Rank #1: Episode 59: Tumors All the Way Down (With Sam Harris)
Bestselling author and friend of the podcast Sam Harris joins Tamler and Dave for a marathon podcast. (Seriously, pack two pairs of astronaut diapers for this one). We talk about the costs and benefits of religion, dropping acid in India, and the illusory nature of (a certain kind of) free will. Then we go at it on blame, moral responsibility, hatred, guilt, retribution, and vengeance. Sam thinks these are antiquated responses based on a belief in spooky metaphysics, Tamler thinks they are important components of human morality, and Dave just wants everyone to get along and be reasonable (like that nice Kant fellow).
Time markers (roughly)
0:00-47:00 Intro and costs and benefits of religion
47:00-77:30 Drugs, the self, free will
77:30-- Blame, guilt, vengeance, moral responsibility, desert.
- Sam Harris [samharris.org]
- Waking Up: A guide to spirituality without religion by Sam Harris [amazon.com affiliate link]
- Daniel Dennett reviews "Free Will" by Sam Harris [naturalism.org]
- Sam Harris responds to Dennett's Review of "Free Will" [samharris.org]
Special Guest: Sam Harris.
Dec 16 2014
Rank #2: Episode 63: Stalemates and Closets (with Sam Harris)
Sam Harris gets back in the VBW ring for another round on moral responsibility, ethical theories, and the grounds for our obligations to other people. Are we at a genuine stalemate when it comes to blame and desert? Is Tamler a closet consequentialist? Is Sam a closet pluralist? Why is Dave such a big Wagner fan? Plus, Twitter shaming: what is it good for? Settle in, get comfortable, pour yourself a drink, you’re in for the long haul on this one.
- How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life [nytimes.co]
- The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris [samharris.org]
- Value Pluralism [plato.stanford.edu]
- Bill Burr vs. Philly [youtube.com]
Special Guest: Sam Harris.
Feb 28 2015
Rank #3: Episode 138: Memory, Pain, and Relationships (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Award-winning screenwriter and medieval philosophy scholar Yoel Inbar joins us for a deep dive on the Charlie Kaufman/Michel GondREY masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When relationships go bad is it better to believe they never happened? What is the nature of memory, how is it constructed, and is it possible to zap them out existence with an Apple IIe? Will Tamler have a more optimistic take on the ending of the movie than David? (Hint: yes)
Also--only two more weeks to preorder Why Honor Matters and get your free bonus episode! Upload your receipt here
Special Guest: Yoel Inbar.
Apr 24 2018
Rank #4: Episode 98: Mind the Gap
David and Tamler break down the biggest question in moral philosophy -- can we derive value judgments from a set of purely factual claims? Like the Scottish Philosopher David Hume they're surprised when the usual copulation of propositions 'is' and 'is not' suddenly turn into conclusions in the form of 'ought' and 'ought not.' And what's the deal with all these copulating propositions anyway? Aren't they a little young for that? Do propositions practice safe copulation? Is proposition porn about to be the new fad? They also talk about Moore's Open Question Argument, which introduced the term "naturalist fallacy," and respond to angry criticism over last episode's Rationalia segment.
- Listener C. Derek Varn's blog post: "The Dogmatic Slumber of Neil deGrasse Tyson" [symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com]
- Hume's Moral Philosophy [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
- Is-ought problem [wikipedia.org]
- GE Moore's Moral Philosophy [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
- Open-question argument [wikipedia.org]
- The Naturalistic Fallacy [wikipedia.org]
Sep 13 2016
Rank #5: Episode 96: Memory and Meaning in "Memento" (with Paul Bloom)
So where are you? You’re in some house. What am I listening to? Sounds like the radio. Is it the radio? No, you’re not allowed to use that language on the radio. What are they talking about? A movie, it’s called "Memento." Have I seen that? I think so, yeah. Who are these people? Hey I recognize that voice, that’s Paul Bloom! I took his Coursera course before the accident, it was awesome! What’s he doing talking to these guys? One of them sounds like he has a tampon down his throat. Hey wait, this is starting to get interesting. Personal identity, the search for purpose. All right, let’s settle in... So where are you? You're in some house. What am I listening to? Sounds like the radio...
