Here’s a thought experiment to pique your brain cells, but before we get started, let me pen down some back story and ground rules.

The Premise

Often, we’re left with choosing between a rock and a hard place. With just two options (ignoring the false dilemma), neither of which is acceptable, it becomes extremely hard to make a decision.

However, if we’re forced to pick just one option out of the two, which one do we go with? What’s the rational choice? How do we come to a sane conclusion?

Indian politics is filled with such choices. With no party ready to accept secularism (especially secular humanism), we’re left with selectively communal parties (also called pseudo-secular) like the Indian National Congress and its allies, or the outright communal parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.

There are other options out there, but their presence is not significant enough across the nation. Hence, I’ve chosen to accept the false dilemma for the time being.

This thought experiment can be later expanded to include these other options too.

The Thought Experiment

Assume that you’re a railway engineer stuck in a long tunnel. The tunnel has just enough space for two train tracks. Both the tracks have trains approaching towards you. The direction of their approach doesn’t really matter because they’ll be passing through your position at the same time.

Let’s also assume that you have all the items necessary to warn the approaching trains of your position.

As a railway engineer, you know which train travels on which track.

  1. On one track is a train (let’s call it Train-1) which won’t stop even it sees you up ahead on its tracks. The driver of Train-1 just doesn’t care. In fact, Driver-1 is ideologically driven to run the train over you.
  2. The driver of Train-2 may or may not stop the train if you’re seen up ahead on its tracks. Driver-2 is not ideologically driven to run the train over you, but if it serves the greater purpose (e.g. reaching its destination on time), then Driver-2 will not bring the train to a halt.

Both the train drivers have ample time to stop the train and save your life once they’ve spotted you.

Knowing all of the information that is given above, which track will you choose to be on? And why?

The Decision

The rational choice is to be on Track-2 (assuming you want to live).

Even if you’re not sure of the outcome, you can feel safe knowing that Driver-2 may stop the train. The keyword here is “may,” a hopeful probability.

It’s not a happy thought, especially when your life is on the line (pun intended), but it’s any day better than being on Track-1.

The Role of Perception

In the example given above, it’s assumed that you know certain details about both the train drivers. This is your unique perception about the situation, and it helps you immensely in making the decision. Without this self-assuring perception, you might as well toss a coin.

If your perception about the train drivers is reversed (due to any factor(s)), it would be rational to choose to be on Track-1.

We’re not concerned with the end result here; your role in making the decision is what matters.

If you think that your individuality (beliefs, ideology, characteristics, etc.) matches with that of Driver-1, and Driver-1 recognizes this (naturally or through some innovative warning sign), it would be wise to choose to stay on Track-1 and hope for the best.

Expanding the Thought Experiment

What if there’s a third track in the tunnel?

Again, to make the thought experiment legit, we’ll have to assume that there’s a train headed your way on Track-3 too (and yes, at the same time as it is on the other tracks).

If you think Driver-3 will definitely stop the train once you’re spotted, you’re in luck. It’s easy to make a decision now.

However, what if Driver-3 is almost like Driver-2, but with a different set of ideologies? Which track will you choose to be on then?

The decision becomes even harder now. After all, your life is on the lines here.

Going Further

What if there’s Track-4, Track-5, and so on?

What if there are other people with you? They might influence your decision (or you theirs).

What if there are other people on the trains influencing the drivers’ respective decisions?

What if one of the drivers stops the train, but only to take you to a worse off destination?

This thought experiment keeps getting murkier as you play around with its variables.

Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? Maybe, but you’ll have to assume that there’s an end to this tunnel.

Happy thinking.

Salman Ravoof

Salman Ravoof

Eccentric, mildly sarcastic, and very straight forward. A geek at heart. Adventure, science, and intelligence excite him. Likes to keep rummaging through random topics in his free time. Always ready to learn, except when he's hungry.Connect with him on Google+, Facebook and Twitter