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.
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.
February 19th, 2019 | 1 hr 36 mins
David and Tamler talk about the invasion of dual process theories in psychology. Why do we love theories that divide complex phenomena into just two categories? Is there any evidence to back up these theories? Are we distorting our understanding of the mind and morality? And what we can do to get out of this mess? Plus, Liam Neeson, moral pet peeves, and oral ethics.
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.
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