Rethinking thought experiments

Perspectives on Science 9 (3):285-307 (2001)
Abstract
: An examination of two thought experiments in contemporary physics reveals that the same thought experiment can be reanalyzed from the perspective of different and incompatible theories. This fact undermines those accounts of thought experiments that claim their justificatory power comes from their ability to reveal the laws of nature. While thought experiments do play a genuine evaluative role in science, they do so by testing the nonempirical virtues of a theory, such as consistency and explanatory power. I conclude that, while their interpretation presupposes a whole set of background theories and putative laws, thought experiments nonetheless can evolve and be retooled for different theories and ends
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