January 25th, 2022 | 1 hr 39 mins
beauty, listener-selected episodes, lookism, ted chiang
We think racism is wrong but what about “lookism” – a bias that favors attractive people over unattractive ones? If it’s wrong to judge people by the color of their skin, what about judging people for something that is only skin deep? We talk about two pieces today, a forthcoming philosophy article by William D’Allesandro “Is it Bad to Prefer Attractive Partners” and the Ted Chiang story “Liking What You See: A Documentary.”
Plus we select the topic finalists for our beloved Patreon listener-selected episode. Interesting list this time around!
January 11th, 2022 | 1 hr 33 mins
archetypes, carl jung, collective unconscious, humor
David and Tamler confront their shadows and dive into Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. What are the central differences between Jung and Freud? What did Jung mean by archetypes and what’s his evidence for their centrality in the human psyche? How can we integrate elements of our unconscious and avoid projecting them onto the world? Can Jung’s ideas tell us anything about culture wars and relationships?
Plus, an fMRI study on offensive humor – I thought you were stronger Batman!
December 21st, 2021 | 1 hr 38 mins
ai, david foster wallace, delphi, machine learning, this is water
David and Tamler dive into David Foster Wallace’s celebrated and surprisingly earnest Kenyon College commencement speech “This is Water”. How can we escape the prison and prism of our (literally) self-centered perspective? Can we choose to adjust our natural default settings, take a break from our running inner monologue, and pay attention to what’s in front of us right now? Is DFW appealing to Buddhist ideas or something more general that you can be found across all spiritual traditions?
Plus we ask the AI ethics program “Ask Delphi” some tough moral questions (spoiler alert: "just the tip" is "rude"), and almost get into a big fight about the potential of AI ethical robots (but we’re saving that argument for a future episode).
December 7th, 2021 | 1 hr 56 mins
david lewis, primer, thanksgiving, time traveling
First, it’s the return of the annual drunken Thanksgiving segment! Tamler and based wicked stepmom Christina Hoff Sommers fight about JFK, systematic racism, corporations, and how to pronounce valium. (We find more common ground than usual though on Covid and Havana Syndrome.) Then podcast auteur Barry Lam joins David and Tamler to talk about David Lewis on time travel, the new season of Barry’s excellent podcast Hi-Phi Nation, and then a deep dive on maybe the best time travel movie of all time - Shane Carruth's mind-melting cult classic "Primer."
November 16th, 2021 | 1 hr 42 mins
cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, fodor, modularity, university of austin
David and Tamler talk about the often rancorous debate among cognitive scientists and evolutionary psychologists over whether the mind is modular -- composed of discrete systems responsible for vision, reasoning, cheater detection, sexual jealousy, and so on. David and Tamler (mostly David) describe the history of the debate, then dive into a recent paper (Pietraszewski & Wertz, 2021) arguing that virtually all the disagreement is the product of a conceptual and methodological confusion – that the two sides are operating with different levels of analysis and talking past each other as a result.
Plus, we REALLY tried not to talk about the University of Austin thing for the whole opening segment. We had another topic lined up and everything. It just didn’t work out. Cicero would understand. Bari Weiss stans might wanna skip to the main segment.
November 2nd, 2021 | 1 hr 42 mins
nft, pain, paul bloom, pleasure, the sweet spot
VBW favorite Paul Bloom joins us to talk about the pleasures of suffering, flow states, Sisyphus, meaning, and dating questions. Check out his new book "The Sweet Spot" which comes out today! Plus what are NFTs and why does every hate them?
October 19th, 2021 | 1 hr 28 mins
chappelle, ingmar bergman, movie episode, persona, the closer
David and Tamler dive into Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece “Persona”, a film about two (?) women, Elisabet, a famous stage actress who has stopped speaking, and Alma the chatty young nurse assigned to care for her at an island cottage. What happens when the roles we play as parents, spouses, friends, and colleagues start to feel like dishonest performances, an endless series of desperate lies? Can we escape to an inner sanctum of truth and authenticity? Or is that putting on another mask, playing yet another part, telling a different set of lies? We offer some tentative interpretations of this rich and baffling film. Get that boy a normal sized sheet!
Plus we share some thoughts about the Chappelle special…
October 5th, 2021 | 1 hr 37 mins
discretionary time, existentialism, free time, humanism, sartre
David and Tamler don black turtlenecks and light up a couple of Gauloises to talk about Jean Paul Sartre's classic essay “Existentialism is a Humanism.” Why are choices so fundamental to our experience? What does Sartre mean when he says that “existence precedes essence”? Why does he try to shoehorn universalizability into a view that’s clearly hostile to it? And how do you pronounce Sartre without sounding like a douche?
