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Very Bad Wizards

Author: 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.
286 Episodes
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A Rabbi is found dead in a hotel room, stabbed in the chest. The room is filled with Kabbalah texts and a single page in an typewriter that reads “The first letter of the name has been written.” The celebrated detective and “reasoning machine” Erik Lönnrot suspects a rabbinical explanation but is he seeing patterns that may not be there? David and Tamler get out their pipes, magnifying glasses, and deerstalker hats to unravel another Borges mystery: “Death and the Compass.” Plus a new study on why men make errors about whether women are flirting with them, the latest in our series on studies that employ erotic fiction. Links: A Dress Is Not a Yes: Towards an Indirect Mouse-Tracking Measure of Men’s Overreliance on Global Cues in the Context of Sexual Flirting Pinpointing the psychological factors linked to men's misjudgments of women's sexual interest Death and the Compass by Jorge Luis Borges [wikipedia.org]
We dig into the biggest rivalry in Tamler’s profession, analytic vs. continental philosophy. Are analytic philosophers truly the rigorous, precise, clear thinkers they take themselves to be? And is continental philosophy really just a bunch pretentious charlatans spouting French and German gibberish and writing obscure prose to mask the incoherence of their ideas? We look at a nice paper by Neil Levy that goes beyond the stereotypes and tries to describe and explain the differences between the two schools. Plus, The University of Austin (sic) is back in the news and we have a report from someone who attended one of their Forbidden Courses. This should be so easy but the article has us deeply conflicted about what to make fun of. [Important update: Trixie is on a 5 day streak of no accidents and is a perfect little sweet girl.] Links: An American Education: Notes from UATX by Noah Rawlings Levy, N. (2003). Analytic and continental philosophy: Explaining the differences. Metaphilosophy, 34(3), 284-304.
Phil Ford and J.F. Martel from the great "Weird Studies" podcast join us for a whirling discussion of Edgar Allan Poe’s mesmerizing tale of decadence and disease “The Masque of the Red Death." We also talk about weird fiction more generally, why it’s so suited to the short story genre, how it creates a mood that drips and bursts from the seam of the page. Plus David and Tamler in the opening segment talk about Aella’s data-driven, chart and graph filled birthday orgy. Is she the sex symbol for our times? Links:  My Birthday Gangbang by Aella [substack.com] Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" [wikipedia.org] Weird Studies podcast with J.F. Martel and Phil Ford Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Factor: Chef-prepared, dietitian-approved meals, ready to eat. Sign up today and get restaurant-quality meals made by real chefs delivered to your door. Visit factormeals.com/vbw50 and use code VBW50 to get 50% off your order. 
David and Tamler conclude their discussion of Lee Chang-dong’s "Burning" – we talk about the hunger dance at twilight, Ben’s greenhouse burning habit, Shin Hae-mi’s mysterious disappearance, Lee Jong-su’s clumsy and doomed quest to find out what really happened, and what to make of that final scene. Plus we choose the finalists for our Patreon listener selected episode.
David and Tamler fall under the spell of Lee Chang-dong’s 2018 masterpiece Burning, a movie where nothing is what it seems, or maybe it is. An alienated young man meets what seems like his dream girl from his small town, but she’s about to leave for Africa. Will he take care of her cat? Is there a cat? When she comes back she’s attached (maybe) to a slick rich guy played by Steven Yeun and then she disappears. What happened? What’s real and what’s a pantomime? Adapted from a Murakami short story that’s adapted from a Faulkner short story, this movie warrants a true VBW deep dive, so we had to do it in two parts. This is part 1. Plus another segment of our pet peeves. “Updating my priors,” “Fixed it for you,” faculty governance, and more, these are the things that really grind our gears. Links: Burning (2018) [wikipedia.org] The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (containing the short story "Barn Burning) [amazon.com affiliate link] Barn Burning by William Faulkner [wikipedia.org] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Factor:  Chef-prepared, dietitian-approved meals, ready to eat. Sign up today and get restaurant-quality meals made by real chefs delivered to your door. Visit factormeals.com/vbw50 and use code VBW50 to get 50% off your order. 
