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.

Episodes

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    Episode 207: Sometimes a Paper Tray is Just a Paper Tray

    February 23rd, 2021  |  1 hr 28 mins
    documentaries, rodney ascher, room 237, stanley kubrick, texas

    David and Tamler wander through the maze of Room 237, the great documentary by Rodney Ascher about five people and their views about what Stanley Kubrick’s "The Shining" is really about. When do interpretations become conspiracy theories? Why does Ascher never show us the faces of the interpreters? What is about Kubrick that invites obsessive and confident theorizing on the meaning of his movies? Sometimes a paper tray is just a paper tray. Or is it? Plus Tamler vents about the winter storm and mass power outages in Texas last week…

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    Episode 206: Angel Chasing (Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God")

    February 9th, 2021  |  1 hr 37 mins
    consciousness, hell is the absence of god, religion, short story, ted chiang, the hard problem

    David and Tamler return to the TCU (Ted Chiang Universe) to talk about his short story “Hell is the Absence of God." How would we behave if we had unequivocal proof of God, heaven, hell, and angels? Would that answer our questions about meaning and purpose and justice? Or would those same questions reappear in a different guise? Plus, the hard problem of breakfast, Jewish Space Lasers, and more…

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    Episode 205: Making Your Nervous System Your Ally (William James on "Habit")

    January 26th, 2021  |  1 hr 32 mins
    habit, neuroscience, news, willliam james

    Ever wonder why you’re still listening to VBW all of these years? Or why you check your phone 50 times a day? Or why you put on your pants the same way every morning? (If you still wear pants these days.) David and Tamler talk about William James’ essay on habits, why they’re so powerful, and how you can make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy. Plus, a shocking new neuroscience study reveals that we remember and share funny stories more than boring ones.

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    Episode 204: Happy Freedom Day! (with Lauren Anderson)

    January 12th, 2021  |  1 hr 36 mins
    atlanta, bean dad, capitol riot, donald glover, juneteenth, race

    The legendary Houston Ballet dancer Lauren Anderson joins us to talk about the Atlanta Episode “Juneteenth” (Season 1, Episode 9), a hilarious exploration of race, class, identity, and carrying around your sister’s underwear. But first David and Tamler share some thoughts on the topic on everyone’s mind right now…Bean Dad. Oh yeah and the Capitol riot. Pour yourself a Hennessy or some Emancipation Eggnog and enjoy.

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    Episode 203: Gorgias, Tell Me Something I Don't Know (with Agnes Callard)

    December 22nd, 2020  |  1 hr 34 mins
    agnes callard, dialogues, gorgias, greeks, plato, reasoning, victimhood

    Philosopher Agnes Callard joins us to talk about Plato and his dialogue the Gorgias. Why did Plato write dialogues – are they the best way of presenting arguments? Is Plato cheating when characters contradict themselves by making dumb concessions, or is this part of his method - inviting readers to participate in the debates? Why does the Gorgias end on such a sour note, with Socrates giving long speeches after saying that long speeches shouldn’t be allowed? Plus we talk about Agnes’ recent op-ed in the New York Times, and David and Tamler tackle a new construct: The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood.

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    Episode 202: Not as It Ought to Be (H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space")

    December 8th, 2020  |  1 hr 31 mins
    hp lovecraft, measurement, mindfulness meditation, religious superiority, the colour out of space

    A phosphorescence casts a pale sickly glow on David and Tamler as talk only in verbs and pronouns about H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space.” What is this creature or substance that has color only by analogy, that spreads through earth and water driving man, animal, and vegetation into a madness, not as they ought to be…? What gives the story its terrifying power and its avenues for endless interpretation? Plus, does meditation make you a spiritual narcissist? We talk about a new social psychology article that even David can’t defend.

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    Episode 201: Very Bad Lizard People

    November 24th, 2020  |  1 hr 56 mins
    conspiracy theories

    David and Tamler dive deep into the psychology and epistemology of conspiracy theories. What makes people so prone to believe in complex malevolent plots that require meticulous organization and utter secrecy at the highest levels of power? Are some conspiracies like [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] more plausible than [REDACTED] give [REDACTED] for? And what about [REDACTED]? Do [REDACTED] mislead [REDACTED] by making us think [REDACTED]? How are we supposed to [REDACTED]? Plus, we do some navel gazing, reflecting on what we love and have struggled with over 200+ hundred episodes of [REDACTED].

