Global Warming

Pascal's Wager on Global Warming?

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Jack and Suzy Welch's column in Business Week suggests that corporations should make a Pascal's Wager-like call on global warming:

We believe that, whether the impact of global warming ends up being mild or sever, companies have to adopt a "here it comes" mind-set and mount a well-reasoned plan. Any other response would be bad business.

Our reasoning is hardly original. It's the same as Pascal's Wager. Back in 1670, basically using game theory, the French philosopher argued that it was a better bet to believe in God because the expected value of believing is always greater than the expected value of not believing.

The same goes for global warming. If you accept it as reality, adapting your strategy and practices, your plants will use less energy and emit fewer effluents. Your packaging will be more biodegradable, and your new products will be able to capture any markets created by severe weather effects. Yes, global warming may not be as damaging as some predict, and you might have invested more than you needed, but it's just as Pascal said: Given all the possible outcomes, the upside of being ready and prepared for a "fearsome event" surely beats the alternative.

This sounds to me like a tarted up version of the precautionary principle, which counsels extreme caution in the face of possible (environmental) threats.

Ron Bailey takes on the precautionary principle, and looks at the possible costs of "investing more than you needed."

Environmentalists often liken technology and economic growth to a car careening down a foggy road. They suggest that it would be better if we slowed before we crashed into a wall hidden in the fog. The Precautionary Principle, its champions believe, "would serve as a `speed bump' in the development of technologies and enterprises."

Unfortunately, these principles and tenets may sound sensible to many people, especially those who live in societies already replete with technology. These people already have their centrally heated house in the woods; they already enjoy the freedom from want, disease, and ignorance that technology can provide. They may think they can afford the luxury of ultimate precaution. But there are billions of people who still yearn to have their lives transformed. For them, the Precautionary Principle represents not a speed bump but a wall.

Of course, the threat is far more serious when taken by state actors. If corporations take a global warming Pascal's Wager too far, they'll just lose out to competitors and life will go on.

Via Freakonomics blog

NEXT: Tony the Nanny

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  1. Any atheist worth his or her salt knows all the holes in Pascal’s Wager.

  2. Of course, just like Pascal’s Wager is susceptible to the “Atheist Wager,” this wager is susceptible to anti-GW wager.

    I gotta ask, do pundits take any amount of time to actually look into received cultural notions (e.g., Pascal’s Wager) and try to figure out if they have any merit?

  3. It would be more interesting if, like the Simon/Ehrlich bet, that Jack Welch could find some takers on both sides and make more than just vague advice from an egomaniac.

    Get a couple equally matched companies and have them stake out a claim: those that believe in the coming apocolypse and those that will adapt, if and when any changes come.

  4. Your packaging will be more biodegradable

    I’m really sick and tired of people conflating any-and-all kinds of environmentalism with global warming. Biodegradable packaging may very well be a good idea most circumstances. Hell, maybe all circumstances. But it has zero to do with greenhouse gas emissions. Biodegradable packaging is great if you’re worried about landfill space. It’s great if you’re worried about birds and mammals choking on six-pack rings. But in and of itself, it does nothing to reduce CO2 or methane buildup in the atmosphere.

    If we’re going to respond to global warming, let’s RESPOND TO GLOBAL WARMING, not every pet green project you see on “The More You Know” segments during Friends.

  5. Sorry, was rushing and left out the important part…..give it a time frame, say 10-30 years out and see which of the companies is doing “better.” Obviously, some measure will need to be agreed upon before the bet begins, since companies can tank or boom for any number of reasons.

  6. 1. It’s not “Pascal’s Wager” if you can build falsifiable climate models against it. Pascal was probably betting on his conscience as explained to him by the French inquisition.

    2. About losing out to “Global Competitors” – Don’t you think Jack Welch knows rather more about the Global Market than any think tanker does ? Well, there goes Walter Wriston’s theory about perfect information & perfect markets.

  7. …your new products will be able to capture any markets created by severe weather effects.

    Personally, I plan to invest in sand and bags.

  8. So I should take human caused global warming as a matter of faith?

    Fucking Brilliant.

  9. But drinking the global warming Kool-Aid is more than just _believing_ in God. It’s attending church twice a week, going door-to-door seeking converts, preaching against heretics, giving up premarital sex, donating half your income to the holy church…

  10. Aside from all the other criticisms of Pascal’s Wager, which I always took as being tongue-in-cheek anyway since I couldn’t imagine it any other way (don’t know if that historically holds), it assumes minimal cost to the supposedly paradise gaining belief in God. If businesses thought there were little cost to “environmental” practices, then, uh, well, y’know, this is getting too stupid for me to even wanna go into………..

