Ha! He just flipped this old philosophical problem on its head!
There’s a popular thought experiment in philosophy called ‘The Trolley Problem’.
Basically, a rail car is hurtling down a track, on course to kill 5 people. You have the power to switch it on to another track, where it will only kill one person. Should you do it? Should you kill one to save five?
What is the ‘right’ thing to do?
The trolley problem first surfaced back in 1905.
And we’re still talking about it.
More than 100 years later, philosophers are still debating it, writing endless essays and journal articles on all the nuances of moral obligation.
It’s been going on for so long that the Trolley Problem even has its own Facebook group!
And this isn’t just a thought experiment to entertain scholars. Soon, autonomous vehicles will be everywhere. What do we tell them to do if given the choice between ploughing into a school bus or swerving on to the curb and killing a pedestrian?
Someone’s got to program that.
For me, I think the reason why the trolley problem is so hard is because we’re making the job too difficult for ourselves at the get go. We start with the assumption that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ thing to do.
Right and wrong only exist in abstraction. Like in maths. 2 + 2 = 4 is ‘right’. 2 + 2 = 7 is ‘wrong’.
But the world is not abstract. The world is complex. So this need we have to cling to simple ideas of right and wrong is like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.
It says more about our inability to deal with complexity than it does about our wonky moral compasses.
And the tragedy is that we bring this need for simplicity into our daily decisions. What is the right thing to study? What is the right career to choose? What is the right way to invest?
Who should I marry?
There’s no right or wrong answer here because, in reality, these aren’t right or wrong questions.
They are complex. They can be considered from different, sometimes competing perspectives, you rarely have all the information that is relevant, and you often don’t know what you would actually prefer if you really got down to it.
You just don’t know yourself that well.
It’s just complex, and you can bend your head if you spend too long trying to figure it out. And you can waste precious years if you spend too long trying to figure it out.
Such a waste.
What I think it means is that we’ve got to be ok with just doing the best we can.
Do some research, but then just pick your career, pick your investments, pick your partner, and just make it work.
This is where the living is – in just making it work.
And this is where the richness of life is – in the bewildering complexity of life, feeling yourself bundled along by forces much greater than yourself.
So let go of your attachment to right and wrong, it doesn’t serve you, and step into a state of action-driven wonder.