• Member Since 1st Nov, 2020
  • offline last seen Aug 3rd, 2022

hamster wizard

Hitchin' a ride


Rated T for being run over by a hypothetical trolley.

Everyone hates thought experiments. They're confusing, time consuming, and there's usually no way out without making you look like a jerk.

Today, Twilight tries to explain to her friends why letting them die is technically the correct choice.

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 111 )

“It was more socially acceptable at the time.”

My favourite line in the whole story.

Anyway, the whole thing is wonderful, I’m glad to see that even Luna can teach Twilight a friendship lesson sometimes.

Ri2 #2 · Feb 13th, 2022 · · 1 ·

Dammit, Twilight.

This is why I hate the trolley problem.

Loki #3 · Feb 13th, 2022 · · ·

Applejack pulled her hat down, “We all must live with our sins Rarity. Trudging ever forward through this cruel joke we call life.”

An awkward silence fell over the room.

“I mean, aw shucks, ah sure love apples.”

Good one!

Whereas my reason for hating it is that the level of contrivance required for it to work makes the objectively correct answer "find the asshole who set all of this up, because that'll save even more people in the long run than are currently in danger."

You can imagine how happy I am about the "fat villain" variant, where the one guy you can choose to kill instead is the asshole in question.

Knew this would make the Featured box.

I personally hate the trolley problem and the moral dilemma associated with it. But seeing how the Mane 6 and Starlight react to this was just hilarious :rainbowlaugh:

Since this sort of dilemma normally only takes place during wartime and philosophy classes, what we need to do is get rid of war and philosophy teachers.

I never really get how anyone can even take more than a second to think about this. Of course you kill the one person, regardless of who they are.

My answer has always been to pull the lever and quickly untie the one person.

Almost all pictures with the iteration of the trolley problem literally place the one person a foot next to the lever. It should be possible to untie the person after you pull the lever and save them all. If it isn't then I want to at least try.

the ending was very raw.
For those wondering, what is the correct answer to the tram riddle is: sacrifice yourself by throwing yourself in front of the train to stop it with your body before the train harms others. (You will not be able to live with the guilt so the most merciful thing is that you end your own suffering before it happens.) :rainbowhuh:

Hilarious. I love it. For that, here’s an upvote and an add to my ‘Favorite Randomness’ library.

That being said, I did notice some typos.

Dialogue Punctuation

We start with the most simple one. If a piece of dialogue ends with ‘?’ or ‘!’, then there is no need to put a period (or full stop) or a comma at the end. So you write:

“Is this how we do it?” you ask.

“This is how we do it!” you exclaim.

However, if your tag is before the dialogue, then you must add either a comma or a period.

You ask, “Is this how we do it?”

You raise your hand. “Is this how we do it?”

Which brings us to our next point - the difference between action tags and said tags.

“Hello, sir,” he says.

“Hello, sir.” He shakes the man’s hand.

“And that brings us to the end of today’s meeting,” she concluded, closing her laptop.

“And that bring us to the end of today’s meeting.” She closed her laptop.

Any word that is a synonym of ‘say’ consists of a said tag. Any action while the speaker is speaking consist of an action tag. The two follow different sets of rules.

Furthermore, when using an action tag, the pronoun that follows is uppercase, but when using a said tag, the pronoun that follows is lowercase.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do:

“...Right. What about you Starlight? You’ve been awfully quiet.” Twilight said.

Starlight Glimmer, who had been leaning back in her chair nonchalantly, snapped her attention back to the topic, “Oh! Well, I wouldn’t pull the lever.”

Twilight used a said tag, whereas Starlight used an action tag. The punctuations that follow should change.

Here’s what you did do well:

“Yep.” Starlight leaned back in her chair.

We now move to what happens when your tag is before the dialogue. The same rules apply, actually. Action tags require a period and said tags a comma.

Twilight flicked her pointer in her friend’s direction, “No, for the last time. There is no way to stop the trolley.”

Now you might ask yourself, “What happens when there’s both an action and a said tag?” You do this.

She closed her laptop. “I will now take questions,” she said.

She then said, “I will now take questions.” She closed her laptop.

See how the punctuation changes? Depends on what comes where. With enough practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

(On a side note, ‘speak up’ is not a said tag, even if it does contains the word ‘speak’. It's an action tag, and therefore requires a comma.)

Some other typos

Apple Bloom. Two words, not one.
“Starlight, that’s Applebloom!” Applejack shouted.

Pinkie is quoting someone else’s words, therefore single quotation marks for ‘no time’.
“What part of no time was unclear!”

Also, that was clearly a question. Question mark needed.
“What part of no time was unclear!”

I would like to apologize if any of part of this came off as blunt, rude or forceful. I tend to come off as those at times and please know that I did not mean to hurt or offend.

I enjoy receiving construction criticism and I enjoy giving them as well. I liked this story, and hope you keep writing.