  11. I’m really sick and tired of people conflating any-and-all kinds of environmentalism with global warming. Biodegradable packaging may very well be a good idea most circumstances. Hell, maybe all circumstances. But it has zero to do with greenhouse gas emissions. Biodegradable packaging is great if you’re worried about landfill space. It’s great if you’re worried about birds and mammals choking on six-pack rings. But in and of itself, it does nothing to reduce CO2 or methane buildup in the atmosphere.

    No kidding, and actually, biodegradable objects could slightly contribute to global warming, as almost all organic decomposition ultimately results in CO2 emissions. On the other hand, a totally unbiodegradable product in a landfill effectively sequesters carbon.

    Oh well.

  12. Unfortunately, these principles and tenets may sound sensible to many people, especially those who live in societies already replete with technology. These people already have their centrally heated house in the woods; they already enjoy the freedom from want, disease, and ignorance that technology can provide. They may think they can afford the luxury of ultimate precaution. But there are billions of people who still yearn to have their lives transformed. For them, the Precautionary Principle represents not a speed bump but a wall.

    Perhaps successful socities are that way because they take precaution when warranted?

    These arguments you guys put forth are amazing. It’s not the successful societies that are hurt the most from environmental problems, it’s the poor ones.

  13. If businesses thought there were little cost to “environmental” practices, then, uh, well, y’know

    I don’t know. How much did BP spend on that creepy creepy baby ad? I mean, if all you have to do is Believe in global warming…

  14. Any atheist worth his or her salt knows all the holes in Pascal’s Wager.

    Well let’s hear one, just for fun…

  15. IAC, God would know it you were making Pascal’s wager or if you truly believed.

    God: “You’ve been faking it, go to hell.”

  16. False dichotomy–no god or Christian or Christian-like god.

  17. They manage to completely miss the point of Pascal’s Wager, which is that any non-zero probability of something “infinetly” bad (going to Hell instead of Heaven) the difference in the expected values of taking a preventative measure or not will not be a function of the probability of the event. Since the consequences of global warming will be finite, so the probability of the consequences of global warming needs to be considered in predicting expected outcomes.

  18. Pascal’s wager only holds if the costs of belief and of non-belief are similar without regards to potential rewards. Most atheist could easily answer that the costs of belief are exponentially higher than those of non-belief, far outweighing the possibility of an afterlife. Most theists would easily answer just the opposite.

    In my opinion, Pascal’s wager is a tool for theists to browbeat those who are inclined towards atheism. Nothing more.

  19. So, the same fallacy exists for global warming. The costs of belief and of non-belief are rarely similar and they are not uniform for any organization or person. Those costs can easily overwhelm the possibility of global warming.

  20. But what if we’re experiencing 1970’s style global cooling? In that case, betting on global warming might actually hasten the extreme cost of an ice bound planet

    p.s. Pascal’s Wager was demolished on the first day of my freshman college Logic and Critical Thinking class a couple of decades ago.

  21. So how does me believing in God cost someone else something?

    Unlike every enviromental scheme which comes with the preamble, “Well it may cost a little more now but …”

  22. This company has been kicking the competitions ass ever since adopting green practices.

    http://www.interfaceinc.com/

    Not only does adopting the strategies that are appropriate to address GW help with GW…they are wise business decisions. Taking the steps to make your company more efficient are wise business practice and just happen to be good for the environment. And this goal can serve to speed up the development of technologies and enterprises.

    Rather than a precautionary principle, it is more like wise long term planning.

  23. It’s pretty amazing that we all know about Pascal’s Wager considered even a freshman philosophy student can “demolish it”.

    Although I do agree that the Wager doesn’t work when put in the context of global warming.

  24. Don’t make me go agreeing with Dan T. Those of you who say that Pascal’s Wager is full of holes, please present them.

    So far all that’s been presented simply multiply into the probability that the ploy will get you into heaven. None of them zero the probability nor do they counterbalance the difference in cost over an eternity.

  25. But what if we’re experiencing 1970’s style global cooling?

    As I recall, the “global cooling” concern of the 1970’s was only seriously considered by a handful of scientists with minimal evidence, and was blown out of proportion by a magazine reporter eager for a scare story.

