1455: "Trolley Problem"

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:15 am UTC

I've never understood this idea that people can't handle thought experiments because they don't "really" understand how the thought experiment world works. Does this manifest in people's judgments about the basic physics of thought experiments? For example, are people unable to decide whether, given that the fat man is able to stop the runaway train, the people on the tracks will be crushed?
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby addams » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:32 am UTC

keithl wrote:Trolley Problem: Five people tied to the default track, one person tied to the alternate track. Pull the switch?
"Ethical" Solution: Based on the least harm "principle", you pull the switch so only one gets run over. Actual result: The five assassins pick themselves off the track (they only faked their bondage), smile at their mangled enemy, and call the cops to arrest you for murder. Real life "trolley problems" are often arranged to justify harming minorities. This is especially true in medicine.
Actual medical example: 90% of strokes are cerebral infarctions, blockages of blood vessels in the brain and the asphyxiation of neural tissue. A quick way to save brain tissue in these patients is to administer blood thinners like warfarin. However, 10% of strokes, with the same external symptoms, are intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH); a puncture in a blood vessel and the blood-brain barrier, spilling blood into the neural tissue (where blood is toxic, hence the barrier). Blood thinners to ICH patients turn a 40% chance of death into 99%. Determining the difference between stroke types means Xray or MRI imaging at the hospital - adding delay.
The stroke "trolley problem": Should blood thinners be administered in the ambulance to stroke victims on the way to the hospital? It helps most and kills some.
The actual problem: Federally subsidized crap diets predispose to infarctions. Some genetic conditions predispose to cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a major cause of intracerebral hemorrhage. These people can be identified years before an emergency with SNP genetic sequencing (23andMe is $99) and evaluation (SNPedia Promethease is $5, understanding costs effort and/or money). Writing NO ANTICOAGULANTS WITHOUT IMAGING on the front of the medical emergency information "pink refrigerator card", and including a DVD of a recent MRI, may or may not change EMT and ER procedure. These procedures are designed by alpha males (eminence-based medicine) pointing to "the greatest good for the greatest number" to justify indifference to individual cases.

keithl;
That post is clear.

I think it is clear...maybe, I get it.
Are you suggesting our decision makers often live in The Trolly world, while the rest of us are living in Plato's world?
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:23 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:The literal trolley scenario isn't the only way these questions are posed, though, and the sorts of results you get with traditional trolley problems tend to be pretty consistent across variations.

Even in thought experiments where you can be certain it will save lives, directly committing a violent act against another person to save those lives is a far less likely choice (opposite the option to do nothing) than when the single person dies as the result of some indirect action.

Absurd scenarios only guarantee absurd results among people who intentionally refuse to play along with the survey.

Yeah. Trying to outsmart the question somehow on the assumption that it just can't be useful reminds me of people in the US who refuse to mark down their race on surveys from our Census Bureau. They usually object claiming that it's racist for the government to ask and class their objection as open-minded and liberal. In fact, that data is used specifically for identifying patterns of institutional racism as, say, a particular community being given less preferential treatment in infrastructure, etc.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby azule » Thu Dec 04, 2014 8:44 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Yeah. Trying to outsmart the question somehow on the assumption that it just can't be useful reminds me of people in the US who refuse to mark down their race on surveys from our Census Bureau. They usually object claiming that it's racist for the government to ask and class their objection as open-minded and liberal. In fact, that data is used specifically for identifying patterns of institutional racism as, say, a particular community being given less preferential treatment in infrastructure, etc.
*skim mode* Well, plus the multi-race people. If the government is going to be so forward thinking as to track people's race and their discrimination, would it really be so far beyond their understanding to include those of mixed race (especially if that itself is a cause of discrimination (from say a black person who doesn't like another black person who is part Asian, or whatever better example there is))?

i.e. *SHRUG*
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:11 am UTC

Well, the usual scenario is poor services in black or Hispanic communities, etc. It's not about individual discrimination, but institutional. Also, you can always demand more granular data and use that as a premise to reject what data can be reasonably obtained, which is just a Nirvana fallacy.

