Tag Archives: Thought Experiment

Down, Down, Down

by Richard

Hey, dudes.

Sorry for the mopes here, but I’m still a bit down in the dumps that my fellow North Carolinians decided it would be a good idea to restrict the civil liberties of a substantial portion of our citizenry with a stupid constitutional amendment.

Let’s face it: the reason people are against letting same-sex marriages go through is they’re squicked out by the thought of two men getting it on (or strangely attracted to the idea), so they want to get rid of it. Now, I’ve seen a lot of the women involved in this sort of thought-experiment-gone-wrong movement and I personally get squicked out by the thought of them getting it on. But you don’t see me spearheading a drive to have it declared illegal to marry them, do you?

No. No, you do not.

Not only that, but this opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms. I mean, how are they going to determine who’s a man and who’s a woman? Yes, I’m serious with that one.

There are genetic men who have had sex-reassignment surgery and are now living as women. There are genetic women who have had  sex-reassignment surgery and are now living as men. There are genetic disorders that give people more sex chromosomes than most people. Heck, Jamie Lee Curtis has an XY sex chromosome and you wouldn’t call her a man, would you?

It’s ridiculous, is what it is.

Two consenting adults should have the ability to marry and be legally supportive of each other if they want to do so.

And we just went ahead and took that right away from people because 60% of North Carolinians don’t like thinking about what those people do in their bedrooms. Grow up, people.

Sorry for the rant. You’re just lucky I accidentally deleted the one that was three times this long and filled with a lot more curse words. We’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

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Moral Choices: Radio Lab

by Richard

One of the things I love the most about the intersection of portable audio formats such as iTunes and the iPod and pop culture is that it allows me to listen to podcasts of shows that I normally wouldn’t be able to sit still for. That is, there’s some great shows that I can never be in the car for, but I can get them — for free — later and listen to them whenever I want.

One of the best of these shows is Radio Lab, out of a public radio station in New York City. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radio Lab is like This American Life, but for science nerds. One of my favorite episodes came out of their second season, in which Jad and Robert examined moral choices.

During the podcast, the hosts talk about a fascinating thought experiment. Imagine you’re standing on a bridge over some railroad tracks. On the tracks below, there are five people working on a side track. Unfortunately for them, there’s a train coming and you can tell that something’s wrong, that the train will go down the side track and kill the men. However, there’s a lever right below you that will divert the train away from the men, saving their lives.There’s a problem, though. The only way, the only way you can move that lever is to push the guy next to you off the bridge, hitting the lever, and saving the five men below. Would you do it? Sacrifice one life to save five?

They also cover an alternate scenario. The five men are still in danger. However, there’s a button you can push that will divert the train. If you push the button, though, the train will go onto another track, where it will kill a man working alone there.

In either scenario, you will save five lives at the cost of taking one life. The moral math is exactly the same. The only difference is, do you use your own hands to push a man to his death or use you hands to push a button — death at one remove — to doom one man?

Perhaps not so oddly, most people who get put to this question, will — if they chose to save five lives at the cost of one — would push the button, rather than push the man over the railing. The results are the same. The only difference is the method.

I know this sort of thing is never going to happen, dudes. Moral choices like this are much different in the lab than they are in real life. However, I think what we’re seeing here is that doing something distasteful like that would be much easier at one remove. That is, if our actual hands didn’t have to touch the actual person who would die.

What does that say about us, that we’d be more comfortable the farther away we are from our actual physical choice? One thing I think it does is explain how people can sit in nuclear silos with their fingers on the button.

Anyway, here’s that entire Radio Lab podcast. Give it a listen and we’ll be back tomorrow with more on moral choices.


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