    Say what you will about the strength (and/or weakness) of the evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and the strength (and/or weakness) of the evidence for the predicted harms, but the matter of AGW is not really comparable to the alleged global cooling scare of the 1970’s. We’re talking about more scientists with more evidence using a wider variety of methodologies to test more hypotheses over a longer period of time.

    They may still be wrong, of course, but in terms of the sociology and politics of the scientific community, the phenomena are not the same at all.

  26. Uh, I already did include a hole in Pascal’s wager, but there’s no need to listen to me, try this.

  27. I would actually think the strongest argument against Pascal’s Wager is the discounting of future costs against present costs.

    Interestingly, that’s the strongest argument against “doing something” in the global warming arena as well.

  28. Sounds like an ideal thing to let the market sort out. It’s not as if the effects of global warming are described as suddenly springing upon us in full force in 2100 – as effects of GW show, consumers will care more about environmental policy. If green is best in business, keep the government out of the way so the best green practices can win out.

  29. I understand that there are arguments against Pascal’s wager but that’s not exactly the same thing as “holes”.

  30. “If green is best in business, keep the government out of the way so the best green practices can win out.”

    Or better yet, encourage the green practices so that those with little knowledge or awareness will change their behavior. Government can take actions that create postive changes in the direction of markets. Given that governments are involved in markets, craft government policy so that it biases the game in the better direction.

  31. As I understood it, Pascal’s wager is complicated by the fact that many religions insist you’re doomed if you pick the wrong one. In fact, some preachers display more disdain for members rival faiths than for atheists. If you base your risk calculation on the teachings of the members (i.e. the religion as it’s actually practiced) rather than the statements in the religious texts (i.e. things that are frequently ignored by the members), you might actually be better off as an atheist than as a [insert heretical sect here].

    This greatly complicates the risk calculation, needless to say.

  32. Eric.5b is right–in fact, it’s a classically well suited scenario for the market to sort out, just because it will be a gradual process.
    And additionally, it’s better to spend money as you need to, not as you project or theorize you may need to.

    It reminds me of the “crisis” in rising fuel costs, e.g. there is no crisis–as gas and oil become more expensive alternatives will become more viable, business opportunities to answer new needs will abound, etc.

  33. Let’s say you take the “safe” side of the bet and go to your local
    Presbyterian church and live that church’s vision of a pure and good life. Then you die. How does your bet pay off?

    God is the Presbyterian version–go to Heaven and hear the angels sing.

    HOWEVER, if–

    God is the Catholic version–go to hell.
    God is the Greek version(s)–go to Hades.
    God is the Muslim version–go to jahannam.
    God is the Hindu version(s)–go to Naraka.
    God is the Chinese version–go to Di Yu.

    And that’s just a small sample of human religions. If the rest of the sentient species in the universe are considered, you’re really screwed (God is the Jedi version–turn to the Dark Side).

    This says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. It’s just a critique of Pascal’s Wager.

  34. What if we picked the wrong church and every Sunday morning we’re just making God angrier and angrier?

  35. Speaking of things to be sick and tired of . . .

    I’m sick and tired of government-response-to-GW pushers not taking into account the probability of various outcomes. In other words, when deciding how much should be spent to protect against a possible harm, you need to look at the cost of the harm discounted by the likelihood that it will occur. (My fellow lawyers will recognize this as the “Hand formula.” No, not that hand.)

    In the case of GW, there should be a whole range of probabilities for a range of possible outcomes, from 0 change in sea levels, to a 1-inch rise, to a 2-inch rise, etc., all the way up to, say, a 2-foot rise. Even a huge possible harm would not be worth preparing for if the chances of it happening are near zero.

  36. Like with killer asteroids/comets. If they hit, we all die. Serious enough to take some measures to deal with, not serious enough to move our planet to an emptier solar system.

  37. Okay, for the lazy. These are the critique’s of Pascal’s wager. Surprisingly, most of these critiques have analogues to the global warming wager.

    – perhaps God doesn’t reward belief, or doesn’t punish non-belief (analogue: global warming might not be alleviated by current efforts)

    – assumes a Christian God (analogue: global warming might not be the most truly important problem)

    – wagering is not be true belief (analogue: global warming may not be a good business motivation if you don’t personally believe in it)

    – assumes beliefs can be chosen (analogue: see above)

    – spurious allusion to probability mathematics (analogue: applies identically to global warming wager argument)

    – assumes infinite rewards/punishments, which is not a universal Christian concept (analogue: climatic homeostasis is not necessarily an infinitely desirable outcome)

    – ignores costs of belief (analogue: ignores costs of acting on fears of global warming)

    – atheist wager on no God or a God who rewards good works and rational thought over blind faith (analogue: doing nothing to stem global warming may lead to a more favorable result than inept action)

  38. DanT/MikeB,

    Ok.