David and Tamler play the old hits – Thomas Nagel and sex robots. In the main segment we talk about Nagel’s essay “Sexual Perversion”, a surprising essay on many fronts (Sartre, erotic fiction, conceptual analysis, much more). What’s the nature of sexual desires? Can we say that some sexual interactions are perversions? Which ones? Can we have a perverse form of a hunger? Plus, a new study examines attitudes about sexual assault by probing for intuitions on assaulting sex robots. It gets more confusing from there. Links: Grigoreva, A. D., Rottman, J., & Tasimi, A. (2024). When does “no” mean no? Insights from sex robots. Cognition, 244, 105687. Nagel, T. (1969). Sexual perversion. The Journal of Philosophy, 5-17.   Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Green Chef: Get great recipes made from organic produce and premium proteins of the highest quality delivered to your door. Visit Greenchef.com/60vbw, and use code 60VBW to get 60% off, plus 20% off your next two months.
David and Tamler are back for the new year and one of our resolutions was to do more episodes on William James. Today we talk about his account of ‘Attention’ from his 1890 volume The Principles of Psychology – another remarkably prescient chapter that still feels more than relevant today. What is attention and how does it function in the mind? What accounts for the different ways that we attend to things? Does attention help to shape or construct our reality? What is attention’s connection to the will? Does James anticipate predictive coding theory? Plus we discuss the removal of the head of a renowned university for reasons that have nothing to do with the mission of higher learning. Episode Links Chancellor of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Fired [nbc.com] William James chapter on Attention from Principles of Psychology (1890) [yorku.ca]
An episode interesting from every point of view, we train our eyes on Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Aleph.” The first segment wins the kudos of the learned, the academician, the Hellenist, as we talk about the favorite things we saw this year. The second segment — baroque? decadent? the purified and fanatical cult of form? — dives into the philosophy, comedy, satire, and poignancy of this classic story. Once again, we show our awareness that truly modern podcasting demands the balm of laughter, of scherzo. The finicky will want to excommunicate our discussion without benefit of clergy but the critic of more manly tastes will embrace this episode as he does his very life. "The Aleph" by Jorge Luis Borges [wikipedia.org] Version we read: Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Andrew Hurley) [amazon.com affiliate link] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Listening.com: Save time by listening to academic papers on the go. Very Bad Wizards listeners get 3 weeks free when signing up at listening.com/vbw Givewell.org: Make your charitable donations as effective as possible. If you’ve never donated through GiveWell before, you can have your donation matched up to before the end of the year or as long as matching funds last. Just go to givewell.org, pick PODCAST, and enter VERY BAD WIZARDS at checkout. 
RETURNING guest Vlad Chituc joins us for a wide-ranging discussion about donating his kidney to a stranger, the effective altruism movement, and his sexuality. Was EA’s turn to ‘long-termist’ goals like preventing evil AI inevitable?  Have they strayed too far from their Peter Singer/Jeremy Bentham inspired roots? And why won’t David and Tamler donate their kidneys? Plus a new article in Nature Climate Change argues that neuroscience can help the environment – can I interest you in some virtual trees? Doell, K. C., Berman, M. G., Bratman, G. N., Knutson, B., Kühn, S., Lamm, C., ... & Brosch, T. (2023). Leveraging neuroscience for climate change research. Nature Climate Change, 1-10. I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried. by Dylan Matthews [vox.com] How effective altruism went from a niche movement to a billion-dollar force by Dylan Matthews [vox.com] Stop the Robot Apocalypse by Amia Srinivasan [lrb.co.uk] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Listening.com: Save time by listening to academic papers on the go. Very Bad Wizards listeners get 3 weeks free when signing up at listening.com/vbw Givewell.org: Make your charitable donations as effective as possible. If you’ve never donated through GiveWell before, you can have your donation matched up to before the end of the year or as long as matching funds last. Just go to givewell.org, pick PODCAST, and enter VERY BAD WIZARDS at checkout.   
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. Spirited Away [wikipedia.org] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Listening.com: Save time by listening to academic papers on the go. Very Bad Wizards listeners get 3 weeks free when signing up at listening.com/vbw Givewell.org: Make your charitable donations as effective as possible. If you’ve never donated through GiveWell before, you can have your donation matched up to before the end of the year or as long as matching funds last. Just go to givewell.org, pick PODCAST, and enter VERY BAD WIZARDS at checkout. 