- Paul Bloom [campuspress.yale.edu]
- Memento [imdb.com]
- Christopher Nolan [imdb.com]
- Everything you wanted to know about "Memento" by Andy Klein [salon.com]
- Kania, A. (Ed.). (2009). Memento (Philosophers on Film Series). Routledge. [amazon.com affiliate link]
- Clive Wearing: Man without a memory [youtube.com]
- Patient H.M. (Henry Molaison) [wikipedia.org]
- Christina Starmans [christinastarmans.com]
Special Guest: Paul Bloom.
Aug 16 2016
Rank #6: Episode 75: A Golden Shower of Guests
Dave and Tamler celebrate their 75th episode by welcoming six BFFs of the podcast and asking them to share the biggest thing they've changed their minds about in their professional careers. You'll hear Dan Ariely on our moral duty to take science into the real world, Laurie Santos on the the role of neuroscience in explaining psychological findings, Yoel Inbar on what it means to do good science as a psychologist, Eric Schwitzgebel on his metaphysical epiphany about materialism, Nina Strohminger on breaking-up with priming research, and Sam Harris on Artificial Intelligence and its perils, and his recently changed views about vegetarianism. (Sadly, we had a technical glitch with the audio when we recorded our most-frequent guest Paul Bloom, but we'll bring him on again soon.) Plus we play some hilarious mash-ups, raps, and voicemails sent in from listeners.
Links to info about our Guests
Listener-Created Music in this Episode
Special Guests: Dan Ariely, Eric Schwitzgebel, Laurie Santos, Nina Strohminger, Sam Harris, and Yoel Inbar.
Oct 06 2015
Rank #7: Episode 176: Split-Brains and the (Dis)Unity of Consciousness
David and Tamler discuss famous 'split brain' experiments pioneered by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga. What happens when you cut off the main line of communication between the left and right hemispheres of our brain? Why under certain conditions do the the left and right brains seem like they have different abilities and desires? What does this tell us about the ‘self’? Do we have two consciousnesses, but only that can speak? Does the left brain bully the right brain? Are we all just a bundle of different consciousnesses with their own agendas? Thanks to our Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this fascinating topic!
Plus, physicists may be able to determine whether we’re living in a computer simulation – but is it too dangerous to try to find out?
- GiveWell: This holiday season, open your heart to those in need, and consider donating through Givewell.org. Givewell.org is an organization that cares about finding the most effective charities in the world, so that you can make each charitable dollar work as hard as possible. And for our listeners who are first time donors, Givewell.org will match your donation (up to $1,000). Promo Code: Verybadwizards
- Outlier.Org: Enrich your mind and earn college credits with one of the new courses from Outlier.Org. From the co-founders of MasterClass, Outlier.Org brings you beautifully crafted and filmed courses taught by some of the top professors in the world. Spaces are limited, so sign up today for classes beginning in January 2020.
- Opinion | Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out - The New York Times
- Physicists find we’re not living in a computer simulation | Cosmos
- Nagel, T. (1971). Brain bisection and the unity of consciousness. /Synthese/, /22/(3), 396-413.
- CGP Grey video - You Are Two
- Split brains - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Gazzaniga, M. S. (1995). Principles of human brain organization derived from split-brain studies. /Neuron/, /14/(2), 217-228.
- Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness | Brain | Oxford Academic
- Interaction in isolation: 50 years of insights from split-brain research | Brain | Oxford Academic
- Dennett, D. C. (2014). The self as the center of narrative gravity. In /Self and consciousness/ (pp. 111-123). Psychology Press.
Nov 12 2019
Rank #8: Episode 3: "We believe in nothing!" (Cultural diversity, relativism, and moral truth)
Tamler and Dave discuss recent work in philosophy and psychology about the differences in moral values and practices across cultures. We talk about the implications of moral diversity: does it mean that we cannot criticize that practices of other cultures? How should we regard moral disagreement? Are there objective “truths” in ethics? Somehow we need to play clips from The Big Lebowski and Pulp Fiction in order to resolve these questions.
