Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pascal, Asymmetric Outcomes, and My Next Decision

I return again to my reading of Taleb's The Black Swan and particulary to what appears to be a critical quotation: “Indeed the notion of asymmetric outcomes as the central idea of this book: I will never get to know the unknown since, by definition, it is unknown. However, I can always guess how it might affect me, and I should base my decisions around that." Taleb ties this to Blaise Pascal’s well-known wager, which he defines, “I do not know whether God exists, but I know that I have nothing to gain from being an atheist if he does not exist, whereas I have plenty to lose if he does. Hence, this justifies my belief in God.” And so he concludes: “In order to make a decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than on the probability (which you can’t know)."

Interesting, and I wonder what difference it makes to my quotidian life and particularly to my decisions. How would this guide me in deciding what to do next?

1 comment:

John said...

i've never been a fan of pascal's wager, partially for many of the criticism listed in the linked wikipedia article. i also think it's been exploited over the centuries in exchange for truly entering into the lives (and doubts) of those around us.

personally, i don't even like to get into the business of guessing about the unknown. we recently had an unhappy event in our family, and i suffered listening to all the people trying to reason their way around it.

i preferred to welcome the unknowable with sense of resolve.

re: decisions, does god have a plan for our lives? if so, does it take the form of our conception of a plan, or is it unknowable.

you point out that we are choicemakers. often i think we are asking god, "what should i do?" and god is saying, "you should choose!"

i believe if we focus on who we are supposed to be, and what we are becoming, it becomes easier to choose what to do.