I. e., yes, that's exactly the kind of unhelpful hipster response I'm referring to, so thanks for modeling it. = ) (In the race case, whatever label the individual uses to self-identify is probably the most appropriate information, but more costly to tabulate than multiple-choice answers.)
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Znirk » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:10 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Absurd scenarios only guarantee absurd results among people who intentionally refuse to play along with the survey.

I would still claim the exact opposite: Assume I'm a cooperative model subject, entirely willing to play along with your scenario. If your setup describes an action, and associates it with an outcome which I do not believe could possibly follow from that action, that's still going to have an effect on my response.

Note that I have no general doubt that such studies can produce correct results. Preferring inaction over action, preferring to permit a preventable accident over murder, all that makes complete sense to me. I'm just saying that it's not going to be easy to get good evidence on a question if the hypothetical situation you construct around it is obvious bullshit.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby azule » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:01 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Well, the usual scenario is poor services in black or Hispanic communities, etc. It's not about individual discrimination, but institutional. Also, you can always demand more granular data and use that as a premise to reject what data can be reasonably obtained, which is just a Nirvana fallacy.

I. e., yes, that's exactly the kind of unhelpful hipster response I'm referring to, so thanks for modeling it. = ) (In the race case, whatever label the individual uses to self-identify is probably the most appropriate information, but more costly to tabulate than multiple-choice answers.)
I...was helpful? You're welcome.

Sorry for not knowing the context better, but to continue: Does Google just want some of the data, like only a start page but not even more popular pages deeper within? I'm sorry that the government can't handle all the data (probably overwhelmed with spy data), but maybe Google has an app they could lease them. What I'm saying is in this day and age there is no excuse. Get better data, get better results.

I'm not a hipster. :P I can image you calling an old man of color, weary of the government, a hipster. I'm not having any opinion here to be trendy. I don't even own an iPhone. Cut me some slack. :)
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Angua » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:31 pm UTC

keithl wrote:Trolley Problem: Five people tied to the default track, one person tied to the alternate track. Pull the switch?
"Ethical" Solution: Based on the least harm "principle", you pull the switch so only one gets run over. Actual result: The five assassins pick themselves off the track (they only faked their bondage), smile at their mangled enemy, and call the cops to arrest you for murder. Real life "trolley problems" are often arranged to justify harming minorities. This is especially true in medicine.
Actual medical example: 90% of strokes are cerebral infarctions, blockages of blood vessels in the brain and the asphyxiation of neural tissue. A quick way to save brain tissue in these patients is to administer blood thinners like warfarin. However, 10% of strokes, with the same external symptoms, are intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH); a puncture in a blood vessel and the blood-brain barrier, spilling blood into the neural tissue (where blood is toxic, hence the barrier). Blood thinners to ICH patients turn a 40% chance of death into 99%. Determining the difference between stroke types means Xray or MRI imaging at the hospital - adding delay.
The stroke "trolley problem": Should blood thinners be administered in the ambulance to stroke victims on the way to the hospital? It helps most and kills some.
The actual problem: Federally subsidized crap diets predispose to infarctions. Some genetic conditions predispose to cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a major cause of intracerebral hemorrhage. These people can be identified years before an emergency with SNP genetic sequencing (23andMe is $99) and evaluation (SNPedia Promethease is $5, understanding costs effort and/or money). Writing NO ANTICOAGULANTS WITHOUT IMAGING on the front of the medical emergency information "pink refrigerator card", and including a DVD of a recent MRI, may or may not change EMT and ER procedure. These procedures are designed by alpha males (eminence-based medicine) pointing to "the greatest good for the greatest number" to justify indifference to individual cases.

Not sure where you are, but this is definitely not the case in the UK. And suspected strokes get a CT-head as soon as they come through the door. You definitely can't give someone thrombolysis without imaging first. Also, our quoted numbers are 20/80, but even a 1/10 chance of killing someone is definitely enough to make ct-head mandatory. A CT-head scan these days takes seconds, and the initial report is pretty quick too given the fact that you have a 4.5 hour time limit from onset of symptoms to thrombolyse/do PCI anyway.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby PinkShinyRose » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:34 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Well, the usual scenario is poor services in black or Hispanic communities, etc. It's not about individual discrimination, but institutional. Also, you can always demand more granular data and use that as a premise to reject what data can be reasonably obtained, which is just a Nirvana fallacy.

