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.

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Episodes

  • 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."

  • Episode 145: Lost in Borges' Garden

    August 7th, 2018  |  1 hr 37 mins

    David and Tamler go deep into Borges’ labyrinth to discuss the fascinating, multi-dimensional story “The Garden of Forking Paths.” What is the underlying reality of this story? What demands does Borges make of his readers? What is Borges telling us about time, freedom, war, and art? Is the story itself a maze for readers to wander and lose their way? We don’t have all the answers, but it was one of our favorite discussions in a long time. Plus, we give some brief non-spoiler opinions about Boots Riley’s movie "Sorry to Bother You," but a spoiler-filled Patreon episode is coming soon.

  • Episode 144: Borges' Babylon

    July 24th, 2018  |  1 hr 23 mins

    David and Tamler try to wrap their heads around Jorge Luis Borges' “The Library of Babel” – a short story about a universe/library that contains every possible book with every possible combination of characters. How many books would this library contain? Would some of the books justify our lives (if we could find them)? Can we know whether a book is deeply meaningful or deeply misleading? Why are the librarians so alone and so consumed with anguish? Wouldn’t we all just end up just looking for the porn books? Plus, we talk about the ethics of doing research on data drawn from the Ashley Madison leak. Life is short, listen to this episode.

  • Episode 143: The Psychology of Personality

    July 10th, 2018  |  1 hr 39 mins
    big 5, hoaxes, personality, predatory journals

    David and Tamler tackle the topic selected by their Patreon supporters - the psychology of personality. What are the different dimensions of personality that distinguish one person from another? How many dimensions are there - do the Big Five capture all of them? Do we share some of these differences with other species? Why don't personality psychologists include moral character traits? Plus - are you curious about your partner's true political commitments? No problem, just install a periscope in your toilet.

  • Episode 142: Suicide (with Matthew Nock)

    June 26th, 2018  |  1 hr 30 mins
    stanford prison experiment, suicide

    In what has to be the most somber VBW to date, David and Tamler welcome Harvard psychologist Matthew Nock to the podcast to talk about suicide and other forms of self-harm. Matt tells us what we know – and what we don’t know - about the causes of suicide and the ways to prevent it. In the first segment we talk about the recent exposé of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Were the guards told to be brutal? Were the prisoners never aware that could have left the study at any time? What is Tamler going to do about the Zimbardo interview in A Very Bad Wizard the book? Is David going to continue teaching it in his intro psych course? And does Yoel Inbar need to preregister his beers?

  • Episode 141: Implicit Bias

    June 5th, 2018  |  1 hr 21 mins
    iat, implicit bias, intellectual dark web, racism

    David and Tamler tackle the topic of implicit bias and the controversy surrounding the implicit association test (IAT). What is implicit bias anyway? Does it have to be linked to behavior in order to truly count as a "bias"? Has the IAT been overhyped as a reflection of individual or group prejudice? And why is the debate on this topic so depressing? Plus, some deep thoughts on the intellectual dark web, how to join it, and what the analogy is supposed to reflect.

  • Episode 140: Milgram's Mice

    May 22nd, 2018  |  1 hr 33 mins
    mice, neuroscience, neuroskeptic, trolley problems

    Honor shmonor, David and Tamler return to their repugnant roots for this one. First, we pay an overdue homage to the great anonymous blogger and twitter-redeemer Neuroskeptic. We pick a few of our favorite pithy tweets and crazy science article links from his @neuroskeptic twitter account. Topics include: How much would you pay for porn? Should we be stereotyping zoophiles? Animal or fist - how to distinguish? And what do the left and right brain actually do? In part 2, we discuss an experiment that aims to finally answer the question: do our judgments in sacrificial dilemmas (like the trolley problem) -actually- predict our behavior? Plus, we find out live (on tape) if David is a Laurel or a Yanni - or is he a Samantha?

  • Episode 139: Honor, Identity, and Headbutts

    May 12th, 2018  |  1 hr 31 mins
    culture, dignity, honor, identity

    It took two tries (the first one led to a big non-productive fight), but David and Tamler end up with a good discussion of honor and its connection to identity, pride, and personal relationships. Why have we rejected honor in favor of dignity? What are the costs and benefits of doing that? How do people "find themselves" in an industrialized anonymous society? What should you do when someone insults your sister and you're playing in the final of the World Cup? The seminal paper by Peter Berger "On the Obsolescence of the Culture of Honor" (along with Tamler's new book) was the launching point for the discussion (links to both in show notes).
    This episode is brought to you by Simple Contacts

  • Episode 138: Memory, Pain, and Relationships (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

    April 24th, 2018  |  1 hr 45 mins
    eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, memory, michel gondry, relationships

    Award-winning screenwriter and medieval philosophy scholar Yoel Inbar joins us for a deep dive on the Charlie Kaufman/Michel GondREY masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When relationships go bad is it better to believe they never happened? What is the nature of memory, how is it constructed, and is it possible to zap them out existence with an Apple IIe? Will Tamler have a more optimistic take on the ending of the movie than David? (Hint: yes)

    Also--only two more weeks to preorder Why Honor Matters and get your free bonus episode! Upload your receipt here

  • Episode 137: Are Buddhists Afraid to Die? (with Shaun Nichols)

    April 10th, 2018  |  1 hr 19 mins
    buddhism, death, shaun nichols

    Why are we always attracted to people who mock us, resist our advances, and play hard to get? Maybe because it’s extra satisfying when you finally get them to… appear on your podcast. In our first live episode (recorded in San Antonio), the philosopher Shaun Nichols joins us to discuss his recent article “Death and the Self”. You might think that Buddhist conceptions of the self as illusory would reduce their fear of death (after all, if there’s no real self, why worry about it ceasing to exist?). But the evidence collected by Shaun and colleagues suggests exactly the opposite. Why would that be?

    Plus, David and Tamler choose six finalists for the Patreon listener selected episode (did Jordan Peterson make the list?), and we announce a special bonus for people who pre-order Tamler’s forthcoming book "Why Honor Matters."

  • Episode 136: The Good Life (with Laurie Santos)

    March 27th, 2018  |  1 hr 32 mins
    happiness, the good life, yale

    From Very Bad Wizards to Megyn Kelly Today back to Very Bad Wizards, Laurie Santos has traveled the typical trajectory of the celebrity academic. Laurie joins us to talk about her cult status after creating the most popular course in Yale University history: Psychology and the Good Life. The course explores questions like: Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy? What makes it so hard to do the things we know are good for us? Why young are people more stressed, anxious, and overworked than they used to be? And how can we nudge ourselves into living better lives?

  • Episode 135: Utilitarianism and Moral Identity

    March 13th, 2018  |  1 hr 16 mins
    bernard williams, christina hoff sommers, lewis and clark, utilitarianism, woke

    David and Tamler take a break from complaining about psychological studies that measure utilitarianism to complain about the moral theory itself. We talk about one of the most famous critiques of utilitarianism from Bernard Williams. Does utilitarianism annihilate our integrity--our unity--as people? Would trying to maximize well-being fracture our identities, and swallow up our projects, motivations, and moral convictions--the same convictions that make utilitarianism seem appealing in the first place? Is it ultimately self-defeating as a moral theory?
    Plus, we talk about the adventures of Tamler's based step-mom Christina Hoff Sommers' at Lewis and Clark law school. Will David stay woke?