02 January 2015

Pascal's Wager

When is a game worth the candle?

Fermat and Pascal founded the essential rules that govern all games of chance. T[he rules] can be used by gamblers to define perfect playing and betting strategies. Furthermore, these laws of probability have found applications in a whole series of situations, ranging from speculating in the stock market to estimating the probability of a nuclear accident.

A mathematical formula leads to infinity.

Pascal was even convinced that that he could use his theories to justify a belief in God. He stated that "the excitement that a gambler feels when making a bet is equal to the amount he might win times the probability of winning it." He then argued that the possible prize of eternal happiness has an infinite value and that the probability of entering heaven by leading a virtuous life, no matter how small is certainly finite. Therefore, according to Pascal's definition, religion was a game of infinite excitement and one worth playing, because multiplying and infinite prize by a finite probability results in infinity.

— Simon Singh, Fermat's Enigma

Painting: Caravaggio: The Cardsharps