Do Thought Experiments Have a Life of Their Own? Comments on James Brown, Nancy Nersessian and David Gooding

Authors
Ian Hacking
University of Toronto, St. George
Abstract
All three authors range themselves against John Norton's deductive analysis of thought experiments. Brown's insight, Nersessian's mental modelling, and Gooding's embodiment, arise, in each case, from a major all-purpose philosophical theory. None reaches down to the specific level of thought experiments, which are small, rare, and precious. I urge attention to Wittgenstein's remark that "the experimental character disappears when one looks at the process as a memorable picture." Thought experiments are not experiments. They are static. They become fixed, more like jokes or optical illusions. Unlike real experiments, they have no life of their own.
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