A brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The only living beings saved on railway tracks are saved in one, and only one, of two ways. (i)They can save themselves. (ii)They are saved by a brain-in-a-vat changing the direction of a runaway trolley.Well?
On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphan's bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become a used car salesman, while a third would invent Pringles. The rest will consume carbon fuels and fatty foods at unreasonable rates.
If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, "Leftie", and will hit and destroy ten rabbits on the track that could (and would) have been used to feed starving children. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, "Leftie" will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten rabbits to the local poor shelter. A further result of "Leftie's" act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the group of men killed by "Leftie" is both the man who wrote the theme tune to “Friends” and Michael Barrymore. If the ten rabbits and "Leftie" are killed by the trolley, the ten starving children will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer by illegal experiments on death row inmates in Iraq, and one of whom will grow up to be the next Dr Who. The kidney patients will be operated on without their informed consent.
Assume that the brain's choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Finally, the brain in the vat knows that there is a bomb on the trolley, and unless it pulls the lever on the trolley the bomb will explode and kill it.
Question: The brain has no arms and can’t control the direction of the trolley. But what should it want to do?
November 2016 - I am cycling in The Galilee, Northern Israel, to raise money for Nazareth Hospital Paediatric Department. Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel; the people are lovely, and the kids are awesome. They need your help! Go to my sponsorship page to find out more and see what you can to do help!
29 January 2011
Posted by Shane at 10:55