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Originally posted by eight bits
Perhaps your Harvard Professor may be Josh Greene?
It's interesting to think of this as a psychology problem, rather than a morality problem.
BTW, my answers:
Maybe boringly, I am not bound, IMO, by Asimov's laws for robots, which include "Do not, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." I certainly do not defer to arithmetic where the action is murder with a possible "competing harms" defense.
(1) Fate will take its course either way. I won't flip the switch, assuming I am not the cause of the trolley being out of control, and assuming that I have no special duty to any of the six workers. It is not my prerogative to murder anyone.
(2) I would do nothing and save nobody (the only danger to the fat man is that I might murder him, choosing not to murder somebody can hardly be called "saving" him.). For the same reasons as in (1).
(3) Yes. Although I do have a special duty to the five patients, and maybe the sixth, our relationship is that I am their physician, not their paid assassin.
On (1), you would be murdering by not acting.
You can't escape the situation you were put into, so make the best of it.
Even the one guy that didn't die would probably look at the decision as odd.
First ponder on the chances of this happening before being bothered to even waste your time thinking about this.
Imagine you are a train-yard operator who sees an out-of-control boxcar running down a track that five workers are repairing.
The workers won’t have time to get out of the way unless you flip a switch to change the car to another track.
But another worker is on the second track.
You have just seconds to make a decision: let the five workers die — or kill the one.
What do you do?
This dilemma is a famous philosophical conundrum that was originally called the “trolley problem.”
Now a team from Michigan State University’s psychology department has used virtual-reality technology to test how we respond psychologically and physiologically when faced with this problem.
In the Michigan State study, led by psychologist David Navarette, the 147 participants made their choice while wearing a head-mounted virtual-reality device that projected avatars of those who could die. (Watch a simulation here.) One chilling factor of the test: the potential victims were screaming as the boxcar approached. The 147 subjects also had electrodes attached to their skin in order to measure their autonomic responses, the involuntary nervous-system responses that can spike when we are faced with stress. Navarette and his team found that, once again, 90% of us would kill the one to save the five. Among the 147 participants, 133 pulled the switch. Read more: healthland.time.com...