1455: "Trolley Problem"

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby addams » Sat Dec 06, 2014 1:39 am UTC

Neil_Boekend wrote: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.

I see what you did there.
To this day, people are still evaluating that Fat Man using the Trolly Problem.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sat Dec 06, 2014 10:56 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote: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"

Pfhorrest, thank you. I have this nasty habit of using as many words as possible to say something. I consistently envy your talent for conciseness.


Gmaviluk: TheGrammarBolshevik had said: "I specifically distinguished the setup - i.e., parameters - of the experiment from your moral conclusion" ... "What I disagree with is your conclusion that you ought to put the Fat Man off the bridge in that situation."

All I meant to do was deny having made that conclusion. Unfortunately, I did so by saying "I made no moral conclusion", which was overbroad ([physical contact is irrelevant], for example, is arguably a "moral conclusion"). TheGrammarBolshevik caught that, and called me on it.

I conceded the mistake, but wanted to point out that [switch-variant and fat-man-variant are equivalent] doesn't get us to [you should/shouldn't flick/push]. I called the former "weaker" than the latter, but if that's problematic then just let Pfhorrest's words stand in for my own: ""A if and only if B" says less than either "A and not B" or "B and not A"".

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Dark Loink » Sat Dec 06, 2014 5:23 pm UTC

mikrit wrote: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.

I suppose that's a way to put it- The single guy is a consequence, a part of the plan you don't enjoy but a part nonetheless.
The fat man dying is pretty much the second step of your plan.
1. Push fat man.
2. He dies and stops train.

Where somebody would stop the train earlier from the single man if they knew how, they need the fat man to stop it in the first place.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 06, 2014 7:17 pm UTC

Samik wrote:I called the former "weaker" than the latter, but if that's problematic then just let Pfhorrest's words stand in for my own: ""A if and only if B" says less than either "A and not B" or "B and not A"".
That's technically true, yes.

However, you also described killing the fat man as "just playing by the rules of the game", which suggested that you took for granted the general conclusion that, all else being equal, causing one death isn't as bad as allowing five.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sat Dec 06, 2014 9:03 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:However, you also described killing the fat man as "just playing by the rules of the game", which suggested that you took for granted the general conclusion that, all else being equal, causing one death isn't as bad as allowing five.

I believe I communicated badly. It was not my intent to "describe killing the fat man as "just playing by the rules of the game"". "Playing by the rules of the game" was meant to mean something like "allowing onesself to be fully bound by the parameters of the thought experiment".

The original context:

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.


I can see how it sounded that way, but I did not mean to argue that "accepting the parameters I mentioned will lead to the conclusion that you should push". I meant a more general point about thought experiments: if someone embraces a very particular set of parameters and draws a conclusion (well reasoned or not) within those, and then we, the observers, conclude something very general about what they would think in many other cases, then we've done something unfair.

I.E., you see me conclude (rightly or wrongly) that the switch-variant and fat-man-variant are identical, and so conclude, about me, that I "[take] for granted the general conclusion that, all else being equal, causing one death isn't as bad as allowing five". I take no such thing for granted. Your conclusion doesn't follow from mine.




I think (one of) the problem(s) with my original post is that I tried to do two things without clearly separating them. 1.) I made a foray into an argument for why I found the switch-variant and fat-man-variant to be identical, and 2.) I made a foray into an argument for why strict and complete definition of all parameters of a thought experiment is necessary for effective interpretation.

It's the latter question that I'm by far more interested in pursuing. I have no problem giving up the former for now.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sat Dec 06, 2014 10:05 pm UTC

Here, let me try to clarify something.


I haven't yet said whether I would or would not flick the switch. I haven't yet said whether I would or would not push the fat man. There are a few reasons for this, but the most important one is that I believe that in order for a subject's response to a thought experiment to be useful, the parameters of the thought experiment must be fully and precisely defined. I do not believe that has yet happened in this thread. None of the versions of the Trolley Problem that have been brought up in this thread would I have answered if they were presented to me. I would, as I suggested in my very first post, question the presenter for further clarification.


