1455: "Trolley Problem"

This forum is for the individual discussion thread that goes with each new comic.

Moderators: Moderators General, Prelates, Magistrates

User avatar
ucim
Posts: 6819
Joined: Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:23 pm UTC
Location: The One True Thread

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby ucim » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:11 am UTC

A variant on the question. The situation happened. A decision was made. The person at the switch is on trial for manslaughter (either for action or inaction).

Do you convict?

Jose
Order of the Sillies, Honoris Causam - bestowed by charlie_grumbles on NP 859 * OTTscar winner: Wordsmith - bestowed by yappobiscuts and the OTT on NP 1832 * Ecclesiastical Calendar of the Order of the Holy Contradiction * Heartfelt thanks from addams and from me - you really made a difference.

User avatar
addams
Posts: 10187
Joined: Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:44 am UTC
Location: Oregon Coast: 97444

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby addams » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:18 am UTC

The Good Samaritan Law comes into play.
Under the circumstances, would a reasonable person do what the puller of switches or pusher of Fat Man did?

Pushing the Fat Man would be a bad move.
It's ok to be tempted. It is not ok to kill.
Life is, just, an exchange of electrons; It is up to us to give it meaning.

We are all in The Gutter.
Some of us see The Gutter.
Some of us see The Stars.
by mr. Oscar Wilde.

Those that want to Know; Know.
Those that do not Know; Don't tell them.
They do terrible things to people that Tell Them.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:24 am UTC

To gmaviluk, TheGrammarBolshevik, and Copper Bezel all, I have one additional thing:


I've sort of been conducting an experiment here. Not that I haven't been invested in the conversation - just that I've been observing something else at the same time.

In my original post, I wrote:


Samik wrote: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.

...

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.


The point of these paragraphs was this: as long as the subject can have doubt about the parameters of the experiment and the assumptions of the questioner, they can also have good reason to have a rational concern that their response will be taken as a broader/different statement than they intended.


Throughout the course of this conversation, all three of you made assumptions about my beliefs that can't be concluded strictly from what I stated:

- Gmaviluk: that I think, generally, that cases where the total death / hardship are equal, are identical.
- TheGrammarBolshevik: that I would push the Fat Man.
- Copper Bezel: that I was favorable to something like "ultimate ethical right or wrong", and thought the purpose of the experiment was to find it.


These assumptions were made, probably, due to some combination of the internal assumptions/prejudices of the assumers, some imperfection in communication between us, some disagreement about what exactly we were discussing and what parameters to subject the discussion to, etc.

Similarly, any subject of the Trolley thought experiments can be rightly worried that their answer will be taken to say something it didn't say. The more so the less fully defined the parameters of the thought experiment.

The game is titled against those questioned, unless everyone involved makes a good faith effort to explicitly state the parameters, intent, etc. of the thought experiment. To use it directly and simply, as a tool, to try to achieve an objective, the nature of which is transparent to all participants.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:51 am UTC

Meanwhile, I got into a debate on the internet, and therefore failed to exercise or eat dinner or groom myself or go to bed.

User avatar
TheGrammarBolshevik
Posts: 4878
Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2008 2:12 am UTC
Location: Going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:08 am UTC

Samik wrote: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. ... 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 inferred your position from your statement that the people who answer "Push" are just playing by the rules of the game.

At any rate, you did make a moral conclusion, namely that the switching and fat man cases are the same.

Samik wrote: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.

I don't have an argument for it. It's just my judgment about those particular cases, which is what the thought experiments are meant to elicit.
Nothing rhymes with orange,
Not even sporange.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5374
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:12 am UTC

ucim wrote:A variant on the question. The situation happened. A decision was made. The person at the switch is on trial for manslaughter (either for action or inaction).

Do you convict?

I was just about to post something similar.

My variant was: you're a mute quadriplegic from a different part of the world, with no connections to anyone in the situation, being pushed in a wheelchair through a safe part of the scene with a good view, observing the situation but unable to do or even say anything to affect it, but you can still think and feel things about it. What do you hope the guy at the switch / next to the fat man / etc is going to do?

That gives a better sampling of people's general moral opinions as to "what should people in general do in situations like this?", more devoid of personal feelings of guilt or uncertainty or fear of consequent punishment or failure. What should another person in that situation do, assuming he doesn't fail at it, to not deserve punishment, according to your own judgement?

