Thought experiments are quintessential examples of how farfetched from reality speculations are. Many scientists oppose such experiments as they do not require the individual to prove the hypothesis.
Thought experiments are instances of the ability of human mind to perceive natural laws in terms of reality. Such experiments are independent of empirical proof and are based on sheer intellectual skills, which are often considered unreliable.
The experiments are also considered to begin with premises that are derived empirically and results arrived at by using deductive logic. Seems crazy, doesn’t it!
Let us look into some really amazing thought experiments that question your sanity.
Thought Experiment #1: Insurmountable Head starts
This is one of the earliest and most famous of thought experiments that will have you in a tizzy. Put forth by Zeno of Elea, the Achilles and Tortoise experiment involves a race in which Achilles, a great Greek hero, competes with a tortoise. To compensate for the racing ability (or is it inability) of the turtle, Achilles magnanimously decides to give the turtle a head start.
Logically, Achilles should win, given the ability of human race to outsmart the more inferior turtles, but it does not happen so. According to Aristotle’s explanation of this experiment, it is impossible for the fastest runner to overtake the slowest as the pursuer should reach a point where the pursued began, resulting in a lead maintained by the slower runner always.
While this hypothesis may seem crazy, it cannot be deemed irrelevant as there is a certain amount of logic. It can represent a misinterpretation of infinity. Based on quantum mechanics, this may be explained as the inherent lack of our ability to know the exact location of an object. Now, you know why this is categorized under thought experiment.
Thought Experiment #2: Colour-blind Mary
Also termed as Inverted Spectrum or Knowledge Argument, this experiment is about the how the universe is perceived as a physical entity. The experiment states the existence of non-physical properties as well as attainable knowledge, which can be grasped via conscious experience.
Mary, an intelligent scientist, is forced to find out about the world from within a room in black and white and with a television that is also black and white. Her specialty is neurophysiology (vision). She acquires all information related to colours in the physical form but she cannot visualize them. Her first encounter with the colour would not be what she had imagined. This shows the big gap present between academic and practical experience.
This experiment indicates that there is more to reality than objective observation and consciousness. This may indeed open up new paths to subjective and psychological exploration.
Thought Experiment #3: Experience Machine
If there existed an experience machine, would it provide you with the experience you yearn for?
The possibility of stimulating your brain, so you could imagine reading a book or writing a novel or any other task, is simply mind boggling. Imagine floating inside a tank with your brain linked to electrodes for life? You would get all the experiences you dreamed of but you will not be conscious of being in the tank. Will you be ready to accept such an experiment?
This experiment is meant to dissolve our narrow thought process and drifting presence in the universe. Riddled forever with problems and sufferings, this new world to escape to may seem a better option. But if so, what will happen to your true desires? This experiment by Nozick is one that has been challenged for many decades.
Irrespective of how the experiments are construed, these and many others have been a highly influential force in the progress of science and philosophy. Albert Einstein was popular for his thought experiments that had enabled him to discover revolutionary theories. Many of the proven theories we use in day to day life began essentially as thought experiments or imaginary scenarios. So, what do you think? Are you also entertaining the purport of pushing yourself to such authoritative and ingenious ideas and see the world in a different vision that getting lost in the usual horde? Think, think, and think – there must be a better way!