The dynamics of thought experiments - comment to Atkinson

Commenting on Atkinson's paper I argue that leading to a successful real experiment is not the only scale on which a thought experiment's value is judged. Even the path from the original EPR thought experiment to Aspect's verification of the Bell inequalities was long-winded and involved considerable input from the sides of technology and mathematics. Von Neumann's construction of hidden variables was, moreover, a genuinely mathematical thought experiment that was successfully criticized by Bell. Such thought experiments are also possible in string theory, where any (non-trivial) empirical corroboration seems to be out of reach. Yet appraising mathematical thought experiments and their contribution to physical thought experiments requires a dynamical account which in the spirit of Mach and Lakatos attributes due weight to informal mathematical reasoning or empirical intuition.
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Marco Buzzoni (2007). Zum Verhältnis Zwischen Experiment Und Gedankenexperiment in den Naturwissenschaften. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 38 (2):219 - 237.

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