Sep 08 2012
Rank #9: Episode 165: Life With No Head (With Sam Harris)
Sam Harris returns to the podcast to talk about meditation and his new Waking Up meditation app. What are the goals of mindfulness practice - stress reduction and greater focus, or something much deeper? Can it cure David's existential dread? Tamler's fear of his daughter going away to college? Can sustained practice erode the illusion of self? Is that even something we'd want to do? What if it diminishes our attachment to people we love? And what is the self anyway? Is Sam a defender of panpsychism? So many questions... Plus, the ethics of creating talking elephants by curing them of their autism through bonding and possibly mounting. (Seriously.)
- Rossler, O. E., Theis, C., Heiter, J., Fleischer, W., & Student, A. (2015). Is it ethical to heal a young white elephant from his physiological autism?. Progress in biophysics and molecular biology, 119(3), 539-543.
- Scientists Predict A Talking Elephant, Szilamandee - Neuroskeptic
- The Social Exchange Podcast | David Pizarro - Correcting Bias, Heuristics, and Decision-Making
- Break music: ▶ Lazarus Lives by peez
- Waking Up with Sam Harris (app)
- Sam Harris | Home of the Making Sense Podcast
- On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious: Douglas E. Harding: 9781878019196: Amazon.com: Books
Jun 04 2019
Rank #10: Episode 160: Everything is Meaningless: The Book of Ecclesiastes
David and Tamler dive into the book of Ecclesiastes, an absurdist classic that is somehow also a book of the Bible. Is everything meaningless, vain, and a chasing after the wind? Are humans just the same as animals? Are wise people no better off than fools? Will God judge us after we die, rewarding the good people and punishing the shit-heels? What if there is no afterlife and this is all we get? How should we deal with our pointless, unjust existence? Plus we return to our opening-segment bible— Aeon—and talk about an argument for replacing jealousy with...wait for it…compersion.
Mar 19 2019
Rank #11: Episode 126: The Absurd
Is life meaningless? Are humans just glorified dung beetles, pushing around our piles of poop with no greater purpose? What would it take for life to actually be meaningful? In this episode, Tamler and David discuss Thomas Nagel’s essay on the sense of meaninglessness and absurdity that can so easily creep into human existence (with a special emphasis on the work of Camus and the philosophy of Rick and Morty). But first we tackle even more important questions about the human condition such as, why is it easier to detect the size of a hole with your tongue than with your little finger? And which moral "dilemmas" are actually moral no-brainers? (In the process, we even solve the problem of free speech on campus. You’re welcome.)
- The Extent of Skin Bending Rather Than Action Possibilities Explains Why Holes Feel Larger With the Tongue Than With the Finger. - PubMed - NCBI
- Pure joy: a colorblind man sees color for the first time
- Dan Harmon Reveals the Meaning of Life in RICK AND MORTY | Nerdist
- Microcosmos - Dung beetle rolls ball and gets stuck. - YouTube
- Nagel, T. (1971). The absurd. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(20), 716-727.
- Camus, A. (1955). The myth of Sisyphus, and other essays. Vintage.
Oct 24 2017
Rank #12: Episode 94: Buttery Friendships
Dave and Tamler don’t agree about much, but one thing they do share is an affinity for character-based approaches to ethics. Using Tamler’s interview with Georgetown Philosopher Nancy Sherman as their guide (link to chapter included), they discuss two ancient perspectives on how to develop good character and live happy, virtuous lives: Aristotle's and that of the Stoics. Why did Aristotle focus so much on friendship and what happens when those friendships get too "watery"? Are emotions crucial for developing virtues or are they “so much mist on the windshield?” Are the stoics right that we shouldn’t get attached to things that are beyond our control? Plus, a new Twitter account has David and Tamler polishing their CVs, and a request for listener suggestions for our 100th episode.
Note: We recorded this episode after the police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis but before the shootings of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. We talk a bit about the violence, but not about what happened after Minneapolis.
