### September 2007

If you sho0t a bullet from a hunting rifle, barrel parallel to the Earth’s surface and dropped a bullet at the same time from the same height, which bullet hits the ground first? Phrased more specifically, assuming negligible air resistance and, for the range of the bullet, the Earth below doesn’t curve significantly, and assuming the hunting rifle isn’t powerful enough to put the bullet into orbit, and assuming there are no hills or valleys in the bullet’s path, if you shot a bullet from a hunting rifle, barrel parallel to the Earth’s surface and dropped a bullet at the same time from the same height, which bullet would hit the ground first?

Given those assumptions, the fired and dropped bullets HIT THE GROUND AT THE SAME TIME, because “according to Galileo’s Law, all objects near the Earth’s surface fall with the same constant acceleration, 9.8 meters per second per second (32 feet per second per second), regardless of the object’s weight. Furthermore, horizontal motions and vertical motions are independent: gravity acts only upon an object’s vertical velocity, not upon its velocity in the horizontal direction. ” This is often shown in college intro physics classes with the Monkey and the Hunter experiment.
srcs: http://www.physclips.unsw.edu.au/jw/monkey_hunter.html http://van.physics.uiuc.edu/qa/listing.php?id=187

A rotational “ambigram / inversion”*, is a word coined by Douglas Hofstadter, to mean a word or phrase written in such a way that it can be rotated 180 degrees to read as the same text. Hofstadter described it as “calligraphic design that manages to squeeze two different readings into the selfsame set of curves.” The word image at the above right, for example, will read “rachel” from two vantage points. Try printing it out and spinning the paper. It’s quite the amusement. Wondering if your name is ambigramable? I found ambigrams for christopher, michael, matthew, ashley and others. A little google image searching should help there.

* from Latin ambi- “on both sides” and -gram “drawing”

pic src: ambigram.net

Recently, I reviewed Julian Baggini’s book The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten. Have you gone out and bought it yet? If not, here are a few more moral dilemma tidbits from that book to entice you:

• “‘Waste not, want not,’ was Delia’s motto. She has a great respect for the thriftiness of her parents’ generation, people who have lived through the war and most of their lives with relatively little. She had learned a lot from them, skills virtually no one her age had, such as how to skin a rabbit and make tasty, simple dishes from offal. So when she heard a scream of breaks one day outside her suburban semi in Hounslow, and went outside to find that Tiddles, the family cat, had been struck by a car, her first thoughts were not just of regret and sadness, but practicalities. The feline had been bashed but not run over. In effect, it was a lump of meat just waiting to be eaten.” Why are some animals like cats and dogs just wrong to eat? (#57)
• How much free speech should people have? Do people have the right to say *anything* they want? How do you define hate speech? (#33)
• How is marriage like the Prisoner’s Dilemma? (#44)
• Can you be truly moral and still have complete faith in God? What if God asks you to do something immoral? (Like commanding Abraham to kill his son?) (#58)
• Why do we dislike forgeries? If someone could reproduce a famous paining so that it was indistinguishable from the original, shouldn’t it be valued the same? (#66)
• It’s said that how you’d act if you were invisible reveals your true moral nature. Is that fair? (#75)
• It is a good idea for everyone to maintain a minimal commitment to God, just in case? (#78)
• A train is racing down the tracks where you stand at a junction. Down one lane, in a narrow tunnel, are 40 men repairing a section of track. Down a secondary track is your deaf son playing. If you do nothing, the train will shoot down the first track, into the tunnel, and kill the 40 men. If you move a lever, the train will change direction and proceed down the other and run over your son. Your decision is to kill your son, or to let 40 people die. What do you do? (#89)
• You are a doctor working the late shift alone. At 1 am the life support alarm sounds for Jon, an autistic child in room 1. You rise from your chair and grab your emergency gear just as a second support alarm goes off for a prominent scientist at the other end of the hallway. You’ll only be able to save one of the patients. Who do you choose? Would it matter if one of them was your brother? The president? The Pope? (#96)

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Julian Baggini’s latest book, The pig that wants to be eaten, brings together classic thought experiments alongside an ample dose of new dilemmas (several of which I’ve blogged about recently.) In the spirit of full disclosure, Julian is a godless, marginally homophilic, pro-abortion, far-left-leaning, pinko liberal. He’s the type of person that appears on NPR daily. He is also a very good writer and is wickedly clever. He happens to be British, so if you can manage to overlook his talk of “maths”, “queuing up” and “programmes,” you’ll find an abundance of bite-sized, thought provoking moral scenarios, several of which should send your head spinning.

