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

  • Poster Image

    Episode 250: Metaphors All the Way Down

    December 6th, 2022  |  1 hr 30 mins
    cancel culture, george lakoff, metaphors

    We often think of metaphors as poetic flourishes, a nice way to punctuate your ideas and make them more relatable. But what if metaphors aren’t simply tools of language but part of thought itself? David and Tamler “dive into” George Lakoff’s theory of metaphors and “explore” the implications of his view that metaphors shape and constrain the ways we conceptualize our experience of the world. Plus if we’re really living in cancel culture, we might as well do some cancelling. Say goodbye to "Singing in the Rain," Latinx, and punny academic titles among other things.

    Oh and it’s our 250th episode! It’s been quite a journey. Have we come a long way or are we just spinning our wheels? And for a fun detour, check out our bonus podcast series “The Ambulators” on the great TV series Deadwood.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 249: Phlegm and Carelessness (Hume's "The Sceptic")

    November 22nd, 2022  |  1 hr 25 mins
    happiness, hume, social psychology, the sceptic, twitter

    David and Tamler gild and stain David Hume’s essay “The Sceptic” with their sentiments. If nothing is inherently valuable or despicable, desirable or hateful, then what do philosophers have to offer when it comes to happiness? If reason is powerless, does it all come down to our emotions and “humours”? Or does the study of philosophy and liberal arts naturally lead to a fulfilling and virtuous life? Plus we look at a new non-traditional social psych paper on how we always imagine that things could be better, and tip our caps to the queen of handling Twitter pile-ons (and former VBW guest) – Candy Mom.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 248: Checkmate, Grasshopper

    November 1st, 2022  |  1 hr 23 mins
    analytic philosophy, chess, games

    In this podcast we examine a recent argument for the view that chess is not, in fact, a game. We discuss the Grasshopper’s claim that all games must have a prelusory goal, as well as Skepticus’ objection to the giant Grasshopper concerning chess. We then turn to a broader analysis of the Suitsian account of games. Does the existence of illusory checkmates offer Grasshopper an avenue for replying to Skepticus? Should we bite the bullet and agree that chess is not a game? What is a lusory attitude? Is Tamler losing his mind? Why is David so giddy?

    Plus – how should Arthur C. Clarke’s novel "2001: A Space Odyssey" affect our understanding of Kubrick’s movie? And a little more on Kanye.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 247: Open the Pod, Dave (with Sam Harris)

    October 18th, 2022  |  2 hrs 34 mins
    2001: a space odyssey, anti-semitism, kanye west, richard rorty, sam harris, stanley kubrick

    David and Tamler welcome Sam Harris back to the show for a deep dive into Stanley Kubrick’s confounding 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey." How long is the Dawn of Man? What does the second monolith do exactly? Why are the humans so banal and expressionless? What are HAL’S motivations? Has he planned his mutiny from the start, or does the Council’s deception make him manlfunction? Or something else? Who is the Council anyway? Was HAL meant to go through the stargate? What is the final leap forward in consciousness? The hotel room, the starchild, all the rectangles, rectangles everywhere, the music – what does it all mean????

    Plus Sam has some thoughts about our Rorty episode and David tries to rile Tamler up about Kanye’s antisemitism.

    Note: there's a bit of an abrupt transition between our brief opening and Sam telling a story about Rorty in around the 9 minute mark... couldn't be helped.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 246: Existential Poker-Face (David Foster Wallace's "E Unibus Pluram")

    October 4th, 2022  |  1 hr 46 mins
    culture wars, david foster wallace, dei, e unibus pluram, irony, spsp, television

    We dive into David Foster Wallace’s sprawling 1993 essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” How do TV and new forms of media keep their hold on us when we know at some level that they’re reinforcing our loneliness and passivity? That’s easy, Wallace says, post-modern cool. Flatter me, let me think we’re all in the joke together, give me “an ironic permission-slip to do what I do best whenever I feel confused and guilty: assume, inside, a sort of fetal position, a pose of passive reception to comfort, escape, reassurance.” But in the years since this essay, the TV landscape has completely transformed. Has it transcended its function as a surrogate companion for lonely people, or has it just found new ways to keep us isolated and passive?

