Apologies in advance. This topic got enough airtime last time around, but Bob Smith, in his Spurts of Ink blog, did a very nifty job of standing it on its head.
Losing Pascal's Wager is Half the Fun
Don't get me wrong: I adore Blaise Pascal. There are so many things to thank him for, it's hard to know where to begin. The creation of probability theory, yes, (through an exchange of letters with Pierre de Fermat--surely one of the most productive correspondences in the history of science). An investigation of the properties of binomial coefficients, yes. And, whoa! Contributions to the foundations of mathematics (with a nudge from Descartes), anticipating formalism, yes! But of all his creations, perhaps I remember him most fondly for mathematical (sometimes called "finite") induction, one of the mathematician's most powerful and beautiful tools. It's almost a counterexample to Oscar Wilde's,
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.
But one thing that won't gain his installation in my Hall of Fame, is his ludicrous Pascal's Wager. No! I certainly give him credit for attempting to apply an axiomatic method to the problem. But it was like trying to open a can of beans with a stick of dynamite.
Or more accurately, like urinating on the grave of William of Occam.
But back to Pascal's unworthy attempt to sway the gullible. Brilliant mathematician though he was, Pascal built his line of reasoning upon some shaky axioms. For example, he made a number of unwarranted assumptions for us all, the worst being that living forever is desirable. For me, there is something so liberating about finitude, not servitude. Doesn't that crumble the payoff of his wager in one fell swoop?
Imagine if you will, a person living an entire life doing little more than meeting the expectations of society, in hopes of joining the Choir Eternal. Further imagine there is no such body.
But consider the inverse of Pascal's Wager, what might be more cheerfully called Lord Henry's Wager: suppose you spent your entire life entrapped by someone else's mumbo-jumbo, eschewing echt experiences, thinking only recycled thoughts, expecting some sort of jackpot on your deathbed for doing so (and worse, helping to elect candidates holding those raddled views, inflicting your superstition on the rest of us).
And then with your last heartbeat it turns out there's nothing more than your last heartbeat.
Liber Al vel Legis tells us, not unreasonably, that we are supposed to grow while we are here, to accrete new experiences, to uncover our true potential. Even sinning for the hell of it wouldn't be a bad start.
Losing Lord Henry's Wager means wasting the only life you were given.
And winning the wager? We need but turn to Oscar for a bit of cheerleading,
...to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. Of course, they are charitable. They feed the hungry and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion—these are the two things that govern us.
Anyway, what's the point of a species evolving so far as to create reason and logic, only to turn its back on what they lead to? You don't really mean to tell me Aristotle, Leibniz, Boole, Russell, Whitehead, Turing and Gödel were all just joshing us, do you?
Do you see why I consider Babbitt not only the best piece of literature I've ever encountered, but the most important? Will you permit me to leave you, once again, with one of the saddest things ever penned?
Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat this to your mother, or she’d remove what little hair I’ve got left, but practically, I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life!
Is that really a gamble worth taking?
Like making deposits of real money into an imaginary bank account.
@Luara - Bingo!
It would be nice to find out that there really was a god and an afterlife of some sort, but the instruction manuals, the way they were written and delivered, and even the content inside of them makes the subject almost laughable. Contradictions galore in all of them, and yet the believers have made their own little system up.
Meanwhile, some argue outside of the writings for the existence of something called god, but god just isn't making himself known in any way. Maybe he is modest or shy.
Back in the Old Pesterment days he was a jealous killer.