Stuart Firestein in Nautilus:
Blaise Pascal was a renowned French polymath of the 17th century, scientist, philosopher, mathematician, inventor, and later in life a theologian. Among his many contributions was an attempt to prove by logical means the existence of God, which came to be known as Pascal’s Wager. Stated simply, Pascal reasoned that not believing in God, if there was one, would damn you to eternal suffering. Conversely, believing in God, if there wasn’t one, would cost you little in this life and nothing once you were dead. Therefore, the only sensible course of action was to believe in God.
Whether or not you find Pascal’s Wager to be theologically compelling, it turns out to be a very useful guide for making decisions under conditions of unresolvable uncertainty. And the major uncertainty that all of us are collectively facing right now is the virus known as SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19. The availability of a vaccine, several vaccines in fact, has brought all those uncertainties into focus.
Given we are going to have a certain amount of uncertainty about all this for some time, we might resort to a Pascal-like strategy for making a decision. And right now there is no more important decision than whether or not to get vaccinated. As we know, many people in the United States and around the world are not ready to wager on a vaccination. To be fair, the uncertainty they face is due to simple misinformation, all too easily spread in the various forms of media. But much of the uncertainty is of legitimate concern.