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Push the button

  1. Mar 31, 2016 #1
    Here's the idea of this thread. I start by posting a conundrum. It is basically this: if you push the button, something good will happen but at a price. The next poster then says whether he pushes the button or not and posts his own dilemma of the same kind.

    So let me start with the classic one:

    If you push the button then you will get $1000000 but a random person that you do not know will die.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 31, 2016 #2


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    I'd call that a price, not a prize ....

    I venture the prisoner's dilemma.
  4. Mar 31, 2016 #3


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    Hmm. $1m doesn't go as far as it used to. Are you willing to increase it to $100m ?
  5. Apr 1, 2016 #4
    Do not push. The potential repercussions and number of ways doing so could ruin your life outweigh the gain of $1M. There's better ways to earn $1M that are reasonably realistic.

    Here's a harder one. Your 14 year old daughter has a rare auto-immune disease that is causing some very specific internal organ of hers to fail. The immune-suppressing drugs make her very susceptible to infection and disease - staying on the drugs will save the organ, but she will almost certainly die of the common flu or some other illness. Staying off the drugs will cause organ failure and death. She needs a new organ, one that her immune system won't destroy. She is #1 on the wait list for this particular organ, but it is a very rare blood type she requires. This organ is necessary - the donor must die in order to recieve it. Through a bribe you were able to determine there is a registered organ donor in your town who matches her needs. He is well-known to the town as a trouble-maker, a petty criminal and an over-all sleazy guy.

    The button you must press is the trigger of a gun. If you murder the man, your daughter gets the organ and has a good shot at living a healthy life. The price is you go to prison. Do you save your daughter's life, but at the cost of another man's life and your own?
  6. Apr 1, 2016 #5
    Couldn't do it. I just picture a hard working family man or a single mother being the unlucky victim. Besides, I live modestly, and the only thing I ever spend my money on are textbooks.
  7. Apr 2, 2016 #6
    How could you live with yourself to enjoy the $$?
  8. Apr 2, 2016 #7
    Since there is no personal value attached to that life and saving lives is your main motive, then I don't see why not? You could spend the $1M on saving more than just one life. Taking mosquito nets for example
    So $1M spent on mosquito nets saves about 352 lives.
  9. Apr 2, 2016 #8
    I would not. Two lives have more moral priority.

    On a lighter note:
    If you press the button you can meet any one person that ever lived (no physical contact, you can't kill Hitler or punch Stalin), the catch is you have to be naked during the sojourn.
  10. Apr 2, 2016 #9
    I would push the button. This emberassing factor does not outweigh the awesome moment of meeting a great historical person. I'm not sure who I would meet though. Maybe some spiritual figure like Jesus. Whatever is true about him, I think he must have been an impressive person to talk to.

    You get the power to learn and really understand and grasp any book ever written, but every time you use your power you get a terrible headache for a week.
  11. Apr 2, 2016 #10

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    So, if you got to keep half a million, and pushing the button killed someone but provided mosquito netting to save 176 people, would you do it? What if you were magically provided a list of who died and who was saved? Does that make a difference? What if the button had a 50% chance of killing zero or two people? Does that make a difference?
  12. Apr 2, 2016 #11
    I've heard this before and it ends up being someone close to you that dies. The point is that sometimes you don't know those close to you as well as you think you do. Something like that.
  13. Apr 2, 2016 #12
    It does, but should it? For example, if you had the chance to save 10 or 20 or 50 strangers lives, but the cost was the death of dearly loved family member. Would you do it?
  14. Apr 2, 2016 #13
    If I had time to think about it, no. I am not that altruistic. If there was no time to think about the consequences of my actions, I would like to think yes.
  15. Apr 2, 2016 #14
    Can we choose to press the button or not _without_ first hearing the terms of dilemma?

