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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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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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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?…
 
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 …
 
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…
 
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…
 
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…
 
We’ve done deep dives on three of his stories, and now THE MAN HIMSELF, multi-award winning science fiction author Ted Chiang, joins us to explore the post-apocalyptic world of the video-game SOMA. You play Simon Jarrett, a man who goes for a brain scan in Toronto and wakes up a 100 years later in an underwater research facility, the last remaining…
 
Canada’s leading Russian literature scholar Yoel Inbar joins us to try to make sense of Gogol’s 1836 short story “The Nose.” A nose goes missing from a Russian official’s face and winds up in the barber’s loaf of bread. A few hours later, the nose has rocketed up the social hierarchy and denies his connection to the official. What’s going on? Is Ma…
 
"Sometimes I think of my death," Akira Kurosawa said, "I think of ceasing to be...and it is from these thoughts that Ikiru came.” David and Tamler explore what it means to truly live in Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece about a bureaucrat in postwar Japan who learns that he will die from stomach cancer within six months. Plus a new study provides evidenc…
 
Journalist, podcaster, and rapper Jesse Singal joins us to talk about his new book The Quick Fix, positive psychology (scam?), cancel culture in the media and academia (overblown?), Substack incentives, and lots more. Plus David and Tamler argue about the epistemology of ghosts. Special Guest: Jesse Singal. Sponsored By: BetterHelp: You deserve to …
 
VBW favorite Paul Bloom joins us to talk about William James’ account of instinct and its parallels to the nativism/empiricism debates in developmental psychology today. Also discussed: Richard Dawkins trolling philosophy, the ghost in Tamler’s kitchen, and why William James’ 130 year-old writings make psychologists sad about the present state of t…
 
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