Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Discussion - Reprise

Blaise Pascal; June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662, was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He invented a mechanical calculator. Pascal was a mathematician of the first order. He helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. Following Galileo and Torricelli, in 1646 he refuted Aristotle's followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. There is so much more. Wiki him. This was a remarkable man.

One of my favorite blog moments, the post that contained this discussion of Pascal's Wager also contained another poem that I like very much. I am reprising Pascal tonight and we will see what tomorrow brings.

This poem is written in gratitude to Blaise Pascal, who pointed out that belief in God cannot in the end be buttressed by reason. This was not a new claim in Pascal's time, but what came next was. If not by reason, then perhaps we shall approach God in the form of a wager thus, if you choose to believe in God you may gain much and lose little. If you choose that you do not believe, you risk much and what you can gain is doubtful. The wager seems clear. Small risk in believing and much possible gain, that position sitting in an elevated position over the larger risk of disbelieving with no clear gain. Such a wager may not be palatable as an underpinning of belief. Many people have tried to refute it. Some have possibly succeeded.

For example, and a big one if you are a stoic or some other philo-soph - lover of truth, keeping integrity with truth may count for a great deal. Thus the risk of believing is increased greatly in the loss of truth if God really doesn't exist. However the wager cannot be reasonably denied in anything like the ease with which it can be stated. The wager was a groundbreaking philosophical point that no one had done before him. Pascal's Wager opened up probability theory (and Pascal developed a probability theory after making his wager), anticipated pragmatism and voluntarism as philosophical movements, and the wager was part of a group of observations that attacks certainty and thus his wager may be considerred the first work of existentialism.

Do not understand this wager as a reason to believe by itself. That is not how Pascal meant it at all. However, not everyone was pleased with Pascal. The wager was published posthumously and thus Pascal escaped all brouhaha. If you are interested in the replies that philosophers made and all that, just Wiki Pascal's Wager. It turns out there were forerunners of the wager in Islam and Hinduism. No one operates in a vacuum, nor does he have a truly original idea (in the sense that no one else ever thought of it.)


You said, "Better to
Believe in God, risking there
Is no God than the other way."
I said, "Better to
Believe in the work, risking there
Is no satisfaction than not believing
Which guarantees no satisfaction."
God woke up at that, sang
"Boys will be boys.
And girls will be girls.
It's a crazy mixed up world."

January 9, 2009 3:37 PM

This poem first appeared in the May 31, 2009 post. This was a few weeks after my first heart event.


  1. chris,
    i think most of us...although i am an atheist...most of us take shelter under spirituality when the morbid fear of mortality knocks on the doorsteps...its not with everyone but most of us i have observed....the one thing that has always annoyed me about people who claim to be spiritual(may even be if the definition fits) that they so desperately want everyone else to be too...i mean you don't call everyone to sit under your tree if it bears good fruit...some people are not looking for fruit...don't need fruit...

  2. i almost forgot to mention how lightly amusing this piece was...a nicee change of direction...as a post script to the conversation...chris we have started this blog...a couple of fellow poets in the blogosphere....it would be wonderful to have you contribute to the site...if you would want to...let me know ..and invite would be waiting...cheers

  3. manik, it is not my intent to puzzle out the lines of the human response to the divine. I tire of the argument per se. I know many people who live without any connection to God, as my father did until his last days as an example, and know completely from his intimate presence in my life that many profoundly moral men live without God.

    I know at this late stage of my life that the question is not really whether or not God exists, but whether or not I do better personally with or without Him. In other words to frame the truth of God takes other requirements than to frame the truth of gravity or electricity or evolution.

    In fact as the Cosmic Person, God presents a divine spark of Self into the universe and thus by implication cannot fit into objective language without an essential distortion. God is the Great Subjective, the inner state of things. Subjectivity, or viewpoint, cannot be left behind. As Hindus have said, Thou art That! The Moola Mantra states

    Om sat chit ananda
    Parabrahma purushothama

    carrying forward the fundamental and unparalleled identity of self to Self.

