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.
May 26th, 2020 | 1 hr 37 mins
David and Tamler dive into Sigmund Freud’s world of unconscious drives, death instincts, and thwarted incestuous urges in his classic text “Civilization and its Discontents.” If society has made so much progress, why are human beings perpetually dissatisfied? Can religion help us or is it a big part of the problem? What’s really going on when you piss on a fire to put it out? Also: how seriously should we take Freud today given some of his wackier ideas? And is he a psychologist, a philosopher, or something else entirely?
Plus we select the finalists from a huge list of suggested topics for the Patreon listener-selected episode!
May 12th, 2020 | 1 hr 42 mins
Socrates was ugly and tired of life, his dialectic was a weapon of revenge against the nobility. Philosophers are mummies who hate the body and the senses. Reason is a tricky old woman. Morality is a misunderstanding. Kant is a sneaky Christian. And don't even get Nietzsche started on "free will" or the "self" - both are just excuses for priests to punish people. David and Tamler tackle Friedrich Nietzsche's “Twilight of the Idols,” a set of aphorisms full of passion, provocation, and questions without answers. Do they make sense? Plus, a professor is sanctioned for talking dirty with his students - another case of censorship from a coddled generation?
April 21st, 2020 | 1 hr 40 mins
With a global pandemic and a collapsing economy upon us, it's time to ask ourselves some tough questions. Sex robots or platonic love robots - what are you more excited for? If you walked in on your partner with one of them, which would make you more jealous? Are you male or female? Can evolutionary psychology explain sex-linked preferences for sensitive, empathetic Alexas? We then dive into the shadowy echo-filled streets of post-war Vienna - and talk about one of our favorite movies, a true noir classic: The Third Man.
April 7th, 2020 | 1 hr 29 mins
The legendary Peter Singer joins us to talk about effective altruism, AI, animal welfare, esoteric morality, future Tuesday indifference, and more. I mean, it’s Peter freakin’ Singer - what more do we need to say? Plus, the explosive ‘one or two spaces after a period' debate: has science resolved it?
March 24th, 2020 | 1 hr 24 mins
David and Tamler begin by talking about the question on everyone’s mind right now – are we obligated to be pansexual? Then, since many of us have more free time on our hands these days, we thought it might be a good idea to revisit Bertrand Russell’s essay (published in Harper’s Magazine) “In Praise of Idleness.” How did workaholism become the norm? Why do we see working insanely long hours as a virtue, a moral duty rather than a necessity? Would more leisure make us more fulfilled and creative or just bored? We also discuss Daniel Markovits’ book "The Meritocracy Trap" - when life is a non-stop hyper-competitive grind from preschool to retirement even among the elites, is anyone happy?
March 17th, 2020 | 1 hr 26 mins
Here's something that might help with the Coronavirus blues: we're releasing our latest Patreon bonus episode for everyone. In this (unedited) episode, Tamler and David talk about their Top 5 "Deadwood" characters. If you've seen the show, let us know if you agree or disagree, or if we should go fuck ourselves. And if you haven’t watched it yet, you might have some time on your hands for the next month or two - there’s almost no better way to spend it than watching "Deadwood." Enjoy!
March 10th, 2020 | 1 hr 25 mins
astros, baseball, cheating, dawkins, eugenics, honor, sign stealing
David and Tamler start off talking about the infamous Richard Dawkins eugenics tweet. What does it mean for eugenics to “work”? And given the sensitive nature and horrific history of eugenics, is it wrong to raise the topic even if you’re just focused on the science? Hey we’re just asking questions, man…
Then, huge baseball fan that he is, David insists that we talk about the massive Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and cheating in sports more generally. When is bending the rules just part of the game (“if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’”) - and when is it really wrong? Why does the use of technology make cheating seem more dishonorable? Why weren’t the Astros players punished since they were the driving force behind the scandal? And why are apologies so hard on twitter?
February 25th, 2020 | 1 hr 39 mins
VBW favorite Paul Bloom takes a short break from his Sam Harris duties to help us break down the Coen Brothers' ode to uncertainty, "A Serious Man." Does inaction have consequences? Can you understand the cat but not the math? Why are there Hebrew letters carved into the back of a goy's teeth? Dybbuk or no Dybbuk? Why does God make us feel the questions if he’s not gonna give us any answers?
