The Trolley Problem

It hasn’t been an easy month for Simon. On top of having to live with the cast on his arm, which he has been handling stoically, he has also had to deal with the overload of Halloween decor every time he steps outside. Simon hates Halloween. This October, the first October he spent in the US, every little trip to the local ice cream shop or the bakery turned into a trolley problem, as he himself put it. You know, the famous thought experiment in ethics about a trolley on course to hit a number of people (usually five), but you can intervene and divert the trolley to kill just one person on a different track. What would you do? Do nothing, in which case the trolley ends up killing five people, or intervene and become personally responsible for the death of one that one person but saving five? Does it matter who the one person on the second track is?

In Simon’s case, it is about avoiding Halloween decorations. Should he continue on this side of the road and happen to walk past three pumpkins or cross the street and avoid these pumpkins but pass one pumpkin on the opposite side? In the latter scenario, he would be consciously choosing to walk past that pumpkin, which he would never want to do. Besides, it is often not just pumpkins, but giant spiders and moving Frankensteins!

What both Simon and Neva do enjoy, however, are the trees everywhere in our neighborhood. “What do you guys miss the most about Europe?” I asked them, adding that I miss the elegance of the Belgian architecture, the quaint little nooks, the fashion shops and the quiet cobbled squares tucked away behind the grand facades. — “Mom, but that’s old stuff! We like the trees much better!” they answered. It turned out the only things they missed were paprika chips and, possibly, the larger playgrounds and the less rigidly micromanaged swimming pools.

Because of his broken arm, Simon can’t visit even the meager playgrounds available in our area, to say nothing of the swimming pools. In fact, that’s where he broke his arm — at a small playground, balancing on the only creative structure he found in the absence of more advanced and vertically challenging climbing options. Considering the kids like trees so much, we (the parents) decided to go leaf peeping, as they call it here. And, to make it more fun, we planned a trip to an apple orchard, to pick apples.

Simon hated it. I think it triggered his early childhood memories when he was taken on a structured flower picking school trip and had a major meltdown.

We have learned our lesson. We are never going to push Simon to go on trips he isn’t willing to go on again.

Luckily, we haven’t had to plan anything this week, because we’ve got the good old covid 😉

PS. We were reading What If by Randall Munroe, the chapter about Twitter and how many unique meaningful tweets are even possible. As always, we digressed and started talking about ways to imagine large numbers, like 10 to the power of 200. We recalled that the number of elementary particles in the world is probably around 10 to the 83. Simon brought to my attention that 10 to the 183 cubic Planck lengths (Planck volumes) fit into the observable universe. So that means, he continued, that out of every place where a particle could be, only one out of a Googol of them actually contains a particle! He asks not quote him on that, however, because he doesn’t know if his deduction makes any sense. But think about it, the universe is a very empty place. What a joy to have found one another!

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