The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A choice none of us would want to make

I ran across a report of an interesting study yesterday. It was a story on the Time Magazine website. The study was about choices, very important choices. It was a variation on what is known as the "Trolley problem." let me set it up for you...

You are the person in charge of switching tracks in a rail yard. There is a runaway boxcar speeding down a track toward 5 men who are repairing the track. There is no time to warn them to get out of the way, your only hope is to throw the switch which will send the boxcar down another siding. The problem? There is one man working on that siding and he would die.

Do you save the five by killing the one? Or do nothing and let the five die?

There is a variation of the moral problem where the one person on the other siding is a family member.

What would you do in the first version? How about the second?

Some of you will say, "There must be a third choice, another option." That is not so, not in this situation. Studies need to have fixed parameters, there can be no uncontrolled variables, in order to force a decision. These moral problems have always been around (any person who has commanded in combat has likely had to make such a choice) but we now have the technology to study the reactions on a deeper level and a way to make the test situation more than words on paper by using computer simulation and animation. We can study the physiological reactions that come with such choices.

I will refer you to the report to learn what percentages chose which options.

Would you kill one person to save five?


Sightings said...

Well, it's an abstract, or theoretical, problem, isn't it? So the theoretical answer can only be to kill one to save five. Otherwise, you'd be committing the sin of omission, wouldn't you?

Or wait a second, maybe it isn't just theoretical. The runaway boxcar is speeding toward the economy. It will kill the economy if Obama doesn't do anything. So he throws the switch, and bails out the banks.  The lesser of two evils. The least bad choice. He's the existential hero.

I'm not even sure that's true. I'm just sayin'.

paul coulter said...

yes, killing one to save 5 is the better choice, but most will say let the 5 die, because then it wasnt "me" that chose to kill the other one, but alas, they are missing that sometimes even indecision, is still a decision, and they "chose" not to act, and let 5 die, instead of one.
would i let a family member die instead of the 5? it shouldnt matter who that person is, if you are given the responsibility to make the decision as to 5 or 1, it should always be let the 5 live, unless an added variable is inputted.

Douglas4517 said...

Tom, One can think of all kinds of parallels, can't one?

Paul, I wonder. Let me add a variable... you, the switchman, know the "5" are wife beaters, thieves, and lazy (hence, they are unaware of the onrushing boxcar) while the "1" is a guy who dotes on his family and can be depended upon in any situation. So one could not say "can only be".

I once answered a similar hypothetical while I was in the Navy and it ended up costing me quite a bit in privileges, reputation, and opportunity.  In the short run. In the long run it turned out well, I believe.

Tony said...

what's the Spock says in The Wrath of Khan something along the lines of " logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few..." so I would try to save the many, but that's a lot easier said than done. If I were really in that situation I may freeze and not be able to do anything at all.

Douglas4517 said...

I wonder, too, if I could make such a decision in a timely manner.

Steven Scott said...

in the immortal words of neil peart, "if you chose not to decide / you still have made a choice!"

Steven Scott said...

related to this, and also paul's comment (family member...should always be the 5)...anyway, spock's comment always rubs me wrong. probably straying too far into Objectivist territory for comfort, but those people's needs aren't an automatic claim on my abilities. whether it be marxism or choosing the safety of a loved one over a stranger's, the fruits of my actions should benefit those that I choose to help. i might loan money to a friend, but I'm not going to hand out money on the streets, even if some of those strangers might "need" it more. and I value the lives of strangers, but i could possibly value the life of a loved one more or less than X number of strangers. 5 workers vs a family member, who knows, maybe I let the 5 die, despite it being a hard decision. 1 stranger robbing me for money I won't miss to feed his starving family might end up shot without any moral qualms on my part.