Once someone's opinion on that matter is settled, it's a separate question as to whether they think they would live up to their expectations of what people in general should do, or would have some personal fault and fail to do what they themselves think is right. That might be interesting psychologically, but it's not very relevant ethically.

(FWIW: I can't find any significant difference between the Fat Man and Track Switch variants, and think the fat man definitely should not be pushed, and consequently that the track should also not be switched. Relatedly, on a different but similar [to my mind formally identical] thought experiment: I don't think the healthy person who came to the hospital about a cold should be killed so his organs can be harvested to save five critical patients, either).
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

User avatar
ucim
Posts: 6819
Joined: Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:23 pm UTC
Location: The One True Thread

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby ucim » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:27 am UTC

People don't evaluate each other (socially) on the basis of how efficient they are at maximizing overall utility. That's not what causes somebody to like me or trust me. Rather, they evaluate each other on the basis of how that person will be likely to treat them. We do this based on what people do to other people.

Never mind what the overall benefits to society are.... if you know it's me next to the train, can I trust you to not push me in front of it? Because if I can't, I want nothing to do with you. You are not "friend" material. So, I think these questions show that it is trust that is really at work here.

Jose
Order of the Sillies, Honoris Causam - bestowed by charlie_grumbles on NP 859 * OTTscar winner: Wordsmith - bestowed by yappobiscuts and the OTT on NP 1832 * Ecclesiastical Calendar of the Order of the Holy Contradiction * Heartfelt thanks from addams and from me - you really made a difference.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5374
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:00 am UTC

ucim wrote:People don't evaluate each other (socially) on the basis of how efficient they are at maximizing overall utility.

That just shows that people are not utilitarians (not just that they don't behave utilitarianly, but they they don't support utilitarianism), which is an ethically interesting result to get, and one of the exact things the trolley problem is supposed to test for. (Strictly speaking this doesn't rationally prove anything about utilitarianism, but thought experiments like these are just intuition pumps for philosophical purposes, trying to stir up common intuitions to use as accepted premises for further argument).
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

User avatar
keithl
Posts: 658
Joined: Mon Aug 01, 2011 3:46 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby keithl » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:22 am UTC

Thoughts about "Fat Man Stopping the Trolley" - the average weight in the US is 82 kg, so the weight of the five US people on the track is presumed to be 410 kg. The heaviest person ever weighed 560 kg. He could not get out of bed, much less to a train overpass. The heaviest weight ever lifted overhead was a mere 183 kilograms. If we presume the fat-man-thrower is a champion weight lifter, he probably can't throw more than twice his own weight, probably less than half the weight of the five people, whose weight also has stopping power. Thus, tossing the fat man might only save one or two more lives than jumping yourself.

The physics of the real world - for which our brains are tuned - does not match the physics of Trolley World, nor that hypothetical world's inclinations, customs, or laws. Given some of the sociopathic answers provided in this forum regards various unpopular people to be targeted (me included), the conclusions gained from the Trolley World problem are evidence of how misuse of the problem is used to justify attacks on outcasts. Why shouldn't we sacrifice a few <your favorite scapegoat here> for the greater good of the <your fatherland name here>?

User avatar
Copper Bezel
Posts: 2426
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:35 am UTC
Location: Web exclusive!

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:01 am UTC

Then rewrite the question to work with non-cartoon physics and answer that one. The problem does not present an ideology, because any answer that works within the bounds of the problem is the kind of intuition it's used to fish out. It's not meant to force your choice.

And again, there's the "six patients" one if you want the variation that would seem to more strongly encourage the opposite answer. = P
So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (>= XXII) but it is not going to be installed.

she / her / her

User avatar
orthogon
Posts: 3058
Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 7:52 am UTC
Location: The Airy 1830 ellipsoid

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:23 am UTC

Thanks for the "six patients" one. I gave the "normal" answers the first time I encountered the trolley problem, but I've been trying to investigate why I find the six patients case more clear-cut than the fat man. One factor seems to be that the trolley problem is posed as a kind of desperate, one-off freak situation which circumstances (or BHG) have conspired to create, and you're asked to make an awful choice between two horrible alternatives. It's just as unimaginable that the rail operator's safety committee would sit down and sign off a policy that stated that the fat man should be pushed, should such circumstances arise, as it is that the health authority's medical ethics committee would approve the organ harvesting as a routine procedure.

