Another Problem with Pascal's Wager

Pascal's Wager is one of the last stands for even vaguely coherent faith based beliefs.

"Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of Godcannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose. It was set out in note 233 of his Pensées, a posthumously published collection of notes made by Pascal in his last years as he worked on a treatise on Christian apologetics."

In other words, you should belive in God because if you are right, you are rewarded and if you are wrong you don't loose. You cannot be penalised by a possibly existing God if you belive in it absolutly.

There are a number of arguments against Pasca's Wager, here is mine (I think its mine?):


The wager doesnt take into accont the potentially signigant compromise in the truth, reason and quality of life that one must make if one believes in God. Lets call this the "Payload" of the belief in God. Its the potential to reduce a valued aspect of whatever system we are abstracting about (individual, society...)

The Personal Payload is things like guilt due to the belief or related ideas (eg religion itself), reduced possibilities due to indoctrinated morality or sexual repression.

The Social Payload of a belief in god and what has historically followed from that is the dominating masculin religious establishment globally, the damage this has casued is infinitly incalculable, both throughout history and currently.

I think there is also a Truth Payload as well, in that accepting the wager NOW isn't the same as in Pascal's time. We can stare into creation and life with blinding clarity. We don't know it all, but there is much less mystery than in Pascal's time, and this signifigantly skews the good money away from the stupid bet.


What are Things?

Is the last book you read a thing? If it was a paperback, you would probably answer "yes" If your reading it as an ebook, it might not be so clear. It wouldn't exist like paper does, it would just be a "thing" of information on a memory chip. What about if it was an audiobook?

What are things?

Birds are things. Bird's beaks are things. Molecules are things. Chairs are things, as are galaxies and atoms and waves. I could list of an infinite list of potential candidates for being a thing and you could say for each, "Yes" or "No".

Its a thing. Or Not. Sometimes.... you may pause...

What about the number seven? Is that a thing? Or the number 7.34243 Or the square root of minus one? Or the meaning of the word "ironic" or twentieth King of France. Are they things? Its not so clear.

What do dictionaries say? Things like:

"A thing is an entity, an idea, or a quality perceived, known, or thought to have its own existence."

This dictionary definition points us in the right direction but it doesn't really capture the features of things, nor does it explain the features of non things and, it doesn't explain or contain any information about why what it contain is the case. For example, why are ideas things? Are experiences ideas? Are numbers ideas?

We use things lots in our conceptual framework, but most people, including me, haven't a clear answer of what things are.

An Elemental Definition specifies all statements that are true of the thing defined.

An Elemental Definition of "a thing" will be true of all things and there will be no elements of the definition that any given thing does not posses. Each element is necesaary but not sufficient for "thingdom".


  1. A thing is contingent; it can only be, if certain other things are.
  2. A thing is divisible; it contains elements that exist independent of the thing.
  3. A thing is elemental; it can be an element in another distinct thing.
  4. A thing is interconnected; it can exist in relationships with other things, as will its parts.
  5. A thing is a reference; it can be represented.
  6. A thing is countable.
  7. A thing is possible.
  8. A thing is imperminent; it can either be or not be.

So what things are thing, on this definition. All objects we interact with in he physical world are clearly things. Bank accounts are things. The experience of a tea ceremony in a Japanese tea-house is a thing. The penumbras of shadows are things.

That, is what I think things are:)

I can be followed on now

I'm not doing much blogging at the moment as I am doing lots of writing, but I am also sending in inande thoughts and actions toTwitter at matripley

I had a big breakthrough with Buddhism yesterday.

I have been a practicing Buddhist for about seven years, which is less time than I have spent studying and tutoring Western analytic philosophy at University. Unlike Buddhists without this background, I feel I have been able to come to an understanding of Dharma without the cultural and historical accoutrements of Buddhism that have augmented the Dharmic System system over the millennium, often in ways incongruous with the initial teachings of The Buddha.