    Problems with the wager itself:

    First, the idea of an infite positive or negative utility doesn’t actually make sense conceptually. Scalar utility values are a fiction used to make economic modeling practical. Preferences are actually a set of preference relations between a finite number of states. This normally doesn’t matter in economic modeling, as the finite states are close enough that the can be treated as a curve, but it should not be taken as a literal quantity. Even assuming utility is a scalar, there is no reason to perclude the values that a human can experience wouldn’t have a finite upper bound.

    Second, Pascal erroneously assumes that there is only one set of beliefs to be rejected or denied. The existence of several well-established mutually exclusive belief systems with Heaven/Hell consequences means that the expected values will once again depend on the probability of any given belief being true. An since in addition to established religions, there are an infinite number of possible belief sets with Heaven/Hell consequences, the expected value cannot be evaluated, since the term multipling the infinite utility term is 1/infinity (for the sum of Pn for n 1 to inf to equal 1, each event must have an infinitely small probability). It is impossible to tell the value of inf/inf, so unless the number of belief sets under consideration can be bounded, the expression cannot be evaluated.

    Third, the premise is flawed because belief cannot be chosen. An omniscient deity will know if you’re just going through the motions, so the belief has to be sincere, which it can’t be unless you would have believed it in absence of the Wager’s argument.

    Practical problems with the wager’s prescriptive aspects:

    Pascal’s wager wouldn’t just show that you should believe in God, it would also shows that anything that has a non-zero probability of increasing your chances to go to Heaven over Hell will infinitely increase your expected utility. Hence, you should try to die as soon as possible (suicide would be percluded in most Christian versions of the wager, but you can always smoke cigs, eat poorly, not exercise, and drive a motorcycle without a helmet), only suscribe to religious beliefs that hold that non-believers are going to Hell, and engage in any concievable action regardless of personal cost that is theoretically possible of currying favor with the devine.

  39. Hell is for children.

  40. Okay, for the lazy. These are the critique’s of Pascal’s wager. Surprisingly, most of these critiques have analogues to the global warming wager.

    I’d read that, but it was an awfully long post. Can somebody summarize that for me?

  41. lunchstealer,Notootired.

  42. lunchstealer,

    Pascal: You can’t win if you don’t play.
    MattXIV: Save that dollar. I’ve done the math. Trust me on this one.

  43. I’d read that, but it was an awfully long post. Can somebody summarize that for me?

    Xians are teh suXXorz!!!

  44. You would think columnists for a mag like Business Week would be familiar with the concept of “opportunity costs.”

  45. This is getting to be a tired argument. One would think the only thing preventing the world’s starving millions from getting rich quick is environmentalism.

    The counter-argument, of course, is that enviromental disasters disproportionately affect the poor. In other words, Bangladesh can’t become a nation of software designers and small businessmen if the whole place is under three feet of water.

  46. If there is a god I doubt he’s rewarding the lazy, unquestioning followers of dogma. And any company betting Al Gore is sincere isn’t going to go very far here on earth.

  47. If green is best in business, keep the government out of the way so the best green practices can win out.

    Or better yet, encourage the green practices so that those with little knowledge or awareness will change their behavior. Government can take actions that create postive changes in the direction of markets.

    In theory, sure. In practice, trying to get the government to “create positive changes” in an adaptive, dynamic market is a remarkably clumsy, blunt instrument that one should resort to very, very reluctantly.

    Given that governments are involved in markets, craft government policy so that it biases the game in the better direction.

    Or resist the urges to tinker and impose proposed solutions and let people more informed (and more specifically informed) than legislators address solve their own problems.

  48. “legislators address solve their own problems.”

    Heh. Pick a verb, either verb!

  49. I’m stickin with Pascal even if it means I’m going to Blaise(s).

  50. Rimfax,

    Nice summary of some of the objections.

  51. Maybe we can deal with the “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” or the “Big Rock” arguments now. πŸ˜‰

  52. In practice, trying to get the government to “create positive changes” in an adaptive, dynamic market is a remarkably clumsy, blunt instrument that one should resort to very, very reluctantly.