Another factor in the "normal" trolley problem seems to be the status of the potential victims: the people on the rail track are all in some sense in jeopardy, in that they're standing on a rail track in a situation where there's a runaway trolley heading roughly towards them. A bystander who couldn't see the current setting of the switch would fear for all their lives, and finding out later that somebody did something to bring about the less bad outcome would provide some solace. The fat man, like the patient with a cold, was safe until some bastard pushed him.

I think the moral is that you shouldn't go to the doctor with a cold. Take some cold medicine and go to bed.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5374
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:40 am UTC

orthogon wrote:Another factor in the "normal" trolley problem seems to be the status of the potential victims: the people on the rail track are all in some sense in jeopardy, in that they're standing on a rail track in a situation where there's a runaway trolley heading roughly towards them. A bystander who couldn't see the current setting of the switch would fear for all their lives, and finding out later that somebody did something to bring about the less bad outcome would provide some solace. The fat man, like the patient with a cold, was safe until some bastard pushed him.

This makes me think of another interesting variant of the problem (that I just made up right now).

A meteor is going to impact Earth. If we do nothing, it is expected to strike around Kashmir, and cause devastation to the most densely-populated parts of the world in southeast Asia, as well as intermediate damage worldwide, diminishing in severity the further from the impact. We, humanity collectively, have the technology to deflect the meteor such as to make it land somewhere else on Earth, but not to miss the Earth entirely. The least global damage would be done by dropping it around Easter Island, as far away from the most populated parts of the planet as possible, but also the people who would be least affected if we were to do nothing.

Do we sacrifice maybe up to a few million people in and around the south Pacific, people who would barely be affected otherwise, to save the lives of several billion in southeast Asia?
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

User avatar
orthogon
Posts: 3058
Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 7:52 am UTC
Location: The Airy 1830 ellipsoid

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:21 am UTC

Something at the back of my mind has just surfaced: Fat Man was the name of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Now, there's a point of view that says that dropping the bombs forced Japan to surrender and so shortened the Second World War, probably saving more net lives on both sides than if the conflict had run its course with conventional weapons. I'm not necessarily subscribing to this theory, which relies on counterfactual history, but if one accepts for the sake of argument that it is both true and was known with certainty to be true at the time, then the decision to drop Fat Man is very closely analogous to the decision to push the Fat Man, in a strange bit of synchronicity.

(I'm also neglecting the question of whether, even for a fat-man-pushing utilitarian, the bombing of Nagasaki was necessary or whether the point had already been made sufficiently clearly in Hiroshima).
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

User avatar
Neil_Boekend
Posts: 3220
Joined: Fri Mar 01, 2013 6:35 am UTC
Location: Yes.

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Neil_Boekend » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:16 pm UTC

However, if you would have placed the Fat Man bomb on the train track it's 4,670 kg would probably stop a trolley and thus save all humans involved.
Mikeski wrote:A "What If" update is never late. Nor is it early. It is posted precisely when it should be.

patzer's signature wrote:
flicky1991 wrote:I'm being quoted too much!

he/him/his

rmsgrey
Posts: 3616
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2011 6:35 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:17 pm UTC

One possibility for the difference between pushing the fat man and throwing the switch is that our brains have evolved in a world where absolute certainty about outcomes isn't possible - in general, the longer the chain of causation, the more likely that something we haven't considered will intervene, so the more direct and immediate a consequence, the more weight we give it. Pushing a man off a bridge has pretty immediate consequences; diverting a runaway tram onto a different line has more scope for something else to intervene and prevent the tragedy.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26726
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 05, 2014 1:53 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:One possibility for the difference between pushing the fat man and throwing the switch is that our brains have evolved in a world where absolute certainty about outcomes isn't possible - in general, the longer the chain of causation, the more likely that something we haven't considered will intervene, so the more direct and immediate a consequence, the more weight we give it. Pushing a man off a bridge has pretty immediate consequences; diverting a runaway tram onto a different line has more scope for something else to intervene and prevent the tragedy.
That's a good account of the direct vs. indirect distinction, in addition to or instead of my close/far moral weight explanation.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
orthogon
Posts: 3058
Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 7:52 am UTC
Location: The Airy 1830 ellipsoid

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:01 pm UTC

Are the people tied to the track, or are they just ambling around oblivious to the impending trolley and too far away to hear your cries of warning? If (b), then probably you should let it head towards the five, on the basis that it's more likely that one of them will spot the trolley in time and get themselves and the others off the track.
Edit: Oh, right, it says five helpless people. As you were.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

codgio
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:04 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby codgio » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:10 pm UTC

The big difference between the original "Trolley" problem and the "Fat man" variation as posted here, is that I know something about the Fat Man, whereas I know nothing about the other hypothetical people in either scenario. So all this scenario might do is expose my prejudice against fat people.

