You are the pilot of a spaceship.  All systems are failing with no chance for recovery.  You, and all souls aboard, are going to disintegrate in a crash and explosion.  There is no hope for escape or survival.  Everyone will die.

Do you tell the 300 passengers you’re carrying of their impending deaths or not?


  1. David,
    it depends on how long it is to the crash. and i’d start with telling people who i know can handle the news with equanimity.

  2. Dananjay —
    If it’s fifty seconds or fifty hours — what does it matter? Your ship is filled with 300 strangers. How will you determine equanimity?

  3. David,
    i was thinking longer, like days or months. and considering it’s a spaceship there’s a chance to have gotten to know at least a few people for however long we’ve been flying.
    if it’s imminent, i’d tell everyone. but if all 300 passengers were strangers to each other as well, (i’d assume then that everyone was in their own cell and there was no socializing) i wouldn’t bother telling anyone.

  4. Dananjay —
    Right. You’re hauling strangers in the future. We’re using a spaceship to distance ourselves from the immediate and awful airplane incidents we’ve been reading about lately in the news to try to take the discussion into a more philosophical — instead of emotional — realm for examination of values and valuing.
    An hour ago a small plane took off in Las Vegas and crashed into a home. The pilot is dead and so are two people inside the house.

  5. I do wonder where the line between truth and fiction is drawn, Dananjay. We live in eerie times.

  6. Yes, David, as always.
    As long as it isn’t blurred, we’re alright.

  7. I think that’s the problem with the line, Dananjay! It is blurry, and fuzzy and ill-defined and that makes for confusion and chaos!

  8. That’s the challenge isn’t it, David! That’s what makes it interesting.

  9. Right! And the line wiggles and disappears and then reappears in totally different places!

  10. Exactly! And what we do when there’s no line makes all the difference.

  11. With no line we’re in trouble, because the dead become the living and the dying become immortal.

  12. Ah, it seems we’re talking about different things, then!
    I was referring to the line between truth and fiction.

  13. In that case, does the truth refer to the dead and fiction the living?

  14. We can’t know that, Dananjay, because the line is missing, remember? That’s the danger!

  15. The line is there, David, sometimes there just isn’t enough light.

  16. If there’s always a line, Dananjay, then we’ve just wasted the last half hour! SMILE!

  17. it’s a linen thread, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve seen it too.

  18. If the line is there, Dananjay, it isn’t drawn in the same realm for everyone — and if I’m in my truth and you’re in your reality — that doesn’t mean we’re talking about the same thing or even tempting the same line.

  19. I was talking about my truth and your reality, David! 😀
    And on that note, i head off to sleep and hope you have a great day!

  20. Lemme get this straight, Dananjay! You’re asleep while I’m awake — yet we’re both fully aware and having this conversation! We’ve gone mad. Mad, I say!

  21. I wouldn’t tell them, except if I happened to know there were any people who believed in saying certain last rite prayers to prepare for death – I guess they would want it. For everyone else it would be pretty pointless and just make things worse. May as well enjoy the short time you have left on the ship.

  22. That’s interesting analysis, Gordon. How would you ever know which of the 300 strangers wanted to say a final prayer? Would you make an announcement?
    “For those of you who would like to say a prayer before dying, you have 5 minutes — for the rest of you, never mind.”
    I think the greatest risk in saying anything is the panic and the possible mutiny that would surely take place. I don’t even think suggesting something was wrong would have any benefit if there’s really no way out…

  23. I actually would go with a more benign approach. “Would passengers who ordered kosher certified meals, please come to area xyz for evening prayers?” Then lay it on them. They could take it.

  24. Wow! That’s heavy, Gordon.
    What about the non-Jews that might want to say a final prayer. How would you identify them?

  25. Perhaps I would make an additional announcement, stating that there was a sick passenger that requested that passengers pray on his behalf, and that anyone who wished to do that could do it in room xyz. Anyone who would want to pray on behalf of someone can live with the news that they are the ones who will need the prayer the most. Something like that.

  26. Two lies, actually. I’m lying about the evening prayers (there are prayers every night as well as in the morning and afternoon but I have other reasons for calling those passengers) and the lie about the sick passenger – but yes, there is a greater truth being served. Maybe I could consider myself sick for thinking of these lies and therefore make it true! 🙂

  27. Fascinating and thoughtful analysis, Gordon! It’s fascinating how far we’ll bend and stretch in order to properly serve a truth greater than our own narrow reality.

  28. Have you ever heard the joke “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and terrified, like the other people in the car” ? It seems poignant here for some reason.

  29. That’s a great joke, Gordon, and right on topic in a sad and real sort of way.

  30. Wow, I missed a lot!
    I think as this is a spaceship there will always be a warning about potential danger before the journey starts.
    If it’s a team of 300 people boarded in the space ship know each other – I will announce the news. Because 300 people together will be able to handle anything – good, bad or ugly. We never know, may be even a unique contingency plan can come up. If not anything – there will be the strength of being together.
    If we are complete strangers, I will definitely not declare it and scare everybody. The bonding among 300 passengers will not happen in a minute – and as a leader I will not even take the chance.
    Let the “last minute” come unannounced.

  31. I appreciate your analysis, Katha, and yes — on a spaceship with 300 strangers there is a great risk of tremendous terror before meeting a final end. I can see the wisdom in sparing people from that final, unavoidable end.
    Now the question becomes… as the pilot… do you send home a final farewell to your beloveds back home? Or do you choose to actively suffer the same fate as those aboard your ship: No goodbyes, no last word… just eternal darkness with no resolution?

  32. Ok, this is tough David…especially on a birthday morning!
    I don’t think I will take the chance to say the final “goodbye” to my loved ones, but I might call them to say “hello” – just like that.
    At least I will be able to listen to their voice for the last time and they will enjoy mine.
    Why torture them with the inevitable beforehand? The moment I stepped into the spaceship my beloveds knew about the possible threat…why torture them announcing it?

  33. Happy Birthday, Katha!
    That’s a curious take on the matter! It’s a question about power and prescience — you have knowledge of the crash that no one else knows and do you use that information to further you final end or do you vow to stay in the same last-moment darkness of those you are carrying in your ship…

  34. Thanks for the wish David!
    I know it’s different!
    I don’t want to spoil my loved one’s happiness – I want my last moments to be happy too.
    All I want to hear is their voice for the last time – as cheerful as always!
    There is nothing they can do to save the ship – so, what’s the point?
    Better to save them from the inevitable pain for a few more moments!

  35. But Katha! Are you cheating your 300 passenger strangers out of the same final goodbye experience just because you know something they do not and are acting on that privileged information?

  36. Oh, well David…I am the only one in the spaceship who is overwhelingly burdened with the news of our impending death – so I think I can take this little opportunity just to die peacefully – I guess!
    I will call it de-stressing…

  37. Katha! But you are using your position of power to gain a chit the others cannot share. Aren’t you willingly cheating your passengers out of their final goodbyes by keeping their deaths from them?

  38. Well David, I had to make a choice!
    I can’t satisfy 300 passengers and my guts at the same time, satisfying 300 passengers in a lifetime is just absolutely out of question – I won’t even go there.
    What would you do?

  39. Katha —
    I would not tell my passengers and I would not phone home for a final goodbye. We all go down together — strangers or not — in our shared fate. No one is above the other. Including me.

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