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.
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.
Rank #3: Episode 1: Brains, Robots, and Free Will (Free Will and Morality Pt. 1)
Neuroscience figures heavily in their arguments, but Dave and Tamler agree that neuroscientific data adds little of substance to the case other than telling us what we already know: human beings are natural biological entities. Dave also accuses Tamler of being a hipster philosopher for abandoning a view once it got popular.
Next, we talk about what kind freedom we need to have in order to deserve blame and punishment. Do we need to create ourselves out of the swamps of nothingness? Dave comes out as a Star Trek nerd and asks whether we're all, in the end, like Data the android. They also wonder whether a belief in free will is all that's keeping us from having sex with our dogs.
Finally, Dave grills Tamler about his new book on the differences in attitudes about free will and moral responsibility across cultures. After seeing how long they've been carrying on, they then agree to talk about all the stuff they left out in the next episode.
Coyne, J. “Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will.”
Sam Harris. “Free Will.”
Eddy Nahmias. "Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?"
Galen Strawson "Luck Swallows Everything."
Rank #4: Episode 84: Lifting the Veil
David and Tamler talk about the perils of trying to step outside of your own perspective in ethics, science, and politics. What do Rawls' "original position" thought experiment, Pascal's Wager, and Moral Foundations Theory have in common? (Hint: it involves baking.) Plus, what movies (and other things) would serve as a litmus test when deciding on a potential life partner? What might liking or not liking a certain film, book, or TV series tell you about a person, and whether or not the relationship would work? And what sexual position is it rational to choose under the veil of ignorance? (It's a night episode...)
- Part 1: Litmus Tests
- The Bad News Bears (1976) [imdb.com]
- A Confederacy of Dunces [wikipedia.org]
- Drive [imdb.com]
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off [imdb.com]
- The Far Side [wikipedia.org]
- Frank [imdb.com]
- Hustle and Flow [imdb.com]
- Jackie Brown [imdb.com]
- Key and Peele [imdb.com]
- Miracle of Morgan's Creek [imdb.com]
- The Office (UK) [imdb.com]
- Pulp Fiction [imdb.com]
- Spaghetti Western [wikipedia.org]
- Sullivan's Travels [imdb.com]
- Spellbound [imdb.com]
- Slapshot [imdb.com]
- What We Do in the Shadows [imdb.com]
- Part 2:
Rank #5: 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.
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.
Rank #7: 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.
Rank #8: Episode 88: A Doobie for Elijah
David and Tamler celebrate Passover with a high-spirited episode on guns, revenge, liberals, being offended, the fear of death, and whether kids have a right to be loved. Thanks to all you listeners for emailing your questions, comments, and complaints--this was a fun, energetic discussion. Plus, a blast from the past from an unusually alert Pizarro: Michael Shannon reading a sorority letter. But won't somebody please think of the children???!!
- Mr. Robot Season 2 premiere date [usanetwork.com]
- Michael Shannon reads sorority letter [youtube.com]
- George Rainbolt's review of "The Right to be Loved" by Matthew Liao [npdr.nd.edu]
- The Right to be Loved by S. Matthew Liao [amazon]
- The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker [wikipedia.org]
- A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell [wikipedia.org]
- The Story of Philosophy by Wil Durant
- Rick and Morty [imdb.com]
- Marijuana is Kosher [npr.org]
- Louis CK on the Bill Simmons podcast [youtube.com]
- Is Shame Necessary? by Jennifer Jacquet [amazon.com affiliate link]
- Jennifer Jacquet [jenniferjacquet.com]
Rank #9: 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.
Rank #10: 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.
Rank #11: Episode 86: Guns, Shame, and the Meaning of Punishment
We know that criminal punishment has consequences, both good and bad, and that many people think that offenders deserve it. But what does punishment mean? What is society trying to express in the way it punishes criminals? And since people from all sides of the political spectrum agree that the prison population is way too big, is there a way to convey that meaning with alternative forms of sanctions? David and Tamler discuss Yale Law Professor Dan Kahan's classic paper "What do alternative sanctions mean?" that addresses these questions. But first, Tamler gets sanctimonious about other people being sanctimonious about guns on campus. At the risk of angering "that student," we "go there."
- University of Houston Faculty Devises Pointers on How to Avoid Getting Shot by Armed Students by Elliott Hannon [slate.com]
- A PowerPoint Slide Advises Professors to Alter Teaching to Pacify Armed Students by Rio Fernandes [chronicle.com]
- Kahan, D. M. (1996). What do alternative sanctions mean? The University of Chicago Law Review, 63(2), 591-653. [law.yale.edu]
- Moskos, P. (2013). In defense of flogging. Basic Books. [amazon.com affiliate link]
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]
Rank #13: Episode 2: The "Dangerous Truth" about Free Will (Free Will and Morality, Pt. 2)
Tamler and David discuss whether giving up our belief in free will makes us more likely to abandon our moral standards.
Jesse Bering “Scientists
say free will probably doesn’t exist, but urge: “Don’t stop believing!”
Excellent accessible description of the
Vohs and Schooler study that we discuss.
Tamler’s blog post in Psychology Today criticizing the pessimistic views of Smilansky and
Vohs and Schooler: "No Soul? I can live with that. No free will? Aaahhhh!".
Josh Knobe on free will and experimental
Tamler's dialogue on some of the problems with current experimental work on free will: "Free Will and Experimental Philosophy: An Intervention."
Uhlmann, Zhu, Pizarro & Bloom “Blood
is Thicker: Moral Spillover Effects Based on Kinship”
Rank #14: 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]
Rank #15: 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
Rank #16: 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
Rank #17: 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.
Rank #18: Episode 169: A Bug's Life (Kafka's "The Metamorphosis")
David and Tamler try to control their emotions (with varying success) as they go deep into Franz Kafka's masterful novella "The Metamorphosis." What kind of a story is this? A Marxist or religious allegory? A work of weird fiction? A family drama? A dark comedy? Why does a story about a man who turns into a giant insect get under our skins so much?
Plus a study that links insomnia to our fear of death. What a cheerful summer episode! (Actually we're fairly proud of this one... As always we suggest reading the text before you listen or soon after).
This episode brought to you by Prolific.co, and by the support of our listeners.
- Prolific: Just for listeners of Very Bad Wizards-get $100 added on to your account when you start an account and top it off at $250 or more!
Rank #19: 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.
Rank #20: 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.