Plus, Paul defends the psych establishment against critiques from the podcast peons at "Two Psychologists Four Beers" and "Very Bad Wizards."
February 11th, 2020 | 1 hr 58 mins
Podcasting legend Yoel Inbar (from Two Psychologists Four Beers) joins us to break down Tal Yarkoni's "The Generalizability Crisis,” the paper that launched a thousand Twitter wars. Psychologists make verbal claims about the world, then conduct studies to test these claims -but are the studies actually providing evidence for those claims? Do psychological experiments generalize beyond the the strict confinments of the lab? Are psychologists even using the right statistical models to be able to claim that they do? Does this debate boil down to fundamental differences in the philosophy of science - induction, Popper, and hypothetico-deductive models and so forth? Will David and Tamler ever be able to talk about a psych study again without getting into a fight?
Plus ahead of tonight's New Hampshire primary, expert political analysis about what went down in Iowa.
January 28th, 2020 | 2 hrs 9 mins
Our whole lives we’ve been frauds. We’re not exaggerating. Pretty much all we’ve ever done is try to create a certain impression of us in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired. This episode is a perfect example, Tamler pretending to be a cinephile (check out his four favorite pieces of 2019 “pop culture” in the first segment), David trying to connect with the people (Baby Yoda, Keanu Reeves etc.) – and of course what could be more fraudulent than a deep dive into a David Foster Wallace story, rhapsodizing over the endless sentences, the logical paradoxes, the seven-layer bean-dip of metacommentary (Jesus Christ I’m surprised there aren’t like eight footnotes in this episode description), and meanwhile the Partially Examined Life dudes refresh their overcast feeds and wonder through the tiny keyhole of themselves how David and Tamler have sunk so low that they’d ramble on about “Good Old Neon” like a couple of first year Comp-Lit grad students trying to impress that girl who works at the Cajun bakery.
January 14th, 2020 | 1 hr 56 mins
Eleventh Century Japan. A samurai and his wife are walking through the forest and come across a bandit. The bandit attacks the samurai and has sex with/rapes his wife. A woodcutter finds the samurai, stabbed to death. Who killed the samurai and with what? What role did his wife play in his death? Kurosawa gives us four perspectives, told in flashbacks within flashbacks. Who’s telling the truth? Is anyone? Can we ever know what really happened? A simple story on the surface becomes a meditation on epistemological despair.
Plus, your lizard brain is out to get you and you only have 90 seconds to stop it!
December 24th, 2019 | 2 hrs 3 mins
David and Tamler wrap up the decade with an episode on trash-talking that morphs into a debate over the value of experimental inquiry. Participants in a lab put more effort into a slider task after they’re insulted by a confederate. Do experiments like these tell us anything about trash-talking in general? Can it explain the effect of Mike Tyson telling Lenox Lewis he’d eat his children, or of Larry Bird looking around the locker room before the 3-point contest saying he was trying to figure out who’d finish second? Can it tell us how football players should talk to their opponents? Does it give us a more modest but still valuable insight that we can apply to the real world? This is our first real fight (or disagreement) in a while.
Plus, some mixed feelings about Mr. Robot Season 4 Episode 11 and some tentative predictions (recorded before the finale which aired by the time this episode is released). Happy holidays!
December 10th, 2019 | 1 hr 40 mins
David and Tamler happen across Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Zahir” and now they can’t stop thinking about it. What is the ‘Zahir’ – this object that can take many forms and that consumes the people who find it? What does it represent? Is it the fanaticism of being in love? The ever-present threat (and temptation) of idealism? A subtle critique of Christian theology? Is the Zahir a microcosm of everything? Why is Borges so obsessed with obsession?
Plus, it’s the annual drunken end-of-the night Thanksgiving ‘debate’ between Tamler and IDW stepmother extraordinaire Christina Hoff Sommers. Topics raised and then quickly dropped include Bernie for President, Melinda Gates, critic reviews of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and more. Stay tuned for the end when Christina finds her “notes”. (And for special cameos from David Sommers and Eliza).
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.
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?
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.