Newton's bucket, Einstein's elevator, Schrödinger's cat – these are some of the best-known examples of thought experiments in the natural sciences. But what function do these experiments perform? Are they really experiments at all? Can they help us gain a greater understanding of the natural world? How is it possible that we can learn new things just by thinking? In this revised and updated new edition of his classic text _The Laboratory of the Mind_, James Robert Brown continues to defend (...) apriorism in the physical world. This edition features two new chapters, one on “counter thought experiments” and another on the development of inertial motion. With plenty of illustrations and updated coverage of the debate between Platonic rationalism and classic empiricism, this is a lively and engaging contribution to the field of philosophy of science. (shrink)
Feynman diagrams are now iconic. Like pictures of the Bohr atom, everyone knows they have something important to do with physics. Those who work in quantum field theory, string theory, and other esoteric fields of physics use them extensively. In spite of this, it is far from clear what they are or how they work. Are they mere calculating tools? Are they somehow pictures of physical reality? Are they models in any interesting sense? Or do they play some other kind (...) of role?It is safe to say they are linked to some sort of calculation tool, but after that it is far from clear. If you ask me how to get from Toronto to Montreal, I could respond two ways: I could tell you to drive north until you... (shrink)
_Philosophy of Mathematics_ is an excellent introductory text. This student friendly book discusses the great philosophers and the importance of mathematics to their thought. It includes the following topics: * the mathematical image * platonism * picture-proofs * applied mathematics * Hilbert and Godel * knots and nations * definitions * picture-proofs and Wittgenstein * computation, proof and conjecture. The book is ideal for courses on philosophy of mathematics and logic.
Everyone appreciates a clever mathematical picture, but the prevailing attitude is one of scepticism: diagrams, illustrations, and pictures prove nothing; they are psychologically important and heuristically useful, but only a traditional verbal/symbolic proof provides genuine evidence for a purported theorem. Like some other recent writers (Barwise and Etchemendy ; Shin ; and Giaquinto ) I take a different view and argue, from historical considerations and some striking examples, for a positive evidential role for pictures in mathematics.
Examples of classic thought experiments are presented and some morals drawn. The views of my fellow symposiasts, Tamar Gendler, John Norton, and James McAllister, are evaluated. An account of thought experiments along a priori and Platonistic lines is given. I also cite the related example of proving theorems in mathematics with pictures and diagrams. To illustrate the power of these methods, a possible refutation of the continuum hypothesis using a thought experiment is sketched.
In Smoke and Mirrors , James Robert Brown fights back against figures such as Richard Rorty, Bruno Latour, Michael Ruse and Hilary Putnam who have attacked realistic accounts of science. This enlightening work also demonstrates that science mirrors the world in amazing ways. The metaphysics and epistemology of science, the role of abstraction, abstract objects, and a priori ways of getting at reality are all examined in this fascinating exploration of how science reflects reality. Both a defense of science and (...) knowledge in general and a defense of a particular way of understanding science, Smoke and Mirrors will be provocative and lively reading for all those who have an interest in how science works. (shrink)
1. Introduction : the mathematical image -- 2. Platonism -- 3. Picture-proofs and Platonism -- 4. What is applied mathematics? -- 5. Hilbert and Gödel -- 6. Knots and notation -- 7. What is a definition? -- 8. Constructive approaches -- 9. Proofs, pictures and procedures in Wittgenstein -- 10. Computation, proof and conjecture -- 11. How to refute the continuum hypothesis -- 12. Calling the bluff.
There is sufficient evidence that intellectual property rights are corrupting medical research. One could respond to this from a moral or from an epistemic point of view. I take the latter route. Often in the sciences factual discoveries lead to new methodological norms. Medical research is an example. Surprisingly, the methodological change required will involve political change. Instead of new regulations aimed at controlling the problem, the outright socialization of research seems called for, for the sake of better science. I (...) appeal to an analogy between socialized medicine and socialized research. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8, Canada; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
Thought experiments have a long and illustrious history. But in spite of their acknowledged importance, there has until recently been remarkably little said about them. How do they work? Why do they work? What are the different ways in which they work? And above all: How is it possible that just by thinking we can learn something new about the world? This paper surveys some of the recent approaches, including my own , and discusses their various prospects. Chief among the (...) alternatives is John Norton′s argument view. The paper ends by drawing attention to some of the outstanding problems in thought experiments. These are some of the issues that will likely be the focus of attention and research in the future. (shrink)
Let's begin with an old example. In De Rerum Naturua , Lucretius presented a thought experiment to show that space is infinite. We imagine ourselves near the alleged edge of space; we throw a spear; we see it either sail through the ‘edge’ or we see it bounce back. In the former case the ‘edge’ isn't the edge, after all. In the latter case, there must be something beyond the ‘edge’ that repelled the spear. Either way, the ‘edge’ isn't really (...) an edge of space, after all. So space is infinite. (shrink)
There has been a sharp rise in private funding of medical research, especially in relation to patentable products. Several serious problems with this are described. A solution involving the elimination of patents and public funding administered through extended national health care systems is proposed.
