“Most people would rather die than think and many do.”
Ever since the ancient Greeks refused to do any work and sat around discussing where we came from to modern times, where the Brain asked his e’er unanswered question, “Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?“, mankind (and apparently, mousekind) has pondered the vicissitudes of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? How come the “Snuggie” exists?
These are the questions that have plagued us since the beginning. After centuries of pondering these conundrums and after multiple methods of experimentation, someone invented something called a thought experiment, defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.”
I was first introduced to thought experiments through Farnham Street, a regular blog that encourages people to think outside their normal thought processes. (There is a clear line to the MBA here, as the author regularly references Charlie Munger, a student of multiple disciplines and long-time business partner of Warren Buffet.) It was this blog that also introduced me to the book, The Pig That Wants to be Eaten by Julian Baggini.
Aptly subtitled “100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher”, Baggini’s book explores unique moral and ethical questions, some of which are so bizarre that one fully expects Rod Serling to appear at any moment. The experiments are brief, about a page in length each, and allow for rumination or discussion (try reading one at the dinner table…mostly blank stares) Each thought experiment is then followed up by Baggini’s input and opinion. (Baggini is the co-founder of the Philosopher’s Magazine, so he has plenty of input to offer.)
Some of the experiments are based in the classics, like Racing Tortoises, which is based on Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. In this experiment, the basic principles of physics are on trial. How is it possible that Achilles could lose a foot race to a tortoise? Do we apply logic and the immutable laws of physics or rely on experiences and fanciful notion of what could be?
Other experiments are based on more recent ideas, such as The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, which is loosely based on Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Here the thought is: is it morally wrong to eat meat and, if so, if there was a genetically modified animal that wanted to be eaten, is it still wrong to eat it? If we refuse to eat it, we are denying the pig’s sole desire in life. Is it wrong to deprive him/her of that? (I’m sure PETA would have an opinion on this question!)
There is also a throwback to Star Trek in Beam Me Up… where a lawsuit is pending against a company that builds transporters. The lawsuit claims that a person is not actually transported but is killed in the process and a clone arrives at the destination in their place. This experiment explores the fact that a person’s mind and soul are continuous and more important than their bodies and the body is merely a container. That being said, if a person’s body is entirely irrelevant and only the continuation of soul and mind are important, can murder exist?
Baggini references The Matrix [I am a Brain] and Minority Report [Pre-emptive Justice] and touches on current subjects like terrorism [The Torture Option] and war [No One Wins]. The book is not difficult to read and provides entertaining and thought-provoking questions and encourages the reader to adopt a unique perspective. Also, because of the layout, the book does not need to be read cover to cover. It can be picked up when convenient as each experiment stands on its own. If you are new to philosophy or just want some short, entertaining experiments to work through, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten may be a good place to start.
“Imagination without reason is mere fancy, while reason without imagination is sterile.”
Scott Coghill MBA(FS) 2016, Senior Manager, Commercial Banking and Real Estate at National Bank of Canada, delivers innovative financing and investment solutions for growing businesses. Working with the Specialized Lending Sector, Scott is responsible for the maintenance, growth and development of the Commercial Real Estate sector in Southwestern Ontario. Scott has graciously agreed to be a repeat contributor on CFAME Connection.