Next riddle: a train is about to derail

Today’s discussion brought another interesting riddle that at first looked childishly simple:

train-derailment“Assume that there is a train traveling at a very high speed. The train cannot be stopped. There is a fork in the road ahead and you are in control of the fork. If the train continues as it is, it will derail and kill 100 people. If you switch the tracks and train goes another way, the train will derail and kill 1 person. What do you do?”

I assume this riddle is to get someone into a discussion about why killing one person is better than killing 100. Which is of no interest to me, of course, so my first reaction is that I do not have to get involved and let the events take their place as they are scheduled.

However, I suddenly recognize that the riddle’s setup makes an assumption that is very important. The situation assumes that you were brought somehow, through an improbable chain of events, to control one single point of influence over the situation.

If we take it as true, that means I am brought into the control of the situation for some reason. Not taking action under the circumstances is equivalent to going against the flow of the world because in that case I did not have to be there at all, why bother? The only correct solution to the situation is to take the action that is not equivalent to me being there at all and seeing what happens next. In the case of the train riddle it means I will switch the tracks.

This also comes back to the earlier riddle of the big red button. Assuming that you are brought very specifically in front of that button and got all that explanation and things, you must not shy away from action. The only correct way would be to take the action, press the button and see what happens.

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