Monday, January 29, 2007

The problem with Emotions

Lets start this with a small mental exercise.

There is this place where there are 2 parallel railway tracks. One track is old and isn't used anymore while another one is live and in use. There are 10 children playing on the live track. At the same time, a single child is playing all alone on the dead track. At this moment, a train is approaching on the live track putting the lives on the children on the live track in grave danger. Far from this place, you see this happening on your monitoring screen. The only control you have is the ability to switch the track temporarily so that the train goes on the dead track instead of the live one. Which would mean putting life of that single child into danger.
What will you do? Make up your mind before reading any further.

A majority of us would switch the tracks to save those 10 children at the expense of that single child. It seems right from the humanitarian perspective, saving as many lives as you can. If you did the same, read on to see this from a different perspective.

Why was that single child playing all alone on the dead track. Probably because he knew that the live track is dangerous. Who was doing the right thing by playing on the safe track? The single child. Who did the wrong thing? The 10 children by putting their own lives in danger by playing on the live track. And in your judgement, who gets punished? The one who was doing the right thing.
Second point - the 10 boys knew that they are on the dangerous track so they might flee on hearing the train noise etc. However, the single child, knowing that he is on the safe track will almost certainly not move and hence is in a much bigger risk.

So what is the moral of your judgement - Follow the crowd, Don't use your own brains to understand what is right.

Sadly, similar is the state of affairs in India. Decisions are not taken on what is right or what is better for development. Instead, its based on what would make maximum people happy. And while it is most fruitful if the general happiness of the people aligns with development of country , it is not always possible to do that, particularly in a country this huge.
Short term efforts are made just before the elections to make general people happy and gather the votes, while long term planning with no immediate benefits are left out.

In democracy, heads are counted, not brains.


  1. Hi Sanjay,

    Excellent post - really brought out the idea with a very valid example. And i totally agree with the conclusion - its all a "numbers" game.

  2. Sanjay!

    A great post. Really a thoughtful one.......


  3. well said nd exemplified nd also intrlinked with our democracy.......just one question wat is the food for ur thought....... bhaiya

  4. Wo na aye unki yad aakar wafa kar gai.Unse milne ki tamanna tabha kar gai.
    Aahat hui socha asar `dua kar kar gai.Darvaja khola to dekha mazak humse hawa kar gaye.

  5. Hey Sanjay,
    Really a great post.


  6. Hey badrish,
    welcome to my blog ... long time man :-)

  7. That is precisely the source of my ambivalence towards Capitalism. The market would eventually allocate resources most efficiently, but what if most efficient is not the best?

  8. Sanjay, after reading this post a second time, I am all the more impressed by it. Adding this post to the list of "outstanding articles" on my blog. Its the least I can do for a post which merits such respect!

  9. My though is to allow the train to run on the new track because, the old track�s condition is not known and that might put a lot of passengers� lives in risk.


  10. This is awesome !!

    An excellent post.....

    Write more like this...