Thought-experiment August: (6) The Church and the Ship of Neurath

August went by too fast! But we still have time for one more thought experiment. It’s a short one, but it has many uses in philosophy of science.

Consider the ship of Neurath. It was introduced by a member of the Vienna Circle named Otto Neurath (the Vienna Circle was an early 20th Century . . . → Read More: Thought-experiment August: (6) The Church and the Ship of Neurath

Thought-experiment August: (5) The God of Eth and the problem of good

{A note on thought experiments: OK, some of you good folk keeping trying to ‘kobayashi maru’ the conditions of the test and rearrange it, or say you would never believe the conditions would hold, or end run the solution. In a thought experement all of the conditions are stipulated and held ‘as if’ they are true to force you to think through the implications of a particular problem. That’s why Enstein’s famous thought experiment of riding bukaroo style on a light wave worked even though it was quite impossible.}

This thought experiment comes from philosopher Stephen Law. It is worth reading in its original form, but I will summarize: Continue reading Thought-experiment August: (5) The God of Eth and the problem of good

Thought-experiment August: (4) Should you shoot Sally to save the girls?

Here’s a twist on a classic ethics thought-experiment.

You are high on a hill with a high-powered rifle and scope and you know you never miss (you are an ex-navy sniper say), even with a moving target. Down below on a train trestle you see a scene of horror unfolding. Three teenage girls you don’t know have climbed onto the trestle. To get there they must have climbed over a fence marked with ‘danger’ warnings. They have clearly broken several trespassing laws. A train is coming around a bend and it will kill all three teenagers. You know this. Furthermore, you can see the engineer is Sally, who you know is 65 years old because you read about her upcoming retirement in the local paper. You know nothing else about her. She is on the other side of the bend and will not see the teenagers until it is too late to brake. You also happen to know that Sally has an active switch that she must squeeze with her hand to keep the train from breaking and that if she is incapacitated the train automatically breaks. Should you shoot Sally to save the girls? And making it harder, Would you shoot Sally to save the girls? Continue reading Thought-experiment August: (4) Should you shoot Sally to save the girls?

Thought-experiment August: (3) Would it matter if you switched to an identical universe?

Suppose that you are captured by aliens who can travel to other universes. Furthermore, they tell you they are going to drop you into a different universe but, and here’s the catch, it is identical to this one. And by identical, I mean in every way, including its history. When you arrive, you find . . . → Read More: Thought-experiment August: (3) Would it matter if you switched to an identical universe?

Thought-experiment August: (2) The gasatroids and their incredibly shrinking ladder

So let’s borrow from Henri Poincaré for our next Gedankenexperiment,

Suppose the kindly gas people of Sigma Alpha Tau wonder how high the heavens go. Sigma Alpha Tau is a Jovian-like gas giant wherein float the gasatroids who wander about in their world in peace and contentment and are happily filled with an insatiable curiosity. Their planet has a curious property, as you move toward the outer reaches it gets colder and the gasatroids shrink, as does all their ‘stuff’. In the outer reaches of their planet it is near absolute zero. They also have no concept of temperature (being the floaty sort of things they are). Continue reading Thought-experiment August: (2) The gasatroids and their incredibly shrinking ladder

Thought-experiment August: (1) What Mary—a future neurobiologist—knows

Welcome to the end of summer, thought-experiments bash! For the month of August we will be exploring classic thought-experiments from science and philosophy! So put on your thinking caps. It’s Gedankenexperiment August!

What Mary Knows: Continue reading Thought-experiment August: (1) What Mary—a future neurobiologist—knows