I. e., yes, that's exactly the kind of unhelpful hipster response I'm referring to, so thanks for modeling it. = ) (In the race case, whatever label the individual uses to self-identify is probably the most appropriate information, but more costly to tabulate than multiple-choice answers.)

What do you fill in when there is no option you identify with more than any other? What are the options anyway? If it's just skin tone from 1-10 (1 being snow and 10 being soot tint or the other way around), there is always a reasonable answer, but if it asks for geographic origin type names it could become difficult if you're 50-50 and didn't grow up in an environment with people of 1 geographic origin. You could fill two options, but that often results in an invalidated answer. A fix could be an "other" option.

I would probably say European descent (or white, whatever they call it) as it's mostly true (75%) and as I had a European upbringing. But I have no idea what would be appropriate for someone of mixed East Asian-African descent with a European upbringing.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby addams » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:46 pm UTC

for someone of mixed East Asian-African descent with a European upbringing.

Beautiful and Educated?
What else do you want to give that person?

Oh, excuse me.
I was distracted by the tall dark eyed beauty.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby mathmannix » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:04 pm UTC

keithl wrote:Trolley Problem: Five people tied to the default track, one person tied to the alternate track. Pull the switch?

No. Reasoning:
One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic.
By reduction, five deaths is a statistic.
And statistics are neither inherently good nor evil; they are unaligned - but they can be used for good.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby jpvlsmv » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:31 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:
keithl wrote:Trolley Problem: Five people tied to the default track, one person tied to the alternate track. Pull the switch?

No. Reasoning:
One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic.
By reduction, five deaths is a statistic.
And statistics are neither inherently good nor evil; they are unaligned - but they can be used for good.

But since 74.3% of statistics are made up on the spot, only 3.715 of those deaths are a valid statistic-- not enough for a useful p-value.

Or are you saying we need to organize a flash mob to get the other 999995 people onto the default track?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby markfiend » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:04 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:...reminds me of people in the US who refuse to mark down their race on surveys from our Census Bureau. They usually object claiming that it's racist for the government to ask...

I understand that—in the UK at least—such refusal is not usually uniform, and by cross-referencing, it can be established that the vast majority of people who do refuse on one survey have marked their race as "White British" elsewhere.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:17 pm UTC

markfiend wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:...reminds me of people in the US who refuse to mark down their race on surveys from our Census Bureau. They usually object claiming that it's racist for the government to ask...

I understand that—in the UK at least—such refusal is not usually uniform, and by cross-referencing, it can be established that the vast majority of people who do refuse on one survey have marked their race as "White British" elsewhere.

Is this vast majority disproportionate with their incidence in the population?
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby dtilque » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:31 pm UTC

I agree that more info is required.

For instance, what if the 5 people are Donald Trump, Donald Sterling, Conrad Black, and David and Charles Koch, and the single person is Rupert Murdoch? Gosh! Decisions, decisions...

For the Fat Man variant: What if he's Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh? Another tough one...
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Flumble » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:26 pm UTC

dtilque wrote:For the Fat Man variant: What if he's Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh? Another tough one...

The fat man is obviously Gabe Newell and the train is full of indie developers, and you won't get your winter sale if you push him in front of the train.
Decisions, decisions...

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby mathmannix » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:54 pm UTC

dtilque wrote:I agree that more info is required.

For instance, what if the 5 people are Donald Trump, Donald Sterling, Conrad Black, and David and Charles Koch, and the single person is Rupert Murdoch? Gosh! Decisions, decisions...

Is this additional bit of info supposed to make the decision easier? Or just to make the correct solution that of nuking the whole area, taking yourself out too for the greater good?
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby drachefly » Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:22 pm UTC

Folks, you've got to work in the least convenient possible world. That means no, no nukes are available.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby DanMcQueen » Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:34 pm UTC

The trolley problem fails a formal logic test.

Obviously, the answer is to pull the lever while the trolley is halfway across the switch, saving all 6 people and derailing the trolley.

Unless of course, this is the AZ DoT, in which case, you are unlikely to have authorization to pull the lever. However, if you fill out and file form 23-B, the appropriate operator will grant you temporary access after she returns from union-mandated 6-month paid pet-maternity leave.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby dtilque » Thu Dec 04, 2014 8:28 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:
dtilque wrote:I agree that more info is required.

