The Trolley problem, first set by philosopher Philippa Foot, in the late 1960s, goes something like this: you are driving a trolley, and tied to the rail track ahead of you are five people who will die on impact. However, by pulling a lever, you can divert the trolley to another track where an unsuspecting man is working. What do you do? Would you do nothing and send those five people to certain death, or would you pull that lever and decide to take the life of an innocent man? Various versions of this problem have been developed over the years, each with their own peculiar emphasis, but, ultimately, the core of this thought experiment remains the same.
I’d like to propose another, more mundane problem, but one of extreme relevance during these rainy days: The Brolly Problem. It may seem trivial, but it’s a source of much grief among patrons all over the world. The problem may be summarised as follows:
You have gone out to eat and you haven’t taken an umbrella with you, when, just before leaving, you realise a heavy rain has set in. Do you:
a) steal the nearest one to the exit;
b) steal the cheapest one;
c) steal the most expensive one; or
d) steal the one that is most common;
Each has its own merits because if you choose:
a) you are less exposed taking the one closer to the exit;
b) you feel less guilty about stealing something cheap rather than something expensive;
c) you reason that whoever owns an expensive umbrella may easily afford to replace it; and
d) by taking the most common umbrella in the rack, the likelihood of getting caught is minimal.
Although the trolley problem is a serious thought experiment and the brolly problem everything but, they both deal with logic, probability, and, ultimately, guilt.
I am not in the habit of stealing umbrellas any more than I am in the habit of killing people on rail tracks. However, I have had my umbrella stolen on several occasions, and I have contemplated murdering the culprit on each occasion. However, I have finally learned my lesson, and I am now the proud owner of the most hideously garish umbrella you can think of.