User avatar
Coyoty
Posts: 195
Joined: Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:56 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Coyoty » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:02 pm UTC

What would Winston Churchill do?

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:04 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:One possibility for the difference between pushing the fat man and throwing the switch is that our brains have evolved in a world where absolute certainty about outcomes isn't possible - in general, the longer the chain of causation, the more likely that something we haven't considered will intervene, so the more direct and immediate a consequence, the more weight we give it. Pushing a man off a bridge has pretty immediate consequences; diverting a runaway tram onto a different line has more scope for something else to intervene and prevent the tragedy.
That's a good account of the direct vs. indirect distinction, in addition to or instead of my close/far moral weight explanation.

This is more or less my personal pet theory for why we intuit the fat man scenario to be different from the switch scenario. Basically, "certainty is powerful".

Consider the case of the pilot of the failing plane that chooses to direct it away from the heavily populated city (a la rerouting the trolley away from the more heavily populated track) - even though the pilot does know that the suburbs still have sufficient population density that casualties are almost assured, a.) there's no way of knowing how many there will be, and b.) who knows? You can always hope that maybe, just maybe, the miracle will happen and you'll hit some field or abandoned building etc. Moving from complete certainty to less complete certainty seems satisfying.

Pushing the fat man is just about the most direct action you can possibly take, that leaves no room for uncertainty of any kind.

Of course, this doesn't really save to "switch" scenario, if the parameters of the thought experiment are defined to remove all uncertainty. But, I think this is a useful line of thought for why people intuit a difference.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:07 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:At any rate, you did make a moral conclusion, namely that the switching and fat man cases are the same.


You may be right. If so, my "conclusion" was a very weak one. I intended my argument to be about the structure of the thought experiment, though it may have revealed a personal belief in the process.

As has been pointed out many times already, these two cases can be expressed many, many different ways. I said that I found them to be the same just in the case where the following parameters are set:

- The "pusher" has absolute certainty that the plan will work. (i.e. no chance you fail to push the fat man over, and he wheels around on you enraged, or that his corpse fails to derail the train in time.)
- The "pusher" has absolute certainty that no other course of action will save any of the five.
- The "pusher" has absolute certainty that s/he will suffer no consequences of any kind.
- (I should have included) The "pusher" has absolute certainty that there will be no unbalanced suffering coming from other sources. (i.e. five hobos vs. one single-parent-of-six, yada yada.)

Given those parameters, I would argue that the Fat Man scenario has been reduced to the switch scenario. Obviously, this reveals that I personally think that the question of making physical contact with the Fat Man, or not, is irrelevant. If you want to define that as a "moral conclusion", I'm not sure I can contest it. I would be more inclined to classify it as a "psychological conclusion", along the lines that Gmaviluk was thinking, since it has nothing whatsoever to say about whether being the cause of the Fat Man's death is "okay" or not, but only whether making bodily contact changes the category of the action in some way.

Another angle on this: do you consider throwing a rock at the head of the fat man, knocking him stone cold and causing him to tumble down onto the track, to be closer to flicking the switch or pushing him? Even without "making contact", I would hazard a guess that most people would feel this was closer to "pushing him" than flicking the switch. Contrary to Gmaviluk's link of thinking, my intuition is that most people's discomfort with the push stems more from some idea of "direct responsibility" than "physical proximity".

Then: what about throwing a rock at a bucket on a shelf positioned over his head, knocking the bucket down onto his head, knocking him out stone cold and causing him to tumble down onto the track? This is not far removed from the "throwing a rock at his head" scenario, and yet begins to have similar characteristics to the "flipping a switch" scenario.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:19 pm UTC

To further explore the idea that "certainty is powerful", here's a couple of scenarios I've wanted to get responses on:


1.) Some villian of some kind has set up some arbitrary scenario were five people will certainly die.

You have the choice to either let that happen, or switch to a scenario where ten people will be subjected to a trial that will certainly kill five of them, but certainly release the other five.

Neither you, nor the participants, have any way of knowing the nature of the trial, so there's no way of having any information about who will survive. Maybe it's a physical trial, and the five fittest will survive. Maybe it's an intellectual trial, a pop culture quiz, etc. etc. Just, there's no way to glean any information whatsoever in advance about who will live and who will die. Furthermore, the scenarios have been arbitrarily arranged so that you can be sure there will be no unbalanced emotional suffering or other unexpected consequences.