    Plus, we talk about the recent new SPSP guidelines and Jon Haidt’s recent essay on why he’s resigning from the organization. (Sorry, Jon!)

  • Poster Image

    Episode 245: Pragmatically Speaking

    September 20th, 2022  |  1 hr 31 mins
    listener selected topics, pragmatism, relativism, richard rorty, the little mermaid, truth

    David and Tamler take their first real look at pragmatism via Richard Rorty’s “Solidarity or Objectivity.” Can we discover facts about the world as it “really is,” independent of our own culturally influenced methods of inquiry? If not, does that make us relativists? Is David right about pragamatism being an ass-backward approach to scientific truth, or is he just a pragmatist who’s not ready to admit that to himself? Plus, does "The Little Mermaid" have to be white? What about Clark Kent? And we select the topic finalists for our Patreon listener selected episode.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 244: Thanks for the Memories? (Borges' "Funes the Memorious)

    September 6th, 2022  |  1 hr 51 mins
    10 years!, borges, funes the memorious, memory

    David and Tamler return to Borges land to get lost in the infinite, this time with his legendary and tragic character Funes the memorious. What would it be like to have perfect memory, to have full access to every perceived detail no matter how trivial? Would life be infinitely richer, with present experience and memory merging into a perfect Heraclitan flow? Or is William James correct to say that one condition of remembering is to forget, and that “if we remembered everything, we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing.”?

    Plus, we’re sorry, but after 10 years (!) we thought we had the right to get a little self-indulgent and naval-gazey. We do a bit of reminiscing (“though we have no right to speak that sacred verb..”) in the first segment about how the podcast has changed since 2012, and the impact it has made on our lives. Thanks for the memories!

  • Poster Image

    Episode 243: Finding My Religion

    August 16th, 2022  |  1 hr 32 mins
    conspiracy theories, faith, meaning, religion, tolstoy

    David and Tamler continue their discussion of Leo Tolstoy’s 'Confession.' When we left him last time, the famous author had bottomed out just years after writing two of the greatest novels ever written. Our eventual death, Tolstoy thought, strips life of all meaning and purpose – all answers to the question “so what?”. How does he emerge from this state of suicidal depression? What role does faith or “irrational knowledge” play in his account? What’s the meaning of the cryptic dream at the conclusion of the memoir?

    Plus, bombarded with this recommendation, we were going to talk about a certain article that came out in "Qualitative Research" about masturbating to Japanese shota comics – we even had a guest – but had to scrap it. Instead, we discuss a recent study on conspiracy theories that shows that liberals are just as likely to believe in them as conservatives. Mostly we just talk about the conspiracies.

  • Poster Image

    Bonus Episode: The Ambulators (A "Deadwood" Podcast)

    August 9th, 2022  |  1 hr 30 mins
    bonus, deadwood

    We have a sneak peek for our listeners--the first episode our new Patreon bonus series on David Milch's brilliant (but short-lived) series "Deadwood." In this inaugural edition of "The Ambulators" (we promise the name makes sense), Tamler and David discuss the pilot episode "Deadwood."

  • Poster Image

    Episode 242: Losing My Religion

    August 2nd, 2022  |  1 hr 33 mins
    ai, existential, meaning, tolstoy

    David and Tamler find themselves unable to attach rational meaning to a single act in their entire lives. Let’s say we publish more articles and books. What then? What about our kids? They’re going off to college. Why? What for? We think about the future of the podcast. Let’s say we get bought out by Spotify and become more famous than Joe Rogan, Dolly Parton, and even Yoel Inbar -- more famous than all the podcasters in the world. So what?

    And we can find absolutely no reply.

    Plus, we take a test to determine whether we can we tell an AI apart from an analytic philosopher. When should we start getting scared of what AIs are gonna do to us, or what we’re doing to them?

    *Note: the main segment is on the first half of Tolstoy’s great memoir "A Confession," but you don’t need to be familiar with the text to appreciate the discussion for this one.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 241: Very Bad Orgies (Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut")

    July 19th, 2022  |  2 hrs 35 mins
    eyes wide shut, masturbation, sexual satisfaction, stanley kubrick

    David and Tamler mask up and wander through the audio and visual orgy of Stanley Kubrick’s final masterpiece "Eyes Wide Shut". What is this movie really about? Dreams? Wealth and power? Marriage? Jealousy? Female sexuality? Masculinity issues? The Illuminati? Pedophilia? Sex cults? Prostitution, both literal and figurative? Missing out, always on the outside looking in? Why does Tom Cruise repeat everything? Why is Nicole Kidman such a lightweight? Why can’t a successful Upper West Side couple get better weed? We explore all these themes and more in a film that raises so many more questions than it answers.