For example, one method that has come up a couple of times for favoring letting the five (or the one) get run over is that they are somehow "implicated" by being tied up on the tracks - some series of life choices they made got them to that point. This is a cop out to me, usable only because the parameters of the problem have been imprecisely defined. I would ask the presenter to clarify how they got to be on the tracks. The presenter doesn't have to say much to satisfy me; simply saying something like "Forget being tied up - they are there for an entirely arbitrary reason, and cannot escape for an entirely arbitrary reason. They have no responsibility for being in that situation." would be sufficient precision for me. I would then begin to consider whether the answer impacted my intuition.

If, in general, the presenter declines to provide further clarification, then the likelihood of my final answer being a conditional one increases.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby rmsgrey » Sat Dec 06, 2014 11:21 pm UTC

Samik wrote:I would, as I suggested in my very first post, question the presenter for further clarification.


The correct response from the presenter is probably "You wouldn't have time to investigate - the trolley is rolling...

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Klear » Sun Dec 07, 2014 12:33 am UTC

Samik wrote:
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.


I really don't think there's a way to come out of this without consequences no matter what you chose to do. Well, I guess a sociopath would, or someone emotionally burnt out, but those are fringe cases.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 07, 2014 7:48 am UTC

Well, yeah, but no legal or social consequence. I was thinking the same thing, that the whole problem became really dark when I considered that if I actually experienced this, I'd basically be screwed up for life. = / (Of course, um, so would the victim, in rather a more permanent and certain sense.)
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:13 am UTC

For anyone who would not push the fat man, does there exist a point where you would if the number of people on the track is increased? What if instead of five, there were five million people (feel free to change it from "trolley" to whatever else works if the fact that a trolley cannot kill 5,000,000 people)?

For another variation: suppose you know that the fat man will die of heart failure five minutes after the trolley kills the people on the track, is it more okay to push him now? What about five hours? Five years?

Neither case changes any of the reasons, I've seen, given for not pushing him; but five minutes or five million, they seem far more compelling (and you can always shorten the life expectancy or increase the lives saved, or add more - say the people on the rack don't die immediately, they are exposed to a disease and have to lay in a hospital bed in suffering for years, unable to do anything else, etc. etc. It seems that, eventually, pushing the fat man becomes right - or, at least, not pushing him becomes sociopathic)
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:04 am UTC

They don't change the reasons, but they can outweigh them. If you don't kill the fat man but do pull the switch, then you're already outside of a purely utilitarian, consequentialist kind of ethic. Is there a number of people whom I would choose to save if it meant messily murdering someone to do it? Yeah, I think so. More than five, though.

Edit: And the "the fat man has rights" argument really is kinda invalidated if he has a five minute life span. I mean, he's not really going to get much done with them, after all. It's like taking the "five patients" scenario and stipulating that the guy with a cold is also about to keel over from terminal cancer.

Edit's edit: And yeah, I think you're correct to say that "not sociopathic" is a better description of a person's "correct" choice than "right." At least, I feel like that's closer to my feelings about my responses to the prompt.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:15 am UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
Samik wrote:I would, as I suggested in my very first post, question the presenter for further clarification.


The correct response from the presenter is probably "You wouldn't have time to investigate - the trolley is rolling...



Which it would be perfectly within the rights of the presenter to do. I would then reply, "In that case, whatever conclusion I make will be a hurried, impulsive one, which I may or may not regret upon further thought, and so from which nothing can be concluded about my beliefs/morality in general. Furthermore, it's probably impossible for me to accurately tell you what my exact decision would be, since I have no way of knowing what information I would or would not have about the scenario and what emotional state I would be in at the time."

As I said, the less fully defined the parameters of the thought experiment, the more likely my answer to be a conditional one. And so, the less likely the thought experiment to reveal anything useful.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:23 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:They don't change the reasons, but they can outweigh them. If you don't kill the fat man but do pull the switch, then you're already outside of a purely utilitarian, consequentialist kind of ethic. Is there a number of people whom I would choose to save if it meant messily murdering someone to do it? Yeah, I think so. More than five, though.

