Skip to comments.Brain in a Vat
Posted on 12/03/2013 11:16:31 PM PST by Talisker
Consider the following case:
On Twin Earth, 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 brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.
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 orphans' 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 G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.
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 beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts.
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 hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of "Leftie's" act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by "Leftie" are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and "Leftie" are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients 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, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available, however the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.
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.
Furthermore, there is an intermittently active demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.
QUESTION: What should the brain do?
The brain should “nod off” for a moment thereby avoiding any abstract moral dilemma.
People use the term “dilemma” too freely.
In a true dilemma, both of the available choices are unsatisfactory, the choosing agent literally faces the “horns of the bull.” Both horns kill.
Do you prefer death by left horn or right horn?
In the absense of the ability to make a qualitative evaluation, I choose the right, only because I’m right handed.
Your solution I believe is equally as good as mine.
Meaning that they are both bad, but unavoidable.
A: Switch to decaf.
So this crap is typical of college Philosophy studies?
Everybody I’ve known who has majored in Philosophy has come out far more confused about the nature of man and the answer to the major questions, “Why are we here? Who put us here? Does God exist?” than when they went in.
Modern Philosophy sounds like a lot of gobbledegook from a lot of quacks. I wouldn’t read it on a bet.
turn right, Sell the kidneys and hire a lawyer
The other, alternate, equally unsatisfactory solution:
The brain nods off as suggested by John Valentine but records the dreams it has recapitulating all the unintended consequences of its action or inaction forming such record into a screen play which is then made into a movie starring Ashton Kutcher.
Was the trolley built in Detroit, or in Buffalo? Is it green with white stripes, or white with green stripes? In what solution is the brain suspended? Is the brain union or non-union? Are the tracks narrow-gauge or standard?
Was the philosopher who came up with these useless moral dilemmas a mouth-breather, or was he a drug abuser?
The brain is the trolly engineer, not the switch master. It cannot choose either track. That job is left to the switch master. The brain is absolved of all responsibility. The switch master, on the other hand, is guided by another brain with similar cognative insight. Which track should the switch master send the trolly down? The answer is simple. He should send the trolly on the track that leads to its next scheduled station. The switch master is thereby absolved of all responsibility. It is too late to change the trolly’s schedule hence there is no responsibility. unless, of course, the track fails, killing all passengers.
This is the only thing that needs to be known. The rest is just a distraction. In either case you get a war, and since the number of casualties is not provided, you can safely assume that they are far greater than the losses that are enumerated.
This means that the question requires you to decide which war, in your opinion, is better. The question makes no sense. People seldom care if they are killed because the war is unjust or because a war crime (which is unjust) did them in. They wouldn't be too happy to die even in a just war. Given that there is no significant difference in outcomes, the brain should toss a coin, or pick the direction randomly.
From what I read, the operator of the trolley controls the switch by running a certain segment of the track with high or low power draw. Here is some text.
Drink the Iocane. Over the years I’ve built up an immunity.
dillemas, like humor, ‘work’ because they’ve got some realism in them.
this fails. it’s stupid as hell.
A perfect example of the either/or fallacy, that is, assuming there are only two choices. The brain could derail at the fork, for example.
The Kobayashi Maru solution.
I cannot make a decision without knowing how the decision will effect the carbon footprint of all involved and global warming. Why is there no mention of this?
Better yet, STOP the train and call ahead to clear the track of both men. Train is late, but nobody dies.
UNLESS, some one on the train goes berserk and kills the passengers.
Or the lateness cause more deaths.
Or one person on the train and has a heart attack.
modern progressivism isn’t even definable by today’s “philosophers.” Learned about it in psychology, of all places. My ex-Christian husband was distracted off the straight and narrow by studying philosophy instead of theology. I hate, hate, philosophy. Why do people think they know more than God who created them? What idiocy!
I have taken up psychology and it, too, is full of idiocy (at least they admitted it about Freud-but I predict a resurgence of his views if the pedophile Muslims take over). the APA so much wants psychology to be a science when their science of what makes up a human is the exact same thing as what a Christian does when getting to know God, read His diary, or Book, watch His behavior, look at His creation, listen to His voice.
Forgive me if I am ranting, only had 3 hours of sleep. Now neuroscience/biology is really cool! Love that.
Like any good Leftist, the author presumes he understands the moral stance, behavior, and outcomes of everyone conceivably involved in the hypothetical scenario - and then forces someone else (the reader) to make the no-win decision subject to inevitable punishment ... all for the author’s own visceral entertainment.
“Send Lawyers, Guns & Money”
Why make it so difficult? Just keep it simple.
Which track leads to the next scheduled destination in the shortest most direct route? That is the track to take.
You got me. I would only argue that Borg brains are not wired for making choices.
Should Republicans try to help fix Obamacare, or should they not try to help fix Obamacare?
Go right. The actual decision is one dead vs one dead plus lost transplant organs.
The lesser loss is preferred, if there are no other alternatives.
Ah, the old "just doing my job" excuse? Not sure that one works so well.
Thanks to all for your answers, apologies to those who were irritated. I found this on a “philosophical humor” site. It struck me because it’s an assembly of alternating contradictions literally by rote, that seemed like exactly the type of thing that would engage college sophmores in intense arguments. That’s why it made me laugh - because of the reaction it obviously would get among these types of students... or liberals generally. LOL
P.S. And for those who feel this is not funny because it has no link to actual reality... I give you... Obamacare... (created and defended by exactly those people who would argue intensely over this article).
It’s a shame there isn’t a way to go both directions and kill them all.