"You Choose, You Lose"

You notice five children playing on some railroad tracks. Absorbed in their play, the don’t notice the train coming down the track towards them. But luckily, the track forks before them and you are standing right at the switch. By merely pressing the button you can divert the train and thereby spare the children. But then you notice that down the other tracks is a single child playing alone. To do nothing is to allow the train to kill the five children on the first track; to press the button is to save those five but send the solitary child to her destiny. What should you do?

To many people it’s as obvious as it is unpleasant that you must press the button: the right thing to do is to kill the one in order to save the many.

But now consider a different scenario. You are a doctor in a pediatric emergency ward. Five children are about to die from different failing organs: heart, kidney, lung, etc. You notice that outside, playing in the hospital playground, is a single healthy child playing alone. You happen to know that she has the same blood type as all the dying children. Technology has improved so much that it would relatively simple matter to snatch the playground child, harvest her organs, and transplant them into respective dying children, thereby saving them all. For yo to do nothing is to allow the five children to die; to give the word is to save those five but send the solitary child to her destiny. What should you do?

To many people it’s now an unpleasant as it it is obvious that you must not press the button: the right thing to is to spare the one and kill the many.

But the two situation seem fundamentally analogous. So are people’s moral beliefs deeply confused here? Or is it that morality itself, perhaps, is confused - that whichever way you choose, you lose?

- Andrew Pessin 

"Can Jesus make a Burrito so Hot He Couldn’t eat it?"

Even the cartoon character Homer Simpson (who posed the question) has a philosopher within. And though he is not exactly the paradigm of reference, the question is a real one for any philosophically reverent person. For one of the first properties that believers ascribe to God is the He is omnipotent or all-powerful, which means at least that there is or could be nothing God cannon do. And here is where Homer’s question fits in - or at least a somewhat more reverent version thereof: 

Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannon lift it?

There are only two possible answers here: yes or no.

Suppose, first, we say no. But then there is something that God cannot do: create such a stone. And if there’s something He cannon do then He is not omnipotent after all.

So suppose we say yes. If God can create such a stone then there could exist a stone so heavy God could not lift it. But then there could be something God cannot do, namely life that stone. And if there could be something God cannot do, then again He is not omnipotent after all.

Some try to avoid this conclusion by insisting that God simply never will make the stone, so there never will actually exist the thing He cannon to. But this doesn’t work. To be omnipotent, its not enough that there happens to be nothing He cannon do. Rather, there could not even possibly be something He cannot do. And if He can create that stone - even if He doesn’t - then there could be something He cannot do, namely lift it.

Since yes and no are the only possible answers and each leads to the same conclusion, then either way there is no omnipotent being. So if God is supposed to be omnipotent it follows that there is no God.

That’s some powerful burrito!

- Andrew Pessin

"Mental Billiards"

Nothing is more familiar than the casual interaction between our minds and our bodies. Light travels from this page into your eyes, jiggles your physical brain, and then you have a mental perception, namely the visual experience of this page before you. Or you have some thoughts in your mind about this book - such as “I must tell all my friends about it immediately!” - and then your physical arm starts moving towards the telephone.

How familiar; and how mysterious.

For minds and bodies seem to be very different sorts of entities. For example, physical things ( like our brains ) have spatial properties while mental things do not. And how can there possibly be causal interactions between spatial and non-spatial things?

After all, ordinary physical things exert causal influence by contact or collision. One moving billiard ball collides with a second and sets it in motion. But the mind, not being spatial in nature, could never literally make contact or collide with anything physical. So how exactly can mental events cause physical ones and vise versa? How can brain jiggles cause mental perceptions and mental thoughts cause physical arms to pick up the phone, if literally neither can make contact with the other?

There’s another problem. The brain is a physical object undergoing a sequence of physical events. As far as science can tell, the law of physics govern all physical activities including these. But then the complete causal story about why your arm moves can be told in terms of brain jiggles and muscle contractions. Yes you desire to tell your friends about this book and your arm moves - but what causes your arm to move is your brain jiggling, not your desire! But then what did your mind, your thoughts, have to do with anything? The mind seems unable to cause or do anything  in a world which seems completely explainable by physics.

Quite mysterious

Now about those phone calls?

- Andrew Pessin 

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