Do you go with the scenario where five die simply, or do you go with the scenario where five die, but after possibly getting a chance to at least have some say in their fate?


2.) Same as above, only this time, the trial will kill an uncertain amount of people, from 0 to 10, with an average expected result of five deaths. So, you can take the sure thing and let five die, or you can roll the dice and subject ten people to the trial, knowing that five expected deaths is the average, but just maybe it will be 0, or 1. Or 9 or 10.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:21 pm UTC

If I accept the ridiculous parameters of this** mind exercise and picture myself as one of the inhabitants of this little weird world (The would be fat-man-pusher or switch flicker is has perfect information that his action will cause 1 death and inaction 5, there are no alternative actions and no alternative outcomes, in addition to being "omni"-scient about the outcome of the only available binary action/inaction there will be no information (about the 6 persons, or what future will otherwise bring etc.) ).
Then I would like there to be more people around me who would take that action. I'd commend all people who'd decide to take such action. It'll just mean that overall I have 5 chances vs. 1 to live.
Being an inhabitant of real world I'd be weary of people who'd be ready to take such action - the information is never as perfect nor outcomes as clear.
The one's ready to sacrifice others for "greater good" regularly are mistaken or have no such greater good in their mind in the first place. Only thing in the real world to be totally sure would then be that well they are ready to sacrifice people.

On the other hand there are triages, there are need to send some of your troops to deadlier fights to give the whole contingent a hope to survive etc.

I would not necessarily condemn a pusher/flicker type of action taker in the real world - nor would I always condemn the inactive one or the one trying to look for third way. If forced to "jury" these fellows I could laud or condemn or just give a meh.. to any of them .... depending on a lot of the parameters that will not be available in this exercise.

Back to our ridiculous experimental world I would loud the action taker, and be meh about the inactive one. I'd disapprove his (in)action but would just write it off on being a feeble human like all of us.

edit: **trolley problem. Whyle I typed another excercise was just posted infront of me.

User avatar
PeteP
What the peck?
Posts: 1451
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2011 4:51 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby PeteP » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:28 pm UTC

Personally I also feel the fat man is less involved in the scenario than the person on the tracks. I don't want to sacrifice some random bystander against their will. For me there is an emotional difference between directing something dangerous where it will do the least harm and putting a third party into it's path. Of course the person on the other track would also be uninvolved without interference. But in one I move the dangerous thing in the other I move the person.
Admittedly that distinction doesn't necessarily makes much sense.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:32 pm UTC

On the above problems I'd say that I consider best behavior that will result in more lives saved if no other information is available and the more lives saved is a certainty. In these game world I might act what I consider "best" or I might not - considering that I am but a puny human.

In the real life I would definitely not act on what I'd consider good behavior in these exercies - even if the information available and certainty would be really close to fictional examples. I'd choose inaction or some wuss try-the-third alternative - mainly just to cover my own ass. Because in the real world I bet most will look at the fat-guy-pusher as a horrible psychopath. Jail, beat, kill, fine etc. him.
There tends to be a tendency to look at anyone ready to sacrifice some for the many as horrible horrible person (with lot of good reason when looking at the history), and the inactive ones as poor souls caught in horrible circumstances and lauding the look-the-third way guys as brave heroes even if they get everyone killed.

So yeah I wouldn't act like this horrible psycho but would act like a "nice" get everybody killed person -- and ironically I would be the "nice" guy just to cover my own ass.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:37 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:Admittedly that distinction doesn't necessarily makes much sense.


Well, it may have a hard time holding up under heavy scrutiny (or it may not), but that doesn't mean it can't have use in explaining our intuition.

Perhaps, on some level, we feel that the lone person on the alternate track was already implicated in the situation in some way, whereas the Fat Man wasn't.

But what about the case of the crashing airplane being redirected into the suburbs? This seems, to most I think, more similar to the "switch" scenario, yet still results in 'sacrificing random bystanders against their will'. Those bystanders in the suburbs were in no way involved in the situation to start, yet we still feel it is the right decision to sacrifice them.

So I have difficulty accepting that the "level of involvement" of the Fat Man vs the person on the tracks is the key feature.



PeteP wrote: For me there is an emotional difference between directing something dangerous where it will do the least harm and putting a third party into it's path.

