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Another psychology experiment


cicatrix
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Which ship would you send?  

48 members have voted

  1. 1. Which ship would you send?

    • 1. Send a smaller and faster ship to rescue 1/3 of the crew but let the other 2/3 die
      8
    • 2. Send a bigger but slower ship with 50% chance that everyone dies
      40


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As a spinoff from this discussion I would like to introduce another thought experiment which is not that obvious.

Imagine the situation that there is a sinking ship somewhere. You are ashore and you're the closest and you have 2 ships at your disposal. Unfortunately you have enough fuel for only 1 ship. If you attempt to fuel up both ships, neither can reach the site of distress. You are the one who is in charge What is your choice?

1. Send a fast but smaller rescue ship which is guaranteed to reach the ship in distress but it can only carry 1/3 of the crew.

2. Send a larger but slower ship which is guaranteed to take everyone onboard but there is a 50% chance that it would not make it in time and every crew member of the distressed ship will die.

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I think it's too much of a classic question. As such, it's much too clear-cut for any sort of real-life application. :P

On my part, I would think it to be a Titanic-level irresponsibility to send out a ship that can't possibly help everyone. That not only makes you indirectly responsible for the deaths of 2/3rds of the people in distress, but also puts it upon the crew of the rescue ship to pick and choose which lives to save, which is at best just cruel.

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Mathematics demands the bigger ship.

I see. I'm a bit surprised to see the voting going so one-sided. I asked the same question elsewhere and many people responded they would have sent a smaller ship to 'save at least someone'.

I'm glad that you brought math in here because if we calculate the expected value from option #1:

1 * 1/3 = 33%

and option 2:

0.5 * 0% + 0.5 * 100% = 50%

Thus, sending the bigger ship is, of course, the right thing to do.

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This is a very different problem from the lever-train one. Here your action does not cause immediate death, but acts as an optimal quality offer. This is much easier to answer.

But there's one problem with your premises. First you say that if you send 2 ships they have no chance of reaching the destination, and then you say they have 50% chance.

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This is a very different problem from the lever-train one. Here your action does not cause immediate death, but acts as an optimal quality offer. This is much easier to answer.

But there's one problem with your premises. First you say that if you send 2 ships they have no chance of reaching the destination, and then you say they have 50% chance.

If we have both ships in stock, why not send both?

You have not enough fuel for both. And the second one is too slow to get there in time, it might arrive there when everybody died (50% chance).

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You have not enough fuel for both. And the second one is too slow to get there in time, it might arrive there when everybody died (50% chance).

If we can't get enough fuel to launch both ships, then obviously we need to weigh the value of those crew members, how important are they exactly? The fuel might be worth saving for a future project instead.

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The smaller ship will definitely save people, but the bigger one will not necessarily be successful, and given the option that chance is not enough for me to risk. I would send both, if that were an option.

Sending 2 ships guarantees that neither would reach the destination.

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Yep, this is much easier to answer.

If you do nothing, everyone dies.

If you send the small ship, 2/3 dies.

If you send the big ship everyone may survive. But if they don't, well you tried, and that didn't change the fate of the sinking ship crew.

Therefore you end up sending the big ship and hope for the best.

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Sending 2 ships guarantees that neither would reach the destination.

So can the ships only reach the destination? If they can only reach the destination, now you're stuck on another ship, and everyone starves, including yourself.

Edited by EdFred
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Sending 2 ships guarantees that neither would reach the destination.

Can we do a sort of a 2-stage ship? The two ships can't just use the same amount of fuel, at worst you have a situation where fueling up the big ship leaves no fuel for the small one. But if you fuel up the small ship, there will be some left for the big one. Not enough to reach the distressed ship, but close enough for the small ship to make two extra trips across the shorter distance to where the big ship ends up.

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Fuel the big ship, put the smaller ship on it, send them both. Keep an eye on the situation using radio - if it's getting bad and the big ship won't make it, swap fuel and send small ship to save someone. If it's all fine, keep with the big ship, save everyone. Average lives saved = 2/3.

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I am not sure why this is called a psychology experiment while it is a philosophical thought experiment. The purpose of these experiments are not to read the human mind and point at people screaming "You are a psychopath for choosing [any choice]" - not saying that the OP planning to do that, it is just the word "psychology" makes it sounds like an exact science, while philosophical dilemmas are not. They are for exploring the quagmire that is human ethics.

Back on to the question. With my rudimentary knowledge of ethics, there are 4 ethical frameworks that can be used here:

  1. Consequentialist ethic: Only the end result matters. Using this framework, either of the choice works. If you save people at the end, then it is justified. If you let them die, your choice is not justified. The end justify the means.
  2. Non-Consequentialist ethic: The action and effort is what matters. In this framework, the best choice is to take the bigger boat and save everyone. Because even if you couldn't save any of them, you did try your best to do so, and that is what matters the most.
  3. Virtue ethic: What the others in community considered "virtuous" is what matters. It gets fuzzy starting from here. Being able to save everyone is obviously desirable, but if you let everyone die, you are considered incompetent, and may be downright villainous by some due to your incompetence. Perhaps in this case, it is better to save some, rather than let all of them die. You may not be everyone's champion, but you are for some of them. And it matters. (note that this might sound like a glory hound's thinking, but it is more of like "for the greater good" where that "good" is defined by the community around you. So if some people considered your action good, it matters.)
  4. Situational ethics: What matters is depending on the situation. The most fuzzy kind of ethic. Let's say, if on that sinking ship, 1/3 of passengers are children who will likely die much faster than the adults, you better send out the smaller ship to save them first, because they will probably die even if you got the bigger ship in time for the adults. On the other hand, say on that ship are a bunch of convicts. You are not able to judge who is worth living and who is not. Better try to save them all, but if you didn't make it, it is karma. Situational ethics are damn fuzzy and you can't really decide which is "best" based on some kind of cosmic scale of right and wrong. It is just you and the situation you gotta solve. Find the most information you can and make an informed choice.

In the end, this sounds like just an exercise in making excuses though. I hope someone who has better familiarity with ethics to make things clearer, cause I am pretty sure I mess up somewhere.

A game theorist probably would take the choice of saving 1/3 though. A guaranteed chance is a guaranteed chance. You take it.

Edited by RainDreamer
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Send the fast ship full of needed supplies, take back 1/3 of the crew.

Send the ship again later.

Original response: have none.

Don't like these sort of problems.

Either save everyone or don't.

How the hell are you going to choose who to be the 1/3 you save?

Do they have kids?

If yes, and kids need them yadayada, that can be counter argumented that they have already seeded their genes, so you should pick up the guys without children.

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Assuming the ships have enough fuel to get there and back, that would be twice the fuel needed for a one-way trip. You send both boats, but as they are sufficiently seaworthy, they rescue at least one person, with a 50% chance of all three. After that, they can wait longer than the ship we assume is sinking, and can simply wait for their rescue which would only require fuel.

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