Would you sacrifice one person to save the lives of five? For many, the answer to this conundrum would be obvious as most would chose to prevent the highest number of casualties. But would your natural instinct remain unchanged if this theory played out in real world circumstances? That’s the question that lies at the center of The Greater Good, the premiere episode from season 2 of the YouTube Red original series Mind Field.
This scenario is based upon the Trolley Problem, a classic theoretical query employed by researchers over many decades. A trolley car barrels towards two split train tracks. Tied to one track are five potential victims while only one person lies tied to the second track. If you controlled the lever, would you chose to continue on the straightforward path and kill five people, or switch tracks to imperil only one? Would fear, guilt and apprehension cause you to freeze? This setup has long been used to evaluate our fundamental moral and ethical instincts.
To place this theoretical dilemma into the realm of real life, the filmmakers concoct an elaborate production featuring a real freight train, hired actors playing distracted railroad workers, and carefully chosen subjects who remain oblivious to the experiment before them.
Another fascinating strand of the documentary’s narrative involves a wider angle view of scientific tests such as these, and their ultimate responsibility to their subjects. The endeavor itself is yet another example of determining the greater good. By indulging in these experiments, are they inflicting irreparable psychological trauma? Is the information they collect worth the risks posed to unwitting participants?
In their quest to discern the difference between “instinct” and “philosophical reflection”, the filmmakers consult an expert in the field of psychology, as well as an institutional review board at Pepperdine University. They receive valuable feedback on how they can launch a successful experiment while limiting potential harm to their subjects.
The Greater Good is riveting, revealing and surprisingly suspenseful.
Directed by: Michael Stevens