It's sometimes useful to start with a quiz, even if it seems irrelevant to the issues at hand. Suppose you have to organize a tennis tournament with, say, 1025 players. Match winners will go on to the next round while losers bow out until all have been eliminated except, of course, the final champion. Your problem is this: How many matches must you book for this tournament?
Over the past 50 years, postmodernism has been a progressively growing and influential intellectual movement inside and outside the academy. Postmodernism is characterised by rejection of parts or the whole of the Enlightenment project that had its roots in the birth and embrace of early modern science. While Enlightenment and ‘modernist’ ideas of universalism, of intellectual and cultural progress, of the possibility of finding truths about the natural and social world and of rejection of absolutism and authoritarianism in politics, philosophy (...) and religion were first opposed at their birth in the eighteenth century, contemporary postmodernism sometimes appeals to (and sometimes disdains) philosophy of science in support of its rejection of modernism and the enlightenment programme. (shrink)
Thought experiments provide us with scientific understanding and theoretical advances which are sometimes quite significant, yet they do this without new empirical input, and possibly without any empirical input at all. How is this possible? The challenge to empiricism is to give an account which is compatible with the traditional empiricist principle that all knowledge is based on sensory experience. Thought experiments present an enormous challenge to empiricist views of knowledge; so much so that some of us have thrown in (...) the towel and embraced good old fashioned platonism. I'll try to explain why one brand of empiricism, namely John Norton's argument view of thought experiments, won't work. (shrink)
According to the standard view of definition, all defined terms are mere stipulations, based on a small set of primitive terms. After a brief review of the Hilbert-Frege debate, this paper goes on to challenge the standard view in a number of ways. Examples from graph theory, for example, suggest that some key definitions stem from the way graphs are presented diagramatically and do not fit the standard view. Lakatos's account is also discussed, since he provides further examples that suggest (...) many definitions are much more than mere convenient abbreviations. (shrink)
Most disciplines make use of thought experiments, but physics and philosophy lead the pack with heavy dependence upon them. Often this is for conceptual clarification, but occasionally they provide real theoretical advances. In spite of their importance, however, thought experiments have received rather little attention as a topic in their own right until recently. The situation has improved in the past few years, but a mere generation ago the entire published literature on thought experiments could have been mastered in a (...) long weekend. Now the subject is beginning to flourish. Given the relative newness of the field, it might be useful to have several examples at one’s finger tips, so a number of great ones will be described. Attention will also be drawn outside physics and philosophy. In mathematics there is something analogous to thought experiments -- visual reasoning and picture proofs. I will look briefly at this class of thought experiments and try using them to make a case for possibly settling the continuum hypothesis. After this, I will return to thought experiments in the sciences and propose an account of how they work. Finally, I will end with a sketch of a topic I am currently working on, a kind of progress report which, I hope, will be an inducement to others. (shrink)
Recent years have seen a number of naturalist accounts of mathematics. Philip Kitcher’s version is one of the most important and influential. This paper includes a critical exposition of Kitcher’s views and a discussion of several issues including: mathematical epistemology, practice, history, the nature of applied mathematics. It argues that naturalism is an inadequate account and compares it with mathematical Platonism, to the advantage of the latter.
Starting from the assumption that the history of science is, in some significant sense, rational and thus that historical episodes may serve as evidence in choosing between competing normative methodologies of science, the question arises: "Just what is this history-methodology evidential relation?" After examining the proposals of Laudan, a more plausible account is proposed.
Theories often run into paradoxes. Some of these are outright contradictions, sending the would-be champions of the theory back to the drawing board. Others are paradoxical in the sense of being bizarre and unexpected. The latter are sometimes mistakenly thought to be instances of the former. That is, they are thought to be more than merely weird; they are mistakenly thought to be self-refuting. Showing that they are not self-contradictory but merely a surprise is often a challenge. Notions of explanation (...) and understanding are often at issue. For instance, we might explain—or explain away—a paradox by invoking some mechanism provided by the theory and showing how it does not really lead to a logically incoherent .. (shrink)
This book adds to the growing literature on thought experiments. There are numerous examples drawn from the sciences and philosophy. The principle claim is that thought experiments are a limiting case of real experiments. It is a moderate empiricist view, in contrast to, e.g., the Platonism of Brown or the strict empiricism of Norton. Highly recommended.