For instance, what if the 5 people are Donald Trump, Donald Sterling, Conrad Black, and David and Charles Koch, and the single person is Rupert Murdoch? Gosh! Decisions, decisions...

Is this additional bit of info supposed to make the decision easier?


No, it definitely makes things harder.

Or just to make the correct solution that of nuking the whole area, taking yourself out too for the greater good?


Now let's not go to extremes here. Besides which, I'm fresh out of nukes.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Thu Dec 04, 2014 8:43 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Absurd scenarios only guarantee absurd results among people who intentionally refuse to play along with the survey.



It's true that some people have difficulty immersing themselves in thought experiment worlds (whether unwilling or unable), but something like the opposite it also true. Thought experiments are often put in such a way as to imply conditions in the asking and then forget about them in the critique of the answer. I.e. the game is tilted against those questioned.

For example, I consider the Fat Man scenario to be absolutely identical to the original scenario (5 tied to one track and one tied to the other). There are implied conditions that make it so: you somehow know, as an absolute fact, that pushing the man in front of the trolley will derail it in time to save the others (whereas in real life you'd be far from certain of this); you somehow know, as an absolute fact, that there is no way (or no time) for any other solution (whereas in a real life scenario you'd have doubt and an obligation - or at least a perceived obligation - to spend some thought-time on alternatives); all considerations of self-interest have been completely removed (no witnesses to charge you with murder, no family members of those killed pleading with you to explain why...).

The thought experiment, in order to truly get to the heart of the idea it's trying to get to, requires that all of this has been made perfectly clear to you - it's the five men or the fat man, with no doubt whatsoever, no margin for error, no unexpected possible outcomes, no impact on you. No uncertainty.

In this case, a push (of a body) or a flick (of a switch) are indistinguishable to me. A similar physical action that leads to an identical intended result. Would it feel different if you flicked a switch that tilted the platform the fat man was standing on to dump him in front of the trolley, instead of actually making direct physical contact with him? It shouldn't. That case is the same as the other two. Tied his shoelaces together so that he trips in the path of the trolley? Same thing.


But if someone accepts all the conditions, implied or directly stated, of the Trolley Problem (Fat Man Variant) Thought Experiment World, and confidently asserts they'd push the fat man without hesitation, we cock our eyebrows at them and think, "wow, you cold-hearted bastard" (or conclude something broad about their stance on utilitarianism), when they were actually just playing by the rules of the game.


This is why, when someone puts a thought experiment to me, I question the questioner until I've exactly established the parameters of the thought emperiment world they're trying to construct. That often gets me viewed as someone who refuses to participate, or is trying to weasel my way out of an answer, when the exact opposite is true.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Coyoty » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:03 pm UTC

Under the law, killing the fat man is murder. You WILL go to jail for it. The deaths of the other five people would be accidental and you can't be held responsible. Under that framing, your answer will reveal whether you are willing to sacrifice yourself as well as the fat man to save five lives, or sacrifice five lives to save yourself and the fat man. Reframed again, you are a devout Jew or Christian, and not only the law but the Law prohibits you killing the fat man. Does God make exceptions for the needs of the many? This is not hidden information. It can be reasonably reasoned from the problem as presented.

Another way to attack the problem is as a 3 Laws Robotics situation. Morality is irrelevant, logic rules. What would an Asimovian robot do?

What would Jesus do?

Doctor Manhattan?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:22 pm UTC

Samik wrote:For example, I consider the Fat Man scenario to be absolutely identical to the original scenario (5 tied to one track and one tied to the other).
Which means you're different from a majority of people who have taken this or similar ethics surveys.

Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby addams » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:47 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Samik wrote:For example, I consider the Fat Man scenario to be absolutely identical to the original scenario (5 tied to one track and one tied to the other).
Which means you're different from a majority of people who have taken this or similar ethics surveys.

Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).

oh, two hours ago I would have agreed with you.

....Now... I'm not absolutely sure...I did not check the system...It remains in the realm of thought experiment.
Still...It's a decision the must be made in the moment.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:51 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Samik wrote:For example, I consider the Fat Man scenario to be absolutely identical to the original scenario (5 tied to one track and one tied to the other).
Which means you're different from a majority of people who have taken this or similar ethics surveys.

Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).


But that's not useful - it's just a philosophical *shrug*. Just what is the point of the fat man scenario / trolley thought experiment? Is it an exercise in psychology: meaning to demonstrate that we have emotional responses to things / don't always think rationally? Or is it an exercise in philosophy: meaning to ascertain something useful/interesting about ethics?

It seems to me that the intent is this: "Acknowledging that most people see a difference between these two scenarios, let's give some thought as to whether that perceived difference has a rational basis." So simply answering, "Most people see a difference" is not interesting.



My point was that their level of "comfort" with their answer often stems from imperfectly defined/understood/accepted parameters.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, they think about the suffering of the participants, the possibility of repercussions for the pusher, etc. etc. In order to truly get to the heart of the matter - 1 vs 5, with you determining the outcome - you need to explicitly set parameters to remove those considerations. Else you're failing in your task to let the thought experiment do what it was meant to do.

That doesn't mean you don't ask the question, "Is a push to a body ethically different than a flick of a switch?" It just means that you need to press the participant on why it is or isn't different, and remind them to think about their answer within the precisely defined framework of the thought experiment world. I.e. "This is not the real world. Conditions are different here, as they must be to remove complicating factors. You can't think about what the consequences would be if this scenario actually happened to you tomorrow, on your way to work."

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:18 pm UTC

Samik wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Samik wrote:For example, I consider the Fat Man scenario to be absolutely identical to the original scenario (5 tied to one track and one tied to the other).
Which means you're different from a majority of people who have taken this or similar ethics surveys.

Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).


But that's not useful - it's just a philosophical *shrug*.
Which is very different from a philosophical assertion that the situations are the same because the number of people living or dead is the same either way.

And any philosophical ethics that completely fails to address some of the fairly consistent ethical universals in actual human psychology seems fairly useless at best, so even as an exercise in psychology it has philosophical relevance.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby rmsgrey » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:29 pm UTC

Coyoty wrote:Another way to attack the problem is as a 3 Laws Robotics situation. Morality is irrelevant, logic rules. What would an Asimovian robot do?

Suffer a First Law conflict and burn out. Or throw itself off the bridge into the path of the tram.

Doctor Manhattan would do what he's always known he was going to do at that point, making a free decision to do so.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:45 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Samik wrote:But that's not useful - it's just a philosophical *shrug*.
Which is very different from a philosophical assertion that the situations are the same because the number of people living or dead is the same either way.

Which is very different from my statement that, in the specified Thought Experiment World, with the specified very restrictive parameters I think are necessary for it to achieve what it's trying to achieve, I can't see a difference between the describe flick-of-a-switch and the described push-of-a-back. (I can come up with trivially many competing scenarios where I would feel different about the same loss of life / endurance of hardship. I almost included one in the previous post, but didn't want to get off track.) <--Edit: not intentional, sadly. Edit2: had to close paren. I know how you all are.


gmalivuk wrote:And any philosophical ethics that completely fails to address some of the fairly consistent ethical universals in actual human psychology seems fairly useless at best, so even as an exercise in psychology it has philosophical relevance.

The second part I won't contest. The first I would, but it becomes a different discussion entirely. Which was kind of my point: it seems to me that different people pose the Trolley Problem, and related problems, with very different intents.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:46 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:Doctor Manhattan would do what he's always known he was going to do at that point, making a free decision to do so.

Excellent. = )
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Bloopy » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:59 am UTC

DanMcQueen wrote:Obviously, the answer is to pull the lever while the trolley is halfway across the switch, saving all 6 people and derailing the trolley.

Even if that turns out to be impossible, at least you could assert that that's what you tried to do. I can definitely agree with the majority in that pulling the lever is not as bad as murdering the fat man. That's if it's fair to say that for a hundred trolley scenarios, you could probably think of each one as unique and rank them based on how culpable you'd feel, how much the victims are likely to suffer, and so on.

Perhaps in the case of the fat man you have a moral obligation to inform him and let him make his own decision.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 1:47 am UTC

Samik wrote:But if someone accepts all the conditions, implied or directly stated, of the Trolley Problem (Fat Man Variant) Thought Experiment World, and confidently asserts they'd push the fat man without hesitation, we cock our eyebrows at them and think, "wow, you cold-hearted bastard" (or conclude something broad about their stance on utilitarianism), when they were actually just playing by the rules of the game.

