Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three perspectives

Some people speak of logic like it's the same thing as math; as long as everybody's using it, same answer is reached. I don't think it's like that at all. There's this Harvard ethics professor, and his lectures are much enjoyed by students. That because he's a brain picker; casts out hypothetical situations and teaches ethics by engaging students on the available choices.

So I was listening to one of his lectures on NPR the other day. He said to students, "You're the driver of a trolley and its brakes are gone. You know if you keep going straight, at bottom of hill five men are working on the track and it's likely they'll be killed. You're approaching an adjacent track and you can turn onto it. You know at the end of that track one man is working and he'll be killed. Raise your hand if you would turn."

This is when it got really interesting for me. He said, "OK you can put your hands down. Those of you who wouldn't turn, raise your hands. Very well, you may put your hands down. Now let me add some more information to the scenario..."

Right about there is when I'd have got kicked out of the class, because I'd have been saying, "Whoa whoa whoa? We don't need any more information until I ask a few questions of the 'go for five' club here, OK Professor?"

And it's just amazing. He asked for a show of hands on the straight ahead option because he teaches the course every year; he KNOWS some students wouldn't turn!

I found the entire thing quite perplexing and stopped listening to the lecture at that point. These Harvard kids are smart boys & girls after all; I've got to presume the 'go for five' club had some kind of logic supporting their choice. It just settled on my brain and wouldn't leave... what good reason might a Trolley driver have for not turning?

To find the reasons, I had to adopt a totally different logic than my own, but it's a logic all the same. Then I realized these different logics are informed by unique perspectives. Those perspectives probably provide a good insight on future career tracks. So here's the 'go for five' answers I came up with, and my guidance counsellor predictions...

"I would keep going straight because that turn isn't on my assigned route and I don't want to get in trouble for violating company policy." Future federal government employee there; State Department most likely, but would fit in anywhere.

"Well, highly improbable that five workers would all be looking in the same direction as I approach, right? Chances are good one of them will see me, alert the others, and nobody dies. Possible lose big, but possible win big." Embryonic investment banker fer shure. Bound to amass a fortune and/or go to prison, but it'll all be done on other people's money.

"I'd go straight because, see? Hitting five people will probably slow the Trolley enough so I can safely jump off, but I just don't think hitting one person would do it." That's your future personal injury attorney perspective there.

But each answer is perfectly logical, given the perspective it springs from.

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