Edit: Hm. Scratch that. The scenario I had suggested here was weak and possibly didn't get at the heart of Pete's idea. I'll take some time to try to come up with something better.
Last edited by Samik on Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:57 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:43 pm UTC

I think is mainly that most humans as social animals do not like the idea of killing one of its kind.
And that switches, buttons, levers and triggers just distance us from that act.

You'd find a lot more strapping young fine patriotic Christian lads to drop firebombs on a city from a plane, than you'd find those who'd lock people up in buildings and set them on fire on hand. And even less you'd find those who would drag individual people out of houses and douse them with gasoline and set them on fire.

Nastiness is easier if you can do it by father away and not look at it or get your own hands dirty.

So two trolley problems -
1. I have to do something nasty to save 5 people but I don't have to do it by my own hand actually I don't even have to watch it.
2. I have to do something nasty to save 5 people, I have to do it on my own in a direct way that leaves me no way to ignore it.

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:53 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:I think is mainly that most humans as social animals do not like the idea of killing one of its kind.
And that switches, buttons, levers and triggers just distance us from that act.
...
Nastiness is easier if you can do it by father away and not look at it or get your own hands dirty.

I think this is very true.

fifiste wrote:1. I have to do something nasty to save 5 people but I don't have to do it by my own hand actually I don't even have to watch it.

Heh, at one point I almost included a scenario in one of my posts where you give the order to a minion to do whatever it takes to get the fat man onto the track, while you read the morning paper.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:56 pm UTC

A very common way to kill LOTS of people - for the greater good or not. Order others do do it.

User avatar
orthogon
Posts: 3058
Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 7:52 am UTC
Location: The Airy 1830 ellipsoid

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:02 pm UTC

I think there's something in the involvement thing, as I tried to explain earlier with the idea that the people on both tracks are in "jeopardy". With the plane crashing on the suburb, all I can think is that everyone in the society consented, via the social contract, democracy or whatever, to a society that allows aviation, and thereby accepted a tiny risk of a plane coming out of the sky and killing them. In that sense they are involved.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

User avatar
Copper Bezel
Posts: 2426
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:35 am UTC
Location: Web exclusive!

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:22 pm UTC

Yeah, I feel that, too. I was thinking that I'd follow the usual answers, and I felt like something was being missed out in the reasons why. I feel like with the switch, someone is going to die, and you're just deciding whom. With the fat man, you're being asked to kill someone to save five people. In ordinary life, most of us don't really kill people on a regular basis, but we definitely allow people to starve when we could prevent it and things. Even though the one man on the track in the first problem dies because of my choice, he really dies because of a runaway trolley. I can't convince myself of the same thing for the fat man.

If there was time, I think it would be correct to ask the fat man to jump, but the choice would be his.

Edit: In fact, maybe that's the whole damn thing for me. In the switch problem, it's my responsibility and my free choice. In the fat man problem, it could only be the fat man's, not mine.
So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (>= XXII) but it is not going to be installed.

she / her / her

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:28 pm UTC

Ok. Trying to organize my thoughts.


Ideas recently expressed:

- 'directness' of the action by the decider
- level of involvement of the victim
- physical contact / proximity (physically/emotionally/socially)
- moving the victim vs. moving the instrument
- level of certainty in the outcome
- dehumanization of the victim (using the Fat Man 'like a tool')*


*added
Last edited by Samik on Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:59 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
mathmannix
Posts: 1445
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:12 pm UTC
Location: Washington, DC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby mathmannix » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:37 pm UTC

Part of the problem with these type of scenarios is that what we think we ought to do is not necessarily what we would actually choose to do if the scenario suddenly presented itself - even if there were time to think through all the options.

However, I think that what I would actually do, and what I should do, would be the same, and for both of the scenarios. I would try to fix the brake, or find some other way to stop the trolley without killing anyone (myself included). Even if that were specifically prohibited, even if I knew there were exactly 0% chance of success, I would still be trying to stop the trolley when it and myself crashed into the five pedestrians (assuming that is the default choice). Even if impossible, it's the only thing I think I could strive toward, and live with myself afterwards if I survived.
I hear velociraptor tastes like chicken.

