One Answer

  1. Thought experiments are used in many areas of knowledge. In philosophy, this is a favorite tool of “armchair philosophers”: indeed, to conduct a thought experiment, you do not even need to leave the house. As the name suggests, everything is done in the mind. Without trying to give a dictionary definition of a thought experiment, I suggest comparing it with an ordinary experiment and a case study and analyzing a couple of examples.

    Just like a real experiment, a thought experiment must confirm or refute some hypothesis, theory, or any statement that needs to be verified. However, unlike real experiments, most thought experiments are such that it is impossible to implement them in reality. Nor is this necessary, since the truth of a conclusion based on a thought experiment follows only from the conditions of the experiment itself, and not from empirical verification. Like a case study, a thought experiment is an imaginary situation. In the case of cases, this situation is often really possible, so many secondary factors are taken into account in the cases. In a thought experiment, an idealized situation is always presented without taking into account external influences. In addition, there may be opposing points of view about the same case. The result of a thought experiment should be obvious to anyone.

    A paradigmatic example of a thought experiment is the Galileo experiment. It checks the position of Aristotelian physics “the rate of falling of a body depends on its mass”. Galileo reasoned: let's imagine a cannonball and a musket ball falling from the same height. According to the position being tested, the core should fall faster than the bullet. Now imagine that the core and the bullet are connected. Since the bullet falls slower than the core, it should slow it down. This means that a bullet connected to a core will fall slower than a single core. However, the bullet and the core together have more mass than the core alone. This means that together they will fall faster than the core. A contradiction follows from the statement being tested, and therefore it is false.

    This argument perfectly demonstrates a number of properties of thought experiments. First, in order to verify the truth of the result, it is not necessary to conduct a real experiment: the result follows from the conditions set by us. Second, Galileo's thought experiment refutes one of the propositions of Aristotelian physics, showing that it contradicts common sense.

    Philosophical thought experiments differ from thought experiments in other areas in that they are overwhelmingly impossible to implement in principle. In addition, the propositions explored in philosophical thought experiments are not the propositions of individual theories, but our basic intuitions.

    Hume's thought experiment aimed at clarifying our understanding of causality is very important for modern philosophy. Hume suggests that we imagine two billiard balls, one of which hits the other and sets it in motion. The impact of the first ball on the second is the cause of movement. However, we could imagine that after the impact, the second ball would remain in place or fly up. Hume concludes from this that an action does not follow logically from a cause and concludes that causality is nothing more than a belief in the repetition of events of the same type as the past in the future. (In modern philosophical terms, Hume shows that causality is not logically supervenient on the physical.)

    The most important thought experiments created in recent decades are devoted to the problem of consciousness, which is at the forefront of philosophy and science. Perhaps the most widely discussed of these is Chalmers ' thought experiment against physicalism-the attempt to explain consciousness solely in scientific terms. According to physicalism, everything that exists in the world has a physical nature. So, if we imagine a world that is physically identical to our own, it must contain everything that is in our world. However, as Chalmers points out, we can imagine a world that is physically identical to our own, but populated by philosophical zombies – our physical copies, devoid of consciousness. This means that in a world that is physically identical to ours, there may not be something that exists in our world, namely consciousness. Therefore, consciousness cannot be described solely in natural-scientific terms.

    Where do thought experiments get their credibility? A significant part of experiments, such as the Galileo experiment, are illustrated logical reasoning based on certain propositions of an arbitrary theory and leading to certain conclusions about its truth or falsity. Other thought experiments, such as Hume's, explore our basic ideas about the world. In this case, the persuasiveness of reasoning is based (let me use an old-fashioned and vague term) on human nature.

Leave a Reply