Edit: And the "the fat man has rights" argument really is kinda invalidated if he has a five minute life span. I mean, he's not really going to get much done with them, after all. It's like taking the "five patients" scenario and stipulating that the guy with a cold is also about to keel over from terminal cancer.

Edit's edit: And yeah, I think you're correct to say that "not sociopathic" is a better description of a person's "correct" choice than "right." At least, I feel like that's closer to my feelings about my responses to the prompt.


But that's my point, whatever your reasons for pulling the switch, they are because, at some point, 5 outweighs 1, whether it be morals, comfort, or else; you certainly wouldn't pull the switch at zero people saved, probably not at one.

Why does that invalidate his rights, though? What about five hours? Five days? Why is it your decision when his rights are invalidated if he is going to die, but not in the context of other people's lives? Agreement that his rights are invalidated by your choice of when they should be seems to support throwing him on the tracks to save live - why can't someone, equally, decide that his rights are just as invalidated because lives are at stake, or because he will die someday? Without bright lines on that, it seems more a question of "When would I feel comfortable" rather than "When would I be right".

I'm not sure if I would pull the switch, nor if I would push the fat man. I do feel that if I claimed "I ought" in one case, then it would apply to the other case as well.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:43 am UTC

Kinda goes back to what mathmannix said - at some point, it becomes less about what was "right" and more about what I could live with. I think that the ultimate correct action from a totally omniscient perspective in both cases is to act. I'm also fairly confident that if a genie magically whisked me away to the world of the first trolley problem, I myself would pull the switch. But somewhere between five and five million people in danger is my comfort zone for actually, myself, acting by messily murdering an innocent man who could otherwise go on to live his ordinary life. I don't think I'd have the right to push the fat man in the ordinary version of the second trolley problem. I don't think an ordinary, well-adjusted person encounters that scenario in life ever, and I don't know that an ordinary, well-adjusted person should be prepared to messily murder someone, even in the scenario of the second trolley problem. I'd say I'm more agnostic to, than against, pushing the fat man; I think it's a defensible action, I also think it's the right one, I think it's one I wouldn't do, but I'm not really certain of that.

When you start raising the stakes, it just becomes absurd not to act. If five million lives are at stake, philosophical reasoning and games are just silly; no matter what your moral defense for not acting, no matter how reasonable that moral framework might seem under normal circumstances, it's not worth killing bunches and bunches of people over.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:13 am UTC

Thank you for clarifying - I would say that I fully, or close to it, agree with what you are saying.

My issue with the whole thought experiment itself is that it seems to confuse "What I think is right" and "What I would do", even accepting the premise, when asked - I'm not sure those coincide all the time, or even regularly. So, I'm not sure what the problem is supposed to inform us of by looking at answers.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:17 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Kinda goes back to what mathmannix said - at some point, it becomes less about what was "right" and more about what I could live with.


The thought experiment world in examination possesses a parameter that, immediately after performing your action, you will, via an arbitrary mechanism, forget about your involvement in the scenario, and will never find out about it afterwards. Thought-experiment-world-You knows in advance, with certainty, via an arbitrary mechanism, that this will occur. Does this impact your decision making process? If so, how?


For example: The scenario is set up so that, no matter what decision you make, you yourself will wind up dead, and you know this. You don't have to worry about having to "live with" your decision, in any case.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:39 am UTC

Samik wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:Kinda goes back to what mathmannix said - at some point, it becomes less about what was "right" and more about what I could live with.


The thought experiment world in examination possesses a parameter that, immediately after performing your action, you will, via an arbitrary mechanism, forget about your involvement in the scenario, and will never find out about it afterwards. Thought-experiment-world-You knows in advance, with certainty, via an arbitrary mechanism, that this will occur. Does this impact your decision making process? If so, how?

Not really. I think it's either too abstract or dodges the point. When I say "live with myself afterward," it's mostly a figure of speech. I mean, all possible futures are hypotheticals, right? I don't think I'm chiefly concerned with damage to my own mental state or something, which is probably going to be roughly the same in either scenario and regardless of the outcome and not really something I'd objectively value against human lives.

Forest Goose wrote:Thank you for clarifying - I would say that I fully, or close to it, agree with what you are saying.

