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Very Bad Wizards

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Very Bad Wizards

Tamler Sommers & David Pizarro

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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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A wish-fulfilment fantasy for pubescent boys of all ages, or a subtle disquisition on the ethics of a sorcerous world? John Milius' Conan the Barbarian (1982) manages to be both, although one may be easy to overlook. In this episode, JF and Phil leave the heights of Hesse's The Glass Bead Game with a headlong dive to the trash stratum. Their wager:…
 
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 recen…
 
In the current "attention economy," which has resulted in plummeting literacy rates and the almost wanton neglect of various cultural practices, what significance does culture even have? Why seek to preserve something our age has decided doesn't have to exist? Perhaps Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game can be read as an answer to those questions. …
 
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? Sponsored By: Chess.com: Join chess.com today--you can learn to play, take some lessons to improve, brush up…
 
JF and Phil have been talking about doing a show on The Glass Bead Game since Weird Studies' earliest beginnings. It is a science-fiction novel that alights on some of the key ideas that run through the podcast: the dichotomy of work and play, the limits and affordances of institutional life, the obscure boundary where certainty gives way to myster…
 
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 perf…
 
Modern skeptics pride themselves on being immune to unreason. They present themselves as defenders of rationality, civilization, and good sense against what Freud famously called the "black mud-tide of occultism." But what if skepticism was more implicated in the phenomena it aims to banish than it might appear to be? What if no one could debunk an…
 
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 hos…
 
Joy Williams' third novel, Breaking and Entering, is the story of lovers who break into strangers' homes and live their lives for a time before moving on. First published in 1988, it is a book impossible to describe, a work of singular vision and sensibilty that is as infectious in its weird effect as it is unforgettable for the quality of its pros…
 
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 f…
 
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 …
 
In this episode, Weird Studies turns meta, reflecting on the peculiar medium that is podcasting, and how it has shaped the Weird Studies project itself. JF and Phil provide a glimpse into what it feels like to create the show from the inside, where each recording session is like a journey into an unknown Zone. The conversation also occasions sojour…
 
The Twin Peaks mythos has been with Weird Studies from the very beginning, and it is only fitting that it should have a return. In this episode, Phil and JF are joined by Tamler Sommers, co-host of the podcast Very Bad Wizards to discuss Fire Walk with Me, the prequel film to the original Twin Peaks series. Paradoxically, David Lynch’s work both ne…
 
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 …
 
It is said that for several days after the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the spring of 1967, you could have driven from one U.S. coast to the other without ever going out of range of a local radio broadcast of the album. Sgt. Pepper was, in a sense, the first global musical event -- comparable to other sixties game-changers su…
 
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?…
 
Continuing their series on the tarot, Phil and JF discuss the card nobody wants to see in a reading – The Tower. Featuring lightning bolts, plumes of ominous smoke, and figures plummeting from the windows, the Tower’s meaning at first glance seems clear: “pride comes before a fall,” as the old adage goes. But as JF and Phil delve into the details, …
 
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 …
 
"What was he doing, the great god Pan, down in the reeds by the river?" With this question, the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning opens her famous poem "A Musical Instrument," which explores nature's troubling embrace of savagery and beauty. It seems that Pan always raises questions: What is he doing? What does he want? Where will he appear…
 
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 y…
 
In modern physics as in Western theology, darkness and shadows have a purely negative existence. They are merely the absence of light. In mythology and art, however, light and darkness are enjoy a kind of Manichaean equality. Each exists in its own right and lays claim to one half of the Real. In this episode, JF and Phil delve into the luxuriant g…
 
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 t…
 
Central to the tradition of cosmic horror is the suggestion that the ultimate truth about our universe is at once knowable and unthinkable, such that one learns it only at the cost of one's sanity and soul. John Carpenter is one of a handful of horror directors to have successfully ported this idea from literature to cinema. This episode is an atte…
 
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 con…
 
In this never-before-released episode recorded in 2019, Phil and JF travel to rural Oregon through the Netflix docu-series, Wild Wild Country. The series, which details the establishment of a spiritual community founded by Bhagwan Rajneesh (later called Osho) and its religious and political conflicts with its Christian neighbors, provides a startin…
 
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