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.
February 5th, 2019 | 1 hr 21 mins
David and Tamler continue their discussion of Dostoevsky's funny, sad, philosophical novella Notes From Underground. We focus on part 2 this time - three stories from the Underground Man's past - and explore what the stories tell us about his existentialist rants in part 1. Is he consumed with guilt over his treatment of Liza? Is he ashamed of his social awkwardness, low status, and self-destructive behavior? Or is he a narcissistic proto-incel suffering from an especially acute case of spotlight effect? (As usual, the answer is probably some combination of all these and more.) Plus, we select the finalists for our Patreon-listener selected episode. Thanks to everyone for their support!
January 22nd, 2019 | 1 hr 43 mins
We’re sick men. We’re spiteful men. We’re unpleasant men. We think our livers are diseased (especially Tamler’s). So we talk about Dostoevsky’s wild, complex, stream of consciousness masterpiece Notes From Underground. For this episode we focus on part 1 of the novella, and the philosophy behind it. Is the underground man an existentialist hero affirming his freedom in the face of a deterministic hyper-rationalist worldview? Or is he a lonely man consumed with guilt and self-loathing, constructing a pretentious post-hoc rationalization of his character and behavior? Plus, the American Psychological Association just issued guidelines for how to treat men who embrace traditional masculine ideologies. Is the backlash justified?
January 8th, 2019 | 1 hr 38 mins
David and Tamler dive deep into Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 hallucinatory classic, "Vertigo". Why does this movie seem to gain stature among critics and academics every year? Is this a really a exploration of Hitchcock's own obsessions and sexual repression? Is it a story about filmmaking and celebrity? Or is it just a twisty noir thriller about a man who has no job and can't kiss to save his life? Plus, some thoughts about bad reviews on Rate My Professor and why it's hard to get feedback about job performance in academia.
December 18th, 2018 | 1 hr 56 mins
In the famous words of the idealist philosopher George Berkeley, “To exist is to be perceived.” Our ideas and perceptions are the fundamental objects in the universe; there is no real world beyond them. Hume wrote (I think) that Berkeley’s arguments don’t admit of the slightest refutation, and they don’t inspire the slightest conviction. On Earth, that may be true. On Tlön, it’s false – the people there are “congenital idealists.” Their language, philosophy, literature, and religion presuppose idealism. It’s their common sense. And their philosophy starts to encroach on their reality. But what happens when we read and hear about Tlön – can their idealism invade our “real” world? Will we start to lose our metaphysical bearings? David and Tamler talk about Borges’s invasive, unsettling story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Please listen so we can exist!
(And speaking of things that may or may not exist, we also discuss the metaphysics of holes.)
This episode is brought to you by GiveWell and the generous support of our listeners.
December 4th, 2018 | 1 hr 46 mins
David dies for science’s sins and addresses the failed replication of one of his studies (conducted with three former VBW guests) by the Many Labs Project. But first, the guys try to gauge their intuitions about the phenomenal experience of their molecule-for-molecule mirror reflection duplicate in a universe with a non-orientable topology. Plus, the annual Thanksgiving tradition: IDW star and Factual Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and Tamler argue over drinks about standpoint epistemology, political correctness, and lingerie.
November 20th, 2018 | 1 hr 21 mins
Tamler and David continue their Nagel-gazing by discussing another essay from Mortal Questions: "Ruthlessness in Public Life." Why do we treat the immorality of politicians, military leaders, and others in power differently than the immorality of individuals? Why does it seem less aversive to shake the hand of someone responsible for the death of thousands of civilians through military action than it does to shake the hand of a serial killer who has merely killed dozens? Are the rules we use to judge the moral atrocities of public officials different from the ones we use to judge private atrocities? Do they have the same basic foundations? Plus, we satisfy our listeners bloodlust by arguing about the new "Journal of Controversial Ideas" (because it would be cowardly not to).
This episode is brought to you by Givewell.org, and by the private morality of our generous supporters.
November 6th, 2018 | 2 hrs 4 mins
There was me, that is Tamler, and my droog, that is David, and we sat in our living rooms on Skype trying to make up our rassoodocks what Stanley Kubrick's a Clockwork Orange was really about? Free will? We didn't think so. Punishment? Yeah but what about punishment? And what about the old ultraviolence - can it still shock us in the modern age? Then suddenly we viddied that thinking was for the gloopy ones and that the oomny just, like, press record and start the podcast. Slooshy well, my brothers, slooshy well.
This episode is brought to you by our beloved Patreon supporters and www.givewell.org.
