In the Theoretician's Laboratory: Thought Experimenting as Mental Modeling

Abstract
Thought experiments have played a prominent role in numerous cases of conceptual change in science. I propose that research in cognitive psychology into the role of mental modeling in narrative comprehension can illuminate how and why thought experiments work. In thought experimenting a scientist constructs and manipulates a mental simulation of the experimental situation. During this process, she makes use of inferencing mechanisms, existing representations, and general world knowledge to make realistic transformations from one possible physical state to the next. The simulation reveals the impossibility of integrating multiple constraints drawn from existing representations and the world and pinpoints the locus of the required conceptual reform.
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