My issue with the whole thought experiment itself is that it seems to confuse "What I think is right" and "What I would do", even accepting the premise, when asked - I'm not sure those coincide all the time, or even regularly. So, I'm not sure what the problem is supposed to inform us of by looking at answers.

I think it's more about the reasoning process and sorting out what assumptions you make there. The answers by themselves are unimportant.

To me, the only direct and definitely-useful aspect of the question or the answers is to illustrate in a concise form that there's a difference in people's first-blush assessment of morality between causing someone to die and killing that person. That has a bearing both on psychology and on checks to philosophical reasoning. I mean, it's like how "black swans" aren't really about ornithology.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Samik » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:45 am UTC

Edit: Gah, I'm just scratching this whole post. The sleeppills are kicking in. It was probably unrecoverable.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:46 am UTC

I agree with what you are saying, in the case of most thought experiments. Most of them do serve to clarify what is going on with the philosophical motivations behind them - I think, in this case, that the this problem, by the way it is presented, is genuinely confused over what it is asking. When discussing swamp people getting made as a clone of me at the same moment lightning kills me, it poses questions about identity in a meaningful way; when discussing trolleys, I do not get the same impression, it seems very confused over the subject matter it is discussing.

I'm not saying that it cannot be informative to discuss, and that it isn't interesting, but I don't think it illuminates either psychology nor philosophy; it seems less a thought experiment and more a stepping stone to talking - which is a whole different type of thing.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby rmsgrey » Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:47 pm UTC

An interesting question: what if you're one of the six people in the switch case, or the fat man in that scenario?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:45 am UTC

More interesting - what if you only know that you are the inhabitant of this little microcosm but not which one.
This is a framing that makes the action scenario more desireable/laudable/etc. compared to inaction scenario for me.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:47 am UTC

fifiste wrote:More interesting - what if you only know that you are the inhabitant of this little microcosm but not which one.
That is the thing that leads me to desire for the action in this scenario over inaction.


I'm not sure I follow when you say "Which one", would you mind elaborating a little?

rmsgrey wrote:An interesting question: what if you're one of the six people in the switch case, or the fat man in that scenario?


Supposing that we are talking ethics and that you agree that the results of those ethics should apply universally and equally, then it shouldn't matter and you should agree that the person selecting to flip the switch or to push the fat man should select the same as you would were you they. If you mean psychologically, then I would prefer not to die, but I'm not sure that's surprising.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:49 am UTC

Let's say you only know that you will be transported to this set of experiment in a few moments. You will not know if you are the flick-switcher/pusher, one of the 5 tied on one track, the one fellow tied to the other or the fat man. What kind of action/inaction from the pusher/flicker would you prefer now?

I think it lead to something applicable to real world - lets take the rerout the crashing plane to suburbs away from city etc. You will not know if a few years from now you or some other random dude is chilling around in suburbs, in the city or taking a flight that will suddenly go awry. The things that could be somewhat known are what kind of procedures/contingencies will lead to smaller deathtoll, if applying these procedures then your chance of death (or something else nasty) will be lower overall. No matter if tomorrow It'll turn out youre the the lone track guy etc. today you should wish for lone track guys to be smashed rather than 5 guys etc.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Forest Goose » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:54 am UTC

fifiste wrote:You only know that you will be transported to this set of experiment in a few moments. You will not know if you are the flick-switcher/pusher, one of the 5 tied on one track, the one fellow tied to the other or the fat man.


If we're discussing ethically, then supposing you have an ethical theory that doesn't single you out, then you should say the same thing, independent of where you end up, as if you were discussing in the context of generic people.

If you mean psychologically, then, I suppose, it is a question of how much risk people are willing to take with their person with regards to saving others, how much people want to live, and etc.

-- By the way, the above, highlights my earlier gripe about the question being confused over what it is involved with; it can legitimately be meant in different ways, and it is easy to conflate those ways without caution. Something not desirable for a toy model thought experiment. --
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby fifiste » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:01 am UTC

Point is not to single anyone out. For whoever will be placed in this experiment will for sure have a higher chance of survival if all people thrust into this experiment will see action as preferable and act accordingly.

edit:
It's a bit similar to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil_of_ignorance idea for a thought test of which kind of society one should find preferable.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:49 am UTC

fifiste wrote:Let's say you only know that you will be transported to this set of experiment in a few moments. You will not know if you are the flick-switcher/pusher, one of the 5 tied on one track, the one fellow tied to the other or the fat man. What kind of action/inaction from the pusher/flicker would you prefer now?