October 23rd, 2018 | 1 hr 26 mins
hoaxes, paul bloom, perverse desires, podcasting, sex robots
What better way to celebrate our 150th episode than to bring back our favorite guest – Paul Bloom! We riff on a series of topics: the new “grievance studies” hoax, sex robot brothels, perverse desires, and perverse beliefs. Then we get a little navel gazey (OK maybe more than a little) and talk about podcasting as a form of media and discussion, good teaching, and what we’ve learned about our listeners and ourselves. (Note: the audio may sound a little echoey towards the end because of how far we’ve crawled up our own asses.) This was a fun one, enjoy!
October 2nd, 2018 | 1 hr 41 mins
Is living forever a good thing? Could we maintain our values and personal attachments throughout eternity? Would we be motivated to accomplish anything? Can we make sense of a human life that doesn't have a fixed endpoint? We try to alleviate David's paralyzing fear of death by examining two articles - one on how immortality is worse than we think, and the other providing evidence that dying might be better than we think. Plus,we examine some famous thought experiments - if they were porn. And a special bonus: after the outro music, Eliza Sommers joins her Dad at to give her theory about Twin Peaks: The Return (contains spoilers).
September 19th, 2018 | 1 hr 41 mins
Tamler wades into a Twitter controversy about Serena Williams - could this be his fast-track pass into the IDW? And since we're talking about that, why not throw in a discussion of Louis CK's surprise set at the Comedy Cellar? In the second segment, we step outside of last week's social media culture wars to discuss "But I Could Be Wrong," a paper by philosopher George Sher from Rice University. What happens once we realize that our moral convictions are often not better justified than the convictions of people who disagree with us? Does that mean it's no longer rational to act on them? And is the problem deeper for moral beliefs than it is for empirical or aesthetic beliefs?
September 4th, 2018 | 1 hr 43 mins
Oxford philosophy professor Will MacAskill joins us to talk about effective altruism, moral uncertainty, and why you shouldn’t eat your grandmother (even if consequentialism is true). How should we act when we’re not sure which moral theory is the right one? Can we formulate a guide for behavior, modeled on decision theory, that maximizes expected moral value? How do we assign credences to ethical (as opposed to empirical) claims? Why has effective altruism become so popular, so fast, yet at the same time seem off-putting to many people? Plus, Tamler faces a dilemma when narrating his audiobook, and Dave is the Louis CK of his own backyard.
August 21st, 2018 | 1 hr 12 mins
Is being a sports fan irrational? Does it lead to more suffering than happiness? David and Tamler discuss a recent study that suggests the answers to these question is "yes." But does the study really capture what it means to be a sports fan, and how it can contribute to our well-being? And does science in general have the tools to truly measure the costs and benefits of rooting for your favorite teams? Plus, we talk about The Nation apologizing for publishing a poem written in Black English Vernacular, and introduce a dramatic new segment: "Guilty Confessions."
August 7th, 2018 | 1 hr 37 mins
David and Tamler go deep into Borges’ labyrinth to discuss the fascinating, multi-dimensional story “The Garden of Forking Paths.” What is the underlying reality of this story? What demands does Borges make of his readers? What is Borges telling us about time, freedom, war, and art? Is the story itself a maze for readers to wander and lose their way? We don’t have all the answers, but it was one of our favorite discussions in a long time. Plus, we give some brief non-spoiler opinions about Boots Riley’s movie "Sorry to Bother You," but a spoiler-filled Patreon episode is coming soon.
July 24th, 2018 | 1 hr 23 mins
David and Tamler try to wrap their heads around Jorge Luis Borges' “The Library of Babel” – a short story about a universe/library that contains every possible book with every possible combination of characters. How many books would this library contain? Would some of the books justify our lives (if we could find them)? Can we know whether a book is deeply meaningful or deeply misleading? Why are the librarians so alone and so consumed with anguish? Wouldn’t we all just end up just looking for the porn books? Plus, we talk about the ethics of doing research on data drawn from the Ashley Madison leak. Life is short, listen to this episode.
July 10th, 2018 | 1 hr 39 mins
big 5, hoaxes, personality, predatory journals
David and Tamler tackle the topic selected by their Patreon supporters - the psychology of personality. What are the different dimensions of personality that distinguish one person from another? How many dimensions are there - do the Big Five capture all of them? Do we share some of these differences with other species? Why don't personality psychologists include moral character traits? Plus - are you curious about your partner's true political commitments? No problem, just install a periscope in your toilet.
June 26th, 2018 | 1 hr 30 mins
stanford prison experiment, suicide
In what has to be the most somber VBW to date, David and Tamler welcome Harvard psychologist Matthew Nock to the podcast to talk about suicide and other forms of self-harm. Matt tells us what we know – and what we don’t know - about the causes of suicide and the ways to prevent it. In the first segment we talk about the recent exposé of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Were the guards told to be brutal? Were the prisoners never aware that could have left the study at any time? What is Tamler going to do about the Zimbardo interview in A Very Bad Wizard the book? Is David going to continue teaching it in his intro psych course? And does Yoel Inbar need to preregister his beers?