    How about never — is never good for you? πŸ˜›

  53. Shut up while I beat the liberty into you!

  54. MattXIV,

    First, … Even assuming utility is a scalar, there is no reason to perclude the values that a human can experience wouldn’t have a finite upper bound.

    But whatever he experiences in a single moment, the integral of it will become infinite over eternity.

    Second, … Pascal erroneously assumes that there is only one set of beliefs to be rejected or denied.

    So? That simply lessens the probability of the one he chooses. It does not change the fact that a finite number times infinity is infinity.

    It is impossible to tell the value of inf/inf, so unless the number of belief sets under consideration can be bounded, the expression cannot be evaluated.

    If this is what passes for freshman philosophy, I recommend that they move that course to sophomore year so the students can learn some calculus first.

    Third, … the belief has to be sincere, which it can’t be unless you would have believed it in absence of the Wager’s argument.

    Who says? Again, that is simply another of the possible beliefs. If you can’t be sincere, but it’s possible that God thinks that people who believe Pascal’s Wager have “got it”, then one still should abide by the wager.

    Practical problems with the wager’s prescriptive aspects: …

    Your practical problems are actually better arguments: They directly evaluate known values of life today against unknowns of the hereafter and compare the net present values. But they are simply arguments: They do not prove that Pascal’s Wager is full of holes.

  55. MikeP,

    At this point we’ll have to start arguing what a “hole” in a particular argument looks like. Let logomachy reign supreme!

  56. I would say that a “hole” is a logical error or an error based on a provably incorrect metric — not a disagreement based on a debatable metric.

  57. MikeP,

    If you read the wager as Pascal wrote it the argument depends wholely on faith in the Christian belief system. That by itself is an unwarranted assumption, and that unwarranted assumption is one of the many holes in the argument.

  58. “I’m sick and tired of government-response-to-GW pushers not taking into account the probability of various outcomes. In other words, when deciding how much should be spent to protect against a possible harm, you need to look at the cost of the harm discounted by the likelihood that it will occur. I’m sick and tired of government-response-to-GW pushers not taking into account the probability of various outcomes. In other words, when deciding how much should be spent to protect against a possible harm, you need to look at the cost of the harm discounted by the likelihood that it will occur. “

    I really like the idea of folks doing this, but for the life of me have no idea how they would go about it. Computer models are bridging the gap between some really suggestive measures of GHG and GW correlation, and the causation that would prove AGW.

    I can make a measure of error of my model measurement; but this is the error of the measurement assuming the model faithfully reproduces real world physics. I could compare my model with many others and talk about the deviation and mean (done in the IPCC for climate sensitivity). But what is that, really? I guess it’s also suggestive that they give similar answers, but there could be a lot of coincidental reasons for it.

    Anyway, I doubt you are going to get a rigorous and good faith estimate of error from the climate folks. None of the computer modelers I know could even begin to guess at the magnitude of the error between their measurements and real world unknowns. So, we have folks pulling numbers out of their asses; see the 90% certainty of the most recent IPCC. And that’s worse than worthless.

  59. Eric.5B,

    “trying to get the government to “create positive changes” in an adaptive, dynamic market is a remarkably clumsy, blunt instrument that one should resort to very, very reluctantly”

    In theory, sure. In practice, trying to get the government to stay out of the market is a remarkably naive position that one should resort to very, very reluctantly. Instead, engaging government so that the inevitable policy is as well crafted as possible seems more effective.

  60. Eric.5B,

    Try “address/solve”

  61. MikeP,

    Indeed that sort of assumption is the flaw which lies at the heart of a lot of religious arguments.

  62. Sounds familiar – but climate inflation is hardly metaphysical

    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/03/which_way_would.html

  63. If you read the wager as Pascal wrote it the argument depends wholely on faith in the Christian belief system.

    No it doesn’t. The Wikipedia article cited quoted Pascal as bringing probabilities into the original argument. And they can certainly be applied to the argument to debate those who bring up probabilities themselves.

  64. MikeP,

    You do realize that the only probabilities for Pascal were belief in the Christian God and non-belief in such, right? Ergo, Pascal depends wholely on belief in the Christian God.

  65. MikeP,

    Also, instead of looking to wikipedia you may wish to consult the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is a far superior resource.

  66. Grotius,

    Higher up you complimented Rimfax for his summary of the objections against Pascal. That enumeration came straight from the Wikipedia article.

  67. You do realize that the only probabilities for Pascal were belief in the Christian God and non-belief in such, right?

