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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    Episode 165: Life With No Head (With Sam Harris)

    June 4th, 2019  |  2 hrs 16 mins

    Sam Harris returns to the podcast to talk about meditation and his new Waking Up meditation app. What are the goals of mindfulness practice - stress reduction and greater focus, or something much deeper? Can it cure David's existential dread? Tamler's fear of his daughter going away to college? Can sustained practice erode the illusion of self? Is that even something we'd want to do? What if it diminishes our attachment to people we love? And what is the self anyway? Is Sam a defender of panpsychism? So many questions... Plus, the ethics of creating talking elephants by curing them of their autism through bonding and possibly mounting. (Seriously.)

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    Episode 164: Choosing to Believe

    May 14th, 2019  |  1 hr 21 mins

    David and Tamler argue about William James' classic essay "The Will to Believe." What's more important - avoiding falsehood or discovering truth? When (if ever) is it rational to believe anything without enough evidence? What about beliefs that we can't be agnostic about? Are there hypotheses that we have to believe in order for them to come true? Does James successfully demonstrate that faith can be rational?

    Plus, a philosopher at Apple who's not allowed to talk to the media - what are they hiding? And why are academics constantly telling students that academia is a nightmare?

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    Episode 163: Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas")

    May 1st, 2019  |  1 hr 34 mins

    David and Tamler are pulled into Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Omelas is a truly happy city, except for one child who lives in abominable misery. Is that too high a moral cost? Why do some people walk away from the city? Why does no one help the child? Why does Le Guin make us create the city with her? Plus, we talk about our listener meetup in Vancouver, and a new edition of [dramatic music] GUILTY CONFESSIONS. Note: if this episode strikes you as too puritanical, then please add an orgy.

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    Episode 162: Parents Just Don't Understand (with Paul Bloom)

    April 16th, 2019  |  1 hr 26 mins

    As parents we like to think we have an impact on our children - their future, their happiness, the kinds of people they turn out to be. But
    are we deluded? Dave and Tamler are joined by empathy's kryponite, the great Paul Bloom, to talk about Judith Rich Harris's view that parents matter a lot less than you might think (while genes and peer groups matter a lot more than you might think) .

    Plus, what the connection between art and morality? Should we support "cancel culture"? Is it wrong to play Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. (spell it out) on the radio? What about the Jackson 5? And what about art that is itself immoral? You're not gonna believe this but Louis CK gets mentioned.

    Thanks to our beloved Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this topic!

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    Episode 161: Reach-Around Knowledge and Bottom Performers (The Dunning-Kruger Effect)

    April 2nd, 2019  |  1 hr 25 mins

    The less we know, the more we know it. David and Tamler talk about the notorious Dunning-Kruger effect, which makes us overconfident in beliefs on topics we're ignorant about and under-confident when we're experts. Plus, we break down an evolutionary psychology article on
    why poor men and hungry men prefer women with big breasts. Trust us, it's a really bad study. We're sure about it.

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    Episode 160: Everything is Meaningless: The Book of Ecclesiastes

    March 19th, 2019  |  1 hr 33 mins

    David and Tamler dive into the book of Ecclesiastes, an absurdist classic that is somehow also a book of the Bible. Is everything meaningless, vain, and a chasing after the wind? Are humans just the same as animals? Are wise people no better off than fools? Will God judge us after we die, rewarding the good people and punishing the shit-heels? What if there is no afterlife and this is all we get? How should we deal with our pointless, unjust existence? Plus we return to our opening-segment bible— Aeon—and talk about an argument for replacing jealousy with...wait for it…compersion.

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    Episode 159: You Have the Right to Go to Prison

    March 5th, 2019  |  1 hr 15 mins

    Poor and black defendants have more legal rights than ever, but that didn't stop mass incarceration. Why is that? We talk about a paper by Paul Butler called "Poor People Lose: Gideon and the Critique of Rights." Plus, we answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how to live as an anti-natalist. And Tamler is appalled to discover David's anti-natalist leanings.

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    Episode 158: False Dichotomies and Oral Reciprocity

    February 19th, 2019  |  1 hr 36 mins

    David and Tamler talk about the invasion of dual process theories in psychology. Why do we love theories that divide complex phenomena into just two categories? Is there any evidence to back up these theories? Are we distorting our understanding of the mind and morality? And what we can do to get out of this mess? Plus, Liam Neeson, moral pet peeves, and oral ethics.

