Very Bad Wizards

a philosopher and a psychologist ponder human morality

About the show

Very Bad Wizards is a podcast featuring a philosopher (Tamler Sommers) and a psychologist (David Pizarro), who share a love for ethics, pop culture, and cognitive science, and who have a marked inability to distinguish sacred from profane. Each podcast includes discussions of moral philosophy, recent work on moral psychology and neuroscience, and the overlap between the two.

Very Bad Wizards on social media

Episodes

  • Episode 177: Pure Linguistic Chauvinism

    November 26th, 2019  |  2 hrs 4 mins

    Tamler learns something new about menstruation. David weighs in on the democratic debates and the impeachment hearings. Then we map the various social and political factions onto the factions in our respective fields. Who are establishment neoliberals of philosophy, and who are the white feminists? What about the IDWs of psychology – and the Chads and Stacys?

    Finally we get serious and break down the article by Alan Fiske in Psychological Review called “The Lexical Fallacy in Emotion Research.” Does language affect how we understand the emotional landscape? Do the words we happen to use deceive us into thinking we have “carved nature at its joints”? What is a natural kind anyway when it comes to emotions?

    Plus, after the outro, a quick unedited Mr. Robot discussion of the revelation in season 4, episode 7.

  • Episode 176: Split-Brains and the (Dis)Unity of Consciousness

    November 12th, 2019  |  1 hr 48 mins

    David and Tamler discuss famous 'split brain' experiments pioneered by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga. What happens when you cut off the main line of communication between the left and right hemispheres of our brain? Why under certain conditions do the the left and right brains seem like they have different abilities and desires? What does this tell us about the ‘self’? Do we have two consciousnesses, but only that can speak? Does the left brain bully the right brain? Are we all just a bundle of different consciousnesses with their own agendas? Thanks to our Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this fascinating topic!

    Plus, physicists may be able to determine whether we’re living in a computer simulation – but is it too dangerous to try to find out?

  • Episode 175: At Least We Didn’t Talk About Zombies (Nagel’s “What is it Like to be a Bat?”)

    October 29th, 2019  |  1 hr 42 mins

    We try (with varying success) to wrap our heads around Thomas Nagel’s classic article “What is it Like to be a Bat?" Does science have the tools to give us a theory of consciousness or is that project doomed from the outset? Why do reductionist or functionalist explanations seem so unsatisfying? Is the problem that consciousness is subjective, or is it something about the nature of conscious experience itself? Is this ultimately an epistemological or metaphysical question? What are we talking about? Do we even know anymore?

    Plus, the return of Mr. Robot! We talk about the big new mystery at the heart of the new season.

  • Episode 174: More Chiang for Your Buck ("Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" Pt. 2)

    October 15th, 2019  |  1 hr 46 mins

    Is character destiny, or can fluky decisions or tiny shifts in weather patterns fundamentally change who we are? Does the existence or non-existence of alternate universes have any bearing on freedom and responsibility? David and Tamler conclude their discussion of Ted Chiang’s “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” along with another very short piece by Chiang called “What’s Expected of Us” that was first published in Nature.

    Plus, do you have low likability in the workplace? It could be because you’re too moral and therefore not that funny. But don’t worry, we have a solution that’ll help you increase your humor production and likability with no reduction in morality. All you have to do is listen!

  • Episode 173: Talking to Your (Alternate) Self [Ted Chiang's "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom"]

    October 1st, 2019  |  1 hr 40 mins

    David and Tamler dive back into the Ted Chiang well and explore the fascinating world described in "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom." What if you could interact with alternate versions of yourself - versions that made different choices, had different jobs, or different partners? Would you get jealous of your other selves if they were more successful? Would you want them to be unhappy so you could feel better about your own choices and path? If your alternate self was in a good relationship with a woman, would you try to track down the version of that woman in this world? If you made an immoral choice but your other self made the moral one, what does that say about your character? And what does it say about free will and responsibility?

    So many questions, such an interesting story - turns out we need to dedicate another segment next time to conclude the discussion. Hope you enjoy it! If you haven't bought Exhalation (Ted Chiang's new collection) We can't recommend it highly enough. This is the last story in that collection.

    Plus – we select the topic finalists for our beloved Patreon listener-selected episode. Will Denial of Death make the cut again?

  • Episode 172: Are You Free (to like the Chappelle special)?

    September 17th, 2019  |  1 hr 40 mins

    David and Tamler start out with a discussion of the new Chappelle special and the negative reaction from many critics. Is Chappelle trolling his audience? Has he lost touch with the powerless people he used to champion? Or have critics missed his larger point, and failed to approach the new special as an art form? Then they address the latest development in the literature around Benjamin Libet's famous study that, according to some people, proved that free will doesn't exist. How did that study get so much attention in the first place? Tamler proposes a Marxist analysis. Plus, David teaches Tamler how to pronounce Bereitschaftspotential antisemitically.

  • Episode 171: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Theodicy? (The Book of Job)

    August 27th, 2019  |  1 hr 31 mins

    David and Tamler dive back into the Bible, this time to the perplexing and poetic Book of Job. What does this book have to say about the theodicy, the problem of evil? Why does Job (and his children) have to suffer so much just so God can prove a point to Satan? Are the speeches of Job's friends meant to be convincing? Does Job capitulate in the end? Does God contradict himself in the last chapter? What’s the deal with Elihu? So many questions, not as many answers – maybe that's why it's such a classic.

    Plus, "transhumanism" – dystopian wet dream or perfect moral system of the future based on logic, reason, and code? (Always code).

