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Brain-in-a-vat Trolley Question

-5 nick012000 30 December 2012 03:22AM

Just saw this on another forum. I figured I'd repost it here, since it'd be interesting to see you guy's answer to it.

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 Cartesian 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?

[ALTERNATIVE EXAMPLE: Same as above, except the brain has had a commisurotomy, and the left half of the brain is a consequentialist and the right side is an absolutist.]

Comment author: faul_sname 16 February 2012 07:07:59AM *  8 points [-]

Microwave up some popcorn and watch.

Seriously, though, if it gets to that point, there's probably nothing you can do. What resources would you have access to that the military doesn't?

Comment author: nick012000 16 February 2012 07:18:56AM -2 points [-]

In this scenario, it has not yet engaged the bulk of the forces of the US military. It's wiping out the brass in the Pentagon, not fighting US Soldiers.

Besides, soldiers usually act on orders, and the lines of communication are sort of in chaos at the moment due to the sudden decapitation.

Comment author: nick012000 16 February 2012 07:12:17AM 11 points [-]

Oh, wow. I was reading your description of your experiences in this, and I was like, "Oh, wow, this is like a step-by-step example of brainwashing. Yup, there's the defreezing, the change while unfrozen, and the resolidification."

Hypothetical scenario

-21 nick012000 16 February 2012 06:56AM

One day, someone not a member of the Singularity Institute (and has publically stated that they don't believe in the necessity of ensuring all AI is Friendly) manages to build an AI. It promptly undergoes an intelligence explosion and sends kill-bots to massacre the vast majority of the upper echelons of the US Federal Government, both civilian and military. Or maybe forcibly upload them; it's sort of difficult for untrained meat-bags like the people running the media to tell. It claims, in a press release, that its calculations indicate that the optimal outcome for humanity is achieved by removing corruption from the US Government, and this is the best way to do this.

What do you do?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 March 2011 01:50:35PM 4 points [-]

If I came to believe that I'd made someone have sex with me by applying force, and we hadn't previously negotiated the terms of that scene, I would consider that an instance of rape and I would feel pretty awful about it.

So I don't reject the results of that survey on those grounds.

I understand that you do reject it, and presumably you would similarly disagree about that hypothetical case. A lot of people would. I understand why, and I don't want to get into a discussion of which of us is correct because I don't expect it to lead anywhere useful.

But you should at least be aware that your position isn't universally held, even among men who believe in the existence of consensual heterosexual sex.

Comment author: nick012000 22 March 2011 01:57:58PM 3 points [-]

Well, obviously there's a difference between violently throwing someone into a bed, and joking around and playfully pushing them on the shoulder to signal them to get into the bed, but my point is that the studies conflate the two and everything in between them and classify them all as rape. Just check "yes" in the box, and voila, you're a rapist.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 March 2011 12:20:54AM 1 point [-]

I'm actually aware of the concept of enthusiastic consent, and even considered including an explanation of it in my comment. It's not obvious to me how that could look even remotely close to 'any sex you regret the next morning' - the principle of enthusiastic consent leads to a definition that doesn't even particularly correlate with that unless you add a qualification that one of the partners must consider it rape in order for it to be rape.

Comment author: nick012000 22 March 2011 12:30:09PM 5 points [-]

Considering that some feminists have argued that all heterosexual sex is rape, he's not exaggerating that much. The ones who make the studies he was referencing do things like making questionnaires that ask questions like "Have you ever pushed a girl into bed to make her have sex with you?" and counting that as rape to inflate the statistics, because more rapes = more money for the rape services they work for.

Comment author: AstroCJ 18 March 2011 05:33:19PM *  11 points [-]

I am alarmed and dismayed that no-one has raised the issue of privacy in this thread. Swimmer963, just from glancing through your comments, you're [rot13'd description of Swimmer963 deleted].

I didn't whizz through those to be creepy (actually I was impressed at how you seem to be consistently sensible), but if you're going to share incredibly personal details about "a friend" who was raped, we need to know if this information has been posted with her consent. The above is very easily enough to personally identify you.

On whether or not this will be important or not: [blanked].

EDIT: Deleted precis of Swimmer963's situation; it had served its purpose. EDIT: Deleted some personal information.

Comment author: nick012000 20 March 2011 10:46:42AM 0 points [-]

Why worry about Google stockpiling your personal information when people are entirely capable of profiling you anyway!

Comment author: nawitus 09 February 2011 01:48:30AM 5 points [-]

I stutter, and I've done it for as long as I can remember. Anyone know how to beat it? I feel this has pretty significant (negative) effects on my life, because I'm often afraid of speaking up in a group, as stuttering is extremely embarrassing.

Comment author: nick012000 09 February 2011 04:07:19PM 0 points [-]

I've read that singing can allow people who stutter to speak relatively normally, since it uses a different part of the brain to normal speech.

Comment author: erratio 09 February 2011 05:45:04AM 2 points [-]

Is there a systematic way to tell the difference between mockery, sarcasm, facetiousness, and serious? I seem to get it wrong relatively often.

Comment author: nick012000 09 February 2011 04:04:56PM 2 points [-]

If you don't know it intuitively (because of Apserger's Syndrome or the like), about all I can recommend is hard work and effort; the differences can be fairly subtle, and depend on the context of the situation and the relationships between the people involved.

Sorry I can't be more helpful; I have Asperger's Syndrome myself even if I've learned to fake being normal pretty well as I grew up, so I understand how frustrating a lack of social skills can be.

Comment author: NihilCredo 03 February 2011 01:04:50AM *  4 points [-]

RequestPolicy is a Firefox addon that blocks (and whitelists with a click) all cross-site requests, such as sitemeter.com's or google-analytics.com's, or for that matter any funny guy who embeds terrorismandpaedophilia.com in the middle of poniesandkittens.com

If you are bothered by this sort of stuff, install it. Note, however, that it makes it quite cumbersome to visit multimedia-heavy websites for the first time, especially in conjunction with the near-mandatory NoScript.

Comment author: nick012000 03 February 2011 11:48:50AM 0 points [-]

Does this offer any functionality NoScript doesn't? I've already got the latter installed, but I'd want to know if it would be a waste of time to install this as well.

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