Pascal’s Wager and panic attacks.

I’m falling back into the list. I can’t help it! After a bit of analysis last week with my therapist about what the list and my obsession with ‘actions’ in general means, I’m coming to understand my relationship with anxiety a bit better. That doesn’t mean I’m capable of dismissing my life outlook and my habits, though, and I’m finding it especially hard to dismiss my reasoned inability to veg out. Item six on the list: read some philosophy that engenders joy or happiness or purpose*.

I’ve never heard of Pascal’s Wager before. As a committed agnostic, it’s never been important to me who believes in what god/s or why as long as they act in a way that I can condone. Pascal has not challenged my agnosticism in the slightest HOWEVER his use of decision mathematics was new to me (having studied neither maths nor philosophy formally) and truly fascinating: it made me think of predestination as a mathematical probability rather than (an impossible) certainty, which is radically liberating when applied to everyday life (and deeply depressing when applied to profound global events, but I am here to work out my own problems, not America’s).

I’m really fighting with futility for now. Resigning my job was bad enough but then jeesh I got some bad news about a friend (it’s her bad news but we’ve been by her side for two years and I can’t understand how somebody would do that to her) and I have a four-week hiatus from uni and two weeks where I’m supposed to be in work and nobody else is (I have to work through the Easter holidays and most school staff get it off). I’m struggling to care about everything, struggling to see consequence as anything other than predetermined and struggling with the burden of an uncaring universe in an unfair system.

A great part of my belief in existentialism is grounded in absurdity and the chaotic indifference of the world. Assuming that the world is indifferent works in favour of decision mathematics as the results cannot be skewed by godlike force. If this is error, and a conscious force does hold ultimate power, its benevolence or malevolence are equally likely and therefore neutrally possible; we thus discount it from the calculations regardless of our own belief and follow the form of Pascal’s Wager. Assuming our situation is one where “reason can decide nothing”, or, for some reason (such as anxiety) our reason is impaired. Pascal’s reasoning focusses on god, and focusses on belief in god or gods, not as an empirical truth but as a logical prospect to hedge your bets regarding heaven or hell.

Pascal’s Wager as a decision matrix; citation as a hyperlink

The ‘infinite chaos’ Pascal describes could be god or any unknown interchangeably. The unknown future can be analysed in a wager much as the same way if we reduce our own ideas to binary decisions. Thus:

pascal - uni
Made in MS Word because this is a WordPress blog not a bloody Vice article

Assuming that circumstances can be taken out of the equation: I cannot change actions I have already committed, I cannot change the amount of work required, I cannot establish outcomes that have not yet been presented (eg social events that I have not yet been invited to, poor health which has not yet been manifested) and I cannot change whether I will be accepted onto an MA with either grade, I am using Pascal’s complex arguments and the decision matrix to ascertain what is most fruitful for me to believe: the most unique aspect of Pascal’s original wager is the focus on religion, which moves our wager’s focus from what will be to what I think will be. By removing probabilities and focussing on certainties, I can discover which binary holds superdominance and I can override the anxiety of failure and the crippling inertia it causes me by knowing for certain that the assumption I take holds the better outcome, even if it is wrong. I can act for my own best interest, even if the ‘best’ is unlikely.

In conclusion, the world remains a dark and terrible place and logically I am condemned to mediocrity as a purposeless drifter, but mathematically a so-called ‘destiny’ is manipulatable and, therefore, purpose can override the meaningless existence we snatched from the void. The genius of using Pascal’s Wager as opposed to other mathematical philosophies is that it shifts the focus of whether something is or is not to whether it is prudent to believe that it is or is not. This ought to help in alleviating anxieties and pushing the unproductive painful thoughts to the back of our minds.


  • Go to the swimming pool twice this week.
  • Go to the library thrice this week.
  • Phone insurance company.
  • Buy groceries.
  • See your friends!! You cancelled on two sets of people last week and are ignoring an invite from another and your facebook messages.
  • Don’t look at the facebook messages. There are like 150, it’s not worth it. You have 68 unread texts. Maybe see the friends NEXT week?

*Full disclosure: I read about Pascal’s theories, not original source material. Thanks to Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, Jostein Gaarder’s introductions to philosophy and religion and the NHS.


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