Plus, how much free time is good for you? Is that even the right question?
September 21st, 2021 | 1 hr 50 mins
moloch, norm macdonald, scott alexander, slatestarcodex, transhumanism
David and Tamler wind their way through the long-requested “Meditations on Moloch” by Scott Alexander, a comprehensive account of the coordination problems (personified by Allan Ginsberg’s demon-entity Moloch) that lead to human misery and values tossed out the window. Does Alexander’s rationalist conception of human nature ignore the work of VBW favorites like Joe Henrich and Robert Frank? Is he a little too friendly to the neo-social Darwinism view of some guy named Nick Land? And oh no, why does he have to go transhumanist at the end?! Plus, we talk about the unique comic vision of Norm Macdonald and why we loved him.
September 7th, 2021 | 1 hr 50 mins
alienation, ariely, communist manifesto, estranged labor, fraud, marx
In honor of Labor Day, David and Tamler dive into two works by Karl Marx - "The Communist Manifesto" and "Estranged Labor." What is Marx's theory of historical change? Why does capitalism produce an alienated workforce? What role does philosophy play in maintaining the status quo? Plus, fraudulent data in a famous study about dishonesty and former guest Dan Ariely is under investigation.
August 17th, 2021 | 1 hr 45 mins
borges, borges and i, eating, emma zuni, sex, short story, social psychology
It’s a Borges bonanza! David and Tamler dive into two stories: “Emma Zunz” and “Borges and I.” The first seems like a straightforward daughter revenge story (Tamler’s favorite genre), but Borges being Borges there are layers of doubt and fuzziness about what exactly is going on. “Borges and I” may be less than a page, but it has us questioning our identity, the relationship between private and public selves, and what happens to when you release a work out into the world.
Plus, back to social psychology. Are you a picky eater? Then people think you suck at sex. We are not sure who is recording this podcast.
August 3rd, 2021 | 1 hr 59 mins
caché, conceptual analysis, corny, movies
David and Tamler go deep on Michael Haneke’s unnerving psychological thriller Caché. An upper middle class French intellectual couple receives mysterious videotapes of the exterior of their house, forcing them to confront their past and present. Can we run from our history? Or will it always find a way to break through? And who’s sending the tapes? Plus, VBW does conceptual analysis - what does it mean to be “corny”?
July 20th, 2021 | 2 hrs 5 mins
death, deathbed wisdom, paradigms, patreon listener-selected episode, the structure of scientific revolutions, thomas kuhn
David and Tamler hit the books and cram for their beloved Patreon listener-selected episode – this time on Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” David thinks Kuhn is a great sociologist of science but recoils at the relativistic tenor of the final chapters. Tamler loves anything that makes David recoil.
Plus, should we give more weight to the advice of people on their deathbed? Or should we nod politely and get back to working for that promotion…
July 6th, 2021 | 1 hr 40 mins
apologies, evolutionary psychology, infidelity, oral sex
We’ve promised you for years that we would do an episode on apologies and never got to it until today. So we both want to say from the bottom of our hearts: we’re sorry. We recognize we’ve let so many of our listeners down, and we feel just awful if you were offended by the delay. We hope this episode will be just one small step towards regaining your trust.
Plus, of all the evo-psych articles in the world, this one might be the evo-psychiest: “Oral Sex as Infidelity Detection.”
June 22nd, 2021 | 1 hr 37 mins
critical race theory, crt, l.a. paul, transformative experience
David and Tamler argue about the philosopher L.A. Paul’s ideas on “transformative experiences” – big life decisions that will change you and your values so much that our normal decision-making models break down. Tamler is fully on board and hopeful for philosophy, but David sees Paul’s view as a threat to his precious rationality. Plus, we tackle the greatest existential threat to human civilization history: critical race theory. Why are people on all sides so intent on misunderstanding it?
June 8th, 2021 | 1 hr 20 mins
algorithms, character, faces, moral emotions, political orientation
Tamler welcomes social psychologist David Pizarro of Cornell University to the podcast to talk about his recent article (along with Raj Anderson, Shaun Nichols, and Rachana Kamtekar) on “false-positive emotions.” When agents commit accidental harms, we typically tell them they shouldn’t feel too guilty, it’s not their fault, it was out of their control, and so forth. At the same time, we don’t want them to let themselves off the hook right away either. They shouldn’t feel guilty, but also they…should. What’s behind these mixed messages and attitudes? Are we looking for information about their character? What kind?
Plus, a new algorithm can predict someone’s political orientation with 72% accuracy based on one profile photo (either from Facebook or a dating app). Is Big Brother around the corner?