User avatar
mikrit
Posts: 402
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2012 8:13 pm UTC
Location: Sweden

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby mikrit » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:01 pm UTC

I think Richard Dawkins wrote, or cited someone who wrote, that what makes fat-man-pushing seem so wrong is that the pusher would use the fat man (or his corps) as a tool. The single guy on the alternative track would not be a tool - the switch and the alternative track are the tools in that scenario, while the single guy just has bad luck.
Hatted and wimpled by ergman.
Dubbed "First and Eldest of Ottificators" by svenman.
Febrion wrote: "etc" is latin for "this would look better with more examples, but I can't think of any".

User avatar
Copper Bezel
Posts: 2426
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:35 am UTC
Location: Web exclusive!

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:02 pm UTC

Yep. Reducing a conscious agent to a tool is what seems most wrong about it to me, too. It wouldn't matter if I was pulling a switch to drop the fat man, I still wouldn't do it.

I wouldn't want to be the one that lived in your scenario, mathmannix.

Samik wrote:Ok. Trying to organize my thoughts.


Ideas recently expressed:

- 'directness' of the action by the decider
- level of involvement of the victim
- physical contact / proximity (physically/emotionally/socially)
- moving the victim vs. moving the instrument
- level of certainty in the outcome

Yeah, while I thought that the "physics" objection was out of the useful bounds of the question, the objection that "I wouldn't kill someone based on a "given certainty" is a perfectly reasonable objection.

I'm still stuck on this "conscious agent" thing. I feel like pushing the victim is significant simply because he could have jumped if he was paying attention, and that makes it his responsibility (and right) and no longer mine.
So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (>= XXII) but it is not going to be installed.

she / her / her

User avatar
PinkShinyRose
Posts: 834
Joined: Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:54 pm UTC
Location: the Netherlands

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby PinkShinyRose » Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:02 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Then rewrite the question to work with non-cartoon physics and answer that one. The problem does not present an ideology, because any answer that works within the bounds of the problem is the kind of intuition it's used to fish out. It's not meant to force your choice.

And again, there's the "six patients" one if you want the variation that would seem to more strongly encourage the opposite answer. = P

What if an out of control steam liner is going full speed upriver, you are in a bridge control tower controlling a bridge at the river mouth and you can choose between opening the bridge, making the fat guy in the middle of the bridge drop into the exhaust pipe and make the engine stop or letting the ship ram into some port facilities further upriver?

Does it matter if the fat guy just drowns but some object in the middle of the bridge falls into the exhaust pipe?

What if it is high tide and the steam liner is larger so it would hit the bridge, the fat guy still drowns upon opening the bridge but the people you save are other people on the bridge you control and there is no-one on the shore to hit?

What if we change the numbers and instead of five people on the shore/bridge there are millions of people inland behind the dike the ship would ram if you don't close the flood barrier, but someone on the flood barrier would probably be killed by being hit by the ship.

What if we go back to the tram, and you control some drone or crane to push the fat guy?

We could take this further, but we could just as well ask soldiers ordered to murder innocent civilians on the ground and soldiers to do the same from their home base using a drone and compare how they report they felt while doing it (and maybe compare it with a pilot bombing civilian targets). Isn't there plenty of real world data on this? Without the saving people part, that is.

orthogon wrote:(I'm also neglecting the question of whether, even for a fat-man-pushing utilitarian, the bombing of Nagasaki was necessary or whether the point had already been made sufficiently clearly in Hiroshima).

Or whether the point would have been just as clear if they'd picked a military target as opposed to a civilian one...

User avatar
Samik
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:22 pm UTC

I have a question. What do people think is the purpose of thought experiments? I made a comment about this in an earlier post that I thought was relatively uncontroversial, which surprised me by meeting heavy resistance.


If we wanted to ask people: "Would you push someone in front of a runaway trolley in the hopes of stopping it from hitting other people further down the track?" we'd just ask that. And most everyone would say, "What? No. There's no guarantee it would work, and in any case there have got to be a million and one more reasonable ideas that don't involve committing murder and myself going to prison."


It seems to me that the purpose of thought experiments is to examine our intuition by changing and removing things.

So we modify the question to remove uncertainty that it will work, thoughts of alternative solutions, and any chance of consequence, and see if the intuition remains. If it does, we continue to play around with the parameters, based on the subject's responses, until we hopefully get a change in the intuition. If we succeed in doing so, then we reexamine the parameters we changed to see if they contain anything interesting or useful.


Is this a fair assessment? If not, where have I gone wrong?


Edit: I guess I more interested to hear from people who disagree than people who agree.

aerion111
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat Nov 19, 2011 11:53 pm UTC

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby aerion111 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:56 pm UTC

Samik wrote:I have a question. What do people think is the purpose of thought experiments?

