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.
November 28th, 2017 | 1 hr 50 mins
christina hoff sommers, louis ck, thomas nagel, value
David and Tamler keep their Nagel streak alive, discussing the essay "The Fragmention of Value" from his collection "Mortal Questions." How should we address our fragmented moral landscape, with multiple sources of value that can't be reduced or systematically ordered? Does this make all of our moral decisions arbitrary? Plus, we talk about Louis CK and in a Thanksgiving tradition special guest Christina Hoff Sommers rejoins the podcast in a moderately drunken debate with Tamler about a possible sex panic.
November 14th, 2017 | 1 hr 24 mins
blame, free will, moral luck, moral responsibility, mortal questions, thomas nagel
David and Tamler dip back into the Thomas Nagel well, and discuss the problem of "moral luck." Why do we blame drunk drivers who hit someone more than drunk drivers who make it home OK? Why do we judge people for things that are beyond their control (when we have strong intuitions that uncontrollable acts don't deserve blame)? Does moral luck ultimately swallow all of our behavior? Can we truly embrace the view that "actions are events and people are things" or are we stuck with another unsolvable clash of competing perspectives (just like the problem of absurdity)?
Plus, Dave exposes himself on the Partially Examined Life, Tamler self-censors, and somehow we discuss Hollywood harassment and stand-up comedy without mentioning Louis CK. (But only because we recorded this episode about five hours before the NY Times story broke.)
October 24th, 2017 | 1 hr 32 mins
albert camus, rick and morty, the absurd, the meaning of life, thomas nagel
Is life meaningless? Are we just glorified dung beetles, pushing around our piles of poop with no greater purpose? What would it take for life to actually be meaningful? In this episode, Tamler and David discuss Thomas Nagel’s essay on the sense of meaninglessness and absurdity that can so easily creep into human existence (with a special emphasis on the work of Camus and the philosophy of Rick and Morty). But first we tackle even more important questions about the human condition such as, why is it easier to detect the size of a hole with your tongue than with your little finger? And which moral "dilemmas" are actually moral no-brainers? (In the process, we even solve the problem of free speech on campus. You’re welcome.)
October 10th, 2017 | 1 hr 32 mins
emotions, lisa feldman barrett, robert solomon, star trek
What do we mean when we say someone is angry? Can we identify anger (or any other emotion) via facial expressions, physiological changes, or neural markers? Is anger simply a feeling, something that happens to us, or does it involve a judgment? How much control do we have over our emotions, and can we be responsible for them? We talk about the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett and Bob Solomon. Plus, Tamler engages in conceptual analysis on Star Trek transporter beliefs (yes you read that right) and David is too stunned to argue.
September 26th, 2017 | 1 hr 21 mins
anthropomorphic animals, character, galen strawson, identity, narrative, self
Do you think of your life as a story? Does your life have a narrative structure or form? Do you identify with your past selves and your future selves? If not, can you live a good life, a moral life, an authentic life? Can you feel guilt, regret, and resentment? Plus, speaking of stories, we talk about a new study suggesting that books with anthropomorphic animals can't teach moral lessons to kids.
September 12th, 2017 | 1 hr 27 mins
hurricane harvey, intelligence, iq, neuroscience, race
It’s Part 2 of the Patreon listener selected episode! David and Tamler continue their discussion on intelligence from our last episode by tackling the radioactive topic of group differences and IQ. Are there reliable differences in IQ across races? Given that IQ is strongly heritable, and that racial categories are based (in part) on biological differences, does it follow that group differences in IQ are due to biological differences across racial groups? (Could only a politically motivated science-denier conclude otherwise?) David argues that biological explanations for racial differences in IQ are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of genetics and race. It’s a complex argument, so if you start listening, please finish! (Oh and @VBW_No_Context on Twitter, take a vacation, you’ve earned it!). Plus, more on neuroscientific explanations, and Tamler relates his experience of Hurricane Harvey.
August 29th, 2017 | 1 hr 40 mins
cognitive neuroscience, dogs, fmri, intelligence, iq
David and Tamler do their best to talk frankly about intelligence and IQ research. (It's our Patreon listener-selected topic! We probably would never have chosen this one on our own...). Is intelligence a meaningful, definable concept? Can we reliably test for it? How much of the variability in IQ across individuals is due to heritable factors? Are people with higher IQ happier, wealthier, or healthier than people with lower IQ? And why is this topic so controversial anyhow? Plus in the intro segment Tamler and David discuss why you probably don't need fMRI to know what your dog wants, and why cognitive neuroscience seems to confuse otherwise intelligent folks. (Note: This is Part 1 of our discussion on intelligence. In Part 2 will delve into the slightly more controversial topics of IQ, race, and gender).
