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  •  There's another version of this problem that is (0+ / 0-)

    clearer about the reason for the intuitive recoil at the second possibility. The first part is as you say, so the logic is to kill the one person on the tracks rather than the three people.

    The second possibility is that a runaway locomotive is speeding down the tracks and crosses over a bridge. You are standing on the superstructure above the tracks next to a large man. If you push the man off the superstructure and onto the tracks, that will stop the train and save the three people on the tracks. You can not throw yourself onto the tracks, because you are not large enough to stop the locomotive, so it's either the large man next to you or the three people on the tracks. So the notion of how long anyone would live is not an issue: the only issue is that of one's agency.

    Of course, there could be variants on this: what if the large person on the bridge superstructure next to you had six months left to live from some disease?  Or what if you realized that one of the three people on the tracks was your sister? Or that one of the three people on the tracks will one day cure cancer. Would it be justifiable in these instances to push the large man onto the tracks?

    -7.25/-6.41 If you don't like what you hear on the news, go out and make some of your own. -Scoop Nisker

    by sravaka on Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 06:46:30 PM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  The qualifiers could be endless... (1+ / 0-)
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      and amusing too.

      When I first saw the dilemma, I parsed it very close and tried applying all kinds of contingencies, and leapt to many wrong conclusions. When I finally settled on the forced-action/voluntary-action solution, it amazed me even more.

      I like the problem in its whole: for me, it's not even about the essential difference, it's about the immediate "gut" sense of acceptable/not-acceptable behavior that proves so elusive to identify.

      Even the excuse that the train engineer had to do one or the other gets a bit fuzzy upon close examination. He didn't have to pull the switch, he exerted effort to change the natural course of events.

      How can our "gut" pick up (or discard) the nuances so fast?

      We have a lot to learn.

      It boils my blood when I think about the gathering storm of Iraq that is looming.

      The neocons willfully pulled all the levers and threw the switches but never really thought about all the consequences.

      We (the Democrats) are making pledges to start bringing the troops home shortly after taking over, but the fact is Bush has put us in a colossal bind that is almost impossible to extricate ourselves from. Us leaving will expose the power vacuum that Iran is certain to exploit immediately.

      I just can't see the powers that be letting Iran have Iraq, but how do you check it? Stay for 100 years? It's a dilemma that Iran can make almost intractable for years, and seem perfectly reasonable in doing so.

      Talk of the Saudis being a countering force is a farce. I think their military prowess is questionable, but that's irrelevant; the last thing the US wants to do is encourage the Saudis to become involved militarily. I would imagine that images of their refineries blowing up from missiles might spell bad news for our way of life.

      How do we keep Iran out? If we don't try, the Israelis probably will, but then we are talking about total chaos.

      I was happiest as a heathen.

      by MouseOfSuburbia on Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 07:31:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  first of all... (0+ / 0-)

        ...Bush and the people who fomented the attack on Iraq should rightfully be tried on charges of war crimes and sentenced to the maximum penalty under law (e.g. life without parole in the prison at the Hague).  

        Second, the US should apologize to the world for having fallen under the sway of war criminals, who have since been dealt with as per above.

        Third, the US should seek out an international alliance to deal with these issues conclusively.

        The outcome for Iraq may be partition, with one part going to Iran, one part going I'm not sure where, and one part becoming a Kurdistan into which Kurds from Turkey would also have the option of moving (rather than revolting inside of Turkey).  

        Thus there would be various UN peace keeper roles to perform: for example preventing Turkish Kurds from stirring up trouble inside of Turkey.  There would also be consequences in terms of US access to oil, but that will be the penalty we must pay for what we allowed our leaders to do.  

        And in all likelihood, the Middle East, with its soaring overpopulation problem, will continue to experience one explosion after another.  But we are not obligated to address those issues, only the ones we caused.  

      •  Wow! From train tracks to Iraq! (1+ / 0-)
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        You may not be old enough to remember Vietnam, but I do, having participated in the General Mobilization Against the War. The story was then that if we left Vietnam, all the countries around Vietnam will turn Communist, and the big winners would be the Soviets. Guess what? Nothing happened. The Vietnamese were not interested in being controlled by anybody, and went their own way, and all the countries around Vietnam failed to realize that the domino theory was supposed to apply to them.

        So back to Iraq. I believe that we got into Iraq at the behest of the Saudis in the first place. They didn't want Saddam in their backyard, so to speak. And since we are the loyal armed bodyguards of the Saudis in that region, we did their bidding. Iran has already won; they don't have to do anything but wait for us to go, and we will go. But they're not about to swallow Iraq either. Iran is a major player in the region, but they're not Arab, so their influence, while considerable, is not determinative. I don't think that the Iraqis are too interested in foreign domination by them any more than by us. The big losers as I see it are the Kurds who will no longer have our protection. One big winner will be Muktada el-Sadr, who won't have to lay low anymore.

        As for the Israelis, despite their success at knocking out the Osiris Reactor in 1980, the Middle East is now a different place, and I don't think that Israel has that option anymore. And they have their own problems with Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north, both now capable of giving the Israelis a run for their money, and a restive Israeli population that is tired of occupying the West Bank.

        Interestingly, before the American invasion, the Iraqi populace was a well-educated one  with a growing middle class. That's probably not true anymore.

        -7.25/-6.41 If you don't like what you hear on the news, go out and make some of your own. -Scoop Nisker

        by sravaka on Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 09:27:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  one can create all manner of... (0+ / 0-)

      contrived circumstances that do not mirror real life and IMHO they aren't valid.  

      Pardon me for being harsh, but:

      The original railroad engineer problem is not far different from the problem of a truck driver encountering stalled traffic in a sudden fog: shall he ram the car with a single occupant, or the car with three occupants?  

      However, your hypothetical of a large man landing on the tracks and thereby stopping a freight train, is frankly absurd to the point where it nullifies the rest of your case.  

      Cases of this type can be generalized to:

      By killing an innocent person you can obtain a beneficial consequence.  How beneficial does the consequence have to be in order to overcome your hesistance to kill an innocent person?

      One can incrementalize hypotheticals to the point where anyone can be maneuvered into saying that they would open the valve on a Nazi gas chamber, thereby demonstrating that they are no better than Nazis.  However, in fact that proves nothing other than the fact that the human mind can be manipulated into certain types of logical and emotional double-binds.  

      Better to stick with cases that have some semblance of reality.  

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