Very Bad Wizards

Very Bad Wizards

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.


November 29, 2023 117 mins

David and Tamler board the train for Hayao Miyazaki’s mystical dreamy coming of age masterpiece Spirited Away. This is a true VBW deep dive. Plus a study by our secret crush suggests we may not be optimizing the value of our conversations.

Mastroianni, A. M., Gilbert, D. T., Cooney, G., & Wilson, T. D. (2021). Do conversations end when people want them to?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(10), e2011809118.


Mark as Played

The morality of zoophilia has received shockingly little attention in contemporary ethical discourse…until now. David and Tamler break down the paper “Zoophilia is Morally Permissible” from the latest issue of The Journal of Controversial Ideas. We explore issues of harm, consent, and more… like a lot more. Then we talk about Robert Putnam's classic article “Bowling Alone” (the paper that led to his best selling book) about the dec...

Mark as Played
November 13, 2023 58 mins

It’s the first annual “Concept-Con” – a not at all cringe episode where David and Tamler apply the methods and rigor of analytic philosophy to dissect not one, not two, but four new concepts. We start out with a Gen-Z special “mid” and then after a break we analyze the concept “cool.” After that we have two mystery concepts that we sprung on each other. Spoiler alert – David had never heard of Tamler’s. It’s an episode (we can’t em...

Mark as Played

David and Tamler conclude their three-part discussion of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. We talk about the Judge’s coin trick by the fire and the question of the supernatural in the novel. Next we dive into the imbecile’s “baptism” by the river, and then try to wrap our heads around the cryptic epilogue. Baffled at first, we ultimately arrive at the definitive interpretation of the epilogue’s meaning. Finally we offer Hollywood s...

Mark as Played

In part 2 of our journey into Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Tamler and David talk about the kid and his form of resistance to the judge’s gleeful nihilism - does he (as the man) ultimately succumb at the end of the novel? We also discuss other notable members of the Glanton gang and go deep into several scenes, including the Comanche attack, Elrod’s sad fate, and the tarot reading from the family of traveli...

Mark as Played
September 12, 2023 77 mins

In part one of our two-part episode on Cormac McCarthy’s blood-soaked phantasmagorical 1985 masterpiece Blood Meridian, David and Tamler talk about the historical sources of the novel, the cosmic questions the book poses, the capriciousness of the near-constant violence, and the ethical neutrality of McCarthy’s prose. We also get into the religious imagery, the gnostic elements, and the judge – what to make of ...

Mark as Played
August 22, 2023 72 mins

David and Tamler return to the work of old favorite William James and argue about the 6th lecture (inspired by the French philosopher Henri Bergson) of his 1909 book “A Pluralistic Universe.” James attacks the philosophical habit of elevating unchanging concepts over the continuous ever-changing flux that characterizes raw experience. Concepts, James argues, carves joints where there are none. But why does James trust pure percepti...

Mark as Played
August 8, 2023 82 mins

Last December, with Argentina minutes away from a World Cup championship, friend of the show Yoel texted David “congratulations.” David was furious, and soon after (with less than 2 minutes left in extra time) France’s Mbappe scored a game-tying goal to send the match into penalty kicks. (Argentina ended up winning or Yoel might have become ‘former friend of the show.’) David says he doesn’t believe in jinxes at all but his actions...

Mark as Played
July 25, 2023 80 mins

The Summer of Cormac McCarthy continues – this time we dive into his one piece of non-fiction, the short essay “The Kekulé Problem.” How does our unconscious mind solve problems that conscious deliberation can’t crack? Why does it often work elliptically, in code, rather than giving us the answer directly in language? Is McCarthy right that the unconscious doesn’t trust language because it’s such a newcomer to the human brain?


Mark as Played

A new mini-series with Tamler Sommers and Robert Wright on the range of politically acceptable discourse for a given topic and how this “Overton window” changes over time.

This episode is available for free for everyone, the remaining episodes will appear at the Very Bad Wizards Patreon and Robert Wright’s Nonzero Newsletter on Substack.

00:33 What is this new Overton Windows series about?

10:05 Tamler’s connections to Israel and ...

Mark as Played

David and Tamler dive into the Coen brothers’ bleak and beautiful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel "No Country for Old Men." What’s the underlying philosophy that animates Anton Chigurh? Does he have a code of any kind, or is he just a ghostly symbol of human brutality and a pitiless indifferent universe? Does he represent a new kind of evil or is Sheriff Bell just getting old? What elements, if any, in the film are more ...