  • Episode 170: Social Psychology Gets an Asch-Kicking

    August 13th, 2019  |  1 hr 49 mins

    Is social psychology just a kid dressing up in grown-up science clothes? Are the methods in social psychology--hypothesis-driven experiments and model-building--appropriate for the state of the field? Or do these methods lead to a narrowing of vision, stifled creativity, and a lack of informed curiosity about the social world> David and Tamler discuss the strong methodological critique of psychology from two of its leading practitioners - Paul Rozin and Solomon Asch.

    Plus, food porn, real estate porn, outrage porn, and David's personal favorite - power-washing porn.

  • Episode 169: A Bug's Life (Kafka's "The Metamorphosis")

    July 30th, 2019  |  1 hr 50 mins

    David and Tamler try to control their emotions (with varying success) as they go deep into Franz Kafka's masterful novella "The Metamorphosis." What kind of a story is this? A Marxist or religious allegory? A work of weird fiction? A family drama? A dark comedy? Why does a story about a man who turns into a giant insect get under our skins so much?

    Plus a study that links insomnia to our fear of death. What a cheerful summer episode! (Actually we're fairly proud of this one... As always we suggest reading the text before you listen or soon after).

    This episode brought to you by Prolific.co, and by the support of our listeners.

  • Episode 168: The Big Lebowski vs Pulp Fiction (Pt. 2)

    July 16th, 2019  |  1 hr 33 mins

    It's Part 2 of the Lebowski vs. Pulp Fiction showdown. This time we focus on the Dude, Walter, Donny, and most importantly Jesus Quintana. (Nobody fucks with the Jesus). What's the ethos of this stoner masterpiece? Is it a nihilstic movie? A deconstruction of masculinity? A cannabis infused Daoist parable? And is it fair to compare these two classics from the 90s? Fair? Who's the fucking nihilist you bunch of crybabies!

    Plus - trolling. What is it? Why do people do it? Can works of art troll their audience? And is there such a thing as a benign troll?

  • Episode 167: The Big Lebowski vs Pulp Fiction (Pt. 1)

    July 3rd, 2019  |  1 hr 8 mins

    There are only two kinds of people in the world, Pulp Fiction people and Big Lebowski people. Now Pulp Fiction people can like Big Lebowski and vice versa, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells you who you are.

    In the first episode of this two-parter, David and Tamler make that choice – and then go deep into the themes, performances, and philosophy of Tarantino’s iconic 90s classic Pulp Fiction. What’s the meaning of a foot massage? What counts as a miracle? What’s the necessary condition of a filthy animal? Why is there so much conceptual analysis in a time-shifting gangster movie? We have a lots to talk about, and time is short. So pretty please, with sugar on top, listen to the fucking episode.

    This episode is sponsored by Blinkist and by all of our supporters.

  • Episode 166: Total Recall (Ted Chiang's "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling")

    June 18th, 2019  |  1 hr 49 mins

    Memory is highly selective and often inaccurate. But what if we had an easily searchable video record of all our experiences and interactions? How would that affect our relationships? What would it reveal about our characters and our sense of who we are? Is there a kind of truth that can’t be determined by perfect objectivity? David and Tamler dive deep into Ted Chiang’s amazingly rich and poignant short story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” which explores how new technologies shape individual and group identities.

  • Episode 165: Life With No Head (With Sam Harris)

    June 4th, 2019  |  2 hrs 16 mins

    Sam Harris returns to the podcast to talk about meditation and his new Waking Up meditation app. What are the goals of mindfulness practice - stress reduction and greater focus, or something much deeper? Can it cure David's existential dread? Tamler's fear of his daughter going away to college? Can sustained practice erode the illusion of self? Is that even something we'd want to do? What if it diminishes our attachment to people we love? And what is the self anyway? Is Sam a defender of panpsychism? So many questions... Plus, the ethics of creating talking elephants by curing them of their autism through bonding and possibly mounting. (Seriously.)

  • Episode 164: Choosing to Believe

    May 14th, 2019  |  1 hr 21 mins

    David and Tamler argue about William James' classic essay "The Will to Believe." What's more important - avoiding falsehood or discovering truth? When (if ever) is it rational to believe anything without enough evidence? What about beliefs that we can't be agnostic about? Are there hypotheses that we have to believe in order for them to come true? Does James successfully demonstrate that faith can be rational?

    Plus, a philosopher at Apple who's not allowed to talk to the media - what are they hiding? And why are academics constantly telling students that academia is a nightmare?

  • Episode 163: Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas")

    May 1st, 2019  |  1 hr 34 mins

    David and Tamler are pulled into Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Omelas is a truly happy city, except for one child who lives in abominable misery. Is that too high a moral cost? Why do some people walk away from the city? Why does no one help the child? Why does Le Guin make us create the city with her? Plus, we talk about our listener meetup in Vancouver, and a new edition of [dramatic music] GUILTY CONFESSIONS. Note: if this episode strikes you as too puritanical, then please add an orgy.

  • Episode 162: Parents Just Don't Understand (with Paul Bloom)

    April 16th, 2019  |  1 hr 26 mins

    As parents we like to think we have an impact on our children - their future, their happiness, the kinds of people they turn out to be. But
    are we deluded? Dave and Tamler are joined by empathy's kryponite, the great Paul Bloom, to talk about Judith Rich Harris's view that parents matter a lot less than you might think (while genes and peer groups matter a lot more than you might think) .

    Plus, what the connection between art and morality? Should we support "cancel culture"? Is it wrong to play Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. (spell it out) on the radio? What about the Jackson 5? And what about art that is itself immoral? You're not gonna believe this but Louis CK gets mentioned.

    Thanks to our beloved Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this topic!