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<   No. 3910   2019-01-17   >

Comic #3910

1 Simon: Bonnie! Your choice is clear! Five lives are worth more than one! Push the trolley into me to save them!
2 Bonnie: But I'd be actively killing you, as opposed to allowing deaths to occur through inaction!
3 Jane Goodall: If only Steve were here.
3 Terry: Yes. He'd know what to do.
4 Jane Goodall: I was thinking we could shove him in front of the trolley.

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This sequence of comics is clearly an extended paean to Talking is a Free Action.

EDIT: The real lifeTM Simon Beard writes:

I can see no creative license whatsoever in today's strip. Maybe I am mistaken about this, but it seems pretty obvious to me that at the point at which me and Bonnie are having this conversation the tea trolley must be travelling very slowly.

I come to this conclusion from the simple observation that in order to pose a serious threat of death to 5 people who are all the other side of what look to be pretty solid oak tables then it must be expected to be travelling very fast at the point of impact. I don't know much about these things, but I am guessing it would need to hit them all at at least 40 metres per second, probably higher. Assuming that there are 10 metres between where the tea trolley started and where the physicists are sitting that would take it 0.25 seconds.

Now it appears to me to be utterly implausible that the tea trolley could have been travelling this fast at the point at which it started its journey, because even the strongest charlady can't push that hard, so it has to have been accelerating through its journey for some reason (I don't think we need to specify why at this point, this is all happening in a physics lab so there are presumably some pretty weird things going on). Assuming a standing start and even acceleration (and taking into account my lack of mathematical ability) the trolley's journey would now take 0.5 seconds meaning an acceleration of 80 ms-2.

I don't know how heavy a tea trolley is really, but if it is to do so much damage let's say that this one is on the large side, how about 200 kg? That would mean that the trolley is being propelled forward by a constant force of 16000 newtons. Rather appropriately, according to this page, that is about as much force as that exerted by the bite of a saltwater crocodile, and I think we can be pretty confident that your standard issue Cambridge University tea trolley would not withstand such forces intact, so we can be pretty sure that the trolley is not accelerating at an even rate.

Here alas is where my physics breaks down, but my suspicion is that whatever is propelling this tea trolley forward must be applying increasing levels of force to it quite gradually so that the trolley is accelerating at an increasing rate throughout its journey. This will ensure that the structural integrity of the trolley will not be compromised until very late in its journey, by which time all the parts of the trolley will be moving fast enough that its disintegration isn't going to greatly reduces its destructive capability (indeed it is probably the only reason why the trolley can inflict lethal damage to five people who are sitting next to each other and covering an area at least twice as large as that of the trolley itself). Indeed I suspect that everybody would be most worried about the trolley if it was not only accelerating at an increasing rate, but if the rate of change of its acceleration was itself increasing throughout the journey. However if that is so then the trolley is going to travel relatively slowly for almost all of its journey and will thus take several seconds to reach its destination, giving us time to have this conversation and to take evasive action, including correcting Jane about which ethical dilemma is the most appropriate for understanding and responding to cases like this.

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