    Sure. But I also recognize that, in any set of N beliefs, some subset of them (perhaps a subset of size one) constitute belief in the Christian God, and the remainder constitute non-belief in such. So the problem comes down to two options: belief and non-belief. In no way does the fact that non-belief may take many forms invalidate Pascal’s argument.

  68. MikeP,

    Well they are some of the standard objections (but not all of them) to the wager. Furthermore, just because the wikipedia article (whatever it may say) gets some of that right doesn’t take away from my statement. Talk about faulty logic.

    So the problem comes down to two options: belief and non-belief. In no way does the fact that non-belief may take many forms invalidate Pascal’s argument.

    It isn’t that unbelief takes many forms that is the problem with the wager.

  69. MikeP,

    In other words, the primary problem with the wager is the assumptions that it makes.

  70. MikeP,

    Anyway, we’ll likely just have to agree to disagree and leave it at that. Particularly since I’m cooking dinner. πŸ™‚

  71. Grotius,

    Then let me try.

    It is against the rational nature of man to put infinite net present value on a future that is in question. Present costs and benefits must win out by the very nature of human existence. If you have computed an infinite NPV for a human behavior, you screwed up somewhere.

    Or let me try another… Posit a belief which, if you don’t believe it, will send you to a hell of cost ?1. Since disbelieving the God that Pascal supposes costs no more than ?0, you should believe in the infinitely more costly belief over Pascal’s God even if it has only an infinitesimal probability of being true. Thus Pascal’s Wager is shown to draw the wrong conclusion by employing a Pascal’s Wager within the same assumptions.

    Either of those in the Stanford Encyclopedia? I still would not either of them “holes”, but they are getting closer.

    Enjoy your dinner!

  72. Bringing this back to the topic at hand…

    It is pretty clear that the only defense that Pascal’s Wager has against the onslaught of objections is its handling of infinite costs. Anything less opens it to questions of measurable probability, competing values, and discount rates, and breaks any claim to logic that supersedes those metrics.

    It is even more clear that the specter of global warming does not have the worry of infinite costs going for it. The costs of global warming are in fact very finite and very comparable to other costs faced continuously by humanity.

    Attempts to bring Pascal’s Wager to bear in the global warming debate are simply sadly misinformed.

  73. MikeP,

    The infinite costs issue is also a problematic assumption. If the immortal soul bit exits the whole point of the wager is exits with it.

  74. Well… yeah. But on what grounds can you eliminate that assumption? Pascal only presumes a probability that it is true. Unless you can drive the probability to zero, you can’t disprove the Wager.

  75. In theory, sure. In practice, trying to get the government to stay out of the market is a remarkably naive position that one should resort to very, very reluctantly. Instead, engaging government so that the inevitable policy is as well crafted as possible seems more effective.

    I’d say the greater naivete would consist of thinking that the inevitable policy will be better-crafted because of one’s involvement, but you’ve already wandered out of substantive argument and into dick-waving. Ta! πŸ™‚

  76. RE infinite utility – The problem with simply integrating over time is that you don’t know how it should be discounted – what is the point of spending 10^9999 years in heaven if heaven is only finitely good. Once it is finite, it becomes a question of how much would you pay for immortality, which for most people will be a finite amount.

    RE alternate beliefs – The point of demonstrating that there is alternate beliefs is that Pascal assumes because his religion is possible it doesn’t have a probability of 0, and consequently when multiplied with inf, will be inf. But, that alone doesn’t prove that the probability is above 1/inf, just that it is above 0. Both the proliferation of beliefs and the relative values of afterlives possible are infinite. Pascal never demonstrates one to be greater than the other. And if you don’t know the relationship between the expressions that are being evaluated to the infinite values, you cannot determine what their relative magnitutes are.

    I’d also like to clarify that I’m trying to demonstrate that Pascal’s Wager is not prove the assertion that it is always better to “bet” to believe in God if you don’t know with absolute certaintly that he doesn’t exist, not that it wouldn’t be a factor in making a strategic decision whether or not to profess a belief in God. If you can assign a number value that you know the probability of God is above, then depending on your preferences it may be worth taking the wager.

    For someone who holds an atheist position, the wager is essentially an offer for you to bet a finite non-zero amount for an infinite amount on picking the right member of an infinte set. It’s like betting $10 on picking an exact random number chosen with even probability over the set of all real numbers in exchange for whatever you want. Would you take the bet?