- Very Bad Wizards No Context (@vbw_no_context)
- Effective altruism [wikipedia.org]
- Nancy Sherman Homepage [nanycsherman.com]
- Nancy Sherman "Navigating our Moral World." In Sommers, T. (2016). A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the curtain. Routledge. [verybadwizards.com]
Jul 19 2016
Rank #13: Episode 143: The Psychology of Personality
David and Tamler tackle the topic selected by their Patreon supporters - the psychology of personality. What are the different dimensions of personality that distinguish one person from another? How many dimensions are there - do the Big Five capture all of them? Do we share some of these differences with other species? Why don't personality psychologists include moral character traits? Plus - are you curious about your partner's true political commitments? No problem, just install a periscope in your toilet.
- Testing Inter-hemispheric Social Priming Theory in a Sample of Professional Politicians-A Brief Report
- https://t.co/SnozmgFgRJ"" rel="nofollow">Gary Lewis on Twitter: "I submitted a hoax manuscript to a predatory journal. The finding? Politicians from the right wipe their ass with their left hand (and vice versa) - big breakthrough! Manuscript accepted w/o review. I then haggled the OA fee down to $0 - so here it is -> https://t.co/SnozmgFgRJ"
- Break Music: Thief's Theme (peez remix)
- Personality psychology - Wikipedia
- Personality and Social Dynamics Lab | Sanjay Srivastava
- Simine Vazire
- The Black Goat – A podcast about doing science
- Big Five personality traits - Wikipedia — Myers–Briggs Type Indicator
- The Big Five Personality Traits & what they mean for your Political Views. | elephant journal
- HEXACO model of personality structure - Wikipedia
- Myers–Briggs Type Indicator - Wikipedia
Jul 10 2018
Rank #14: Episode 122: Nothing but a "G" Thing (Intelligence Pt. 1)
David and Tamler do their best to talk frankly about intelligence and IQ research. (It's our Patreon listener-selected topic! We probably would never have chosen this one on our own...). Is intelligence a meaningful, definable concept? Can we reliably test for it? How much of the variability in IQ across individuals is due to heritable factors? Are people with higher IQ happier, wealthier, or healthier than people with lower IQ? And why is this topic so controversial anyhow? Plus in the intro segment Tamler and David discuss why you probably don't need fMRI to know what your dog wants, and why cognitive neuroscience seems to confuse otherwise intelligent folks. (Note: This is Part 1 of our discussion on intelligence. In Part 2 will delve into the slightly more controversial topics of IQ, race, and gender).
- What Does Your Dog Really Want? - Scientific American Blog Network
- A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the curtain by Tamler Sommers [amazon.com affiliate link] — David does the links, so it's him telling you to support Tamler and buy his book!
- The Simpsons - Crayon in Homer's brain - YouTube
- Ritchie, S. (2015). Intelligence: All that matters. Hodder & Stoughton. [amazon.com affiliate link] — Stuart Ritchie's very well-written primer on intelligence. Accessible to a wide audience, but with all the nuance you'd expect from a clear-thinking academic. It's also a very quick read.
- Stuart Ritchie (@StuartJRitchie) | Twitter
- Stuart Ritchie | The University of Edinburgh
Aug 29 2017
Rank #15: Episode 104: Smelling Salts for Morality: Our Top 3 Movies About Empathy (with Paul Bloom)
Paul Bloom takes some time away from his "Waking Up" appearances to join us for a very special movie episode: our top three films about empathy. Can movies help us understand the experiences of people who live completely different lives? Do serial killers need empathy to
effectively torture their victims? Does empathy make you want to blow up the world, or lead naked men into black liquid-y voids? Plus Paul and David try to bully Tamler into watching "Westworld." Also, buy Paul's new book (link below) "Against Empathy"! [Note: this episode is heavy on the spoilers. If you're worried, check the links below--they contain the titles for each movie in the order discussed on the podcast].
Special Guest: Paul Bloom.
