sci-tech innovation.

Dr. Tyson has been awarded 21 honorary degrees as well as the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, and he has authored multiple books on the universe, including Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, which was a New York Times bestseller, and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, chronicling his experience at the center of the controversy over Pluto’s planetary status.

His newest book is Letters from an Astrophysicist, a companion to his 2017 bestseller Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

Since 2006 Dr. Tyson has appeared as the on-camera host of PBS-NOVA’s spinoff program NOVA ScienceNOW. He also hosts a popular radio show and podcast called StarTalk in addition to the Emmy-nominated StarTalk TV show on National Geographic.

In 2014 Dr. Tyson hosted a reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#389: Neil deGrasse Tyson — How to Dream Big, Think Scientifically, and Get More Done

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Want to hear another episode with a curious mind dedicated to science? — Listen to my conversation with Bob Metcalfe, the man behind ethernet, Metcalfe’s Law, and more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#297: Bob Metcalfe — The Man (and Lessons) Behind Ethernet, Metcalfe’s Law, and More

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Website | StarTalk | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • As a naturally curious teenager already on track to pursue a career in science, who influenced young Neil to excel at communicating and sharing what he learned with the world in such an engaging way? [07:05]
  • When Neil and his siblings were growing up, how did their ambitious parents actively encourage their intellectual development through free expression of interest — and what were the results? [11:07]
  • City life versus suburban life: Why Neil is glad he grew up in the “learning laboratory” of New York City — even when it was at its statistically unsafest — instead of the suburbs. [16:42]
  • “Active in professionally relieving the suffering of others,” how did Neil’s parents relate to and nurture their son’s budding interest in astrophysics? [25:50]
  • The bookstore’s remainder table is great for parents who want to buy their kids something to read at a fabulous discount. But how is an author supposed to feel when his or her books wind up there? [27:48]
  • On Carl Sagan and his magnificent ability to communicate complex ideas to the layperson, and how Neil strives to do the same — especially when faced with morning talk show hosts who try to stump him with “gotcha” questions. [29:16]
  • The links between Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Neil’s own 2014 follow-up, and why they’re atypical of what people usually think of as documentaries. [35:46]
  • How can schools and workplaces emphasize curiosity so that learning becomes a lifelong pursuit? [38:26]
  • Books or resources Neil recommends for people who would like to develop their ability to look at the world through a more intellectually curious lens. [45:16]
  • The problem with Pulitzer Prize-driven journalism in the “ratty, bloody, bleeding” research frontier of science where most things are wrong. [50:10]
  • When happened when 17-year-old Neil’s application to Cornell was forwarded to Carl Sagan, and how the meeting that followed codified what kind of scientist Neil would aspire to become, and the humanity he would endeavor to carry with him in his interactions with others. [53:47]
  • What lesson does Neil hope to most instill in students, why is it better to take a harder class even at the risk of a lower grade than an easy class for a guaranteed A, and what book of his own would he sign for them in “homage to Carl?” [57:49]
  • With so many potential projects on his desk at any given time, what inspired the decision for Neil to write his latest book, Letters from an Astrophysicist, now? [1:01:33]
  • Neil’s “overbooking” method of dealing with projects, his time management techniques for minimizing selfie requests on the subway and answering emails during interstices, and what his wife does to help him filter out the unessential. [1:09:00]
  • What does the communication process look like when Neil has to back out and break the bad news to one of his overbooked commitments? [1:13:55]
  • Neil and I agree that being written about should have, in addition to a fact-checking phase, an impression-checking phase. [1:17:17]
  • Why Neil used a spreadsheet to decide on Harvard for his undergraduate studies. [1:19:07]
  • How Neil studied past episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to prepare for his first appearance and ensure the information he was trying to deliver didn’t get lost between the comedy. [1:19:32]
  • Neil shares a few of his favorite failures and awkward pauses. [1:22:35]
  • Neil may not have had the highest GPA in his high school class, but he was far from being the “mediocre” student some sources claim. And if you want to fight him about it, just be aware that he was an undefeated wrestler (until college). [1:28:10]
  • A few of Neil’s favorite quotes. [1:35:38]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:43:47]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 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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20 Replies to “Neil deGrasse Tyson — How to Dream Big, Think Scientifically, and Get More Done (#389)”

  1. I’d love to see the transcripts of Tim’s internal monologue as Tyson is vigorously defending his student years for the last 20 minutes of this interview.

