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.
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?
June 5th, 2018 | 1 hr 21 mins
iat, implicit bias, intellectual dark web, racism
David and Tamler tackle the topic of implicit bias and the controversy surrounding the implicit association test (IAT). What is implicit bias anyway? Does it have to be linked to behavior in order to truly count as a "bias"? Has the IAT been overhyped as a reflection of individual or group prejudice? And why is the debate on this topic so depressing? Plus, some deep thoughts on the intellectual dark web, how to join it, and what the analogy is supposed to reflect.
May 22nd, 2018 | 1 hr 33 mins
mice, neuroscience, neuroskeptic, trolley problems
Honor shmonor, David and Tamler return to their repugnant roots for this one. First, we pay an overdue homage to the great anonymous blogger and twitter-redeemer Neuroskeptic. We pick a few of our favorite pithy tweets and crazy science article links from his @neuroskeptic twitter account. Topics include: How much would you pay for porn? Should we be stereotyping zoophiles? Animal or fist - how to distinguish? And what do the left and right brain actually do? In part 2, we discuss an experiment that aims to finally answer the question: do our judgments in sacrificial dilemmas (like the trolley problem) -actually- predict our behavior? Plus, we find out live (on tape) if David is a Laurel or a Yanni - or is he a Samantha?
May 12th, 2018 | 1 hr 31 mins
culture, dignity, honor, identity
It took two tries (the first one led to a big non-productive fight), but David and Tamler end up with a good discussion of honor and its connection to identity, pride, and personal relationships. Why have we rejected honor in favor of dignity? What are the costs and benefits of doing that? How do people "find themselves" in an industrialized anonymous society? What should you do when someone insults your sister and you're playing in the final of the World Cup? The seminal paper by Peter Berger "On the Obsolescence of the Culture of Honor" (along with Tamler's new book) was the launching point for the discussion (links to both in show notes).
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April 24th, 2018 | 1 hr 45 mins
eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, memory, michel gondry, relationships
Award-winning screenwriter and medieval philosophy scholar Yoel Inbar joins us for a deep dive on the Charlie Kaufman/Michel GondREY masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When relationships go bad is it better to believe they never happened? What is the nature of memory, how is it constructed, and is it possible to zap them out existence with an Apple IIe? Will Tamler have a more optimistic take on the ending of the movie than David? (Hint: yes)
Also--only two more weeks to preorder Why Honor Matters and get your free bonus episode! Upload your receipt here
April 10th, 2018 | 1 hr 19 mins
buddhism, death, shaun nichols
Why are we always attracted to people who mock us, resist our advances, and play hard to get? Maybe because it’s extra satisfying when you finally get them to… appear on your podcast. In our first live episode (recorded in San Antonio), the philosopher Shaun Nichols joins us to discuss his recent article “Death and the Self”. You might think that Buddhist conceptions of the self as illusory would reduce their fear of death (after all, if there’s no real self, why worry about it ceasing to exist?). But the evidence collected by Shaun and colleagues suggests exactly the opposite. Why would that be?
Plus, David and Tamler choose six finalists for the Patreon listener selected episode (did Jordan Peterson make the list?), and we announce a special bonus for people who pre-order Tamler’s forthcoming book "Why Honor Matters."
March 27th, 2018 | 1 hr 32 mins
happiness, the good life, yale
From Very Bad Wizards to Megyn Kelly Today back to Very Bad Wizards, Laurie Santos has traveled the typical trajectory of the celebrity academic. Laurie joins us to talk about her cult status after creating the most popular course in Yale University history: Psychology and the Good Life. The course explores questions like: Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy? What makes it so hard to do the things we know are good for us? Why young are people more stressed, anxious, and overworked than they used to be? And how can we nudge ourselves into living better lives?
March 13th, 2018 | 1 hr 16 mins
bernard williams, christina hoff sommers, lewis and clark, utilitarianism, woke
David and Tamler take a break from complaining about psychological studies that measure utilitarianism to complain about the moral theory itself. We talk about one of the most famous critiques of utilitarianism from Bernard Williams. Does utilitarianism annihilate our integrity--our unity--as people? Would trying to maximize well-being fracture our identities, and swallow up our projects, motivations, and moral convictions--the same convictions that make utilitarianism seem appealing in the first place? Is it ultimately self-defeating as a moral theory?
Plus, we talk about the adventures of Tamler's based step-mom Christina Hoff Sommers' at Lewis and Clark law school. Will David stay woke?
February 27th, 2018 | 1 hr 51 mins
evolutionary psychology, internet, moral outrage, trolleyology, twitter
It's been 5 years since Molly Crockett has been guest on VBW. During that time she's completed a post-doc at University College, London and become a professor at Yale University. And we're...well, we're still doing the podcast. Today Molly joins us to talk about moral outrage in the age of social media. Has the outrage changed now that we express so much of it online? Does it contribute to polarization and social division, or give a voice to the less powerful? How can we harness the benefits of online outrage while minimizing the costs? Plus, Dave and Tamler perform an exorcism on the unholy offspring of evolutionary psychology and trolleyology.
February 6th, 2018 | 1 hr 15 mins
death, it was all a dream, thomas nagel
David and Tamler talk about the nature of death. Is being dead a bad thing? If so, what makes it bad? How can anything be bad for a subject that no longer exists? We didn't have a problem with oblivion for the thirteen billion years before we were born, why fear it now?
Plus, a discussion about the "it was all a dream" trope in TV and film. Why is it so infuriating in some works but not others?
January 23rd, 2018 | 1 hr 35 mins
compassion, dave desteno, emotional success, emotions, gratitude, pride, utilitarianism
What's the best way to build self-control, patience, productivity, and delayed marshmallow eating? For decades psychologists and economists have told us to develop traits like willpower and grit. But psychologist David DeSteno describes a better, easier, and more effective path--the emotions. We talk to David about his new (not-self-help) book "Emotional Success," which argues that the emotions of gratitude, pride, and compassion can help us fulfill long-term goals and (as a special bonus) make us happier and better people.
Plus, David and Tamler take a quiz that measures how utilitarian they are, and you won't believe the results!!! (Actually, you will.)
January 9th, 2018 | 1 hr 39 mins
black mirror, charlie brooker, lying
David and Tamler break down two episodes (with full spoilers) from the new season of Charlie Brooker's bleaker-than-bleak Netflix series Black Mirror. First up, "The USS Callister," a Star Trek parody that becomes a meditation on fandom, humiliation, and cowardly revenge. Next we talk about "Black Museum" - could it be the final episode of Black Mirror? Should it be? After four seasons of indicting humanity, has Charlie Brooker turned his critical lens on himself?
Plus, you thought it was bad for children to tell lies, but it turns out that it's good!
December 26th, 2017 | 1 hr 32 mins
dehumanization, empathy, paul bloom, star trek transporters
In this Very Special Boxing Day edition of the podcast, Tamler and David welcome back honorary Third Wizard Paul Bloom to discuss his latest article in the New Yorker about dehumanization and cruelty. Is it really the case that we dehumanize in order to harm others? Or does most violence actually require us to view others as fundamentally human, agentic, and capable of true suffering? But first, we discuss the stages of Star Trek transporter cognition, whether Paul and David are closet-dualists, and whether the process of choosing a Dalai Lama suffers from p-hacking concerns. (And between segments we give our brief, spoiler-free thoughts on Season 3 of Mr. Robot). Happy Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year, and Merry Christmas to all!