Pascal’s Climate Wager


The reaction to recent elections displayed by most of those I observe–in Brazil and in the USA–resembles nothing so much as the Two Minutes Hate described by George Orwell. Orwell was the journalist Her Majesty’s Government sent to Germany in May or June of 1945 to reconnoiter and report on what there was to observe amid the vanquished NSDAP. Orwell observed miserable socialists staving amid ruins, dressed in ersatz paper clothing disintegrating into rags. Those memories came to life in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party–an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it. He was abusing Big Brother, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed…

Immanuel Goldstein: the original Global Warming Skeptic!

Now it is 2016, and the energy totalitarians infiltrating the Democratic party have caused that party’s womens’ rights agenda to be crushed by equally fanatical anti-choice totalitarians infiltrating the Republican party. So the Dilbert hypnotist-cartoonist who predicted this election outcome is working on a different filter for Radioactive PoisoningNuclear War, Nuclear Winter, The Coming Ice Age, Misanthropomorphic Global Warming, um… Climate Change?? Politicians and doomcriers have trotted out so many lame hobgoblins to frighten the ignorant that it is sometimes difficult to remember which are still fashionable and which “discredited,” old-fashioned, or out-of-date.

I dislike Scott Adams’ assumptions and find fault with his methods of inference. But his prediction that The Don would win the election, 4 to 1 odds against at Paddypower be damned, impressed me. Science is in the business of forming testable hypotheses and learning from how well they perform. All the antinuclear Millerites’ predictions failed—especially the surrender of the entire planet and its incorporation into Soviet Socialism. Theirs was a sort of Pascal’s Wager on the assumption that only the surrenderists were right, since only they had access to the inside scoop. Unfortunately, the unfalsifiable inside scoop, like Pascal’s Wager, made for predictions that were wrong. Global Warming prophets likewise relied on fear and assumptions rather than measurement and testing of hypotheses. The election result predictors–pollsters, prophets and bookies alike–also failed, to my immense surprise.

In Pascal’s day—specifically when he was eleven years old—the Holy Roman Apostolic Church burned one of its own priests at the stake for thoughtcrime everybody agreed had taken place at a nunnery. But Grandier had never so much as set foot inside of the nunnery. Young Pascal observed that facts did not matter in questions of his life and death. What mattered was consensus.

So it is not surprising that Pascal’s Wager comes across as a restatement of the supposition that the mob will burn you alive unless you parrot whatever the mob was duped into believing. Disguising the rationalization by papering it over with doublethink instead of admitting it is superstition is simply treacle on the pill. Any two superstitious mobs are all the pretext that is needed for Crusades, Jihads and thermonuclear combat over some trifling inanity way off to the right of the decimal place. I am indebted to Aldous Huxley, Eric Blair’s schoolmaster at Eton, for his presentation of the intellectual results of French catholicism in “The Devils of Loudon.” The book is out in English and Portuguese and there is even a really bad movie it spawned in the seventies. The silliness of Pascal’s wager, like the Emperor’s New Clothes wardrobe, becomes more transparent the closer you examine it.

I am mainly worried about the side effects of pseudoscience and superstition. That Mohammedans open boiled eggs at the skinny end and Christians at the fat end is of no consequence to me, nor will I take up cudgels for breaking eggs in the middle. It is the bloodlust—like the dog going batty when the other dogs all bark in unison at the Invasion of the Trash Collectors—that causes me just enough concern to pick up a pen and point out how foolish the whole show looks. I do this mainly so that I can enjoy electrical power and other harmless freedom (when it’s religiously fanatical Luddites barking). Nobel laureate physicist Ivar Giaever speaks for me on the absolutely unfounded assertions and moronic claims of this latest batch of looter ex-scientists, their flawed models and their WRONG predictions.

(Disclosure) I vote the straight Libertarian Party ticket, and I’m proud of it!

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