Friday, June 02, 2006

Pascal's Wager

A similar sentiment to Pascal's Wager is found in the Indo-Chinese Sanskrit writing of Vararuci, in the Sarasamuccaya: If there is no world after death, there is nothing to fear either way; but if there is, it will be the atheists who will stand to suffer.

I have not studied Pascal's Wager, knowing it only from its popular expression. The link above gives an introduction of considerable depth to the idea. It's more interesting than I thought.

A frequent objection from atheists is that this wager would have to be placed on dozens, hundreds, and potentially infinite numbers of possible afterlives: you could use up your whole life finding different possibilities to put your little wager on. The similarity of thought from Hinduism/variant Buddhism would seemingly point out that irony. Technically true, of course, but I think it misses an important part of decision-making. The advice is not given to everyone, but to anyone; not to a mass of humanity but to individuals in turn.

While there are infinite possibilities of afterlife to prepare for, most of us are presented with a very few. Furthermore, we need only consider those afterlives/rewards/versions of the universe which could be considered "fair" by at least one definition. An unfair god or universe may exist, but then we would have no reason to approach the issue reasonably.

Some few humans might consider it their lot to sift through all the known possibilities, seriously considering Jainism and Zoroastrianism in turn, but most of us would regard such a lifetime as one of the "unfair" possibilities that may be safely disregarded. We are in an era and a society that presents many alternatives - more than most people in history have been exposed to. (Most humans have had "take it or leave it" as their two choices, with perhaps a conquerors or neighbors beliefs as a semi-possible alternative.)

The decision tree reveals a superdominance that you make a wager at least once.

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