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.

Episodes

June 21, 2022 83 min
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...
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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 i...
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May 24, 2022 103 min
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? I...
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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 combi...
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April 19, 2022 111 min
Panpsychism didn't give us river spirits or mischievous sootballs, so this time we go straight to the source - a defense of animism, and in a top 10 analytic philosophy journal. Could a failed argument for the existence of God establish the existence of trees and mountains with “interiority” and “social characteristics”? Tamler wants to believe, but is the argument that'll push him over the edge?  Plus – speaking of top jou...
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David and Tamler conclude their discussion of "The Trial," Franz Kafka's darkly comic vision of an opaque and impenetrable bureaucracy that comes for us all in the end. Plus we interrupt our previously scheduled opening segment because apparently something happened at the Oscars last week.
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David and Tamler wander through the bewildering dream-like world of Franz Kafka’s "The Trial." In part one of a two-part discussion we discuss the circumstances of its publication, the various interpretative approaches that can be taken to the novel, and all the ways that Kafka’s prose gets under your skin, making you feel what’s happening even if you don’t fully understand it. Recorded in the decidedly un-Kafka-esque locat...
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March 8, 2022 99 min
It’s the topic voted on by our beloved Patreon patrons, panpsychism! David and Tamler delve into the resurgent debate over whether consciousness is the fundamental stuff that makes up the universe. We hoped we might be entering Miyazaki land - river spirits, benevolent radishes, a universal mind. But is this just the same old philosophy of mind debate with different words? Are there any stakes to this debate or is it purely termino...
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Many of us think that art is subjective, but at the same time it seems like some artistic judgments are better than others. Do you think Crash deserved to receive an award for Best Picture? Did you like Season 2 of Ted Lasso? Well you’re wrong. So how do we reconcile these two conflicting attitudes about art? David and Tamler turn to David Hume’s classic essay Of the Standard of Taste (link in notes) for help. Will Pizarro finally ...
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David and Tamler sink deeper and deeper into Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s harrowing and stunningly beautiful depiction of depression, anxiety, and a wedding reception that just won’t end. They bring Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” into the conversation and confront the question: what if the depressed and anxious people are right? Plus Whoopi, M&Ms, baby brain waves, Rogan – we empty out the opening segment Slack.  Note: We ...
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January 25, 2022 99 min
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 w...
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January 11, 2022 93 min
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 fMR...
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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 gen...
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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, a...
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November 16, 2021 102 min
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 disagreemen...
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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 everyone hate them?
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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 t...
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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? Plus, how much free time is good for you? Is that even the right que...
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September 21, 2021 110 min
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-so...
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September 7, 2021 110 min
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.
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