  2. I had a difficult time finding the comment box😊


    “It’s a roundhouse kick of Hydration”. Chuck Norris’ water from his TX ranch. My protein drink does not clump!!!! Naturally high PH

    Anyway, I always scan ur Friday notes.

    Thanks for all of it. Cary

  3. I love his podcast. Although an Astrophysicist, Neil adds to any scientific, or other, conversation.

    Favorite quote is the obvious one at the to of the story – “What matters is: Are you a good problem solver? Are you moral? Are you a hard worker? Are you a good leader? Do you have insights into the field? These are the questions that matter.”

    — Neil deGrasse Tyson

  4. Very well done as always, I appreciated the humility in describing less than stellar moments in his experience. Just goes to show that if you keep your cool you can navigate the mudslides somewhat effectively.

  5. Tim, I absolutely loved your interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson! I so appreciated the space you gave him to talk and dive deeply into some many interesting things about his life and life in general. It was fun and I was laughing out loud with the both of you!

  6. Hi, Tim. I was riveted by this conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I posted a link to it on my Facebook page. Keep up the good work!

  7. Hi Tim, We’ve just featured your website The Four Hour Chef, in our publication which is the most extensive resource of its kind on the internet. (See the link to your website’s section.) I would love to get in touch with you on it. Your contact page said the easiest way to get in touch was via a blog comment so here I go. 🙂

  8. Until the transcript come out, here’s a bit of life philosophy that I’d never heard of before, and which really made me think. “I used to dance … I’m done dancing. That’s a chapter of my life. I’m in a different chapter now. I don’t have chapters of the past that [I long] to relive in the future. For every chapter you want to relive, you have not done enough with your life in the present. To continue to grow who and what you are, and what you can be, benefitting from the wisdom that you’ve accumulated over all the years that you’ve been alive since then.”

  9. I think the human brain needs to wake up, try to think outside the box and get stronger. sometimes we stop at what we have, what little we have and don’t think about being able to do more, better and better. thinking with one’s head sometimes doesn’t make a man. the advertisements now control us, I want to dissociate myself from it.

  10. I’m the father of 2 small children. My daughter is almost 3 years old, my son is 7 months old. Like most parents I held very tightly to the belief that my kids were going to be Honor Roll students so they could get into top schools and have great lives.

    But listening to Dr. Tyson talk about his parents allowing him the latitude to be an average student so he would have time to pursue other growth interests has changed my perspective on the value of top grades versus being an interesting person. Thank you.

  11. Hi…

    Greetings to you and your team in the name of lord…

    Please do a youtube show on this…

    My name is Suresh Kumar, 64 years old, (ex-sgt), originally from Bangalore, but settled in Gurgaon, India… I am desperately striving for global attention to bring some awareness on the benefits of Gravity Force…

    The following message is self explanatory…

    The solution to the climate change, etc., can be easily found as stated below…

    My Report:

    Long, long ago, man dreamt of inventing a machine that would power itself as well as perform work for him… That still remains a distant dream till date… I mean we don’t have a perpetual motion machine even to this day…
    Scientifically, it’s an impossibility as it violates laws of physics… There’s a slight MISUNDERSTANDING here… I have found that it is indeed possible, without breaking science laws, there is an unique way to build a machine that would perform work non stop under Gravity conditions… It means that we can take advantage of GRAVITY power and make use of a specially built Mechanical wheel to rotate automatically and supply us with useful energy Directly by using an INNOVATIVE idea found by me… Also, please note here that there is a 300 years old story of Bessler’s Wheel directly linked to this… Which We can discuss later… It is about a German who faded away trying to sell his invention..