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 decline of civic engagement in American life. Bensto, Fira (Pseudonym) (2023) Zoophilia Is Morally Permissible, Journal of Controversial Ideas, Vol. 3, Issue 2. Putnam, R.D. (1995). Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital. Journal of Democracy 6(1), 65-78. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.1995.0002. Luhmann, M., Buecker, S., & Rüsberg, M. (2023). Loneliness across time and space. Nature Reviews Psychology, 2(1), 9-23. Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 emphasize this enough) that is in no way cringe or corny. Plus some brief thoughts on Israel and Gaza. Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 some suggestions for choosing the director and cast for the long sought-after film adaptation. Plus, we have nothing but praise for this study on measuring passive aggression. We really like it - I mean, we have a couple of issues with the methodology and the survey questions, but no, really, it’s a great paper… for a journal like that… Lim, Y. O., & Suh, K. H. (2022). Development and validation of a measure of passive aggression traits: the Passive Aggression Scale (PAS). Behavioral Sciences, 12(8), 273. [mdpi.com] 21 Questions to Identify a Passive-Aggressive Person by Mark Travers [psychologytoday.com] Blood Meridian [wikipedia.com] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 traveling magicians. Plus two studies on honesty tell you the best countries to lose your wallet and the U.S. states with a bunch of dirty Wordle cheaters.   Wormley, A. S., & Cohen, A. B. (2023). CHEAT: Wordle Cheating Is Related to Religiosity and Cultural Tightness. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 18(3), 702-709. Cohn, A., Maréchal, M. A., Tannenbaum, D., & Zünd, C. L. (2019). Civic honesty around the globe. Science, 365(6448), 70-73. Blood Meridian [wikipidia.org] Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 the judge?  Plus a new meta-analysis refutes the common wisdom that “opposites attract.” But did we ever really believe that anyway?   Thanks to our beloved Patreon supporters for selecting this topic for the listener selected episode! https://phys.org/news/2023-08-evidence-opposites-dont.html Evidence of correlations between human partners based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses of 22 traits and UK Biobank analysis of 133 traits | Nature Human Behaviour https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Meridian Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 perception (unmediated by concepts) as a true window into reality? Does he want us to return to the blooming buzzing confusion of our infancy? Is his mystical side superseding his pragmatism? Plus, a new study on generosity after receiving a $10,000 windfall leads to a discussion of what we can interpret from null results, and lots more. Dwyer, R. J., Brady, W. J., Anderson, C., & Dunn, E. W. (2023). Are People Generous When the Financial Stakes Are High?. Psychological Science, 09567976231184887. A Pluralistic Universe by William James (Lecture VI)   Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Rocket Money: Stop throwing your money away. Cancel unwanted subscriptions, and manage your expenses the easy way, by going to RocketMoney.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 suggest otherwise. We talk about a paper on this phenomenon of “half-belief”: when your behavior and your stated beliefs don’t align. Plus Tamler and David take a survey and discover that they lead radically different inner lives.  James Steele's Tweet  Caspi, A., Shmuel, E., & Chajut, E. (2023). A quantitative examination of half-belief in superstition. Journal of Individual Differences. Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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? Plus we select the finalists for our listener selected episode – thanks to our beloved patrons for all their terrific suggestions! "The Kekulé Problem" by Cormac McCarthy Pinker & Bloom 1990 Dijksterhuis & Strick 2016 Sponsored by: BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW Rocket Money: Stop throwing your money away. Cancel unwanted subscriptions, and manage your expenses the easy way, by going to RocketMoney.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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 Bob’s experiences there 19:22 What does Zionism mean in practice? 27:35 The shifting Overton window around Israel/Palestine 45:35 The heavy-handed response to the BDS movement 57:13 What the Israel/Palestine discourse says about Overton windows 1:02:09 So where should the boundaries be set  
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 dream than reality? And speaking of moral decline, a new Nature study claims that we have the illusory belief that people are getting worse - but can they really establish that it’s an illusion? Mastroianni, A. M., & Gilbert, D. T. (2023). The illusion of moral decline. Nature, 1-8. Mastroianni blog post about the illusion of moral decline No Country for Old Men (movie) [wikipedia.org] Sponsored by:  BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting BetterHelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBW
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Comments (76)