In a very concise nutshell this is what I believe:

Foundational Dharmic Truths

  • There is no God
  • There is no soul
  • There is no self
  • There is no heaven
  • All is impermanent
  • Decay is inevitable
  • Dukka: suffering and strain, are intrinsic to the human condition and experience
  • There are definite reasons why this Dukka is the case (Thirst, Attachment, Ignorance..)
  • The Noble Eightfold Path is the path away from Dukka and towards happiness and enlightenment.

This might not look very interesting or satisfactory as an account of Buddhism. But that's because people in the main come into Dharma from the top down, from the abstractions of Kama, mental formations and - in many schools of Buddhism - speculations about the endless cycles of rebirth what they entail for one's life.

But as I have written elsewhere, I have found it impossible to meaningfully link the core truths of Dharma with the idea of rebirth and its corollaries: that there is more after this life.

But today I had a revelation which for me at least removes the problem of rebirth and closes Dharma off to be specifically what the Buddha Intended, not how it has been variously interpreted.

The Problem with Rebirth

    1) Rebirth doesn't fit architectonically with the Dharmic System.
    2) Rebirth doesn't fit with the natural observable world whereas the core Dharma does perfectly.
    3) Buddhists, even very leaned scholars, cannot answer the question of where Rebirth fits in with Dharma with the same clarity that the rest of Dharma fits together.

    The Problem with Buddhist Enlightenment

    1) We know that the Buddha was born a normal man who reached enlightenment in his thirties and lived for fifty more years as an enlightened being.
    2) We know that whatever enlightenment is, it was a change of state in the Buddha's understanding.
    3) We know that enlightenment, at the time, was communicable by the Buddha. Many people became enlightened just by spending a short amount of time talking to the Buddha.
    4) In modern times, the idea of Enlightenment is shrouded in so many layers of mystery and profound inaccessibility that to even ask, "what could this state change (enlightenment) in the Buddha have been?" is met with something close to ridicule. This has always troubled me.

    So I have been in this situation where I feel I deeply understand the Core Dharma from a ground-up perspective but have been unable to answer what enlightenment could possibly be or why the Buddha even mentions rebirth at all.

    Until yesterday I was unable to answer the enlightenment question. My answer to the problem of Rebirth went something like this:

    Rebirth has become entwined in Buddhism because the Buddha used it as a metaphor for the change in our lives as they pass by, with each moment a new life, a new birth. This kind of made historical sense because we know the Buddha used many metaphors and we know that all of the people of the time were familiar with the idea of Rebirth because of the Hindu/Brahmin culture.

    And thus the metaphor of rebirth became entwined in Buddhism (in various ways and schools) until now people assume it's part of Core Dharma when in fact it seems totally incongruous. It kind of made sense, but I wasn't pleased with it.

    The Penny Drops

    But yesterday it clicked. It made sense. I had an epiphany. This is what I now think:

    The Buddha wasn't using Rebirth as a metaphor, he was using it quite literally, he was referring directly to the doctrine of rebirth/reincarnation that had been the dominant cultural doctrine for over a thousand years before his birth. He was saying, this endless idea that there is more to life than this life is a fundamental part of the problem of Human Suffering.

    He was saying, to be happy one must extinguish the Hindu idea of Rebirth because he realised by philosophy and meditation that it was false; in fact the idea itself constituted part of the problem.

    The Buddha found the path to enlightenment. This path required the removal of attachment to many various and related notions, such as self, immutable things and discrete things. But also, the Buddha realised, that to be enlightened one must extinguish completely the idea that there is anything supernatural, anything beyond this single short life and world of ours.

    You cannot be truly enlightened in this life if you place yourself within the possibility space of some life after this. There is none.

    To extinguish that last flickering candle of hope, that there is something more than this life of Dukka, is to reach the final stage in extinguishing this Dukka.

    I am a Buddhist. I am an Antitheist. This is my only life. There is no rebirth.