Pascal’s Mugging

I was thinking about dumb logic things today.

So, one dumb thing is Roko’s Basilisk. It’s the dumb rationality obsessed nerd thing where the odds of us being in a computer simulation are less good than us being in reality, so we should give money to a loser who promises to build AI god.

The flip side of Roko’s Basilisk is a slightly different yet still dumb bit called Pascal’s Mugging. The idea is that you meet a mugger on the street who demands your wallet. He doesn’t have a gun or anything, so you could easily just walk away. But then, he promises that if you give him your wallet today, he’ll come back tomorrow with twice as much money to give back to you.

Now, anyone with any life experience would understand, intuitively, that this man is never coming back. There is a 0% chance he will return and double your money.

But, there is a certain type of person who would think, what are the odds of him coming back with the money? Pretty low. And so the mugger offers an “even better” deal: he’ll come back with three times the money. Not good enough? How about ten times? How about a hundred? And, when the number promised gets big enough, it becomes “rational” to give the man your wallet, because what if he really does come back with $20 million, and all you lost was $20 for a day? You’d feel pretty stupid if someone else got rich, wouldn’t you?

Much like Pascal’s famous wager, the cost of being wrong is too high, so one may as well become a Christian/give the guy your wallet.

The problem being that a 0% chance remains 0%, even if he says he’ll come back with the contents of the Fort Knox. It doesn’t change things.

But what does one do with that certain strain of contrarianism that says, no, you’re the dumb one for not handing your wallet over? What does one do about those who are invested deeply in the sunk cost of waiting, like Estragon and Vladimir, for a man who is never going to come? Is there a sweet spot of grifting where the promised return on investment is just enough to be tempting but not raise any suspicion? Will a non-sucker actually purchase that ape picture from you for anything resembling the price you paid for it? Is this yet another example of Hamann’s famous dictum that one should look upon logical proofs the way a well-bred girl looks upon a love letter?


A simple proposition: God is Omnipotent.

Consider this word: Omni-Potent. Omni, meaning all or of all things. Potent, meaning having great power, influence, or effect. This is not simply “very powerful” or “extremely powerful”. This is all powerful. Unlimited. Unbounded. Possessing absolute agency. Non-dependent.

Any being which is not omnipotent is not worthy of being called God. It may be a powerful spirit, an emergent phenomenon, a vast intelligence, may even be worthy of worship in some fashion, but as it lacks that crucial aspect which God would possess, it would not be right to call them God in any non-hyperbolic sense.

A second proposition: Logic is a limit.

Logic implies contingency. A is A. A therefore B, B therefore C, thus, A therefore C. There is no creativity nor alternative. Not A therefore Not C. Logic demands consistency. Logic creates a situation in which it cannot be otherwise. There is causality: Why C? Because A. This is a simplicity that children understand, and which students copy down carefully to remember long enough to be tested on. It is the foundation of Science, that when one does an action, under particular conditions, then another action occurs. One flips the switch from Off to On, and the light illuminates the room. If it does not, then there is something amiss: a broken wire, a shorted circuit, a broken lightbulb, trouble in the city’s power grid… It is not the case that, given all the right conditions, that the circuit will complete, but the light will not illuminate. The problem can be diagnosed, understood, fixed.

Another proposition: to be limited is not to be omnipotent.

Things obey logic. Our world is explicable and understandable. Effects have causes, even if we cannot ferret out the cause. It could not be otherwise. We have made mistakes, but there is an underlying superstructure to existence which causes things to make other things happen. No choice is involved; If A, then B, then C. Switch to the On position, circuit is completed, the filament burns bright within its vacuum.

Again, it could not be otherwise.

Consider the schoolboy paradox: could God microwave a burrito so hot that even he could not eat it? A simple linguistic trick dating back to at least the Ancient Greeks. “All Cretans are Liars” says the Cretan Epimenides. “This statement is False.” Is it easy to make a mess of logic using words.

But what it misses is that God is beyond Logic. How could it be otherwise? What limit could Logic impose on that which is Omnipotent? Could we truly call something Omnipotent if it still needed to obey causality or contingency? Just as a very large number is not Infinity, regardless of how large that number might be, no being which is not trans-logical or a-contingent could truly be called God, regardless of whatever powers it might display.