Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Horror and Pascal's Wager

     Pascal's Wager, for those of you unaware, is a philosophical argument for the existence of God. 

     First proposed by Blaise Pascal, an ancestor of mine according to my father I'm sorry to say, this wager was that if you chose to believe in God and follow the precepts of the Dogma that came along with it, you either went to Heaven (if God did indeed exist) or you just went to the ground to rot (if God didn't). If you chose not to believe, you would either go to Hell or rot in the ground. Therefore, it was wise to believe in God as there was more to lose by not believing in him.
     This has so many holes in it I hardly have the energy to reveal them, so I leave it to you dear reader to look this argument up and find the arguments against it.
     I bring this up as the idea of Pascal's Wager applies in a strangely entertaining way in the Horror genre. In Horror, the protagonist is almost always considered the "atheist" of the wager, choosing not to believe that their new home is haunted. They have chosen the negative aspect of Pascal's Wager, and suddenly find themselves on the wrong end of the stick, going through Hell just to escape with their lives.
     But are they wrong to be so skeptical of the supernatural in these scenarios?
     Of course they are!
     In most Horror movies and books, the supernatural is still that, supernatural. An unknown force that can manipulate the world around it. Why should the characters immediately assume "Ghost" when strange things start happening. Now normally, the stranger things that can only be attributed to the paranormal take a while to manifest. As much as we want the characters to see whats happening around them and believe in ghosts so they can run, they don't have enough evidence to support that idea.
     This makes Horror characters into the ultimate skeptics, for both the reader and the writer. As a writer you can't have the character cave too quickly or the suspense is ruined. As a reader, you don't want a character that immediately jumps to the idea of supernatural as that can make for a boring story.
     After all, who wants to read a book where the characters flee the house the first time something creepy happens.
     The key, it would seem, is striking a balance between believers and skeptics. For the ongoing series on this site Jack in the Box, the main character is facing a haunting of sorts. So far she's had a shower of blood, bumps in the night, and apparitions appearing to torment her. Yet she still is holding out against the supernatural, as many of the happenings have mundane explanations, while others simply vanish when she closes her eyes.
     Is she wrong to stay so skeptical? Who can say? At this point in the series the happenings are picking up in pace, so she very well may have a change of heart, but so far she's been a staunch skeptic, not accepting what would be her Uncle's answer of the paranormal, nor accepting the simple answers in front of her.
     She is still contemplating the wager, it would seem. 

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