The Trolly Problem

Let’s imagine that a madman has tied five innocent people to a trolley track, and they are unable to move. A trolley car that is out of control is hurtling towards them, and is only a few seconds away from running them over. Luckily, we can pull a lever that will divert the trolley to another track. The only problem with doing this is that the madman has tied a single person to this other track too. Considering these circumstances, should we pull the lever? This is the Trolley Problem, created by philosopher Philippa Foot, which is one of the most famous thought experiments in the field of ethics. The question is, should we:

1. Simply stand there and allow the trolley to kill these five people tied on the main track?

2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person? Should we kill one person to save five?

What is the right thing to do?

From a utilitarian point of view, the obvious decision is for us to pull the lever, saving the five people and only killing one. But there is another view that would state that in pulling the lever we become complicit in what is clearly an immoral act, as we will still be responsible for the death of that one person. Other people argue that just our mere presence in the situation is a reason good enough for us to act, and that to do absolutely nothing about the situation would be equally immoral.

I think there is no wholly moral action at this point. Many philosophers have used the trolley problem as an example of the ways that real world situations often force individuals to compromise their own moral codes, and that there are times when there is no totally moral course of action. What do you think?

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

The Drowning Child

Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher who created a thought experiment called The Drowning Child, in 2009.

In this thought experiment, we imagine ourselves walking down the street. Suddenly, we notice a girl drowning in a lake. We have the ability to swim, and we are also close enough to save her life if we take action immediately. However, doing so will ruin our expensive shoes. Do we still have an obligation to save her?

Peter’s answer to this question is yes. We do have a responsibility to save the life of a drowning child and price is no object. If we agree with him on this statement, it leads us to a salient thought-provoking question: If we are obligated to save the life of a child in need, is there a fundamental difference between saving one who is right in front of us and one on the other side of the world?

In his book, The Life You Can Save, Peter argues that there is no moral difference between a child drowning in front of you and one starving in some far off land. The cost of the ruined shoes in saving a drowning child is analogous to the cost of a donation in saving a starving child. And if the value of our shoes is irrelevant to us, the price of the charity should be irrelevant too. If we save the nearby child, we have to save the distant one too. He, in fact, even put his money where his mouth is, and started a program to make people donate to charities across the world.

There are definitely some arguments against this thought experiment. Most of them rely on the idea that a drowning child is in a different type of situation than a child who is starving in another part of the world, and that they require different solutions which impose different obligations.

Most of us would innately rescue a child drowning in front of us – it would be rather monstrous to compare a child’s life to a pair of shoes! But how many of us really pay attention to charities? How many of us actually donate to charities? How many of us take a second to sympathise a child who is starving in a city overwhelmed with poverty? What is the difference?

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

Is happiness more than just pleasure?

Hedonism is the philosophy that pleasure is the most important pursuit of mankind and the proper aim of human life. Talking about pleasure, I came across another stimulating thought experiment. This one is called, “The Experience Machine”.

The Experience Machine is a special device that can give us any experience we would like to endure. For example, if I were to choose something, perhaps it would be: Becoming a famous writer, entering a candy world, being around hundreds of adorable animals, or meditating at the top of a mountain. The experience machine would make me believe that these scenarios are actually happening, while in reality, I’m floating in a tank with electrodes attached to my brain. The question now, is, would I want to be plugged into this machine for the rest of my life? If yes, my life would be preprogrammed to maximise my pleasure. I would be able to live my fondest dreams “from the inside”, and experience what it’s like to live a perfect life. While being plugged into this machine, I would think it’s all real.

The purpose of this experiment is to make us wonder: What is happiness? We all know that this simply structured question isn’t the easiest to answer, in fact philosophers have been debating upon it for years – whether happiness is more than just pleasure.

While reading and putting ourselves into the experiment, I think for some of us it seems as if pleasure might be sufficient for happiness (meaning, we believe in hedonism). But The Experience Machine can actually challenge this idea. If pleasure was enough, I would plug myself into the machine without thinking twice. But most of us would be hesitant. According to Robert Nozick, the American philosopher who created this thought experiment, this is because we want more in life. We all have projects, tasks, activities, and life goals we wish to achieve. And, being plugged into this machine and living a fake life is not a way to fulfil those. This seems to suggest that hedonism is wrong. What do you think?

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– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

The Brain in a Jar

There is a rather nutty theory in Science and Philosophy known as the Brain in a Vat or the Brain in a Jar theory. In this thought experiment, we imagine a mad scientist creating a machine into which he can place a human brain. This machine is called a “brain vat”. The brain vat keeps the brain alive, and it also allows the scientist to create virtual stimuli and feed these into the brain. Hence, the brain kept inside can experience these stimuli in the same way in which a normal human sensory system does. Doing this, the scientist can create an entirely fictitious world that feels completely normal to the brain held captive. This sounds eminently creepy to me!