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    Episode 200: Our 200th Episode Spectactular

    November 3rd, 2020  |  1 hr 44 mins
    gender, holes, sexism, toobin, toys, zoom

    David and Tamler celebrate their 200th episode with bourbon and a return to their potty humor roots. First we talk about holes, zoom dicks, and the election. Then we relitigate our bitter debate (from episode 45) over gender, toys, and balanced play diets. Have we matured over all these years? Well it’s not for us to say…

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    Episode 199: When Philosophy Goes Sideways

    October 20th, 2020  |  1 hr 39 mins
    aesthetics, art, childhood, metaphysics, spacetime, well being

    David and Tamler check out some recent work in metaphysics and applied ethics. Does playing a Nina Simone song sideways show that Einstein was wrong about spacetime? Does a Dali painting nailed to the wall backwards have intrinsic value (see figure 1)? Is childhood bad for children? Do you have to be a child before you're an adult? Are we kidding? Is this a joke? We don't know but don't play this podcast sideways or it may lose its aesthetic value.

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    Episode 198: Is Mental Illness a Myth? (Thomas Szasz's "The Myth of Mental Illness")

    October 6th, 2020  |  1 hr 32 mins
    mental illness, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, thomas szasz

    David and Tamler explore Thomas Szasz’s provocative and still relevant 1961 book “The Myth of Mental Illness,” the topic selected by our beloved Patreon supporters. When we think of mental disorders as “diseases,” are we making a category mistake? Are we turning ordinary “problems in living” into pathologies that must be treated (with pills or psychoanalysis)? Does this model rob us of our autonomy in direct or indirect ways? Plus, with VBW 200 only 2 episodes away we give our top 3 dream guests, and David dons his punditry cap to break down the first presidential debate, which already seems like six months ago.   

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    Episode 197: The Long Slow Death That Is Life

    September 22nd, 2020  |  1 hr 52 mins
    aliens, charlie kaufman, i'm thinking of ending things, open science

    The psychologist Yoel Inbar has always tried to imbue his work with a sort of interiority, and now he joins us for a deep dive into Charlie Kaufman’s baffling and distressing new film “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Why does Jessie Buckley’s name and career keep changing? What’s going on with the dog? Why are the parents unstuck in time? Don’t worry you’ll get home, we have tire chains in the trunk. Plus, aliens, open science, and the illuminati. It’s all connected.

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    Episode 196: The Loneliest Paper in Philosophy

    September 8th, 2020  |  1 hr 49 mins
    david lewis, modal realism, neil sinhababu, pedagogy, possible girls, possible worlds, teaching

    She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and head over heels in love with you. There’s only one problem – she’s from a possible world, not the actual one. What we thought would be a funny opening segment idea turns into a semi-serious discussion of Neil Sinhababu’s 2008 article “Possible Girls.” Plus David and Tamler share some thoughts on teaching in normal times and today.   

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    Episode 195: Jesus on Trial (Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov")

    August 25th, 2020  |  1 hr 55 mins
    dostoevsky, tamler's birthday spectacular, the brothers karamazov, the grand inquisitor, the problem of evil

    David and Tamler dive into the most celebrated and philosophically rich scenes in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece "The Brother’s Karamozov." Alyosha gets in the middle of a rock-fight, Ivan Karamazov makes a devastating moral case against God, and the Grand Inquisitor convicts Jesus Christ of heresy against the church. (Note: this segment is the second of an upcoming five episode VBW miniseries on The Brothers Karamozov – more info on that to come very soon!) Plus one of us has a milestone birthday...

    [Special note from Peez: Stick around after the closing music to hear VBWs most frequent guests Paul Bloom and Yoel Inbar talk to David about Tamler behind his back.]

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    Episode 194: God Has No Mother (with Chris Matheson)

    August 11th, 2020  |  1 hr 53 mins
    atheism, chris matheson, comedy, movies

    David and Tamler welcome special guest Chris Matheson - co-writer of the "Bill and Ted" movies and author of "The Story of God" and "The Buddha’s Story" - to talk about religion, immortality, comedy, Freud, and why the secret ingrediet to good satire is love.  Plus David and Tamler do a conceptual analysis of stoner movies and discuss their favorites. 

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    Episode 193: Free Wanting (Frankfurt's "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person")

    July 21st, 2020  |  1 hr 28 mins
    frankfurt, free will, fuck, pain

    David and Tamler want to go old school and discuss a classic Frankfurt paper on free will. But do they want to want that?

    Are they free to want
    what they want to want?
    Are they free to will what they want to will
    or to have the will they want?

    And if that’s not Dr. Seuss enough for you, shouting “FUCK” increases pain tolerance but what about shouting “TWIZPIPE”?

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    Episode 192: Postmodern Wet Dreams (Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote")

    July 7th, 2020  |  1 hr 36 mins
    borges, my little pony, nazis, postmodernism, short story

    David and Tamler dive into “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” a very funny Borges story that also raises deep questions about authorship, reading, and interpretation. What would it mean for the same text to be written by two different authors more than three hundred years apart? Is this story the post-modernist manifesto that literary critics like Roland Barthes believed it to be? Or is the narrator in the story just a delusional sycophant, a victim of Menard’s practical joke – and by extension, a practical joke by Borges on the post-modernist movement to come? Plus, My Little Pony fans finally confront their Nazi problem.