- Against Empathy by Paul Bloom [amazon.com affiliate link]
- Paul Bloom on Sam Harris' "Waking Up" podcast
- Review: ‘Against Empathy,’ or the Right Way to Feel Someone’s Pain - The New York Times
- Ex Machina (2015) - IMDb (Paul's Pick)
- The Revenant (2015) - IMDb (David's Pick)
- Nightcrawler (2014) - IMDb (Tamler's Pick)
- Never Let Me Go (2010) - IMDb (Tamler's Pick)
- The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - IMDb (Paul's Pick)
- Tangerine (2015) - IMDb (David's Pick)
- Sullivan's Travels (1941) - IMDb (Tamler's Pick)
- Break Music: Built-In Frown by peez [soundcloud.com]
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - IMDb (Paul's Pick)
- Being John Malkovich (1999) - IMDb (David's Pick)
- Under the Skin (2013) - IMDb (Tamler's Pick)
Dec 14 2016
Rank #16: Episode 24: The Perils of Empathy (with Paul Bloom)
Paul Bloom joins us in the second segment for a lively discussion about the value of empathy as a guide our moral decisions. And in our first scoop, we talk about Paul's new book (coming in November) Just Babies: The Origin of Good and Evil , racist babies, and how 80s sitcoms changed the world. In the first segment, Dave and Tamler face the music and try to respond to a listener's criticisms of their episode on slurs and offensiveness (Episode 22) .
- The Baby in the Well: The Case Against Empathy by Paul Bloom [newyorker.com]
- Descartes' Baby by Paul Bloom [amazon.com]
- Jesse Prinz "Is empathy necessary for morality" [subcortex.com]
- Pizarro, Bloom, and Detweiler-Bedell on the empathy, disgust, and the moral circle [peezer.net]
- Pre-order Just babies: The origins of good and evil by Paul Bloom [amazon.com]
- Louis CK: My Life is Really Evil.
Special Guest: Paul Bloom.
Jun 10 2013
Rank #17: Episode 136: The Good Life (with Laurie Santos)
From Very Bad Wizards to Megyn Kelly Today back to Very Bad Wizards, Laurie Santos has traveled the typical trajectory of the celebrity academic. Laurie joins us to talk about her cult status after creating the most popular course in Yale University history: Psychology and the Good Life. Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy? What makes it so hard to do the things we know are good for us? Why are young people more stressed, anxious, and overworked than they used to be? And how can we nudge ourselves into living better lives? Plus we take a test for determining the virtues that come easiest to us and the ones that come.. harder.
This episode is sponsored by Audible and Casper.
Special Guest: Laurie Santos.
Mar 27 2018
Rank #18: Episode 119: A Brief History of Values
What happens when we discover why we believe the things we believe? What if we discover that our values are the product of our cultural tradition, or personal experience, or natural selection? Should we be more skeptical of our values once we learn their history? Plus, data on Google porn searches reveal that you're all a bunch of sick fucks.
Jul 12 2017
Rank #19: Episode 162: Parents Just Don't Understand (with Paul Bloom)
As parents we like to think we have an impact on our children - their future, their happiness, the kinds of people they turn out to be. But
are we deluded? Dave and Tamler are joined by empathy's kryponite, the great Paul Bloom, to talk about Judith Rich Harris's view that parents matter a lot less than you might think (while genes and peer groups matter a lot more than you might think) .
Plus, what the connection between art and morality? Should we support "cancel culture"? Is it wrong to play Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. (spell it out) on the radio? What about the Jackson 5? And what about art that is itself immoral? You're not gonna believe this but Louis CK gets mentioned.
Thanks to our beloved Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this topic!
Special Guest: Paul Bloom.
- 'Too big to cancel': can we still listen to Michael Jackson? | Music | The Guardian
- The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated: Judith Rich Harris [amazon affiliate link]
- Do Parents Matter? Judith Rich Harris and child development (by Malcolm Gladwell)
- Children Don't Do Things Halfway | Edge.org
- Judith Rich Harris & Jerome Kagan: The Nature of Nurture: Parents or Peers? Slate dialogue, Oct. 28 - Nov. 21, 1998
Apr 16 2019
Rank #20: Episode 85: A Zoo with Only One Animal (with Paul Bloom)
Philosophers can be funny and funny movies can be philosophical. David and Tamler welcome frequent VBW guest and arch-enemy of empathy Paul Bloom to discuss their five favorite comic films with philosophical/psychological themes. Groundhog Day was off-limits for our top five (we would've all chosen it) so we start by explaining why it's the quintessential movie for this topic.
[all movie links are to imdb.com]
- Paul's Top 5
- Tamler's Top 5
- David's Top 5
Special Guest: Paul Bloom.
Mar 12 2016