While I might be using an overly vague definition of Thought Experiment, namely just about anything involving studying hypothetical situations in-debth and/or making choices in said hypothetical situation, I tend to think of the 'purpose' as being to gather data.
Data about your own thoughts more than anything, as the main benefit is realizing where your thoughts don't match your goals and deciding whether or not to take the small-scale benefit at a risk to the large-scale ideal (counter to what I consider most intuitive (that long-term always trumps short-term), it's sometimes a good choice; The benefit and risk aren't always proportional.)
But also just data gained from study - some details might not be obvious at a casual glance, so even someone who has the knowledge to think of the situation wouldn't necessarily know every aspect of it (so, there's benefit in studying it so that you have more knowledge)
And, of course, like you said, looking at how people make decisions and what it takes to change them.

For an example of my first 'purpose', because I feel I did a poor job explaining it, I have some sort of deep-seated distaste for 'classes' - as in, worker class, middle-class, whatever.
But, no matter how hard I try, I can't disprove the statement 'Leaders are more valuable than workers'; Improvements to a worker's efficiency only impact their own volume of work, while improvements to that of a Leader impact the full 'project'. So, if a leader has 11 workers, then a 10% increase to their efficiency is worth 1 worker: Ignoring any ethical problems, demoralizing impact on the other workers, and long-term consequence (none of which are part of the scope of this scenario) it's a superior choice to let the leader straight out torture a worker to death if you believe it'll lead to an improvement in their efficiency over 10% (assuming it lasts long enough to hire/capture a new worker/slave))
The closest I've gotten is the idea that perhaps the efficiencies aren't equally easy to increase (so, perhaps giving a department's bonus directly to the boss would increase his efficiency 10%, but splitting it among the workers would, even with the much smaller portions, get an average of 20% increase in efficiency)
But I've no basis for that, so I'm still highly conflicted.


I don't think I'd be able to pull the lever, and mainly for one reason:
The people on the 'main' track got themselves into a dangerous place. Maybe not by direct choice, but their choices in life ended with them in the path of a trolley that isn't going to be able to brake in time.
The person on the 'off' track has not yet gotten into a dangerous place; They're just unfortunate enough to be in the way of an easy solution. As in, someone could go 'These tracks are surely safe; The only stop on them was closed years ago, so no one uses them. I will go down and study the tracks so that I might learn how they are constructed' without making any needlessly dangerous decisions.
To me, switching over to the one-person track is ethically identical to this situation:
"You somehow have the power to force people to do what you want (force, mind-control, a gun to the temple... It's arbitrary in this context). Two people fall through a crack in the ice. For an arbitrary reason (fainting, bad swimming-ability, whatever) you know they won't survive on their own. For another arbitrary reason (either due to having no data and falling back on the default 'everything's got equal chance of happening', or having sufficient data that you're down to a single binary unknown, like the direction of the current) you know another person has a 50-50 chance to either save everyone (themselves included) or die trying, and you have no way to learn if they're willing to risk their life in the time you've got before it's too late. Do you force them to try?"
Though, now that I've written that...
There's something different about it.
I dunno what, but if you introduce a personal connection to the immediate targets (A loved one is in the path of the trolley, a loved one falls under the ice), I'd hesitate to pull the lever, but I'd immediately force people in after them in the ice.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26726
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:01 pm UTC

Samik wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:At any rate, you did make a moral conclusion, namely that the switching and fat man cases are the same.
You may be right. If so, my "conclusion" was a very weak one.
How is A=B any weaker a conclusion than A>B or A<B?
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5374
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:45 pm UTC

I think what Samik means be a "weak conclusion" here is that by saying that pushing the fat man and flicking the switch are equivalent, he's not saying whether either should be done. Maybe you should do both, maybe you should do neither, he hasn't said; just that questions are equivalent and so the answers, whatever they are, will be the same. If you say one is acceptable and the other is not, you've not only said something about the relationship between the two questions, you've given a positive answer to each of them.

To illustrate: it seems some people assumed he meant that the fat man should be pushed and the switch should be flicked. However, I accept the same conclusion that the situations are equivalent, but think that neither should the fat man be pushed nor should the switch be flicked.

It's "weaker" in the sense that "A if and only if B" says less than either "A and not B" or "B and not A"
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)


Return to “Individual XKCD Comic Threads”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 90 guests