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.
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!
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
April 2nd, 2019 | 1 hr 25 mins
The less we know, the more we know it. David and Tamler talk about the notorious Dunning-Kruger effect, which makes us overconfident in beliefs on topics we're ignorant about and under-confident when we're experts. Plus, we break down an evolutionary psychology article on
why poor men and hungry men prefer women with big breasts. Trust us, it's a really bad study. We're sure about it.
March 19th, 2019 | 1 hr 33 mins
David and Tamler dive into the book of Ecclesiastes, an absurdist classic that is somehow also a book of the Bible. Is everything meaningless, vain, and a chasing after the wind? Are humans just the same as animals? Are wise people no better off than fools? Will God judge us after we die, rewarding the good people and punishing the shit-heels? What if there is no afterlife and this is all we get? How should we deal with our pointless, unjust existence? Plus we return to our opening-segment bible— Aeon—and talk about an argument for replacing jealousy with...wait for it…compersion.
March 5th, 2019 | 1 hr 15 mins
Poor and black defendants have more legal rights than ever, but that didn't stop mass incarceration. Why is that? We talk about a paper by Paul Butler called "Poor People Lose: Gideon and the Critique of Rights." Plus, we answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how to live as an anti-natalist. And Tamler is appalled to discover David's anti-natalist leanings.