Pascal's Wager

Original Text: 
Kate Hall, The Certainty Dream (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2009): 50-51.
'If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while
if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.'
-- Blaise Pascal
2When the kitchen light is turned on
3there is another bubbled room reflected in the bulbous top.
4This is the problem: duplicity is always shining
5forth from ordinary objects.
6Pascal developed his equations because he was losing
7at cards and dice. We like to play games but only if
8we get to keep our shirts.
9At the casino, striped ties and slinky dresses
10are calculations. We show a lot of skin. We're practically naked.
11I waitress at a restaurant with limestone walls.
12Pasta is the cheapest thing on the menu.
13It's very popular.
14It's my job to grind pepper for the customers.
15What I've learned is this:
16some people like a lot of pepper and some people don't.
17You can never tell.
18Pascal understood that probability is triangular in nature.
20for noble reasons. He was in debt.
21In an amazing act of clairvoyance he accurately predicted
22the date of his own death. He had the probability thing down.
23He marked the cards and rigged the dice.
24They arrested him when he discovered Jesus Christ
25was a Capricorn. Cardan loved pepper. I can sympathize.
26I used to be a croupier.
27I liked watching the dice roll across the green felt,
28especially because it wasn't my shirt.
29Pascal, I think God would know
30you were hedging your bets.
31Cardan hedged too. He committed suicide.
32The God equation is absolutely clear.
33God could be hiding inside the pepper grinder
34and there you are, shredding him to bits
36with the chunks of tomatoes and kalamata olives.
37What are the odds? You can never be certain.


1] Blaise Pascal, French scientists and philosopher (1623-62). In section 233 of his Pensées (1660), he writes:
Oui, mais il faut parier. Cela n'est pas volontaire, vous êtes embarqués. Lequel prendrez-vous donc? Voyons; puisqu'il faut choisir voyons ce qui vous intéresse le moins. Vous avez deux choses à perdre : le vrai et le bien, et deux choses à engager : votre raison et votre volonté, votre connaissance et votre béatitude, et votre nature deux choses à fuir : l'erreur et la misère. Votre raison n'est pas plus blessée puisqu'il faut nécessairement choisir, en choisissant l'un que l'autre. Voilà un point vidé. Mais votre béatitude? Pesons le gain et la perte en prenant croix que Dieu est. Estimons ces deux cas : si vous gagnez vous gagnez tout, et si vous perdez vous ne perdez rien: gagez donc qu'il est sans hésiter. [Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.]
Back to Line
19] Cardan: Gerolamo Cardano (1501-76), Italian scientist and philosopher who pioneered the study of probability. Back to Line
35] farfalle: pasta in the shape of little bow-ties. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
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Copyright © Kathryn J. Hall and used by permission of the poet. Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from her in writing.