Thought experiment Definition and 31 Discussions

A thought experiment is a hypothetical situation in which a hypothesis, theory, or principle is laid out for the purpose of thinking through its consequences.
Johann Witt-Hansen established that Hans Christian Ørsted was the first to use the German term Gedankenexperiment (lit. thought experiment) circa 1812. Ørsted was also the first to use the equivalent term Gedankenversuch in 1820.
Much later, Ernst Mach used the term Gedankenexperiment in a different way, to denote exclusively the imaginary conduct of a real experiment that would be subsequently performed as a real physical experiment by his students. Physical and mental experimentation could then be contrasted: Mach asked his students to provide him with explanations whenever the results from their subsequent, real, physical experiment differed from those of their prior, imaginary experiment.
The English term thought experiment was coined (as a calque) from Mach's Gedankenexperiment, and it first appeared in the 1897 English translation of one of Mach's papers. Prior to its emergence, the activity of posing hypothetical questions that employed subjunctive reasoning had existed for a very long time (for both scientists and philosophers). However, people had no way of categorizing it or speaking about it. This helps to explain the extremely wide and diverse range of the application of the term "thought experiment" once it had been introduced into English.
The common goal of a thought experiment is to explore the potential consequences of the principle in question:

"A thought experiment is a device with which one performs an intentional, structured process of intellectual deliberation in order to speculate, within a specifiable problem domain, about potential consequents (or antecedents) for a designated antecedent (or consequent)" (Yeates, 2004, p. 150).
Given the structure of the experiment, it may not be possible to perform it, and even if it could be performed, there need not be an intention to perform it.
Examples of thought experiments include Schrödinger's cat, illustrating quantum indeterminacy through the manipulation of a perfectly sealed environment and a tiny bit of radioactive substance, and Maxwell's demon, which attempts to demonstrate the ability of a hypothetical finite being to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

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  1. R0dr1go

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  2. MrSimp

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  3. K

    I Information traveling faster than light? (thought experiment)

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  4. R0dr1go

    B Is the Universe spinning?

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  5. Hamiltonian

    B A thought experiment about the Sun vanishing

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  6. K

    I Sending a signal from planet near Gargantua, a thought experiment

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  7. Clay Gillespie

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  8. Y

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  9. Glurth

    I Transition from normal matter into black hole

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  10. John Mohr

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  11. J

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  12. YZEDY1one

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  13. Kaushik_KS

    I Who will win -- Pauli or Einstein?

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  14. dylanreynolds1

    I Thought Experiment Contradiction

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  15. S

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  16. conquest

    I Theoretical problem with an empty seat going faster than light

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  17. A

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  18. M

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  19. D

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  20. ZawL

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  21. C

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  22. L

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  23. S

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  24. F

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  25. F

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  26. F

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  27. patrickbotros

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  28. Logan Johnston

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  30. I

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  31. Solvay

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