Dumber than Von Neumann

I was sitting in a cafe wondering if I was smarter than John von Neumann. Nope, I ain’t.

I have confused, in my previous posting Summa Contra, the folk form of Pascal’s Wager with the real thing. The holy sisters used the former form: “believe in the Catholic church and follow its rules or go to hell: this is rational because the gain is infinite as is the loss.” In Summa Contra I certainly meant this form which indeed is how the elite does crowd control in Christianity and Islam. Hinduism uses an older form in the hope of reincarnation in a higher caste.

But this is the Wager.

1. “God is, or He is not”
2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4. You must wager. (It’s not optional.)
5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

At this point we must acknowledge our repulsion to the cold and unemotional reasoning here in which there is no love of God as you understand him, just game theory, which probably attracted von Neumann. To play chess with death like the knight in The Seventh Seal is one thing. To play games with God, or deus sive nature, is to mock God. Not cool. But let us proceed.

The fallacy in Pascal’s real wager is that God would condemn unbelievers to annihilation. Most of us understand God as a perfection, or, in “process theology” as that Being who most seeks perfection.

To love is a perfection (to most of us, I’ll not argue this in detail, my butt hurts).

But a God who only rewarded belief would be less loving than a God like my Dad or in the parable of the Prodigal.

I conclude that the wager fails. Besides, the younger and cuter nuns, who also preached against racial segregation, said that we should love God as an end in itself like an artist. Once again we find ourselves against a wall, “wondrous high”: the Kantian block.

Good. I am not as smart as von Neumann. I should also read more philosophy. I really wasn’t aware of the magnificence and depth of Pascal despite his flaws we all share: “you must wager”. I know it is the fashion among great men of my age to brag about not reading a book but I don’t.


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