No, this is not "just playing by the rules of the game." The rules of the game are the setup of the thought experiment. Nothing about that setup tells you what choice you must make, however. What you're playing by is the rules of the game, plus your judgment that there is no relevant difference between the original trolley problem and the Fat Man variant. It's not as if people who reach the opposite conclusion are failing to play by the rules.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:50 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Samik wrote:But if someone accepts all the conditions, implied or directly stated, of the Trolley Problem (Fat Man Variant) Thought Experiment World, and confidently asserts they'd push the fat man without hesitation, we cock our eyebrows at them and think, "wow, you cold-hearted bastard" (or conclude something broad about their stance on utilitarianism), when they were actually just playing by the rules of the game.

No, this is not "just playing by the rules of the game." The rules of the game are the setup of the thought experiment. Nothing about that setup tells you what choice you must make, however. What you're playing by is the rules of the game, plus your judgment that there is no relevant difference between the original trolley problem and the Fat Man variant. It's not as if people who reach the opposite conclusion are failing to play by the rules.

I understand what you're getting at, but it's not accurate to say that "there is no relevant difference... etc." is a parameter I am setting. I am concluding that "there is no relevant difference... etc.", after explicitly stating what I thought the implied parameters of the thought experiment were.

Obviously you (and gmalivuk, and, at this point, I can probably safely assume others) do not agree with my interpretation of the parameters of the thought experiment. This is interesting to me. I find answers to the different Trolley Problems that go along the lines of "Well, regardless of how I feel about the lives at stake, I wouldn't do [whatever] because I have self interest and would be afraid of the consequences", or "Well, regardless of how I feel about the lives at stake, I wouldn't do [whatever] because I wouldn't be confident in my ability to pull it off", to be not useful.

Is the purpose of the fat man scenario not to try to get at the heart of the issue as to why people feel there is a difference between it and the original scenario? Is the best way to do so not to try to regulate out those complicating factors?


I guess maybe gmaviluk would think that it's simply more interesting and useful to study how people respond to these sorts of complicated questions. But he also says:

Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).


Assuming that is true, why do you think that is the case? Is it always because they're just afraid they're going to get caught? Or is it just because the cases seem different, regardless of any thoughts of consequence/self-interest etc.? If they just seem different to most people, then isn't the next step to try to remove those sorts of variables, and find out what's left?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:57 am UTC

I would additionally say that leaving the problem open ended - not completely establishing the parameters of the thought experiment world we're working within - invites confusion and miscommunication.


If you put the Fat Man variant to a random person, without much clarification, you have no way of knowing how they are approaching it. Are they using a "this happens tomorrow on my way to work" mindset, or are they trying to be super strict, like I was, and regulate out all other variables (culpability, uncertainty) to just look at it as a flat one-vs.-many problem?

If you don't set the parameters, how can you interpret the response?


If your goal is to ask the open-ended question, then sit back and watch the chaos that unfolds... sure.
If your goal is something else, then you need to construct the thought experiment to move towards that goal.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:04 am UTC

Let me put it this way:


If you observed me state the Trolley problem, and then the fat man variant, to a subject, very simply, without any of the explicit you-can't-fail-or-get-in-trouble parameters, and they replied the following:

To the Trolley problem: "I would flick the switch."
To the Fat Man Variant: "Um, that's tougher. But, in any case, I definitely wouldn't push him because I could probably get in trouble for that."

Would that be satisfying to you? Would you accept that answer and move on? Or would you then feel the need to more precisely define the parameters of the thought experiment to resolve the participant's concern about getting in trouble?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:09 am UTC

It would depend on what's being tested and how. It's a widely used question in many variations.

Samik wrote:Assuming that is true, why do you think that is the case? Is it always because they're just afraid they're going to get caught? Or is it just because the cases seem different, regardless of any thoughts of consequence/self-interest etc.? If they just seem different to most people, then isn't the next step to try to remove those sorts of variables, and find out what's left?

