Reasons to be Cheerful
Pascal's wager, glass half full, and the crazy ones
This pandemic has made for quite the start to the new decade.
Some see light at the end of tunnel, others see months or years of negative repercussions. The optimists or the pessimists- who’s right?
Well, really that misses the point. Today I shall be making the case for optimism.
Welcome new readers! If you’re reading this but haven’t subscribed you can subscribe here:
We begin our little journey in 17th Century France with the brilliant but troubled Blaise Pascal. Despite exceptional success in Maths and Physics, Pascal retreated into Theology during his final years; he took refuge with God.
What concerns us here is a passage he wrote during that period of refuge:
“‘God is, or He is not.’ But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here.”
It’s a wonderful idea- God exists or he doesn’t, but it cannot be solved with reason. Pascal goes on to argue that belief is a gamble with the highest possible stakes:
If God exists: Believing leads to eternal happiness. Not believing leads to eternal misery.
If God doesn’t exist- then it doesn’t matter either way.
There are flaws; the assumption that everlasting joy and nothing are the only options for a start. But the concept is profound. God’s existence is unsolvable so choose the option with the best outcome. The expected value of believing is infinite.
Glass Half Full
The same is true of optimism.
In our earlier question- who’s right, the optimists or the pessimists? They’re both right- in a way. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are sure to be negative repercussions. But neither tells the whole story. The reality is far more complex. So complex in fact, that reason can decide nothing here.
It doesn’t matter what happens. The optimists will find good in the outcome, claiming that they were right, and the pessimists will find bad in the outcome, claiming they were right. With reason out, we can once again turn to the expected value:
For the optimists, who choose to see the good, the situation really will turn out good.
For the pessimists, who choose to see the bad, the situation really will turn out bad.
Our perception of reality is our reality. The optimists end up with a better reality.
Which brings me to you, the reader. You may choose to see the good in the situation or choose to see the bad. You’ll be right either way, so why not choose the option that works out the best? That just happens to be optimism.
The Crazy Ones
I’ll confess: I’m an unwavering optimist; an early school report accused me of making Pollyanna look like a pessimist. Do what you will with that information when assessing the above.
It’s a trait that’s come in handy during the last 18 months. In fact it’s near-essential when facing the overwhelming challenge of launching a startup. At any one time there are countless unsolved problems and looming disasters. The only way through is to persevere and believe you’ll figure it out. Which is where optimism comes in. The very best entrepreneurs have absolute faith that they’ll figure it out, and then they usually do.
As the late Steve Jobs said:
“The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’
Here’s to the crazy ones.
My Week in Books📚
The Life Changing Magic of Numbers by Bobby Seagull
Back to Bobby: I love numbers- always have. This book was, therefore, a delight. It’s an immensely uplifting read and he comes across well- if a little cheesy at times.
How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Another maths book. This one gets much more stuck in to the maths than Bobby’s.
F**king loved it. So much good stuff in there. The numbers around us a far more complex than we appreciate. Combine that with human’s lack of natural aptitude for statistics and you get trouble. One to miss if numbers aren’t your thing!
I’ll be updating the books I’ve read this year here. Any recommendations? Let me know!
A Final Thought 💡
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
― Winston Churchill