Pascal's Wager

May 2, 2015

The famous seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal described a wager found in some of his papers published posthumously. These papers are called his “Thoughts” and include a description of a wager that he says a rational man must accept. The wager concerns the existence of God and our belief or nonbelief in that existence. Simplistically, he looks at the question as a wager. If God exists, he assumes that belief can result in unlimited gain. If God does not exist, we will have only suffered a finite loss, due to giving up certain things. However, if God exists and we do not believe, we have suffered an unlimited loss. If God does not exist and we do not believe, we have not lost anything.

 

His conclusion is that a rational man must believe. If we believe, we can possibly have an unlimited gain with the risk of only a finite loss. If we do not believe, we could suffer an unlimited loss. Clearly, we should believe.

 

Pascal was a brilliant man and understood that some still could not bring themselves to believe. He knew the wager alone would not cause them to believe. For them, he suggested practicing the discipline that had brought others in a similar situation to salvation, the thought being that in time they too would believe.

 

The wager is an interesting bit of decision theory. The problem is that someone cannot become a believer based on an analysis of the wager and its outcomes. Even if Pascal’s assumptions are correct about the possibilities of unlimited gain and unlimited loss, this cannot make someone believe. Someone can feign belief, but this is not belief. You cannot fool your subconscious mind by pretending to believe, even if you think you ought to believe. And if you do believe, what is it you believe in? What is your God? Is God going to reward you for believing?

 

I mention Pascal’s wager because some people think they are somehow covering themselves by going to church or performing certain rituals that they have been taught. Your subconscious mind in its higher states is not concerned about the outward show; it is concerned about your regard for yourself and those around you. It is concerned about how you serve your fellow man. I am not saying you shouldn’t go to church; that is a personal decision. I am saying that activity alone does not constitute belief or make one spiritual.

 

In the early days of my work with dreams, I was active in a church and taught classes on dream interpretation in an adult education class. My dreams frequently provided guidance concerning the class and my interaction with its members. Before my participation and subsequent to it, my dreams never pushed me to attend a specific church or accept a certain doctrine. At the time when I was active, the church was a place where I could share some things I had learned and practice what I believed. When I felt I was no longer able to fulfill that purpose, I left.

 

If you try to get help from your dreams, but fail to do so, ask yourself if you really believe you can get help through your dreams. You cannot fool your subconscious mind. If you take the approach, maybe I’ll have a dream that helps, but I really don’t expect anything to happen, you are programming yourself for failure. However, if you find you can’t simply suddenly believe it’s possible, you need another approach. In this situation, you need to explore your reasons for your beliefs. You need to find the underlying limiting belief and counter it through regular exercises using visualization and repetition. Repetition can be especially beneficial if you apply it in the pre-sleep state. Picture yourself getting help from your dreams. If you are seeking an answer to a particular problem, see yourself getting an answer in a dream. You might have to do this for several nights, but if you don’t focus on a negative outcome, you will eventually be successful.

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