show episodes
 
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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show series
 
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…
 
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…
 
Exotica is a kind of music that was popular in the 1950s, when it was simply known as "mood music." Though somewhat obscure today, the sound of exotica remains immediately recognizable to contemporary ears. Its use of "tribal" beats, ethereal voices, flutes and gongs evoke a world that is no more at home in the modern West than it is anywhere else …
 
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…
 
The question of art has been of central concern for JF and Phil since Weird Studies began in 2018. What is art? What can it do that other things can't do? How is it connected to religion, psyche, and our current historical moment? Is the endless torrent of advertisements, entertainment, memes, and porn in which seem hopelessly immersed a manifestat…
 
"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…
 
Jean Cocteau's visionary rendition of Madame de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast," itself the retelling of a story that may be several millennia old, is the topic of this Weird Studies episode, which proposes a journey down lunar paths to the crossroads where love and death intersect. Drawing on Surrealism, myth, and the occult, Cocteau'…
 
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 …
 
Doris Lessing's uncategorizable oeuvre reached strange new heights in 1988 with the publication of her short novel The Fifth Child. The story couldn't be simpler. In the England of the 1970s, a couple determined to live out a dream that many of their generation have rejected -- the big family in the old house with the pretty garden -- conceive a ch…
 
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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