August 15th, 2017 | 1 hr 29 mins
david lynch, mulholland drive
Guest Yoel Inbar joins David and Tamler to break down David Lynch’s dreamy masterpiece Mulholland Drive. (FULL SPOILERS – watch before you listen!) What’s real and what’s illusion? What happens when our illusions unravel? How do expectations affect our experience? How can artists use our expectations to manipulate our emotions? Come for the questions, stay for the answers – or at least for more questions.
July 25th, 2017 | 1 hr 47 mins
buddhism, evolutionary psychology, robert wright
Special guest Robert Wright joins the podcast to discuss his latest book "Why Buddhism is True." What is the Buddhist conception of not-self? When we become aware that the boundaries between us and the world are fluid, what is the “we” that arrives at this insight? Can daily meditation make you less of a dick? How does evolutionary psychology bear on these questions? Plus, Dave horrifies Tamler with his new hipster habit.
July 11th, 2017 | 1 hr 26 mins
debunking arguments, porn, values
What happens when we discover why we believe the things we believe? What if we discover that our values are the product of our cultural tradition, or personal experience, or natural selection? Should we be more skeptical of our values once we learn their history? Plus, data on Google porn searches reveal that you're all a bunch of sick fucks.
June 27th, 2017 | 1 hr 12 mins
campus politics, conceptual penis hoax, james lindsay
David and Tamler try to put the topic of campus politics to bed once and for all – with limited success. First, we get into a big fight about the prevalence and danger of political correctness in American universities. We junked that recording, and tried to distill our best points into a new one. (Trust us – it was for the best.) We also narrow down all the topic recommendations from our beloved Patreon supporters to five finalists. In the second segment, James Lindsay (co-author of the "Conceptual Penis" hoax) joins us to talk about why he thinks the hoax was more successful in exposing gender studies than some of their critics (including us) have suggested.
June 13th, 2017 | 1 hr 11 mins
distributed cognition, extended mind, male circumcision
David and Tamler break down a recent classic in the philosophy of mind: "The Extended Mind" by Andy Clark and David Chalmers. What is
boundary of your mind? Is it contained with your body, or does it extend to the external environment--to your laptop, notebook,
smartphone and more? Is this a purely terminological question, or one with practical and moral significance? And what is the role of
intuition in providing an answer? Plus, Dave shares an email alerting him to the psychological trauma of male circumcision along
with an exciting all-natural method for restoring the foreskin (that was stolen from us as infants).
May 31st, 2017 | 1 hr 16 mins
conceptual penises, happiness, pain, pleasure, sokal hoax, taste
David and Tamler break down the latest small-stakes academic controversy--yes the one about conceptual penises. Does the recent "Sokal-like" hoax expose the ideological extremism of gender studies? Or does it show that certain portions of the "skeptic" community are susceptible to the same biases as their opponents? In the main segment they discuss the problems with measuring pain, pleasure, and happiness. When your doctor asks you to rate your pain between 1 and 10 and you say a 7, does your '7' reflect the same subjective experience as another person's '7'? (That depends--have you experienced childbirth?) How can we get more accurate readings of pain and pleasure across different people with different experiences? Most importantly, which number gets you the Vicodin?
May 16th, 2017 | 1 hr 37 mins
David and Tamler go ambulance chasing for scandals in their own fields. Inspired by a tweet from Jay Van Bavel, they argue about which of their disciplines--philosophy or psychology--is more completely and irredeemably fucked. Is the recent controversy at the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia diagnostic of larger problems in philosophy? Can the replication crisis ever be solved? Can philosophy return to studying the big questions? What can psychologists actually discover about the human mind?
Warning: this episode features a more respectful and mature dialogue than some VBW listeners may be comfortable with.
May 4th, 2017 | 1 hr 21 mins
movies, passover, revenge, vengeance
Somehow, after 113 episodes David and Tamler have never done a top 5 movie episode about revenge (so unbelievable that we had to double-check). That changes today. Among the things we learned: good revenge movies are harder to find than we thought, revenge (at least, movie revenge) is messy, and David knows at least one movie that Tamler has never heard of. Plus, should Jews be celebrating the killing of Egyptian first borns? Or atoning for it? (Or perhaps just pouring out a little more wine at Passover?)
April 18th, 2017 | 1 hr 18 mins
expected utility, god, pascal's mugging, pascal's wager
David and Tamler break down what may be the best argument that it's rational to believe in God: Pascal's Wager. (No, we're not just trolling our Sam Harris listeners.) Does the expected value of believing in God outweigh the probability that you're wrong? How does belief work--can you just turn it on and off? What if you believe in the wrong God? This leads to a wide-ranging discussion on decision theory, instrumental rationality, artificial intelligence, transformative experiences, and whether David should drop acid. Your brain AND you future self will love this episode!