Friday, March 20, 2009

A Morbid Hypothetical Situation

...was described by our Boss as an opening to one of our all-day meetings earlier this week. I was quite fascinated by the way people reacted to the particular question that he posed and thought I'd check out how other people would answer.

The situation was described as thus:

- There are two train tracks - Track A and Track B.
- Track A, is a track that is in regular use, while Track B, is a track that is not in use.
- On Track A, 3 children are playing - while on Track B, one child is playing alone.
- A train is hurtling down Track A, and it's heading for the three kids.
- If you are in charge of the lever that switches the course of the train between Track A and Track B, and you therefore have only two choices, which one would you choose and why?

a. Let the train continue on Track A towards the 3 children OR
b. Divert the train to Track B towards the kid playing solo?

The idea here is to not think too much, and put down your instinctive response.

I'd be interested to know your first reaction, reasons why, and whether your answer changed as you wrote it in the comments section.

I will tell you the 'correct answer' after a while - let's say after 8-10 people submit their views?

That sounds fair to me


  1. Is stopping the train not an option?
    Then obviously I'd let the train continue on its track, I don't think I'd play with destiny!

  2. First I'd think let it stay on track A- not play with fate - then I'd think - the fact that Im here IS fate - so I'd change to Track B.

    Maybe I prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler.

  3. Why can't we ask the kids to get off the track?

  4. I have come across this Q before. But in a different format. So I ll wait for the update.

  5. My first response was B.

    Then as I started typing I considered that if I'm in charge of the lever I should have access to rest of the controls as well and thus can pull of an emergency brake (like the chains inside? if they exist)

    I'd pull the brakes and sound the horn to alert the child anyway. And then pray.

  6. Delurking on this alarming post.

    I'd stay on track A, hit brakes and horn, etc.
    An unused train track could have far worse waiting ahead, and as driver you are responsible for a train load of people first.

    There's some really cunning answer to this, isn't there..

  7. i would say use the lever to jam the tracks...flag the train down, remove the kids...there is always a solution.

  8. i would say use the lever to jam the tracks...flag the train down, remove the kids...there is always a solution.

  9. Let the train continue on Track A because the kids playing there would probably expect the train to be coming (it is in use) whereas the child playing alone does not expect the train to come by (track B is not in use).


  10. I would turn the train to track B. Coz that track isnt working and the by itself when diverted to this track will stop, and no one will be hurt! right?! am i sounding dumb?!!

  11. urggh.. why, why!?! anyway, does the answer have something to do with the possibility that the train on the out-of-use track would derail and cause many more casualties.

  12. You do know ppl wait here refreshing and hoping they'll find your reply post at the end?

    No I don't have an answer. I'm too afraid of sounding stupid.

  13. Ok, so here is the 'correct answer':

    Basically of you entire lot, it is ONLY my sweetheart Parul who got it absolutely bang on.

    The point is exactly that - it would be completely unfair to divert the train onto a track which was hitherto unused, and therefore endanger the life of a poor unsuspecting soul.

    Why I found this interesting was that of a group of 14 people, only 3 of them actually had answered 'Track A', while almost everyone else chose track B. As I said, the Boss said he had chosen to use this to demonstrate 'the right answer isn't the most popular one - and that emotions can blind you or mislead your thinking...'

    Of course, there was a bit of a debate that arose after this, but the point had been made - certainly the most logical answer, in the absence of any other information, is Track A.

    As for my answer? Well, I was one of the three people who said Track A - but let me not try and pass this off as my superior logical reasoning. It was more driven by - yes, you guessed it - emotion - the emotion of 'not playing with fate...and committing murder by actively diverting the train to the poor unsuspecting kid...and that the three kids who are playing on the track are the ones doing something dangerous, not him...' and so on. So, right answer, but not necessarily with the weightage on the right reasons.

    Anyway, am not inviting debate here either! Was interesting to read your answers, thanks people :-)

    Parul, you win a date with me! Come to Delhi and take me out.

  14. HA HA HA HA HA.....who da (wo)man?? ME ME ME ME ME!

    This is me being my gracious best.

  15. Y - Oooh. The slightly different format I came across had a second part. To all those who said they ll let the train run in Track A - What if your child was in Track A? And the same Q to people who said Track B too. That totally stumped me!! Some people have too much time thinking these tricky situatons, methinks!

  16. Boo - that's just a nasty twist! how unnecessary! yes, overall, people who come up with this stuff should be...should be...should be forced to answer it themselves!

    By the way, I'm told - by another Boss 3 years ago - there has been a worldwide research on this question - if you were in a boat on a river which capsized, and you could save either your mom OR your kid, which would you choose...

    forget it!

  17. Y: I'm not a Mom so I didn't even think of the 'playing with fate' angle etc (Ok so I'm a student and I like reading some mommy blogs :/)

    Awful question and now I feel guilty for having said track B.

  18. I'd've said Track A, but for different reasons - out of three children playing with each other, it's highly probably that at least one, if not two of the children, will see the train coming well in time to jump off. Picture the three of them facing each other, at least two should be able to see the train from some part of their peripheral vision and alert the other.
    Whereas one person could well be facing the opposite way and miss any chance of escape.


Hi there. Go on, say it. Well? WELL?