All the best, hamster wizard!

It's not that simple because the trolley problem isn't about presenting someone with a problem they need to solve and find the best answer for.

The point of that whole class of problems is to act as diagnostic tools to examine moral and ethical systems. Yes, they're contrived, they're contrived in the exact same way that a physicist's spherical cows of uniform density are: To remove complicating factors and make them useful for the analysis being done. Trying to come up with 'clever' solutions is missing the point, the point is which of a binary pair of choices you make and using that to learn something about your moral system¹.

While the basic trolley problem does seem simple to most people, (one death v/s five), if you present them with the choice of either allowing the trolley to hit the five or stopping it by pushing someone in front of it most people give what would seem to be the opposite answer. This tells us something: That, while utilitarianism is an element of most people's moral system, most people do not operate under simple utilitarianism.²

1: IOW, neither answer is "right" or "wrong", it's just that one is yours and one isn't.

2: It turns out that we tend to follow the categorical imperative, that people can only be treated as ends, not means. So it's more OK to do something that happens to lead to a person being harmed than to directly use that harm for the same ends.

Yeah, but I'd push someone in front without hesitation. I just can't get into the mindset of someone that would sacrifice 5 to save 1 no matter the circumstances.


Since this sort of dilemma normally only takes place during wartime and philosophy classes, what we need to do is get rid of war and philosophy teachers.

On one branch of the track is a warmonger. On the other branch is a philosophy teacher. There is only one train barreling down...

"While you were coming up with elaborate hypotheticals to try to save everyone the train kept going at full speed and killed five people. You are haunted for the rest of your life by the thought that you could have saved four lives but didn't because it was more important to you to seem clever and morally superior."

Anyway, good story, I enjoyed it.

Lesson Zero would have been a much more interesting episode if this had been how Twilight approached it...

And thus you have helped demonstrate the utility of trolley problems: You are more of a simple utilitarian than most people.

Starlight piped up, “Actually, an object’s mass increases the closer it approaches the speed of light. Anything moving at ‘infinite’ speed would theoretically destroy the entire planet, making the entire exercise meaningless.”

Okay, pet peeve: an object's mass does not actually increase at relativistic speeds. It behaves as if its mass increased in that it takes more and more energy to increase its speed further, but it doesn't have any increased inertia when it comes to applying a force at right angles to the direction of motion, nor does it generate more gravity (okay, technically there is slightly more gravity because the kinetic energy has its own gravity, but even at relativistic speeds that's negligible).

In any case where finding the bastard responsible will take longer than the time said bastard needs to set up n additional trolley problems with sufficient victims… you can see where I’m going with this, right? Since apprehending him isn’t going to be a discrete task, even if you utilised pure utilitarian ethics the maths regarding this Gordian knot aren’t so clear cut.

What good would that do? Assuming that there’s enough distance between the trolley and the people that derailing it wouldn’t end up with the trolley landing on them, even if you optimally positioned your soon‐to‐be‐corpse upon the rails you simply aren’t going have the necessary mass and durability to derail it.

We can tie them to trolley tracks

I've given this some thought, and for me, the correct option is to pull the lever halfway and let the trolley crash and derail. It's going to be a gamble, but it offers better survival rate than 100% chance of killing someone.

orp #22 · Feb 14th, 2022 · · 2 ·

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The actual utility of the problem is to stop your young and naive students from hand-waiving hard questions away and make them actually think for once in their lives, lol.

look there is a trivial solution to the trolley problem, do nothing, then back the train up and run over the other party

assume a perfect frictionless sphere in a vacuum

The correct answer is to drag the one over to the other five so can eliminate any pony dumb enough to get tied to the tracks


tell them to philosophy teachers maybe they will listen to you :trollestia:

god I forgot how good red-death was

I'd say that its greatest use is in demonstrating the difference between what people think is morally correct and how they'll actually act given the opportunity.

Of course, a lot of people refuse to accept the obvious conclusion, and contrive moral systems to justify to themselves that their selfish action would somehow be the morally correct one.

derailing and thus squishing all parties involved plus yourself is the optimal thing to do, nobody will be grieving

Or, possibly, convince them you're full of bullshit for coming up with contrived, overused crap like that when there are real-life moral dilemmas to deal with.

it also demonstrates the difference between schools of philosophy, like in the classical problem, holding all parties being of equal worth, the utilitarian answer would always be kill the one to save the many

My favorite Lunaism: "Also, you could have just lied. You know, to not sound like a tool."

Anyway, it's obvious that the correct answer to the trolley problem is not a yes or no, but a manifold surface embedded in a high dimensional space. The manifold is largely continuous, but possesses an infinite number of discontinuities.

Glad you appreciated that. Luna always brings out the fun advice.
Personally, I've never been big on philosophy, but the trolley problem is so widely know that it's interesting to see how everyone reacts to it. Because almost nobody immediately makes a binary choice, they always ask if there's a way to save everyone, even if they're not given the option.

