Very Bad Wizards

a philosopher and a psychologist ponder human morality

About the show

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.

Very Bad Wizards on social media

Episodes

  • Episode 161: Reach-Around Knowledge and Bottom Performers (The Dunning-Kruger Effect)

    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.

  • Episode 160: Everything is Meaningless: The Book of Ecclesiastes

    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.

  • Episode 159: You Have the Right to Go to Prison

    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.

  • Episode 158: False Dichotomies and Oral Reciprocity

    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.

  • Episode 157: Notes From Underground (Pt. 2)

    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!

  • Episode 156: Notes From Underground (Pt. 1)

    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?

  • Episode 155: Alfred Hitchcock's Money Shot

    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.

  • Episode 154: Metaphysical Vertigo (Borges's "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius")

    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.

  • Episode 153: Progress in Psychology: A Reply to BootyBootyFartFart

    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.

  • Episode 152: Ruthlessness, Public and Private

    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.

  • Episode 151: Viddy Well, My Listeners (Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange")

    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.

  • Episode 150: Paul Bloom Insisted That We Talk About Sex Robots

    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!

  • Episode 149: Death, Immortality, and Porn (Intuition) Pumps

    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).

  • Episode 148: Am I Wrong?

    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?

  • Episode 147: Effective Altruism and Moral Uncertainty (with The One True Scotsman, Will MacAskill)

    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.

  • Episode 146: Sore Losers (Does Sports Make Us Unhappy?)

    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."