thought experiment

thought experiment
In a thought experiment, instead of bringing about a course of events, as in a normal experiment, we are invited to imagine one. We may then be able to ‘see’ that some result follows, or that some description is appropriate, or our inability to describe the situation may itself have some consequences. Thought experiments played a major role in the development of physics: for example, Galileo probably never dropped two balls of unequal weight from the leaning tower of Pisa, in order to refute the Aristotelian view that a heavy body falls faster than a lighter one. He merely asked us to imagine a heavy body made into the shape of a dumbell, and the connecting rod gradually made thinner, until it is finally severed. The thing is one heavy body until the last moment, and then two light ones, but it is incredible that this final snip alters the velocity dramatically. Other famous examples include the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen thought experiment ;. In the philosophy of personal identity, our apparent capacity to imagine ourselves surviving drastic changes of body, brain, and mind is a permanent source of difficulty (see split-brain phenomena, teleportation ). There is no general consensus on the legitimate place of thought experiments, either to substitute for real experiment, or as a reliable device for discerning possibilities. Thought experiments one dislikes are sometimes called intuition pumps.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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  • Thought experiment — A thought experiment (from the German Gedankenexperiment ) is a proposal for an experiment that would test a hypothesis or theory but cannot actually be performed due to practical limitations; instead its purpose is to explore the potential… …   Wikipedia

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  • thought experiment — /θɔt ɛkˈspɛrəmənt/ (say thawt ek speruhmuhnt) noun an experiment which is impossible to conduct in the real world in which a proposition is tested by thinking through a set of conditions that lead to a logical conclusion. Compare gedanken… …  

  • thought experiment — Physics. a demonstration or calculation that is based on the postulates of a theory, as relativity, and that demonstrates or clarifies the consequences of the postulates. Also called Gedanken experiment. [1940 45] * * * …   Universalium

  • thought experiment — noun Etymology: probably translation of German gedankenexperiment : an imaginary experiment worked through with ideal apparatus under ideal conditions but with no violation of the basic laws of physics : gedankenexperiment …   Useful english dictionary

  • Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen thought experiment — Thought experiment introduced in 1935 by these three authors in their Physical Review paper ‘Can Quantum Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?’ Suppose two quantum systems 1 and 2 that briefly interact, and are then… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • thought experiment — noun Date: 1945 gedankenexperiment …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • thought experiment — noun an attempt to solve a problem using the power of human imagination …   Wiktionary

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