Caveat: Real Life Trolley Problems

“Trolley problems” are philosophical conundrums dealing with complicated ethical decisions.

But today Arthur and I had a real-life trolley problem. We were going to launch the boat. The boat launches on a little “trolley” that runs out some rails into the water from the boatshed. But there was some problem with the trolley. A piece broke off: “Snap!” and the trolley lurched 10 inches downhill. It was a bit scary.

Here is the broken piece.


It turned out one of the chocks that is wedged under the trolley wheels to ensure it stays in place when it’s parked in the boatshed hadn’t been pulled out. So the trolley tried to go over the chock and the guide-piece snapped off.

I see this as the type of hazard that arises due to Arthur’s continued refusal to write down any of the numerous procedural checklists he’s long been accustomed to carrying in his head. I try to write down these checklists based on observation and continued questioning in the vein of “what are you doing now?” … but these lists are still going to have holes in them – because I don’t have any past experience with so many of the things Arthur does.

A smaller example: it’s like the the struggle I have every time I watch Arthur trying to tie a knot in string or rope – I am not a knot person, I have always been poor with knots and I have always deferred to others when knots needed to be tied. Arthur, on the other hand, has always been very good at knots. But now, with his processing deficits (especially 3-D processing deficits), he very visibly struggles with tying knots that in his past were essentially so easy as to not require conscious thought. He will stand and study the rope in question, and simply not be able to know what to do with it. It’s painful, but it’s doubly painful because I have zero idea what his objective is – what kind of knot is he hoping to tie with his rope? I don’t have a clue.

Likewise with his checklists. And he rarely makes any effort to verbalize them. So I’m stranded, unsure what he’s trying to do and unsure how to help. Supposedly, I’m a “safety officer,” but without a program as to what’s next, it’s hard to know what I need to watch out for.

One Comment

  1. David

    I quote: “it’s hard to know what I need to watch out for.”

    How about signs of imminent danger that could bring severe injury or death? 😉

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