Clipperton, Faith and the Dead Option

Hello halated friends,


I’ve been skimming parts of William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” and Bob Corbett’s outline of this essay to think about the theme of doubt and that very grim and serious Jester of ours, Eric Clipperton.


I’ve always felt that the Clipperton spectacle is much more complicated than it seems. I’m going to try unravel some less obvious aspects about the Clipperton scene as I skim through James’s “The Will to Believe.”


Here’s a Wiki summary of “The Will to Believe.”


Emphasis in italics and insertion in square brackets are mine:

“James’ central argument in “The Will to Believe” hinges on the idea that access to the evidence for whether or not certain beliefs are true depends crucially upon first adopting those beliefs without evidence. [This can be construed as “leap of faith,” for ease for later reference.] As an example, James argues that it can be rational to have unsupported faith in one’s own ability to accomplish tasks that require confidence. Importantly, James points out that this is the case even for pursuing scientific inquiry. James then argues that like belief in one’s own ability to accomplish a difficult task, religious faith can also be rational even if one at the time lacks evidence for the truth of one’s religious belief.”


James talks about genuine choice, and to do so he sets out three choices or options:

-live options

-forced options

-momentous options


Bob Corbett summarizes:


He defines a live choice in opposition to a dead choice.

  1. A live choice has some emotive appeal to the chooser. This is an internal and subjective appeal, not a rational or forced appeal.
  2. A dead option or choice is one which has no appeal to the chooser in question.

A dead option is one in which there is “no possibility of not choosing.” (James)


It’s clear that Clipperton’s given himself the dead option; there’s no possibility of not saying no to Clipperton if everyone wants to continue to progress and compete in the Show.


While keeping in mind the summary of James’s lecture, it struck me that Clipperton is unable to take a leap of faith — to leave the question/game open.

I think that this ability to take risks and leave the question open requires a condition/state of mind of doubt. Because he cannot understand doubt, he cannot understand faith. Without this prerequisite of doubt, one can no longer have the propensity to act and to take what can be called a “leap of faith.”


Reading the Clipperton scene in terms of doubt and faith has made me understand how to articulate “faith,” that big, abstract, misunderstood word. I’ve always wondered how to articulate the unconditional and unfounded “worship” that AA asks of you. I think it is exactly this that David Foster Wallace tries to talk about in his commencement speech, This Is Water, particularly when he gives the example of Eskimos who happen to pass by to help a man stuck in the snow/wilderness.


Clipperton blowing his brains out in front of J.O.I. says to me that the illusion of a game can’t be sustained or feel “real” in any way if there aren’t any “living options” or genuine choices made. This is because there’s no emotional, internal, and subjective appeal for Clipperton (this is the definition of a “living option”). I think he doesn’t have a personal stake in it because of the descriptions of Clipperton’s blunted affects and emotions; it’s as though he doesn’t care (despite the fact that it seems like the opposite at first), which is possibly why he has chosen to act excessively and take on the “dead option” that offers “no possibility of not choosing.”


It’s kind of like when kids are playing an innocent game, but they learn the rules quickly and realize the need for there to be something more at stake, which is when it turns slightly violent.


More gloom and doom next week y’all. Thanks for coming back for the fantods.

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