Julian’s dilemmas make great deep conversation starters, so as the temperatures plummet sending us all indoors, grab a few friends, this book and a canister of Stephens Gourmet hot chocolate and let the debates begin!

I’ve lived in Utah for over ten years, and yet I had never been to the state fair until this week. It was a lot fun. Enjoy the pictures!

Utah State Fair 2007
Click the image for the complete gallery

Most people probably believe that torture should not be a tool in an interrogator’s toolbox. Even when dealing with terrorists, if we stoop to their level of depravity, it’s argued, are we any better than they are? Plus, what kind of actionable intelligence are you likely to get from someone who is being tortured? They’ll likely say anything for the torture to stop.

On the other hand, when the situation’s context is brought closer to home, the decision to ban all torture, all the time, is less certain. If a man has kidnapped your young daughter and left her in a wooden box buried in the desert with little food or water, you might be tempted to beat up that man in the hopes that he’ll give up the location. How far would you go to extract the information? Julian Baggini gives this version of the torture thought experiment:

Hadi’s captives looked resolute, but he was sure he could break them, as long as he followed through on his threat. The father, Brad, was the real villain. It was he who had planted the huge bomb that he promised would kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians. Only he knew where the bomb was, and he wasn’t telling. [Brad's son], Wesley, had nothing to do with it. But Hadi’s intelligence told him that, though Brad would not break under torture, he almost certainly would if he were to see his son tortured in front of him. Not immediately, but soon enough. … If [Hadi] didn’t order the torture, would he be condemning people to death, just because of his own squeamishness and lack of moral courage?

How about you; would you order the torture?
[poll=8]

Because of all the IM chats and emails and chatter over yesterday’s moral dilemma thought experiment, I’ve decided to post another one from the yet to be reviewed book*:

[A corrupt, yet never convicted businessman arranges a meeting with the Prime Minister of England and says,] ‘many people don’t like me and don’t respect the way I run my affairs. … my reputation means I’ll never be honored by my country. … I’m prepared to give 10 million pounds to help provide clean water for hundreds of thousands of people in Africa, if you can guarantee that I’ll be knighted’ … The Prime Minister knew this was a kind of bribe, but could it really be so wrong to sell one of his country’s highest honors when the reward would be so obviously for the good?

Or, framed differently, is it morally acceptable for a woman engage in obscene/morally degenerate behavior (e.g. to be a stripper or a prostitute) in order to pay her way through college? It is wrong to embezzle money to pay for your child’s education? Under what circumstances do ends justify the means? When is it justifiable to break laws?

* ref: Julian Baggini

The armchair philosopher and RBDN fan would likely have already discovered and enjoyed the Ethical Dilemmas in the RBDN fun section. Recently I stumbled across another problematic ethical thought experiment while reading an intriguing book (which book I’ll review soon.) Here’s how it went:

[A low-ranking soldier] had been ordered to first rape and then murder the prisoner, whom he knew to be no more than an innocent civilian from the wrong ethnic background. There was no doubt in his mind that this would be a gross injustice– a war crime, in fact. Yet quickly thinking it over he felt he had no choice but to go ahead. If he obeyed the order, he could make the ordeal as bearable as possible for the victim, making sure she suffered no more than was necessary. If he did not obey the order, he himself would be shot and the prisoner would still be violated and killed, but probably more violently. It was better for everyone if he went ahead.

What choice should the soldier make? (Which choice is the more moral?) It’s tempting to expand the thought experiment to allow for a third option: simply shooting the prisoner and them himself. That’s simply avoiding the question. “The whole point of fixing the dilemma this way is to force us to confront the moral problem head on, not think our way around it.”*

What would you do?

* ref: Julian Baggini

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center towers came smashing down after two hijacked airliners crashed into them. 2,974 people perished in that twisted steel and shattered glass holocaust. I visited Ground Zero not too long thereafter where I saw firsthand the dark, gaping hole where that pair of majestic towers once stood. I will never forget my profound sadness as I read the sorrowful cards and letters and signs, many from children, posted in memorial on a nearby fence.

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