Pascal’s Wager

I was just thinking: suppose we made financial decisions the way some people would have us make decisions about our souls…

Monday

[Phone ringing]

Hello?

Hi, my name is Morgan, and I’m from the Pascal’s Wager Insurance Company. Do you believe in giant tarantulas 30 feet tall?

Well, no, not really.

What about 50, or even 60 feet tall?

Never really thought about it, actu—

Ever think what one of those things would do if it stepped on your house?

Oh, I don’t

How much would you say your house is worth right now? Just roughly, including all the contents and valuables and other things that would be DESTROYED if they got stepped on by a 60-foot-tall giant tarantula. Don’t forget the car or cars in your garage, too. Would you say about $200,000? $400,000? Half a million dollars? Imagine what it would take to replace your valuable house and possessions if they were stepped on by a giant tarantula. Could you afford to replace it all, instantly?

But there’s no such thing as—

Sir, sir, let’s be honest, nobody knows everything, right?

Well, I—

YOU PERSONALLY do not know everything, right?

Heh, no, not hardly. But I—

In this vast universe of ours, there could be countless worlds we would never see or hear about where giant tarantulas might exist.

Well, if you put it that way, I suppose it might be—

So there MIGHT be giant tarantulas that you don’t know about, right?

I suppose there COULD be some kind of alien—

So giant tarangulas COULD exist. Now sir, all I’m asking you to do is to make a simple risk assessment. Even though you don’t believe there are giant tarantulas, the cost to you if they DO exist could be very high. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars. Money you don’t have and can’t afford to lose. That’s why we’re offering, right now, for only $75 a month, our very special Stepped On By Giant Tarantulas homeowner’s policy.

Well, I

That’s only $75 a month. Practically nothing at all. If I’m wrong, and no giant tarantula ever steps on your home, then you won’t even miss it. But if I’m right, and your house DOES get stepped on, you could be facing financial disaster. Financial ruin! And living out of a cardboard box, too! A crushed cardboard box, with spider footprints on it. What do you say, sir? Will you do the prudent thing and accept one of our policies?

Well, it IS practically nothing, and the consequences if I’m wrong… [shudder]. How do I sign up?

[boring business discussion snipped.]

Thank you so much, sir. You’ll never be sorry as long as you remember what the risks are, and how much protection you’re getting for practically nothing. Have a nice day.

Thanks, you too.

[*click*]

Tuesday

[Phone ringing]

Hello?

Hello again, sir. It’s Morgan from Pascal’s Wager Insurance Company. Do you believe in giant, carnivorous underground worms more than 100 feet long?

Uhhhhhh…

 
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Posted in Amusements, Unapologetics. 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Pascal’s Wager”

  1. Tacroy Says:

    But don’t you see? It’s not only about the protection from giant tarantulas, it’s about the sense of community you get from our weekly tarantula meetings! You just can’t get that sense of belonging anywhere else.

  2. Swimmy Says:

    Pascal’s Wager does actually work in terms of decision theory. The trick is that the specified expected return (everlasting life in heaven) is infinite. In this case, one could think about giant spiders as being so low probability that the expected value of an insurance policy is much less than $.01, but in the case of HEAVEN, no probability besides zero–God as an impossibility–could yield anything other than an infinite EV.

    Of course, (one of) the problem(s) that you touch on here is that it’s a trick you can pull equally well with anything. “Oh, I’d better make snow angels nude, because there’s a finite probability of an infinite reward if I do so.” There are an infinite number of possible infinite-reward scenarios meaning, once again, that evidence is the only good way to make a decision regarding any of them.

  3. David D.G. Says:

    Brilliant! The scholarly stuff you write is wonderful, but sometimes what’s needed is a good dose of snark.

    ~David D.G.

  4. Tacroy Says:

    Swimmy: Pascal’s wager stops working really quickly when you consider all of its implications: namely, that if there is a heaven which results in infinite reward for those who believe the right thing, there is also a chance of infinite punishment if you do the wrong thing.

    Children have yet to do the wrong thing. We’d better keep them from ever doing anything but the right thing. You could chain the child up in the basement so they can’t perform any sinful acts, and tear out their tongue so they can’t say any sinful things, but there’s no way to guarantee that they will never have sinful thoughts – unless you tear out their minds. It’s the only logical thing to do, if you truly believe in a Hell that is equivalent to infinite punishment.

    Of course, you can get around this by believing in Heaven but not Hell – which is, for a great many people, believing in the wrong thing.

  5. Parker Says:

    I really enjoyed this one, DD! Kinda thinking about using it on a fundie at work. Although I think I’ll change the monster to something a little more grotesque. A plague of 40 foot tall Gary Busey’s?

  6. Pliny-the-in-Between Says:

    I enjoy reading your commentary. No need to post this but you might (or not) enjoy my old take on the wager. http://waywardskeptics.blogspot.com/2008/10/rascals-ante-mutants-response-to.html