But the idea of the Brain in a Vat (or the Brain in a Jar) theory is that no brain could ever know whether it is affixed inside a skull, or kept inside a vat. Therefore theoretically, it could never know whether everything it experiences is real or simply an illusion. It tells us that we cannot confirm the existence of anything except for our own consciousness. This theory may sound familiar since it is the basic plot of the movie “The Matrix” (which also includes some elements of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” theory).

This thought experiment was proposed by René Descartes, a French philosopher, back in 1641. (You may find it interesting how his experiment initially used an evil demon instead of a vat – that’s scary!) The vat was only proposed later by Gilbert Harlan, in 1973 to update the experiment.

This experiment puzzled philosophers ever since, it definitely puzzles me too. On that note, have a lovely week ahead- even if it’s all an illusion!

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

What defines us?

I have often marvelled over what actually defines me. I came across an interesting paradox while reading the book Philosophy 101 by Paul Kleinman. Explaining the metaphysics of identity, the ship of Theseus paradox first appeared in the writings of the Ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch. He wrote about Theseus (the founder-king of Athens) returning from a long voyage at sea. During this voyage, the old and decayed planks of wood the ship was made of was replaced by brand new and strong planks of wood. So by the end of the voyage, every piece of wood the ship was made of initially, had been replaced. The philosophical idea generated from this scenario is: is this ship still the same ship that Theseus started his voyage on? Or, if the ship Theseus began his journey on is A, and the ship Theseus ended his journey on is B, then does A=B?

This paradox surely goes beyond a problem about ships. It leads us to thinking about identity and what makes us the people that we are. I am going to change as I grow older, and parts of me are going to change as years are going to go by. But even when I turn sixty, I’m still going to call myself Saania- I’ll still consider myself to be the very same person.

Is identity related to my structure and the way I am made? If this is the case, I wouldn’t be me if I were to shave all my hair off. Some philosophers say that “we are our body”. But as we grow older, a lot of changes take place in our bodies. As teenagers, we may change our looks, our style when it comes to clothing, our hairstyles, and so much more. And as we grow even older, we get gray hair and wrinkles by our eyes. We may even develop health troubles or we may modify the food we take into our body. So many of our cells keep replacing themselves too, and some even die. So our body is definitely not a permanent fixture.

Is identity related to my mind and my feelings? If this is the case, I wouldn’t be me if I ever replaced my heart, or lost my memory. Many philosophers say that our mind is what gives us our identity. Yet, our outlook on life changes over time. I am starting to think differently as I am growing older, as compared to the things I believe in when I was much younger. I may gain a lot of knowledge. I may change my beliefs. I may find religion, or lose it. This change is inevitable, and so very constant.

I believe there is no right or wrong answer for these mind-boggling questions. What this paradox does tell us, however, is that although we see identity as a fixed and solid structure, it is actually very thin, malleable, and ever-changing. The ship of Theseus and its implications about what identity really is are still discussed today. It does, indeed, leave me with quite a lot of food for thought…

– SaaniaSparkle🧚🏻‍♀️

We are all one

I love love. I love everything about it. Just saying the word fills my heart with comfy warmth and happiness. I love life, I love people and just every living thing that exists. (I say living thing because everything has life, yes, even my stuffed little teddy bear).

I didn’t always have so much love in my heart. There were times when I spewed hate and said hurtful things to people. There have also been times when I wasn’t a very nice person. But as I am waking up each day, I can’t help but realise that we are all one.

If aliens were to invade our Earth one day, I wonder what we would do. If we think about it, I suppose countries who are now having feuds would start to support each other, people who hate each other now would start to love each other, we would almost be compelled to do so. Why? Because we are humans and they are aliens. Because at the end of the day, we are all fragmented energy from the same source. Because it would be us against them. And no matter how different we are as people, we would fight these aliens together (That is, only if they turn out to be evil aliens!)

We are now living through the tough times of the Coronavirus, and in the world events we are in right now, we need to build a positive community. We need to lift each other up, and love each other. There are people who struggle with anxiety, people who are stuck in the horrible hole of depression. More people turn to alcohol and other substances to control their sadness. But I think the only drug they really need, is love. Because again, I have realised, that no matter how different we may be from each other, we are all Homo sapiens. We are all one- it is only our egos, our beliefs, and our fears that separate us. In these terrifying times, I don’t think there is any room for any more negativity. We need love now, more than ever.

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

A Winter Wonderland

This poem recollects some paradisiacal memories from my trip to Rovaniemi (a city in Finland).

I clicked this during the daytime 🧊 ❄️ ⛄️

Scintillating snowflakes
Sprinkling down in the breeze
A white blanket of snow
Covering wintry tall trees

I am out in the wilderness
In the middle of nowhere
Quivering with shivers
From the icy, frosty air

Watching the northern lights
As I look up high
Like streams of emerald
Twirled in the sky

Ribbons of colours
In all shades of blue
Filling the empty sky
With their dazzling hue

I sip hot berry tea
As I drink in haste
Wrapping my fingers around
Enduring the sugary, glacé taste

I close my eyes
Gently as I stand
An empyrean place
A winter wonderland…

-SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

 

Happy Poetry Month 2020!