    Plus, a study on masturbation, gender, and sexual dissatisfaction – right in our wheelhouse, or is it?

  • Poster Image

    Episode 240: Evil

    July 5th, 2022  |  1 hr 33 mins

    David and Tamler descend into the dark pits of Hell to look Satan in the eyes and discover the nature of evil. OK…that’s not fully accurate, we just read and talk about a couple of philosophy articles that analyze the concept. What are the features of evil people and acts? Does evil just mean ‘really really really really bad’ or is it categorically different in some way? Can you be evil without ever actually causing harm? Is Tony Soprano evil?

    Plus we take a "moral alignment" quiz (inspired by role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons). We both want to end up as ‘chaotic good’ but does it turn out that way? And what kind of character is a unicorn?

  • Poster Image

    Episode 239: Lose Yourself

    June 21st, 2022  |  1 hr 23 mins
    flow, mihaly csikszentmihalyi, substack

    David and Tamler lose themselves in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (pr. ‘chick sent me high’) classic paper on the concept of flow. We talk about the features of flow activities – loss of ego, the merging of your awareness with the activity, and autotelic (not what you think) enjoyment. What makes flow activities so rewarding? Do you need to develop skills over many years to experience them? Do easy and natural social interactions count as flow?

    Plus as men of pure virtue, we call an audible and choose not to make fun of a recent paper (with a student as lead author). Instead we pilot a not fully formed idea: “Substack Starters." Now that the economy is tanking, do we have any heterodox beliefs that might lead to profitable Substacks?

  • Poster Image

    Episode 238: I Am Not Ivan Ilyich...Am I?

    June 7th, 2022  |  1 hr 58 mins
    academia, the death of ivan ilyich, tolstoy

    Ivan Ilyich is a man. All men are mortal. So Ivan Ilyich is mortal. Sure absolutely, that’s true for Ivan Ilyich and for all men. But we’re not Ivan Ilyich and we’re not ‘all men’- so what does this have to do with us? Right? David and Tamler confront their mortality as they discuss Leo Tolstoy’s brilliant and chilling short story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.”

    Plus the ‘Why I am leaving academia’ essay has become its own genre. But is this profession really that much worse relative to others?

  • Poster Image

    Episode 237: Glitches Ain't Shit

    May 24th, 2022  |  1 hr 43 mins
    a glitch in the matrix, cringe, rodney ascher, simulation theory

    David and Tamler explore the many variations of simulation theory, the view that our universe is just a computer generated model created by an advanced civilization that has reached “technological maturity.” What does the growing popularity of simulation theories reveal about contemporary life? Are any of the arguments for simulation theory compelling or are they just post-hoc ways of justifying what you already believe on faith? If we are living in a simulation, does that mean we can go around killing people? Would it change anything about how we should live? Rodney Ascher’s (Room 237, The Nightmare) excellent documentary "A Glitch in the Matrix" gets the discussion going.

    Plus the return of the VBW does conceptual analysis segment - a careful, rigorous, systematic inquiry into the concept “cringe.”*

    *Note: if you think the opening segment is itself cringe, that’s because we’re doing seventh dimensional Zoomer meta shit and you just didn’t get it.

  • Poster Image

    Episode 236: Your Outie Is Skilled at Lovemaking (With Paul Bloom)

    May 3rd, 2022  |  2 hrs 10 mins
    evolutionary psychology, orgasms, paul bloom, severance

    We welcome Paul Bloom to talk about the first season of "Severance," the new mind-bending and mind-splitting TV series on Apple TV+. What happens when you separate your home life from your work life? Do you create a completely different person? Is it a form of self-slavery? How important is autobiographical memory to your identity? And what’s the deal with the break room… and the goats?

    Plus, what happens when you combine the obsessions of evolutionary psychology with the methodological problems of social psychology? You (finally) get an explanation for the female orgasm.