Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Our Decision-Making Skills' class was as usual today.
But En. Mohsin (our cute lecturer) posed us a moral dilemma for us to think about:

A group of kids (aged 8-10 years old) are playing on an active train track while a lone child is playing on the inactive one, both quite a distance away from you. The train is approaching but they seem not to have seen it yet. You, a passerby, are standing near the Interchanger (the gear that can change the train's track route). It appears that it is impossible for you to find any way to stop the train. You may choose to change the train's course and save the group of kids playing on the active track, but would then lead the train in the direction of the lone child playing on the inactive train track. If you are to choose between changing the train's course, and not changing the train's course, which would you decide on?

I didn't know what to think. To me, basically, you were asking me to choose between killing say, 5 kids, or just one. Either way, I knew, would scar me for life. Imagine having to live with the guilt of knowing that you were directly responsible for someone's death!

This is definitely not a choice I would ever want to make in my entire lifetime, nor would I wish this kind of decision-making on anyone else. We were pondering on it. I didn't think I'd be able to choose. But if I really really had to choose, I would choose to change the train's tracks. Cos 5 lives were worth more than one.

But it is still a horrible way to think.

How can I actually say that 5 lives are more precious than one?

It isn't true.

That one little lone child could grow up to be a most brilliant child, maybe the founder of the cure for cancer?
And those 5 kids may grow up to be thugs, criminals, murderers. Would it be my fault then?

As I was thinking along those lines, I thought this was a really tough question to answer; one with no right or wrong answer.

But En. Mohsin says:

The answer is to not change the train tracks. Why? The group of kids are playing on an active train track; and they know that they are. Logically, they would be more watchful and on the look out for incoming trains. In addition, with a group of them together, there is a higher possibility for at least one of them to notice the train coming in their direction, as opposed to the lone child who is playing by himself. He, on the other hand, may not notice the train at all, considering the fact that he assumes there will not be a train, as he is playing on an inactive track.
Therefore, the answer would be to NOT change the train tracks.

Hm, as wonderfully logical and high-possibility-of-happening as that may be, I can't help thinking that it may not work.
Anything can happen. Seriously.
Can you guarantee that at least one of the five will actually see the train coming? Or can all five of them jump away in time to save themselves?
It is also possible that none of them will notice the train, and all five will be killed.
Can you live with that?

I think that we, as humans, have too much pride in our minds' capabilities and what we have accomplished so far.
We think by accurately calculating risks and predicting possible outcomes, it is guaranteed to happen. We can apparently foresee the future, and the calculated decisions based on 'foreseen future' to either maintain or prevent it, are right. Accurate. Correct.

But the fact it, nothing is for certain.
All the calculation and logical reasoning in the world would not be able to explain, or justify, the death of 5 innocent children.

I don't really know what I'm rambling about here. Just thought that this discussion we had in my Decision-Making class was kinda interesting. :)


The Bee said...

to save or not to save??
who to save???
this situation presented for decision-making is hypothetical
yet cant deny people such as firemen, disaster relief teams,soldiers in war zones may have been put in such a position many times - unrecorded?
not convinced there is an answer which is considered the right one really
more for developing the process of thinking through
AND i tell you if it really happens dont think you have the privilege of thinking thro and decide what to do and who to save and the reasoning behind it!!!!
split- second kind of scenario ...with panic thrown in...
for all you know you may even find yourself frozen stiff or panic stricken
both situations - no processing - no decision- - no action...i cant bear to imagine....
of course in reality there are situations which pose a similar type of dilemma
like saving the mother or the baby in womb
this type allows for time to deliberate to come to a decision loh..

David Leong Kin Ming said...

Hmm, kinda reminds me of another story about a watchman that lowers a drawbridge for a train that's supposed to pass by.. his only son was playing underneath the bridge, but he knew what had to be done.. He knew, and he then lowered the drawbridge..

It takes you back to what GOD has done for us huh? We being the passengers on the train in my story, and the 5 kids in yours.. the innocent lone child along the inactive railway being Jesus, God's son... God would've switched the tracks to save you and I..

"All the calculation and logical reasoning in the world would not be able to explain, or justify, the death of 5 innocent children." - Lisa

Amazing huh, when in the GOD's story, all the calculation and logical reasoning in the world would not be able to explain, or justify, the death of Jesus, who is pure and blameless. Yet GOD let him die in order to save us =)

Lisa ^^, said...

Awwww, thanks Davie.
haha You quoted me?? I feel so flattered. aheh XD

Anonymous said...

hmm.. interesting.. =)

I would say... when I read tht scenario.. my 1st thought would almost similar to urs.. 5 vs 1? wat shuld I do?

However, after few minutes of consideration, i came to a conclusion..

IF.. (IF) I am able to think at that split second (haha..), I'll in the end choose NOT to change d track. why? (tinking quite similar to ur lecturer)
1. yes. is 5 vs 1. but bcoz 5 ppl - more likely they can save each other easier in some sense - eg i grab u, u grab him..
2. u mentioned "the death of 5 innocent children" - i dun really recognise them as innocent? hmm... I mean.. they would may have known that it's dangerous to play on an active train track - so can sorta say it's macam sth they hv to pay for if there is really a train coming n they chose to play on an active train track.. though it sounds bad, but i feel may be fairer to d lone child who played on an inactive track.

However, whichever decision i made, i would definitely be haunted by it.. furthermore, though i may hv strong reasonsings on NOT to change d track, i'll feel VERY guilty coz.. it's 5 lives! it could have been 1 life only!! so.. ya. either way, i'll be haunted.

i tink tht's all from me.. whahaha.... just some opinions.. no grudges.. hehe^^

Arnan Koh said...

well, i suspect you are talking about the not so new trains... interchanging and all that stuff... since most modern trains like the Putra LRT has special devices to detect a weight on the track and stop all train instantly.

well.. i guess you could pull the emergency break... hoot the horn and brace yourself for the jerk that will come when the breaks come into play....

~`w!L`Li@m'~ said...

I didn't realised that there was such an interesting post! Haha...well, I would have just chose to leave the tracks alone cos one thing, those group of children ASKED for it for playing at the active track! If they were rammed by the train, I wouldn't feel guilty cos they ASKED for it!

On the other hand, if I were to change the track, I will pity the lonely boy cos what he did was RIGHT! And you killing him for the sake of the other 5 rascals would be a HUGE guilt!!!

Hmph....this Decision-making class is interesting. I wish I had one too. *Looks at an artery in the face - to cut or not to cut?....Hmmmmm* Consider yourself lucky!

Lisa ^^, said...

It is kinda interesting. When he asks us questions like that.
I highlight the interesting parts of course and leave out the not-so-interesting parts.
You know, things that would make interesting posts. haha
But it's seriously not bad. The lecturer is good! :)