    RE the practical implications: That was why I labelled them as practical implications rather than problems with the wager itself πŸ™‚

  77. MikeP,

    Who wrote anything about disproving the wager? This is philosophy, not an empirical exercise. πŸ˜‰

  78. here is the hole in Pascal’s wager:

    You don’t “choose” to believe anything. You are either convinced of the truth of something and you believe it, or your are not convinced. Do you think God, if he exists, does not know the difference?

  79. Do you think God, if he exists, does not know the difference?

    There is certainly a finite probability that He doesn’t care — that it’s the belief that matters, not how one comes to it or how much it is “felt”. In fact, to mirror the Atheist’s Wager, God may even think people who believe Pascal’s Wager are the coolest believers in the world because they used their God-given reasoning to come to their belief.

  80. “that it’s the belief that matters, not how one comes to it or how much it is “felt”.”

    If it is pretended belief, then it is not belief at all, just the pretense of belief. Were I God, I would smite such pretenders for their arrogance in thinking they could fool me; and who is to say I am not God. You have been warned!

  81. That’s okay, wayne. Were I Gaea, I would make sure that anyone who believed in doing something to address global warming solely due to a poorly conceived analogy with Pascal’s Wager would suffer some sort of pack ice accident.

  82. MikeP,

    As a lesser God, I delegate the dreary doings of Earth to you, Gaea. However, I will tolerate only genuine belief; just ask Pascal.

  83. Eric.5B,

    “I’d say the greater naivete would consist of thinking that the inevitable policy will be better-crafted because of one’s involvement”

    Well since involvement by someone is the only way a policy gets crafted no matter what form it takes, the policy is likely to be better crafted to the extent that those that are involved understand the issue (including your own points about the potential for negative effects of government interference).

    “but you’ve already wandered out of substantive argument and into dick-waving.”

    Says the one-note wonder “your points are but a one-eyed snake waving in the wind, while my words are the foundation of the world.”

    Whatever keeps you faithful.

  84. You don’t “choose” to believe anything. You are either convinced of the truth of something and you believe it, or your are not convinced. Do you think God, if he exists, does not know the difference?

    Actually, to be fair, Pascal’s argument was that abiding by the strictures and practices of religious belief as sincerely as one can manage would, over time, inevitably lead to genuine belief. I doubt that would work for a lot of people, but he did think genuine belief was necessarily involved.

  85. I’m the one-note wonder? πŸ™‚

    But there’s actually more than just waggling in your bit, so I’ll respond to your argument:

    Well since involvement by someone is the only way a policy gets crafted no matter what form it takes, the policy is likely to be better crafted to the extent that those that are involved understand the issue (including your own points about the potential for negative effects of government interference).

    Ah, but opposition is involvement, and hardly futile. For one thing, all other things equal, opposing concrete plans or bills is a far easier and rather more likely to succeed pursuit than trying to get enough people – especially legislators – to support and enact a satisfactory version of one’s proposed policy. For another, if opposition is significant enough – and if it isn’t, the corresponding support and influence on it wouldn’t be either – proponents of the policy will feel the need to address their concerns, if only to mollify some supporters and potential supporters, as well as potential opponents.

    Of course in the end, it simply (and rather often) may not be possible for one to amend or tweak a proposed policy to the point where the improvement would be worth lending additional support to that policy.

    Of course, if you disagree, why not, I don’t know…argue that we should have supported Bush’s war on Iraq and his policy of torture? After all, if we’d all decided to get involved in those policies, we could have made a incrementally better version of both happen. Maybe we could have managed softer pillows in Gitmo…

  86. Eric.5B,

    Yes, opposition is a form of involvement that can be effective in certain cases. But you have to be a bit more subtle in what you oppose if you want to have a real impact. If your position is “all government action will have a negative result no matter the form.” When the government acts, if is not likely to take your position into account. A more nuanced position is more productive, even if that position is just to oppose a particular bill or proposal.

    Your statements so far were blanket opposition, not target criticism of a particular actions, so they don’t really do much to further the discussion about what the actions that the government will take look like (cuz it will take some action on the issue of energy).

    “I’m the one-note wonder?”

    Yep.
    Or the half-note wonder, perhaps the Reason anti-troll….(see below)

    “Of course, if you disagree, why not, I don’t know…argue that we should have supported Bush’s war on Iraq and his policy of torture? After all, if we’d all decided to get involved in those policies, we could have made a incrementally better version of both happen. Maybe we could have managed softer pillows in Gitmo…”

    Couldn’t come up with anything even a little more subtle or on topic?