    This is a very old Hindu understanding, which is expressed in terms of Atman and Brahman and it points to the futility of the argument, not as a failure but as an expression of limit. In these matters we are hard up against the limit of language and the kind of thought that sustains language.

    Even in poetry, it is a misty thing to talk of God. However, talking to God can easily take place and does in my poems, or is it my lover, or some other friend? Who is this "You" often found in my poems?

    I do better in a universe with a Self.

    As for your invitation, I am impressed with the Daylight site. You guys are quality. It looks like a good gathering. At this time I am faced with big demands on limited time resources. I have lamented for a long time now that I have so little time and energy to read other blogs. I feel unequal to the task of blog citizenship. I must just plod along doing the best I can.

  4. chris,
    my mind is incensed by your viewpoint...i'm a hindu...and a brahmin...i'm not sure if it is strange or only incidental that the most pristine of hindu decendents (i.e brahmins) can question faith,the religion,god himself..my ancestors have spurned and spread the hindu religion..although it does not have me completely...or even in bits and pieces...a generalization of opinion or even belief for that matter is impossible in our times..when freedom and rights are a part of your introduction(how people love to say..i'm free...i want to be free etc)
    what i do believe in is that when times were young...the early centuries some people were wise enough to tell the others what to do....and they were the actual emperors....the intellectuals....however the paucity of those intellectuals these days only reiterates the fact of how everything that goes around comes back around...

    maybe god does exist ...and maybe we as humans have not developed or grown capable enough to reach him....and maybe he doesn't ...and just pieces of literature (which can be counted similar to the likes of the lord of the rings) have been glorified to the extent oh holiness and your life ideology...either way the questions shall 'always' outweigh the answers....a glass half empty or a glass half full...thanku for visiting the site..

  5. Manik, here is language. I have to read past convention. You say your mind is incensed. I guess you mean heated up, impassioned. However in American English, to say I am incensed is to express anger, a more specific heat. And further, incensed is used to describe a hot anger, a flaring up of emotion. What you wrote actually implies an offense to you on my part. I am sure that is not what you meant.

    I take it you were touched that I could express myself in Hindu terms. I know of course that you come from India or at least nearby. I do not know from that what background you might have since there are many cultural identities you could have.

    Maybe you have not picked up how I lived in Bangladesh for a couple years, 1967-1969. In Dhaka, there is still a Hindu enclave at the center of a golf course, itself bounded by a race track.

    It strikes me that there are several yogas in the Hindu spiritual universe...that one can use devotion, cultivate divine power, can become a philosopher, can express within the social order or withdraw from it, and all these paths are considered essential to the divine fabric even though one man can only really choose one way.

    Grasping the total reality of God is not expected of us. Even philosophy is only partial from the yoga point of view. Shakti (power) yoga or Bhakti (devotional) yoga reveal truths inexpressible in other ways.

  6. chris,
    incense also as i once read it means a substance burnt for a sweet smell....and it is with relation to that i used it....and now that you point it out i see it is incorrect english...my apologies for that....what i was trying to say was that how you treat the subject of spirituality,godlessness etc makes sense ....sweet sense....don't worry i did not take offence on any wavelength....i like to be referred or known as a human ...religion,culture,country,place happen to be happenings...i didnt choose them....i neither deliver them...nor they deliver me....(patriotism ofcourse is another question)
    i am indian,living in the capital new delhi currently...bangladesh is a beautiful country...not dissimilar from india(as it was a part of india once)....and i find it very pleasing that you found so much of value in my corner of the world...that makes me feel i may not have the supernatural around...but i do have good company....again sorry for the inaccurate sub-plot...i'm still learning....

  7. I don't want to tread on the conversation of others, but I enjoyed God's response especially in the poem. ;)

    (As for spirituality and religion: some things are too big for any one person/group/religion's beliefs. My opinion.)


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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