This is a kind of thought experiment - some questions about how you would react in a hypothetical situation. These particular questions can show up some interesting differences in the way people think about life, death, and fate... or as I have discovered, they can just be a fun way to start an argument (sorry, 'discussion') with a bunch of wedding guests you've never met before.

The first two questions are fun to try to answer but I think the third question is really the crux of the matter.

  1. You are tied to a train line. You cannot escape. You happen to know that just around the corner, out of sight, is another person tied to a parallel line. You know nothing about the other person.

    A train is hurtling towards you, and will certainly kill you when it hits you. However, within reach is a lever. If you pull the lever it will move the points and divert the train to the other track. The train will then definitely kill the other person (who has no lever of their own). Help is on the way - once this train has passed, whichever of you survives will be freed from the tracks.

    Do you pull the lever?

    Please have a think about that before you read on.

  2. This time, the situation is exactly as above, with only one difference - the train is already on course to kill the other person. You could pull the lever and save the other person at the expense of your own life, or leave it alone and allow the other person to die.

    Do you pull the lever?

    Again, think about it before reading on.

  3. Finally, the serious business here - are questions 1 and 2 really the same question?

To expand a little on the last question - the point is that in both situations, you get to decide the outcome. Some people will say that this means they are the same question, to all intents and purposes, whereas others disagree.

While I would love to see what others have to say about the questions, I'm sure that if a bunch of people just post their own answers to the questions then this will get horribly GTKY-ish, so I would politely request that people don't do that. Can't stop you, of course :-)

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