    Talk about being disingenuous (your favorite note, I believe, is this accusation).

  87. Eric.5b,

    The squirrels ate the emoticon…

    I tease…

    :^)

  88. Your statements so far were blanket opposition, not target criticism of a particular actions, so they don’t really do much to further the discussion about what the actions that the government will take look like (cuz it will take some action on the issue of energy).

    In response to the blanket assertion that we should support the government doing some vague thing? Seems a reasonable stance to me.

    your favorite note, I believe, is this accusation

    Only for you. πŸ™‚

  89. Eric.5b

    I said

    “Government can take actions that create postive changes in the direction of markets. Given that governments are involved in markets, craft government policy so that it biases the game in the better direction.”

    You reply (after some random attempts to insult me)

    “In response to the blanket assertion that we should support the government doing some vague thing? Seems a reasonable stance to me.”

    Fair enough.

    Revise building codes so that the regulations in place don’t conflict with efficient design practices.

    Remove subsidies currently provided to oil and coal.

    Provide tax incentives to business that implement green practices.

    Use resources to inform and educate the business community about the advantages of more efficient practices.

    Provide tax incentives for purchase/production of products that are more energy efficient.

    Shift emphasis in research agenda of the NSF towards goals related to GW.

    ” your favorite note, I believe, is this accusation

    Only for you. :)”

    So it is our song. How sweet.

    Like a fluffy gitmo pillow.

  90. Eric.5b

    You reply (after some random attempts to insult me)

    Sorry, no attempts to insult you. Tease you for your attempts to turn this into dick-waving ego trip, sure. I am sorry if that’s dismayed you, but that’s just not a game I’m interested in playing with you.

    Revise building codes so that the regulations in place don’t conflict with efficient design practices.

    Remove subsidies currently provided to oil and coal.

    Those two sound sensible to me.

    Use resources to inform and educate the business community about the advantages of more efficient practices.

    That’s just outright silly, I’m afraid. If those practices are more efficient and do have advantages, businesses will pursue them. Having bureacrats run ad campaigns and whatnot to tell businesses how they should do things will be useless at best.

    Provide tax incentives to business that implement green practices.

    Provide tax incentives for purchase/production of products that are more energy efficient.

    This is the sort of wannabe-command-economy stuff that demands extreme reluctance. At this point, I’m happy to oppose such efforts.

    Shift emphasis in research agenda of the NSF towards goals related to GW.

    The priorities of a $7 billion agency seem safely harmless, at least at the scale of the national budget.

  91. Oops, forgot to clip off some of your initial text. That last should have been directed, of course, to N&M.

  92. “Tease you for your attempts to turn this into dick-waving ego trip, sure. I am sorry if that’s dismayed you, but that’s just not a game I’m interested in playing with you.”

    Dismayed is not an emotion I have felt in any of our discussions. And no dick waving attempts occurred from my end. Not my problem if you see wagging naughty bits in the white spaces… ;^)

    And just to be complete in stating my position.

    When you say

    “resist the urges to tinker and impose proposed solutions and let people more informed (and more specifically informed) than legislators address solve their own problems.”

    and

    “keep the government out of the way so the best green practices can win out.”

    “trying to get the government to “create positive changes” in an adaptive, dynamic market is a remarkably clumsy, blunt instrument”

    You seem to ignore the current context which includes government using its blunt force in the market to encourage certain goals. Opposition to government involvement in the market is one thing, but policy discussions need to be about how to change the status quo since the status quo is clearly maladaptive. Government action can involve releasing restrictions just as readily as it can mean imposing them. When I discuss government action I include actions with both positive and negative valence.

    As for you more specific points.

    “Having bureacrats run ad campaigns and whatnot to tell businesses how they should do things will be useless at best.”

    Not true at all.
    Technology transfer programs such as those run by Sandia Labs (a fed. research lab) have been very successful. Businesses will seek out this information, but may not always have access to it so that it can be implemented. This is the kind of task that government can facilitate.

    http://www.federallabs.org/education/

    “This is the sort of wannabe-command-economy stuff that demands extreme reluctance. At this point, I’m happy to oppose such efforts.”

    This proposal is made in light of the fact that tax incentives – command economy stuff is part of the status quo…if it is going to be part of the game anyway (it is), then changing the priorities to address GW makes sense to me. Whether the game as currently played is optimal in theory is another discussion.

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