Thursday, June 15, 2006

Inside the box

A man is placed inside a metal cube of edge 8 feet.

There are no windows in the cube, no inlet of air of any kind, and the door he came in through has been hermetically sealed from the outside.

The man is completely naked. He is 6 feet tall and weighs 75 kgs.

The only other object in the box with him is a handgun. The gun is loaded and contains 6 bullets.

The walls of the cube are made of reinforced steel. A bullet striking the side of the cube will ricochet. The only thing soft enough to stop a bullet in this entire arrangement is the man's body.

With minimal activity levels, the air in the cube will last the man for upto 4 hours. Beyond that point the man will suffocate due to lack of oxygen.

Under no circumstances can the cube be opened for the next 24 hours. The man inside the cube knows this.

The man has the following options:

a) Take the gun and shoot himself in the head

b) Fire the gun randomly at the sides of the cube and wait to see where the ricochets strike him

c) Put the gun aside and wait patiently to die of suffocation

d) Disable the gun by smashing it against the metal walls and then wait patiently to die of suffocation.

e) Jump around inside the cube thus using up oxygen faster and hastening his death by suffocation. (Option e can be combined with either option c or option d)

Q1. Which of the following should the man choose? Why?

Q2. In your opinion, which is the bravest option of the five?

Q3. Which option would you choose if you were in this situation?

Q4. If you were the person who had put the man inside the cube, would you bother to open the cube after the 24 hours were up? Why / why not?



Anonymous said...

Well, since you did ask questions, here's an answer :) (pardon if I am being too literal)

I think that Option c is the worst. You're stuck in a cube, just waiting to die. I'd rather just put myself out of the misery with option A.

And if I was the guy who put him in the cube, I'd bury it like a time capsule and leave it unopened and watch from heaven ( or hell., actually) as future denizens of earth wonder what the hell its all about and come up with some deep-seated signifcance for it :)

~Just a reader

Jabberwock said...

Why can't he just beat himself to death with the gun? That would be fun AND quick.

venkat said...

I would try to think outside the box.

30in2005 said...

Q1. Choosec. Wait patiently - who knows maybe the guy outside will chnage his mind - no point wasting good air or killing yourself.

Q2. Again c. In that sitaution it would take a lot of courage to wait patiently and resist the temptation of blowing your brains out!

Q3. Hard to say but probably c. I like to think of myself as a very calm person!

Q4. I would never ever be that person but for purposes of fiction lets say I were. I would definitely open the box in 24 hours - just out of curiosity as to how the poor victim ended his life.

Why this strangely morbid exercise?

Falstaff said...

Reader: True (personally, I think option d is the worst, btw - not only do you have to go through the misery of dying slowly, but you don't even have the option of changing your mind when the pain becomes too much). The time capsule idea is interesting.

Jabberwock: I suspect that may not be as easy as it sounds. Besides, it's territory one has already explored:

venkat: :-)

30in2005: Interesting. Though let's say for the sake of the argument, that the person outside can't change their mind - there's some sort of time lock involved and there's no way the cube can be opened even if the person outside really wanted to. Would you still have the same answer?

As for why the morbid exercise - it just felt like that kind of day.

confused said...


No other options available?

I think the best option would be to wait for 4 hours hoping the man would change his mind and if he does not then shoot himself. That would be bravest as well as most practical in my view.

By far d is the worst option.

I think I would open the door after 24 hours. Look, the man probably sees it as an event, otherwise he could have just killed the man with a shot to the head.

If I was him, I would surely want to know how my experiment went.

30in2005 said...

Falstaff: I would still have the same answer if only the person on the outside knew of this devilish incapacity to open the box once locked with a human inside. If I were the guy inside, completely unaware of this fact, I'd still hold out for hope rather than death.

If inside guy knew that the possibility of the box opening were nil, and I were inside guy, I think I'd probably shoot myself directly in the head asap - why prolong hopeless suffering.

Some day, hunh!?

km said...

