Pascal’s Wager 2.0

Obviously, you can believe whatever you want about metaphysics, as there is no observable reality to constrain you. That said, I believe the usual debates about theism vs. atheism miss the point. The real issue is not whether the world was created by a god – with endless debates about who has the burden of proof…  theists asserting that there is a god, or atheists that there is not, others discussing or disputing specific characteristics of this god. However, this already casts the issue in terms that are comprehensible to human understanding, and there is no a priori reason why we should presuppose that reality is amenable to that – what is really going on might be much more ineffable. Instead, I propose that the real issue is whether the world is meaningful or not. In other words, does existence have a purpose? I would say so – as it is awfully specific. My mind is linked to my brain, and not yours. Why is it today, right now? It is also profoundly strange – you just got used to it. What exactly did you wake up from, when you woke up this morning? And what happened to yesterday – where did the time go? And not everything about this reality is observable. For instance, mathematical objects (e.g. numbers) are not observable in principle, but mathematics has – Goedel nonwithstanding – excellent and rigorous methods to assess the truth status of mathematical statements. Also, why does the universe have a very specific content of mass and energy, and in its current mix/configuration? Why these forces, and not others? Everything about our reality seems to be quite specific. Why even have rules in the first place and where is the computational overhead of the universe that decides what happens next? What even does it mean to be “next”? Of course you could say that there is a larger – unobservable – multiverse that explains these things, but that is strictly speaking also a metaphysical (in principle unfalsifiable) statement about reality. In other words, the fundamental question is whether the world is meaningful or not. Here is where Pascal’s wager 2.0 comes in. It literally costs you nothing to assume that the universe is meaningful – or has a purpose – because you lose absolutely nothing if you are wrong. Because then, you are wrong but nothing matters anyway as everything is genuinely pointless. You can argue that this is just as cynically utilitarian and therefore without moral value as the original wager, but I don’t think you can argue its basic validity. So to summarize, there is no way to tell whether reality is meaningful or not, but you lose nothing by assuming it is. The catch is that it is probably impossible to ascertain the purpose of a system from within the system. Of course this state of affairs is so vexing that it points to there being a purpose – what kind of system could hold such conundrums for no reason at all? It would be a pitiful waste indeed.

This is – by the way – a good example of dialectics:

Level 0: Believe what people around you believe/your culture raised you to believe

Level 1: Pascal’s Wager – belief is not arbitrary – it is rational to believe in god, due to the asymmetric utility of outcomes. If you falsely believe that there is a god, you lose nothing, but if you are wrong about that, you lose a lot (by going to hell).

Level 2: That’s a fallacy because “belief in god” is not specific enough. Based on the wager, it would be rational to adopt (or create) a religion with beliefs that spell out the greatest discrepancy in outcomes between believers and nonbelievers in terms of the afterlife (ultimate rewards vs. ultimate punishment). It also raises the issue of moral desert, putting the moral value of someone’s actions in question – do even good actions have any moral value, if they are ultimately made for entirely selfish reasons?

Level 3: Pascal’s Wager 2.0 – it is rational to believe that reality/existence has a purpose/is meaningful because you really do not lose anything if it turns out that you are wrong. Because then, nothing matters anyway. In addition – from a purely utilitarian perspective –  as suffering necessarily outweighs pleasure for the vast majority of beings in this plane of existence, having no meaning to make up for this deficit is truly a brutal way of life. Of course, sentient beings torturing each other forever might be the purpose of this place (it would certainly be consistent with a lot of the evidence), as there is no guarantee that the purpose is a good purpose. Just that it is not entirely meaningless.

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1 Response to Pascal’s Wager 2.0

  1. Late, just discovered your blog, so hope this is okay?

    The other way to phrase this is, I’m glad the world is unfair, because if the world was fair, then everything that happened to us would be because we deserved it.

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