Mark as Played
June 27, 2023 95 mins

A VBW exclusive report! For years David and Tamler have been a little dismissive of fears about cancel culture in academia but now the SJWs have come for one of our own! We welcome back Yoel Inbar to talk about his experience applying for a position at UCLA psychology only to have his candidacy pulled at the last minute because of remarks he made on his podcast (!) about diversity statements. What does this mean for freedom of expr...

Mark as Played

David and Tamler dive into the first two parts of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil which contain some of Nietzsche’s best drive-bys on philosophers like Plato, Descartes, the Stoics, Kant, and Hegel along with beliefs in free will, hard determinism, Christianity, morality, conceptual analysis, objectivity, and the value of truth. We argue about Nietzsche’s metaphilosophy and the implications of thinking that all philosophy amounts ...

Mark as Played
May 30, 2023 82 mins

What’s the meaning of a work of art? Does the text mean just what the author intends it to mean? Does it matter what Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark thinks about the end of 2001? Or is the artist’s interpretation just one interpretation among many once the text is out in the world? We explore the question of authorial intent, and brace yourselves - this is just about as postmodern as David gets.

Plus – do we have what it takes to get a...

Mark as Played

David and Tamler take the first excursion into the work of Haruki Murakami and talk about his short story “Sleep.” A thirty-year-old woman, the wife of a dentist and mother of a young boy, has a terrifying dream and when she wakes up, she no longer needs to sleep. This isn’t insomnia, it’s something else – she has never felt so alive, strong, and awake. She can swim laps for an hour in the afternoon and read Anna Karenina with perf...

Mark as Played

The great Paul Bloom returns to the show to explore the many mysteries of Todd Field’s 2022 film “Tár.” Is it a ghost story? A movie about cancel culture and abuse of power? Guilt? Professional disappointment? The anxiety of getting old, losing touch with youth and reality? Reminds me of my freshman year at Smith…

Plus – Paul gets into trouble on Twitter for saying he’s mildly pro-trigger warnings in certain cases. But is he ignori...

Mark as Played
April 11, 2023 93 mins

David and Tamler talk about William James’ chapter on mysticism from his book "Varieties of Religious Experience." What defines a mystical experience? Why do they defy expression and yet feel like a state of knowledge, a glimpse into the window of some undiscovered aspect of reality? Is Tamler right that David has a little mystic inside of him just waiting to burst forth from his breast?

Plus – another edition of VBW does conceptua...

Mark as Played
March 28, 2023 99 mins

David and Tamler deliver a PODCAST episode, one of many that comes from the INTERNET, that you’ll probably listen to through Air Pods or some other kind of WIRELESS HEADPHONES as you go about your day.

(Incidentally, the topic of the episode is Marshall McLuhan on how new forms of media profoundly shape our experience and identity, but in a way that makes us focus on the content of the specific medium and not the medium itself.)


Mark as Played
March 14, 2023 96 mins

Here’s an episode with something for both of us – a healthy serving of Kantian rationalism for David with a dollop of Marxist criminology for Tamler. We discuss and then argue about Jeffrie Murphy’s 1971 paper “Marxism and Retribution.” For Murphy, utilitarianism is non-starter as a theory of punishment because it can’t justify the right of the state to inflict suffering on criminals. Retributivism respects the autonomy of individu...

Mark as Played

David and Tamler get lost in the world of Susanna Clarke’s "Piranesi," a hauntingly beautiful and thrilling novel with echoes of Borges, Plato, C.S. Lewis, and even Parfit. The first part of our conversation is spoiler-free so you can listen to that section if you haven’t read it yet. (But seriously read this book! We both read it in a few days.)

Plus, watch out ladies - Sydney the Bing chatbot is coming to steal your man.


Mark as Played

Popular Podcasts

    "McCartney: A Life in Lyrics" offers listeners the opportunity to sit in on conversations between Paul McCartney and poet Paul Muldoon dissecting the people, experiences, and art that inspired McCartney’s songwriting. These conversations were held during the past several years as the two collaborated on the best selling book, “The Lyrics: 1965 to Present.” Over two seasons and 24 episodes of “McCartney: A Life in Lyrics”, you’ll hear a combination master class, memoir, and improvised journey with one of the most beloved figures in popular music. Each episode focuses on one song from McCartney’s iconic catalog – spanning early Beatles through his solo work. Season 1 premieres on October 4th. “McCartney: A Life in Lyrics” is a co-production between iHeart Media, MPL and Pushkin Industries. Cover Portrait © 1967 Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney

    Dateline NBC

    Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

    Crime Junkie

    If you can never get enough true crime... Congratulations, you’ve found your people.

    Stuff You Should Know

    If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.


    Unforgettable true crime mysteries, exclusive newsmaker interviews, hard-hitting investigative reports and in-depth coverage of high profile stories.

Advertise With Us
Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2023 iHeartMedia, Inc.