  16. Apr 2, 2016 #15
    From a utilitarian point of view, I would press the button if it saved two people at the cost of one, given I did not personally know the person who dies. To put it slightly more rigorously as long as the change in net QALYs is positive I will press the button. Assuming I don't know who is going to die and who are the ones going to be saved.
    If I was given a list after the fact it wouldn't make a difference, but if it happens to be before I press the button it would depend a lot more on the person. If the person's death could cause instability (say Merkel dies) or economic disruption etc. etc. Then a lot more thought would be required. Though if the person chosen is truly random then it is unlikely that a person of that kind of significance would be chosen at all.
  17. Apr 2, 2016 #16
    OK, let's push this. 2 randomly chosen 90 year old persons vs 1 baby who was just born.
  18. Apr 2, 2016 #17
    Net change in QALY would be negative, I would not push the button.
  19. Apr 2, 2016 #18
  20. Apr 2, 2016 #19
    The QALY is a measure of the value of health outcomes. Since health is a function of length of life and quality of life, the QALY was developed as an attempt to combine the value of these attributes into a single index number. The basic idea underlying the QALY is simple: it assumes that a year of life lived in perfect health is worth 1 QALY (1 Year of Life × 1 Utility value = 1 QALY) and that a year of life lived in a state of less than this perfect health is worth less than 1. In order to determine the exact QALY value, it is sufficient to multiply the utility value associated with a given state of health by the years lived in that state. QALYs are therefore expressed in terms of "years lived in perfect health": half a year lived in perfect health is equivalent to 0.5 QALYs (0.5 years × 1 Utility), the same as 1 year of life lived in a situation with utility 0.5 (e.g. bedridden) (1 year × 0.5 Utility). QALYs can then be incorporated with medical costs to arrive at a final common denominator of cost/QALY. This parameter can be used to develop a cost-effectiveness analysis of any treatment.
    It is something used in health economics in order to allocate resources.
  21. Apr 2, 2016 #20
    Compile ten or so books into one, understand all my coursework instantly and have my usual migraines for a week?
    I would press the button till my fingers bleed.

    Going with the current theme:

    You are a hospital administrator, press the button and a five-year-old gets a million dollar worth liver, if you don't and you can spend it spending the million dollars to buy other hospital equipment or pay physician salaries.
  22. Apr 4, 2016 #21
    Since there don't seem to be any takers, I will bring attention to some rather thought provoking work done in this field by Philip Tetlock:
    Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions
    The above dilemma happens to be a simplified version of a dilemma from his work, the study was about Sacred Value Protection Model (SVPM) and its moral cleansing hypothesis:
    The tragic trade-off was between Johnny a five year old and another six year old boy, only one of who could get the liver they needed to live.
    The taboo trade-off was between the liver transplant surgery to save Johnny that would cost the hospital $1M or to spend the $1M on other hospital needs.

    A second independent variable that was added was with what ease was the ease that decision was made.
    The decisions were rated, and the reward/punishment of the decision maker Robert was graded on a scale of 1 to 7
    The results of the taboo situation were:
    Most favourable decision was that to spend the money on the transplant with the decision made easily and quickly
    Most unfavourable decision was to spend the money on hospital needs after a long and hard deliberation on the choices. Which is interesting because it reveals an interesting bias, you will be judged by the society more harshly if you choose a secular value over a sacred value after a longer deliberation rather than a quicker one. Even though spending the $1M on infrastructure would save more lives on the long run, we tend to give preference to a sacred value and consider it superior to a secular one by default without due consideration. The taboo tradeoff in which the administrator chose the hospital over Johnny generated the maximum outrage. The participants seem to think that "anyone who thinks that long about the dollar value of a child's life is morally suspect."

    This is further developed in the tragic trade-off where one named-patient Johnny (5-year-old) was compared with an unnamed patient (6-year-old)
    The Roger that took more time with his decision regardless of his choice was regarded more favourably this time.
  23. Apr 4, 2016 #22


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    Don't. I don't like kids. (jk)
    I tend to think in extremes. Saving a baby or saving a 40 year old. You can always remake a baby, you don't know his or her potential yet. As for the 40 year old could be Elon Musk, or any other individual who's changing the world. It's terribly heartbreaking for the parents, but everyone has parents. It's sounds harsh, but these decisions always are.

    Push the button and all humans die instantly, but you know when 'humans v2' evolve, they will evolve in a utopian peaceful society from the beginning, forever.
    Don't push the button and 99% of all humans die, excluding you. And everyone knows the choice you were presented with afterwards.
  24. Apr 4, 2016 #23
    Push the button. Everybody dies anyway. A peaceful society that could save planet earth is worth it.

    Push the button and humans will live in a peaceful utopian society with maximal happiness forever.
    But you will be tortured for many years until you die and nobody will ever know what you did for humanity.
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