    You may find this hard to believe but I have discovered a permanent solution to greatly reduce pollution levels on our planet. We can avoid the burning of fossil fuels to a very great extent. I have intensely racked my mind for about 30 years to learn this great secret presently not known to anyone in this world. We can directly tap Gravitational force for power. There is a very simple way to draw clean, unlimited and free energy from earth’s gravity…

    Man has invented the Electric Motor to run on electricity… He has invented the internal combustion engine for producing energy from petrol and he has built windmill to use wind energy… But where is the GRAVITY MILL to use gravity…

    Yes, this is MISSING and we can now bring the gravitymill into this world with this Idea…

    I hit upon this idea while serving in the IAF between 1977 and 1992… I am very sure we can change the energy scenario of the globe with this invention idea… I am willing to discuss with you in detail and also share the outcome… Kindly give me a hearing…

    Many people are having respiratory diseases due to high levels of pollution… most of us are aware of this…fossil fuels are not going to last very long… Already, the fuel prices are getting high… Irreversible climate changes are happening… Polar ice caps are melting and ocean levels are increasing…
    Too many complications are there…it is high time we switched to gravity for power generation without the pollution and the expenses… Mankind can now have free, clean and unlimited energy…

    Gravity holds everything on to earth… It has tremendous potential… The only problem is we are not able to make efficient use of the same… We are totally IGNORANT here… Just think for a moment, while Gravity can pull down a huge structure can it not directly rotate a small wheel?… There’s no device in this world that can DIRECTLY convert gravity into usable energy as of now… By working very hard mentally and by chance I happened to realize the greatly elusive principle that has evaded us so far… I have been very carefully safeguarding this secret all the while and also mentally working to perfect the idea and give its final touches… Everything in mind… I also finally realized that due to the unique nature of the internal mechanism of the wheel many inventors worldwide, who are still working on it, have miserably failed to understand how Bessler, alias Orffyreus, could achieve the same 300 years back in Germany… Actually, two things are very crucial for the successful build of the wheel… Firstly, the DESIGNING of the internal parts and secondly, their ARRANGEMENT inside… To ensure that magical act… The internal mechanism of the wheel resembles the arrangement of planets in our solar system… The wheel’s internal motion can be compared to the planets’ motion around the Sun… the weights used to create imbalance are like the planets orbiting Sun…The sun being the axle… In appearance, the wheel looks like the large Ferris wheel that is seen in a circus or a village fair…

    Just as the heavenly bodies keep rotating and revolving the weights inside our wheel continuously keep up their motion to ensure constant wheel rotation…

    Just as Gravity enables the planets’ motion the weights in our wheel also depend on Gravity to sustain the wheel motion…

    With this new amazing invention idea it is possible to build a gravitymill much similar to the windmill or watermill… Gravity will ENABLE this Wheel to release energy from the very bowels of our universe…

    The world can now expect to see a new startling and groundbreaking invention/discovery!!!

    We constantly live in gravity yet we fail to recognise it’s real potential… We think it will only stop all rotating devices… Well, not so if the device is DESIGNED accordingly… Yes, it is a matter of design… Gravity in conjunction with angular momentum, centrifugal and centripetal forces and inertia can work wonders on an ingeniously built wheel into which levers and weights are artistically arranged to perform that endless wondrous act…

    Using your high position Kindly bring this awareness among the concerned so that we can soon implement this unique Idea…We can once again dream of living in a pollution free environment with endless supply of free, clean energy…

    I am eager to co-operate with any authorised team to make this a reality… You can send a rep to my place for further clarifications if you feel the need… Mankind will remember us always for this great noble service…

    I want you to take up this matter seriously with the concerned at the earliest so that much aggravation to our planet is prevented… We must ensure harmony and resilience in NATURE and its environment and climate… Our future children will be grateful to us…

    Thanking you in anticipation…

    Yours sincerely,
    Suresh Kumar,
    Delhi NCR
    [Moderator: contact info removed from published comment.]