Would You Kill One Or Five People?
Day 11/365: When there’re two possible bad choices and nothing else, what do you choose? And is there a third option?
“Bad, for the Greater Good”
Imagine standing in a trains station control room. You are there for the first time, never ever being in a similar situation. There’re TV screens with live camera feeds of the rails, trains pulling up or departing from their platforms. After you are briefed on the way the control system works, you are left alone in the room and suddenly, you encounter an emergency scenario.
The Trolley Experiment
Right in front of you, on the main screen in the room, you can see six workers walking to a bifurcation of the rails. Five of them go to the left, while one of the workers take the right turn.
They’re all facing forward, appearing to be so busy that they are unaware of the train that’s about to run them over. You know how the lever that changes the upcoming trains’ direction works, so you have to make a choice, and really, really fast.
Would you let the train go to the left, possibly killing 5 workers, or will you change its direction, pulling the lever and directing the train towards the one worker?
This is called “The trolley experiment”, a popular psychological test that has interested and amazed specialists for centuries on end. When faced with choosing between two bad outcomes, with no other way around it and little time to make a decision, your brain literally freezes.
Well, for 95% of the times it does. There’s a small number of people that will make a decision, that will choose between the two Bad outcomes for the Greater Good, but most of us would just freeze and have no response.
Why we freeze?
We freeze because our brains get so flooded with all the juices it produces, it creates a pool of substances that stop everything and let us baffled. We’re in a movie, but the movie is happening to us and we’re the villain or the good guy, but there’s no good guy because people are about to die. And it really doesn’t matter to us if one or five people die, because life matters regardless of the number, so they should all live, right?
The brain is put into an impossible situation, a situation that is so unfamiliar to us, we can’t find a way out of it, so we just hit the pause button and have no reaction. Unfortunately, this happens to people even in the much less dangerous or life-threatening situations, when people that are stressed or burned out from work freeze even when faced with the simplest of tasks.
Should you feel bad?
If you freeze, five people die. If you act, you can save those five people, but that will cost you one life. Is it okay to freeze, or should you feel guilty because you did nothing? The truth is, you have little control over that freezing part of the whole story.
Animals and people freeze in the face of danger. It’s a behaviour that is learned and transmitted throughout thousands of years of evolution, from species to species, from human to human and there’s not much that you can do about it.
Feeling sorry for something that you have no control over is not serving you in any way
Although as humans we can study how we act and with some techniques, modify some of our bad behaviours, in order to modify the mind that has been set up for us the way it is now, generations after generations, we first need to affect the mind in order to change it. This change not only takes time but should not be taken lightly.
How not to freeze… well, not entirely
One of the solutions to avoid blockages in your daily life is to allow your brain to breathe, which means taking some time for yourself every single day, time when you do nothing. It sounds easier than it really is. When was the last time you just did NOTHING for 10 minutes? Think about that, then do it and see how much more relaxed your brain will be, feel and act after that.
“Your harderst battle is between what you know and what you feel” — Unknown
And of course, hope that you’ll never be put into a situation like the one described above, because choosing between two Bad endings, for the Greater Good is something that, as humans, we’ll never be able to do correctly.
Speaking of the Greater Good, the scenario described above was also featured in the genius YouTube series “Mind Field” by the talented “Vsauce” host Michael Stevens. He not only explained the experiment but recreated it with real people and the demonstration is fascinating. Here’s the episode.
Thank you for your time!
My name is Gabriel Iosa, I’m a 25 years old travel enthusiast, food lover, Psychology student, full-time freelancer, writer and Instagram fanatic. You can follow me @gabrieliosa, and if you liked this post, give it exactly 44 claps!
I’m on a mission to write 365 articles in 2018. This is definitely the biggest writing challenge of my life so far. If you’d like to be part of the journey, please follow me here on Medium.com for the daily posts!