Short Answer Questions (submit online)
- What is the epistemological problem of thought experiments, and why is it a problem?
- Explain John Norton's empiricist view of thought experiments.
- How is an experiment / anti-thought experiment pair relevant for the epistemology of thought experiments?
For Further Discussion
- The elevator. With the falling elevator thought experiments, whether or not they work is quite literally a matter of life and death.
- Can you trust these thought experiments to tell you what to do?
- Is there any other relevant elevator thought experiment that has been missed?
- How can you tell which elevator thought experiments are correct?
- Norton's helicopter. In the reading from this week, John Norton considered the question of what will happen to a helicopter with an infinitely large rotor that is at rest. He then suggested the following thought experiment / anti-thought experiment pair.
In the first thought experiment, the helicopter just falls down, as all motionless objects do. In the second thought experiment, we imagine the following sequence. Consider a helicopter with a spinning rotor that hovers as normal over the earth. As a matter of physics, it turns out that the helicopter will hover in the same place if we double the length of the rotor, and reduce the speed at which it spins by half. So, carry out this procedure once, and then again, and then again.... At each stage, the helicopter hovers in exactly the same place. In the limit, what do you get? Apparently, an infinitely large rotor that is at rest, but which still hovers in place over the ground!
- Which is the correct way to describe the infinite helicopter?
- Do these thought experiments confer any kind of knowledge? If so, what?
- Is this thought experiment different in any relevant sense than the elevator?
- The empiricist approach. John Norton's empiricist approach to thought experiments is an attempt to explain how we get knowledge about the natural world from thought experiments.
- What exactly is the simplest statement of the empiricist account of thought experiments?
- According to this account, there is a great deal of implicit information packed into each thought experiment. Is this plausible?
- What justifies a thought experiment according to this view?
- How does this view explain thought experiment / anti-thought experiment pairs?
- Alternative approaches. The 'beyond empiricism' provides an alternative account of thought experiments.
- Is it satisfactory?
- Is there any other account that might be more satisfactory?
- How would any such account answer 1) what justifies a thought experiment, and 2) what explains the possibility of thought experiment / anti-thought experiment pairs?