I don't know how useful this response is going to be. I think you have a very "settled" view of ethics and behavior and don't find questions of this kind interesting, and I don't think it's sensible to argue with you that you should find them interesting. However:

No, the "seeming" is not extraneous information. In a behavioral psych context, it's the entire point of the problem; why do things seem? There's no interest in the ultimate ethical right or wrong, here, just an attempt to understand why human impulses work the way they do. It's been a base for FMRI tests, if we want to jump into the other topic with that, for isolating how certain kinds of decisions are made. In a philosophical context, there's the possibility that the seeming is still hiding something meaningful; is there an ethical significance to that impulse, or perhaps to the kind of mind that has it? Is it perhaps a side effect of an otherwise necessary inbuilt imperative? Or is it really evidence that human ethics haven't advanced beyond a naive state that is inconsistent with a large population and technological environment?

"What is left" aside from the "seeming" is quite irrelevant and simplistic. It's just the framing for the real question. There's no particular ethical quandary in it.

Even if your goal is to behave "rationally," by the way, accepting that you're fundamentally irrational and learning the reasons why isn't a bad starting point, either.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:18 am UTC

Samik wrote:I understand what you're getting at, but it's not accurate to say that "there is no relevant difference... etc." is a parameter I am setting. I am concluding that "there is no relevant difference... etc.", after explicitly stating what I thought the implied parameters of the thought experiment were.

I specifically distinguished the setup - i.e., parameters - of the experiment from your moral conclusion, when I said that your response is not a product of the "rules of the game" but rather of the combination of the setup and your judgment about what to do given that setup. So, I didn't say that "There is no relevant difference, etc." is a parameter.

Samik wrote:Obviously you (and gmalivuk, and, at this point, I can probably safely assume others) do not agree with my interpretation of the parameters of the thought experiment.

No, I think the parameters that you've described are exactly as they normally are. What I disagree with is your conclusion that you ought to put the Fat Man off the bridge in that situation. But I don't think we're disagreeing about what the situation is.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:36 am UTC

Samik wrote:
Whether or not it's "rational" to make a distinction, the fact is that most people are more comfortable killing someone indirectly (by flipping a switch) than killing someone directly (by pushing them into the path of an oncoming trolley).
Assuming that is true, why do you think that is the case? Is it always because they're just afraid they're going to get caught? Or is it just because the cases seem different, regardless of any thoughts of consequence/self-interest etc.? If they just seem different to most people, then isn't the next step to try to remove those sorts of variables, and find out what's left?
I don't think it has anything whatsoever to do with a fear of getting caught.

For one thing, I think we place different weight on the two people. Given two objectively equal things, I suspect that just about all of us place more moral weight on whichever one is closest to ourselves in some sense. In addition to our evolving that way (due to kin selection among other things), it's really a mathematical necessity if the universe is infinite. In the act of physically touching the fat man to kill him, all else being equal he is closer to me than whoever would die if I flipped the switch. Therefore he has more moral weight and I am more reluctant to kill him.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:48 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:I don't know how useful this response is going to be.


Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. The problem for me is that we seem to disagree about less than you think.



First and foremost, I agree that "the 'seeming' is not extraneous information". My objective is not an "ultimate ethical right or wrong". Just like you, this is the question I'm interested in answering:

In a philosophical context, there's the possibility that the seeming is still hiding something meaningful; is there an ethical significance to that impulse, or perhaps to the kind of mind that has it? Is it perhaps a side effect of an otherwise necessary inbuilt imperative? Or is it really evidence that human ethics haven't advanced beyond a naive state that is inconsistent with a large population and technological environment?


I was treating the thought experiments here discussed as a tool for trying to answer those and similar questions - a tool that we should want to use as effectively as possible.

This is why we play around with establishing more stringent, or just plain different, parameters to a given thought experiment.

When you get the intial response that "I wouldn't want to get in trouble for pushing the fat man", you then set a parameter to remove that concern, and see if the "seeming" remains. If it doesn't, then you've identified the "seeming". If it does, then you've narrowed down the places that the "seeming" has to hide. You rinse and repeat until you, hopefully, answer (or at least learn something interesting about) the question as to whether it's "hiding something meaningful", or "a side effect of an otherwise necessary inbuilt imperative", or just an indication that "human ethics haven't advanced beyond a naive state".

Maybe it turns out that that question cannot be ultimately answered at all. Maybe it can be, but our method is fundamentally flawed. Can't learn unless you investigate.