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    Episode 157: Notes From Underground (Pt. 2)

    February 5th, 2019  |  1 hr 21 mins

    David and Tamler continue their discussion of Dostoevsky's funny, sad, philosophical novella Notes From Underground. We focus on part 2 this time - three stories from the Underground Man's past - and explore what the stories tell us about his existentialist rants in part 1. Is he consumed with guilt over his treatment of Liza? Is he ashamed of his social awkwardness, low status, and self-destructive behavior? Or is he a narcissistic proto-incel suffering from an especially acute case of spotlight effect? (As usual, the answer is probably some combination of all these and more.) Plus, we select the finalists for our Patreon-listener selected episode. Thanks to everyone for their support!

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    Episode 156: Notes From Underground (Pt. 1)

    January 22nd, 2019  |  1 hr 43 mins

    We’re sick men. We’re spiteful men. We’re unpleasant men. We think our livers are diseased (especially Tamler’s). So we talk about Dostoevsky’s wild, complex, stream of consciousness masterpiece Notes From Underground. For this episode we focus on part 1 of the novella, and the philosophy behind it. Is the underground man an existentialist hero affirming his freedom in the face of a deterministic hyper-rationalist worldview? Or is he a lonely man consumed with guilt and self-loathing, constructing a pretentious post-hoc rationalization of his character and behavior? Plus, the American Psychological Association just issued guidelines for how to treat men who embrace traditional masculine ideologies. Is the backlash justified?

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    Episode 155: Alfred Hitchcock's Money Shot

    January 8th, 2019  |  1 hr 38 mins

    David and Tamler dive deep into Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 hallucinatory classic, "Vertigo". Why does this movie seem to gain stature among critics and academics every year? Is this a really a exploration of Hitchcock's own obsessions and sexual repression? Is it a story about filmmaking and celebrity? Or is it just a twisty noir thriller about a man who has no job and can't kiss to save his life? Plus, some thoughts about bad reviews on Rate My Professor and why it's hard to get feedback about job performance in academia.

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    Episode 154: Metaphysical Vertigo (Borges's "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius")

    December 18th, 2018  |  1 hr 56 mins

    In the famous words of the idealist philosopher George Berkeley, “To exist is to be perceived.” Our ideas and perceptions are the fundamental objects in the universe; there is no real world beyond them. Hume wrote (I think) that Berkeley’s arguments don’t admit of the slightest refutation, and they don’t inspire the slightest conviction. On Earth, that may be true. On Tlön, it’s false – the people there are “congenital idealists.” Their language, philosophy, literature, and religion presuppose idealism. It’s their common sense. And their philosophy starts to encroach on their reality. But what happens when we read and hear about Tlön – can their idealism invade our “real” world? Will we start to lose our metaphysical bearings? David and Tamler talk about Borges’s invasive, unsettling story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Please listen so we can exist!

    (And speaking of things that may or may not exist, we also discuss the metaphysics of holes.)

    This episode is brought to you by GiveWell and the generous support of our listeners.

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    Episode 153: Progress in Psychology: A Reply to BootyBootyFartFart

    December 4th, 2018  |  1 hr 46 mins

    David dies for science’s sins and addresses the failed replication of one of his studies (conducted with three former VBW guests) by the Many Labs Project. But first, the guys try to gauge their intuitions about the phenomenal experience of their molecule-for-molecule mirror reflection duplicate in a universe with a non-orientable topology. Plus, the annual Thanksgiving tradition: IDW star and Factual Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and Tamler argue over drinks about standpoint epistemology, political correctness, and lingerie.

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    Episode 152: Ruthlessness, Public and Private

    November 20th, 2018  |  1 hr 21 mins

    Tamler and David continue their Nagel-gazing by discussing another essay from Mortal Questions: "Ruthlessness in Public Life." Why do we treat the immorality of politicians, military leaders, and others in power differently than the immorality of individuals? Why does it seem less aversive to shake the hand of someone responsible for the death of thousands of civilians through military action than it does to shake the hand of a serial killer who has merely killed dozens? Are the rules we use to judge the moral atrocities of public officials different from the ones we use to judge private atrocities? Do they have the same basic foundations? Plus, we satisfy our listeners bloodlust by arguing about the new "Journal of Controversial Ideas" (because it would be cowardly not to).

    This episode is brought to you by, and by the private morality of our generous supporters.

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    Episode 151: Viddy Well, My Listeners (Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange")

    November 6th, 2018  |  2 hrs 4 mins

    There was me, that is Tamler, and my droog, that is David, and we sat in our living rooms on Skype trying to make up our rassoodocks what Stanley Kubrick's a Clockwork Orange was really about? Free will? We didn't think so. Punishment? Yeah but what about punishment? And what about the old ultraviolence - can it still shock us in the modern age? Then suddenly we viddied that thinking was for the gloopy ones and that the oomny just, like, press record and start the podcast. Slooshy well, my brothers, slooshy well.

    This episode is brought to you by our beloved Patreon supporters and

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    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!