Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bus Stop Thought Experiment

The bus that takes me to class is almost always late, and the other morning, it gave me some time to think. I started creating this scenario in my head, which I suppose turned into the following thought experiment:

A wizard casts a curse on all of mankind.

The curse will absorb something like 7 billion hours of life collectively from the people affected by the curse every year on a set date. Since there are close to 7 billion people on Earth, the curse would ideally absorb only about an hour of life from each person annually, which isn't very noticeable.

Here is the kicker--each individual gets to make a decision every year to accept the curse or not. If an individual does not accept the curse, it will not affect them in any way. The curse will only affect people who accept it; however, as less people accept the curse, the 7 billion hours is spread out over a smaller number of people.

For example, if 80% of the population chooses not to accept the curse, then the 1.4 billion people who did will share the 7 billion hour burden, which is roughly five hours of life for each person that year.

To ensure that his curse would plague mankind for as long as possible, the wizard included another special rule in his curse: if there is ever a year where NO people accept the curse, all of humanity will die.

At this point, I started to make theories about how society would deal with something like this.

Would it become something like a "civic duty" to accept the curse to spread the burden to reduce its effect? There would always be people who would not accept the curse for their own reasons. One reasoning could be that it seems pointless for any given individual accept the curse and receive the burden when it is highly likely that other people are going to accept it to prevent humankind from dying. Another rationale would be that an individual accepting the curse is only going to relieve the burden from the collective by tiny, tiny fractions of a second, while the personal cost would be measured in hours. It's a very small collective benefit for a larger personal sacrifice.

Another thought I had was how making each individuals decision known/unknown to the public would change things. If it were known, perhaps governments would require citizens to accept the curse and punish those who didn't. Perhaps governments would force certain individuals to accept the curse and all others to deny it as a form of useful execution. By spreading the curse to only a handful of individuals, they would each lose millions of hours, which would age them to the point of death.

I thought about it for a while before adding in another rule: if there is ever a year where only a SINGLE person accepts the curse (thus sacrificing themselves), and ALL OTHERS deny it, the curse would be lifted.

How would you organize that? Could you get 7 billion people to trust a single person with ALL of their lives? Could you ensure that a second person wouldn't panic or intentionally sabotage the effort?