So -

"What is left" aside from the "seeming" is quite irrelevant and simplistic. It's just the framing for the real question. There's no particular ethical quandary in it.


- I don't disagree. Most of my efforts in this thread have revolved around how to most effectively investigate these sorts of questions; how to best use thought experiments for that purpose - how to structure them to give you the best hope of meaningful, interpretable responses.

In the case of the Fat Man variant, I was supposing that most people, when pressed, would agree that the "seeming" doesn't seem to reside in fear of consequence or uncertainty about outcome. That, if you removed those variables, to most, pushing someone in front of the trolley would still "seem" different than flicking a switch. (Maybe you don't agree. That would be interesting to me.) So, you set parameters to remove those concerns, and investigate what's left.






I'm sure that this isn't something that's going to be remembered (as I'm not a frequent contributor to this community, I understand), but whenever I have philosophical debates, I try as hard as I possibly can to never state my own position. Note that I never stated whether I would pull the level or push the fat man. I never stated that my goal was to "behave 'rationally'", or whether I think such a thing is possible. I never stated, really, anything whatsoever about my views on ethics and behavior.

Several things have been assumed about my beliefs, but all I intended to do was argue specifically about the form and objectives of the trolley problems - what sorts of questions can they be usefully applied to, and how should we construct them to be most effective? What can fairly be assumed by a subject to be implied, and what kind of noise will that introduce in their responses?

It's true that I did open with a statement of belief that, under a certain set of parameters (which I admittedly thought were assumed), I find the original trolley problem and the fat man variant to be identical. But this was not an ethical statement - it was a structural one. And, instead of analyzing whether my parameters were fair, or useful, or implied, or able to be reasonably thought as implied, or complete nonsense; or whether my conclusion was fair based on those parameters, I was thought to be making a moral statement.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:54 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I specifically distinguished the setup - i.e., parameters - of the experiment from your moral conclusion, when I said that your response is not a product of the "rules of the game" but rather of the combination of the setup and your judgment about what to do given that setup. So, I didn't say that "There is no relevant difference, etc." is a parameter.


I made no "moral conclusion", and made no "judgment about what to do given that setup". Please check and see if I ever made any statement about whether the switch should be flicked, or that Fat Man pushed.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:No, I think the parameters that you've described are exactly as they normally are. What I disagree with is your conclusion that you ought to put the Fat Man off the bridge in that situation. But I don't think we're disagreeing about what the situation is.


I never concluded that you ought to push the fat man. I merely concluded that flicking the switch and pushing the fat man were identical. You assumed the rest.

I'm glad to hear that you agree that the parameters I described were more or less "normal". I'm curious to hear an argument for why, given those parameters, you would find "flicking the switch" and "pushing the fat man" to occupy different ethical ground.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:06 am UTC

gmaviluk wrote:I don't think it has anything whatsoever to do with a fear of getting caught.

I agree. I truly think most would. As I've said, I think that if you explicitly state to the subject that there is exactly 0% chance of any consequence to the flicker/pusher, the sense that pushing was different than flicking would remain for most.

So, I think it is useful to attempt to identify non-contributing factors such as those, and set parameters to remove them from consideration.




gmaviluk wrote:For one thing, I think we place different weight on the two people. Given two objectively equal things, I suspect that just about all of us place more moral weight on whichever one is closest to ourselves in some sense. In addition to our evolving that way (due to kin selection among other things), it's really a mathematical necessity if the universe is infinite. In the act of physically touching the fat man to kill him, all else being equal he is closer to me than whoever would die if I flipped the switch. Therefore he has more moral weight and I am more reluctant to kill him.

I agree, that something like this may play a significant role in why the two scenarios "seem" different. Why does a push that makes physical contact differ from a push (say, of a button or lever) that fails to make physical contact but has the same outcome? Your suggestion seems like a reasonable start.

So, we continue playing with the parameters of the problem, to test that theory.

Maybe next we play with the ideas of proximity and physical contact:

- Does tying his shoelaces, with certainty that this will result in him falling in the way of the train, get the same responses from subjects as pushing him?
- Does dropping a weight onto his platform, thus toppling it, and him, in front of the train, get the same responses from subjects as pressing the switch? Etc.


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