Jave Alan Geddes

I don't know what I just listened to but it was like 2 minutes of bullshit

Sep 25th
Reply

Duane A Magley

reminds me of the movie "paycheck"

May 4th
Reply

Duane A Magley

couple takes on that better help ad, huh?

Mar 8th
Reply

Sandcastle •

It's hilarious that you guys like rogan, yet Eric Clapton is bad. You might know better now, but rogan has always held racist beliefs, conspiracy theories and had never pushed back on anti vaxxers but has given legit scientists a hard time.

Mar 5th
Reply

Duane A Magley

I liked this discussion.

Feb 11th
Reply

Duane A Magley

I used to have this intuition that everyone is "the most attractive person" to someone. yes, some people are more attractive generally, but nobody is ugly to everyone.

Feb 10th
Reply

justin skemp

.k

Oct 16th
Reply

ncooty

Tamler is an idiot.

Sep 15th
Reply

ncooty

None of the characters can see the absurdity--even one as plain as the nose on one's face--other than through the lenses of their own self-involvement. The author even emphasized it at the end (i.e., that the most absurd element related to publication), yet the hosts couldn't see it. I strained to view the hosts' obtuseness as intentionally ironic, but I couldn't quite convince myself.

Sep 15th
Reply

ncooty

Drinking game: "you know"

Sep 15th
Reply

Rosie P

Deadwood literally got me through the death of my partner. It's a masterpiece. I think I've watched it over 10 times now, lost count after 5 lol.. I know shit all about films/tv but this would probably be my mastermind topic :D I've not listened yet but i have extensive thoughts on this topic so bring it on! ❤️

Aug 29th
Reply

GoTo2 Podcast Review

https://castbox.fm/post/detail/5fc4d40e098d4352f7ecc349 bit like this podcast from the UK.

Nov 30th
Reply (1)

William McClellan

[REDACTED]

Nov 25th
Reply

Alan

amazing

Nov 2nd
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Jason Gregory

Tamler rocks.

Aug 24th
Reply

Michael Pemulis

excited for this one, as always

Aug 13th
Reply

Worth Swearingen

Love these guys. This is almost unlistenable, though. Do not care about stoner movies.

Aug 13th
Reply

Louis VXI

Fucking hell. Tamler needs to quit politics

Jun 25th
Reply

Maitri

"Why are they so upset about the idea of abolishing the police?" you've got to be kidding guys... Maybe because they're aware that the communities who need the police most will suffer immensely if police determine to simply let these communities live as they please. I'm all for critiquing their ideas but please actually offer a critique rather than burning a straw man

Jun 24th
Reply

Maitri

I'm really hoping the protests brought about positive change. I worry that you have missed the point, have traded sober analysis for moral opinion. I hear Tamler stating consistently that there's a singular point to the movement, that being police reform. I haven't heard any of the IDE deny that. Maybe their emphasis isn't what you'd like, but it's curious to me that you believe your description of the point is characteristic of the entire movement. I've been hearing a discussion sadly lacking in nuance and facts that spans much wider than police reform

Jun 23rd
Reply (1)
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