I think it lead to something applicable to real world - lets take the rerout the crashing plane to suburbs away from city etc. You will not know if a few years from now you or some other random dude is chilling around in suburbs, in the city or taking a flight that will suddenly go awry. The things that could be somewhat known are what kind of procedures/contingencies will lead to smaller deathtoll, if applying these procedures then your chance of death (or something else nasty) will be lower overall. No matter if tomorrow It'll turn out youre the the lone track guy etc. today you should wish for lone track guys to be smashed rather than 5 guys etc.

And yet, it's unimaginable that the railway company's safety committee would put in place a policy stating that the fat man should be pushed.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:49 am UTC

If they did, it'd remove a bit of the ethical question, wouldn't it? WARNING: Fat men on this bridge may be pushed off to redirect trains. Put a little sign on the railing, and he's suddenly complicit....

Forest Goose wrote:-- By the way, the above, highlights my earlier gripe about the question being confused over what it is involved with; it can legitimately be meant in different ways, and it is easy to conflate those ways without caution. Something not desirable for a toy model thought experiment. --

Yeah, and I think you're right that it's largely more prone to be a discussion starter like we're using it here than a real thought experiment, except in the really basic sense that it illustrates that our intuitions differ about killing vs. causing to die.
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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby rmsgrey » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:29 pm UTC

I don't think anyone would object to the fat man throwing himself off the bridge in order to stop the trolley, whether they say they would throw themselves off or not in his position.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:34 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:If they did, it'd remove a bit of the ethical question, wouldn't it? WARNING: Fat men on this bridge may be pushed off to redirect trains. Put a little sign on the railing, and he's suddenly complicit....

"But I'm not fat, I'm just big-boned!"

Edit: Also, "The thought experiment ain't over till the fat man jumps"

ETA2:

rmsgrey wrote:I don't think anyone would object to the fat man throwing himself off the bridge in order to stop the trolley, whether they say they would throw themselves off or not in his position.

Well, his loved ones, friends, employers etc. might.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Kit. » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:32 pm UTC

A couple of points from Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought", in case anyone still haven't read it:

Joshua Greene, who is both a philosopher and a cognitive neuroscientist, suggests that people are equipped with an evolutionarily shaped revulsion to manhandling an innocent human being, and that this overwhelms any utilitarian calculus that would tally the lives saved and the lives lost. The impulse against roughing up a person would explain other examples in which people recoil from killing one to save many, such as euthanizing a hospital patient to harvest his organs and save five dying patients in need of transplants) or smothering a baby in a wartime hideaway to prevent its cries from attracting soldiers who would kill all the occupants, baby included. In support of this idea, Greene, together with the cognitive neuroscientist Jonathan Cohen, scanned people's brains as they pondered the various dilemmas. They found that the dilemmas that required killing a person with one's bare hands activated certain brain areas associated with emotion, together with other brain areas that are involved in resolving a conflict.

So we see here the unmistakable stamp of a force-dynamic mindset in thinking through a profound moral dilemma. A scenario in which the actor is an antagonist and his sacrificial victim (the fat man) is an agonist - the prototypical meaning of causative verbs-evokes an emotion that overwhelms our reckoning of lives saved and lost, whereas the alternative scenario, in which the actor is a mere enabler of an antagonist (the train), does not.

