Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Economist as Science Fiction writer

Tom Schelling repeatedly surprises you.

From his essay Self-command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice

A second experiment: some anesthetics block transmission of the nervous impulses that constitute pain; others have the characteristic that the patient responds to the pain as if feeling it fully but has utterly no recollection afterwards. One of these is sodium pentothal. In my imaginary experiment, we wish to distinguish the effects of the drug from the effects of the unremembered pain, and we want a healthy control subject in parallel with some painful operations that will be performed with the help of this drug. For a handsome fee you will be knocked out for an hour or two, allowed to sleep it off, then tested before you go home. You do this regularly, and one afternoon you walk into the lab early and find the experimenters viewing some videotape. On the screen is an experimental subject writhing, and though the audio is turned down the shrieks are unmistakably those of a person in pain. When the pain stops the victim pleads, "Don't ever do that again. Please."
The person is you.
Do you care?
Do you walk into your booth, lie on the couch, and hold out your arm for today's injection?
Should I let you?

Worthy of Philip K. Dick.

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