So you're not pulling the lever then? :P
True. It's not right to let five people die, but it's also not "right" to kill one person to save five. It's more about picking the option that isn't as horrible.

Lol I get that, it is easy to just assume you'd never need to think about it and ignore the problem, but it does have plenty of real life parallels to squabble over, even if they're not quite as binary as pulling a lever or not.
Thanks, glad you liked it!
"Assume you have exactly enough time to make a decision and pull the lever, but not enough time to circumvent the problem entirely."
Not going to pretend I completely understand your explanation, but thanks for the factoid. I was mostly just trying to use the mass increasing to poke fun at the ridiculousness of a trolley moving at infinite speeds.


The entire problem with real moral dilemmas is that they are real. People tend to feel strongly about them and react in knee-jerky ways instead of approaching them rationally.


I would like to apologize if any of part of this came off as blunt, rude or forceful. I tend to come off as those at times and please know that I did not mean to hurt or offend.

I don't think you need to apologize. You took the time to essentially give me a well-constructed grammar lesson, and I doubt you would've just to be a jerk.

I've actually never learned about action versus said tags, and it's definitely something that will be helpful in the future (somehow writing actual dialogue was never something that came up in English class). For this story, I'll probably go back and do a bit of editing once I get the chance.

I admit I wasn't sold until the end.

The disclaimer was here because I’ve had someone tell me I was forceful in my comment. Only once, though. And thank you!

...somehow writing actual dialogue was never something that came up in English class...

That’s because dialogue is mostly found in fiction and not the factual essays we were tasked with. But I agree. Dialogue punctuation is not easy and should’ve been taught. Oh, well.

For more information, check out Ezn’s section on dialogue.

I think you're good, most of the time it's easy to differentiate between helpful and "helpful".


What I'm saying is that if the trolley problem is an experiment to determine a piece of information regarding one's personal morals, then it is equivalent to detecting a single photon from an image. Or maybe finding the differential at one point of an equation with hundreds of terms.

It's like the prisoners dilemma in game theory or mendel's peas punnett square. An absolutely minimal first example that serves to introduce a concept.

My problem with the trolley problem is when people do start treating it more like a legitimate problem.

IE, a variant on it always comes up with the question of how to program driving AI. And when you have a situation like that, programmers should not be thinking like philosophical theory overrides the reality of a multitude of options!

Thought experiments are all well and good. But don't let them dictate your reality - or dictate how you interpret reality (lookin' at you "lab coat experiment!" )

An awkward silence fell over the room.

“I mean, aw shucks, ah sure love apples.”

Instant upvote.

Oh no, where's Chidi Anagonye when you need him?! Wait, does that mean Equestria is really the Bad Place?

The problem has been set by a sadistic researcher.

Shoot the researcher, save the volunteers.:trixieshiftright:

As for Spike. If the train can even hurt him before the ropes or rails break, then its definitely time to Rip N Tear.
Ask the researcher. How many cats have you kicked today?:flutterrage:

The story was delightfully funny, and brought a smile to my face! Thank you for writing this!

the group could see Pinkie Pie, also tied up, waving at them enthusiastically, and with a big grin on her face.


Funnily enough, an incident that closely resembles the trolley problem occurred in 2003, when Union Pacific dispatchers had the choice of routing a runaway goods train through densely populated neighbourhoods or directly into the path of an oncoming passenger train. They selected the first option on the grounds that any potential casualties would be lower than the wreck that would almost certainly result from the second option.

As it was, only 13 people were injured: no deaths!

Howdy, hi!

Okay, so confession, the trolley problem is annoying, but this at least was entertaining. A goofy comedy and a fun read. I also particularly enjoyed this line which had me cackling:

“It was more socially acceptable at the time.”

Anyways, thanks for the read!

The very fact that the identity of the people (or rather, ponies) is known beforehand changes the Trolley Problem entirely. Normally, a utilitarian view would give sacrificing the one to be the "correct" choice because all six people are unknown and thus are assumed to have equal value. However, this changes completely when you know who is at stake. In terms of pure Utilitarianism, people do not all have the same value, to the point that one person could easily have more value than five, or five thousand, or (in fictional universes) five million or more. If you were in the middle of World War II and you had to either kill Roosevelt or five randomly chosen allied soldiers, Utilitarianism would say to kill the five.

In this case, Pinkie Pie is one of the six mares that had been essential to saving the world from ruination many times, making her incredibly more valuable than the vast majority of the population. Saving the five won't help much if they (and countless others) are killed next week because Pinkie Pie was essential to saving the world from some horrible cataclysm, but couldn't do so because she was dead.

It's a useful shorthand, and the more precise truth doesn't actually change Starlight's statement since a non-massless object that (somehow) got accelerated to infinite speed would have infinite kinetic energy, so the planet is gone either way.

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