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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blaise Pascal and Pascal's Wager


Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher. He was born in 1623 and died at the young age of 39 of stomach cancer, in 1662. He invented a calculator called Pascaline, which some believe is the forerunner of computers. By recording barometric pressure at various altitudes, he validated Torricelli's theory and in recognition of this work came the Pa unit as measurement of this physical phenomenon. His work on the fixed likelihood of a particular outcome in the rolling of dice in gambling was the beginning of the modern theory of probabilities.  


In his introduction to Blaise Pascals’ book entitled Pensee, T. S. Eliot recommends Pascal to “those who doubt, but who have the mind to conceive, and the sensibility to feel the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering, and who can only find peace through a satisfaction of the whole being”.



Now to Pascal himself in the Pensees;



 “…One must have very clear sight to see all the principles, and in the next place an accurate mind not to draw false deductions from known principles.”  



“Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects”.



“The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it………..What is a man in the Infinite?”



“Since he (refers to man/woman) is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret, he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.” (My italics)



“We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the center of things than of embracing their circumference. ”  “Let us not therefore look for certainty and stability”.  How can part know the whole?”



“Since everything then is cause and effect, dependent and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.”



“So if we are simply material, we can know nothing at all; and if we are composed of mind and matter, we cannot know perfectly things which are simple, whether spiritual or corporeal.”



“Justice and truth are two such subtle points, that our tools are too blunt to touch them accurately.”



“…. The most powerful cause of error is the war existing between the senses and reason.”  “These two sources of truth, senses and reason, besides being both wanting in sincerity, deceive each other in turn.”



“In disputes we like to see the clash of opinions, but not at all to contemplate truth when found.”



“The great and the humble have the same misfortunes, the same grief, the same passions, but the one is at the top of the wheel, and the other near the center, and so less disturbed by the same revolution.”



 (These following passage from Pascal’s Pensees is similar to the thoughts from the Upanishad. It is also similar to what Lord Krishna tells Narada about His relationship with several Gopis (devotees and admirers) all at the same time.)  “Do you believe it to be impossible that God is infinite, without parts?  - yes, I wish therefore to show you an infinite and indivisible thing. It is a point moving everywhere with an infinite velocity; for it is one in all places, and is all totality in every place.  



This section (233) also has a profound discussion on “God is, or He is not”. ……. Reason can decide nothing here………What will you wager?...According to reason you can do neither the one thing nor the other. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.”



“But your happiness? 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”  (This is the famous Pascals’ wager)



 The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know” (section 277)



“It is your own assent to yourself, and the constant voice of your own reason, and not of others, that should make you believe”. ( section 260)



“It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical………We must then combine justice and might, and for this end make what is just strong, or what is wrong just……..” ( section 298)



“….we have an idea of happiness, and cannot reach it. We perceive an image of truth, and possess only a lie. Incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge, we …..”



“True religion consists in annihilating self before that Universal being………” (the essence of oriental meditative practice)



“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious convictions” ( section 894)

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