Does this mean that our force-dynamic mindset makes us irrational in the moral arena? Does the eye-catching difference between causing and enabling contaminate our ethics and render our intuitions untrustworthy? Not necessarily. We value people not just for what they do but for what they are. And a person who is capable of heaving a struggling man over a bridge or covering the mouth of a baby until it stops breathing is probably capable of other horrific acts that lack a redeeming reduction in the body count. Even putting aside the callousness that would be necessary to carry through these acts, the kind of person who chooses his acts only by their anticipated costs and benefits (reckoned by calculations that he arrogates to himself) might skew the sums in his favor whenever the odds and payoffs are uncertain, which in real life they always are. So the majority of people who gave the "inconsistent" answers to these thought experiments may be the victims of a trap set by moral philosophers. The philosophers have jiggered a thought experiment in which a person of good character, whose behavior tends to lead to good outcomes in typical circumstances and hence deserves our approbation, would do things that lead to a greater number of deaths.


Within cognitive psychology the most famous example of the effects of framing (briefly mentioned in chapter 3) comes from an experiment by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who posed the following problem to a sample of doctors: "A new strain of flu is expected to kill 600 people. Two programs to combat the disease have been proposed." Some of the doctors were then presented with the following dilemma:
If program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. If program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved. Which of the two programs would you favor?

If you're like most of the doctors who were given this choice, you will pick program A, the sure option, rather than program B, the risky one. The other set of doctors was presented with a different dilemma:
If program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that nobody will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die. Which of the two programs would you favor?

If you're like most of the doctors who faced this choice, you will avoid program C, the sure option, and gamble with program D, the risky one.

If you reread the two dilemmas carefully, however, you will notice that the choices are identical.

...

But isn't it undeniable that beliefs and decisions are affected by how the facts are framed? Yes, but that is not necessarily irrational. Different ways of framing a situation may be equally consistent with the facts being described in that very sentence, but they make different commitments about other facts which are not being described.
...
Even in the gold standard of framing, the Tversky-Kahneman flu problem, the frames are not truly synonymous. The description "200 people will be saved" refers to those who survive because of the causal effects of the treatment. It is consistent with the possibility that additional people will survive for different and unforeseen reasons - perhaps the flu may be less virulent than predicted, perhaps doctors will think up alternative remedies, and so on. So it implies that at least 200 people will survive. The scenario "400 people will die," on the other hand, lumps together all the deaths regardless of their cause. It implies that no more than 200 people will survIve.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby orthogon » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:48 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:A couple of points from Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought", in case anyone still haven't read it:

I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only Pinker fanboy* on here!

*TODO: gender-neutralize
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Klear » Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:05 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only Pinker fanboy* on here!

*TODO: gender-neutralize


Fan?

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby david.windsor » Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:39 pm UTC

The actual value of a human life, or 5 human lives, is not the most important thing here. I'm more worried about trust, responsibility, and authority.


So what ever choice will get you in the least amount of trouble?
"All those ... moments, will be lost ... in time, like tears ... in rain."

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Coyoty » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:10 pm UTC

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


Manipulation. The questioner is examining the answerer's responses to find what pushes the answerer's buttons and how to manipulate the answerer. Also, the experiments themselves are a means of manipulation, for getting the answerer to change his mind from one conclusion to a different one. By proposing value judgments in different orders, the questioner can get the answerer to question his own values and be manipulated to the questioner's goal.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Dmytry » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:12 pm UTC

azule wrote:
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*

The only time I had a race question asked, it was a programming contest site, and what they ended up doing with this race data is they had a contest for predicting contest performance based on form data inclusive of race and I think you could even process the photograph. The winners were mostly white and asian (better education), so the top predictor software would literally predict higher scores for some races. I.e. they had contestants write racist software which is quite hard to read (contest software is often unreadable), which they'd sell to other companies to use as a black box to screen candidates. It can't be illegal if you "don't know" you're racist.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Dmytry » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:27 pm UTC

What happens in reality is that you get to determine what courses of action get considered out of all the zillions of combinations of muscle activation sequences available.

In the baby example, the non psychopath baby handler is trying to quiet the baby by various potentially unsafe means, e.g. blowing on the face to activate diving reflex (DO NOT TRY IT), and the baby might (but is not likely to) die. The murderous psychopath just sees an excuse to kill someone and proceeds with it. In the normal case, intent to quiet the baby results in actions, potentially unsafe for the baby, possibly (but unlikely) resulting in an unfortunate fatal accident. In the murderous psychopath case, intent to quiet the baby results in murderous intent, results in the criminal actions that should be punished.