First of all, this ain't no "whimsy", this is macabre :)

1: IMO, Option C is the only meaningful option. Why miss the wonderful opportunity to sit for 4 hours and examine one's life? ("Don't just do something, sit there" is my motto)

2 & 3: See above.

4: Oh, I'd open it. Just to see the expression on his face.

Heh Heh said...

but of course option b is the best option. It is so much more exciting and gives you insights into the inner geometry of a cube. Besides, if we make the assumption that air resistance does not slow the bullets down and the impact with the steel wall involves no loss of energy (and assuming that the bullet behaves like a point mass), you could actually try predicting the path of the bullet and inserting assorted limbs into the path to see if you are right.

Sony Pony said...

I don't wanna shoot myself. Ew. I'd choose c. and macgyver my way out of the cube. **mission impossible music playing inside my head**

Bravest? *shrug*, not sure.

And yes I would look if I was the killer. I always look.

Falstaff said...

confused: fair enough.

30in2005: ya, it was quite a day

km: wow! procrastination in the face of death. That's truly amazing

heh heh: Thanks. Yet again you restore my faith in my relative sanity.

But I agree - option B is the most interesting. I like it not so much for the scientific fascination of trying to figure out the trajectory (you engineers!) but more because it's the only option that introduces an element of chance into an otherwise bleak situation. It's the only interesting option.

sony pony: hmmm...personally, I'd rather shoot myself than die with the tune to Mission Impossible in my head. :-). Know what you mean about always looking though. That's exactly what I go through every time i cook.

IMe said...

Answer 1: 'Should' and 'choose' kind of make an oxymoron-ish sentence (or question). How a person chooses to die knowing the time left and the methods he can employ to acheive that end, can be subjective.

Answer 2: There are two parts to the question of death, I think. One, regarding the threshold for pain (and probably fear). Second, regarding how long (or short) one can endure the pain or fight the fear of death.

If I were the person who put that guy in the box with a gun, I would consider him brave for choosing option d --- Being so sure (or adamant) in choosing a slow and possibly a painful method and thwarting my other choice would have meant I had an enemy worth the cruelty I can mete out to him. :)

Answer 3 : Personally, I would choose option b of playing Russian Roulette by myself. If I survived after that, I can derive satisfaction of being able to explore both choices. :) If not, well and good! Saving some more time from being delayed in getting to heaven!

Answer 4 : If that person was someone like Hitler (I know he chose his gun that day) or an 'Osama', who have themselves been in my shoes of allowing people to suffocate to death, I would want to know as to what he chose.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

q1: he should choose a. He's going to die, might as well get it over and done with. After taking all the effort to make the metal cube, strip the guy and load the gun it's unlikely the person who put him in there is going to change their mind and let him out later on. SHOOT YOURSELF MAN!

q2: d. after two hours of waiting it out if the guy changes his mind and wants to shoot himself he can't.

q3: please I'd have a heart attack and die the minute someone put me in a metal box with a gun in my hand.

q4: I typed yes then no and then yes and then no. Honestly... I don't know :)

Admit it you didn't write the railway story did you? That was your good twin brother wasn't it?

Falstaff said...

ime: interesting. I'm not sure "should" or "choose" is an oxymoronic question btw - I would argue (it's the point of the post) that the bulk of philosophy / theology is concerned with answering precisely that question - the question of how we should live in the brief time given to us, knowing that death and oblivion is a certainty.

shoe-fiend: No, no, of course I wrote the train story. I'm capable of empathy. You should have seen how much I cried while I was putting this guy in his metal cube. :-).

ime said...

Every theological or philosophical text(atleast what I have read), tells us the means to living an 'ideal' life....but none tells us what the precise end (here, I do not mean the finality of death - rather, a more 'uplifting' goal ) should be . No single text of literature can define a common end that needs to be acheived by every single one of us. Hence, without the 'ideal end' , I think there is no single 'ideal means' of living life - there are many -- each ideal in its own way.

Lives, choices, ends, means -- all are/can be unique. What can make them ideal also, is when they are based on timeless principles of nature like truth, love, integrity, purity etc etc.

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