Matrix: Reloaded Explained
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Selected reader comments

Matrix: Revolutions Explained
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Dismembering Blaise, #2

31 Jul, 2009 | Brian

I continue from where I left off last time. In this episode, I turn my withering gaze upon Part Deux of Pascal's Wager, which is that belief in God is a forced decision. According to Pascal, I must decide which side of his false compromise I will throw in with. Well, that doesn't feel very exciting: betting which 0% probability will come true. My math skills may be insufficient for the task, but I somehow expect to come out the loser every time when faced with those odds.

Maybe we can give poor Blaise some leeway, and so continue to analyze his wager. I could suppose that there is a fellow who is stuck in a feeling of ambiguity. He is in a state of doubtfulness. He wants to believe, but cannot quite make himself do it. (Really, this fellow uses evidence to arrive at this place of indecision, and that is disallowed by the first part of the wager, but I will generously set that aside for now.)

So now I can address the idea that our murky-headed fellow is compelled to decide. Or was I the murky-headed fellow? No matter. Death will come, there is nothing I can do about it, and when it does I will stand before Judgment. Half the time, anyway. If I manage to die twice I intend to test this hypothesis. There is a 50% chance of nothingness. In all the days from this one to that, I am obligated to conduct myself according to the end I expect to receive - the rewards of heaven, or unconscious wormfood. And, according to Pascal, a non-decision is the same as deciding against belief, so there is no loophole.

I am forced! It turns out these kinds of forced decisions are all around me. I didn't realize it until I began intensively pondering the present Wager. Witches, for one. They have their eye on me and will turn me into a zombie after I die, forced to serve them forever and ever as a tormented, unliving abomination. I smell a decision matrix.

Witches do
not exist
Do what
witches want
Ordinary lifeOrdinary life
Do not do
what witches want
Zombie!Ordinary life

I am getting a little ahead of myself here, because I am talking about consequences, which is what Part Trois of Pascal's Wager is all about. I want to have this decision matrix here to show that not obeying witches is a genuine, terrifying problem, and that there is no escape from making a decision. I can't pretend witches don't exist, because there is a 50% chance that doing so leads to the zombie outcome, i.e., the only meaningful outcome on the whole chart. Okay, I am getting positively double- or even triple-cheeky now, but the point is made.

The two problems demonstrated by the witch example are the Problem of Special Case and the Problem of Consideration. By special case I mean that if a decision about God is compelled because eventually the consequences will be thrust upon me, then for anything else that can be imagined for which a consequence is imminent, I must also weigh in. That is, there ought not be a special case for belief in God. I must also decide how to conduct myself with regard to witches, leprechauns, Nirvana, and the possibility that my own descendants learn how to resurrect their great-grandpa. The other problem, Consideration, is the issue of what sort of "payment" I might get as a result of my actions. Pascal assumes there is only one payment: eternal bliss. But really there are any number of "rewards" that might be thrust upon me, like being turned into a zombie. Just because my great-grandchildren raise me from the dead doesn't mean they're doing it out of kindness! There's no telling what kind of sick pranks futurekids will be playing on old folks.

On these grounds I reject the premise that I am forced to decide to believe anything. I will stick with rational inquiry rather than manically trying to please an infinite list of supernatural agents (especially given the instruction manuals for most of them! sheesh!).

I will point out one last item of irritation with what Pascal advances in this part of his wager. It has to do with how you "decide" by your behavior. He prescribes faking it if you can't summon up the belief legitimately. Go through the motions. This, I must assume, sufficiently confuses God into giving you eternal rewards, and so you win the bet. I'll tell you one thing: witches are not so easily fooled.

Next up, the coup d'état for argument from consequences.