Other issue is brainfarts. Frankly, trying to stop a trolley with a fat man is a completely idiotic brainfart. The trolley that would kill 5 people is going to plow through the fat man, and continue on. People aren't very used to the useless act of articulating exactly why they act the way they act, and you set up a hypothetical where the correct action is, without doubt, not to throw the fat man off the bridge, then you proclaim that in your hypothetical this is the correct action, and indulge in smugness. It's pretty obvious that the correct policy is not to act murderously upon brainfarts of this kind.

Someone should come up with a hypothetical where it is not a brainfart to sacrifice a few to save many. There's a multitude of such cases, and they're perfectly ordinary, e.g. when you choose between workers dying of falls installing solar panels on the roofs, and people dying of cancer due to the coal power plant. It's clear that we do rationally decide on the trolley problems where the sacrificial action is not a completely idiotic brainfart (proclaimed to be effective in a far fetched hypothetical); it's just the brainfart "solution" examples where we are reluctant to sacrifice. (Ditto for the healthy patient being taken apart for organs, if you do this then people would be afraid of using healthcare. Also a brainfart solution to a problem)

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Kit. » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:03 pm UTC

Dmytry wrote:Other issue is brainfarts. Frankly, trying to stop a trolley with a fat man is a completely idiotic brainfart. The trolley that would kill 5 people is going to plow through the fat man, and continue on.

That's not necessarily true.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Dmytry » Mon Dec 08, 2014 11:08 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:
Dmytry wrote:Other issue is brainfarts. Frankly, trying to stop a trolley with a fat man is a completely idiotic brainfart. The trolley that would kill 5 people is going to plow through the fat man, and continue on.

That's not necessarily true.

Well the philosophical example doesn't establish it as true. My point is that there's a zillion real life examples which don't involve a brainfart - e.g. workers falling when installing solar panels on the roofs. Almost any sort of large scale construction project or a policy, however benevolent in nature, carries a death toll. Philosophers, of course, wouldn't ever use a real-life no brainfart example, because that generates no discussion - we think it's good to install solar panels and we don't think it's ethically problematic, end of story. The brainfart solution is absolutely necessary in the hypothetical for substantial disagreement between 'intuitions' and 'rational choice'. The intuition says, no, without exclaiming 'the fat man won't stop the trolley! WTF do you think you're doing?!', the 'rational choice' swallows the hypothetical, disagreement ensures.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Kit. » Tue Dec 09, 2014 8:49 am UTC

Dmytry wrote:
Kit. wrote:
Dmytry wrote:Other issue is brainfarts. Frankly, trying to stop a trolley with a fat man is a completely idiotic brainfart. The trolley that would kill 5 people is going to plow through the fat man, and continue on.

That's not necessarily true.

Well the philosophical example doesn't establish it as true.

It does establish it as false.

Dmytry wrote: My point is that there's a zillion real life examples which don't involve a brainfart - e.g. workers falling when installing solar panels on the roofs.

Every real life example, taken as abstract, can be claimed to "involve a brainfart". Workers with solar panels, in particular, involve a bigger one. They are not "innocent" at their deaths, they are falling because of their own negligence.

Dmytry wrote:we think it's good to install solar panels and we don't think it's ethically problematic, end of story.

It's not "end of story", it's a completely different case. We don't push those workers down to their deaths with our own bare hands.

Dmytry wrote:The intuition says, no, without exclaiming 'the fat man won't stop the trolley! WTF do you think you're doing?!', the 'rational choice' swallows the hypothetical, disagreement ensures.

No, the intuition doesn't say that, and neither does physics. A coal trolley can be stopped with a fat man when it moves slowly, but can be deadly to five and more people when it speeds up down the slope.

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Re: 1455: "Trolley Problem"

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:11 am UTC

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


Manipulation. The questioner is examining the answerer's responses to find what pushes the answerer's buttons and how to manipulate the answerer. Also, the experiments themselves are a means of manipulation, for getting the answerer to change his mind from one conclusion to a different one. By proposing value judgments in different orders, the questioner can get the answerer to question his own values and be manipulated to the questioner's goal.

Also known as the Socratic Method.
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