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RS12 - What About Thought Experiments?

Release date: July 4, 2010

Philosophers are often accused of engaging in armchair speculation, as far removed from reality as possible. The quintessential example of this practice is the thought experiment, which many scientists sneer at precisely because it doesn’t require one to get one’s hands dirty. And yet scientists have often engaged in thought experiments, some of which have marked major advances in our understanding of the world. Just consider the famous example of Galileo’s thought experiment demonstrating (rather counter intuitively) that two objects of different weight must fall at the same speed. And, perhaps more famously, Einstein's thought experiments on the nature of light.

And then, there are the other kind, like philosopher David Chalmers' famous thought experiment about zombies and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. Chalmers comes up with an (admittedly ingenious) little story, and we are supposed to deduce from it the momentous conclusion that there is more than matter/energy to the universe? Still, there are plenty of good thought experiments in philosophy, beginning with the so-called trolley dilemmas meant to probe our moral intuitions.

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior"

Massimo's pick: John D. Norton Goodies

References (1)

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Reader Comments (12)

You mentioned that the only treatment that had empirical evidence for being successful was CBT for mental health disorders. I've found some research that show rates of remission for disorders (other than schizophrenia) that psychodynamic psychotherapy is at least as effective as CBT:
Driessen, et al
Fonagy, et al.
I am curious why you would choose not to report on these findings, or if you just hadn't come across them. I normally really enjoy your podcasts and have listened to every one. I just couldn't help but feel a little slighted when after major myths in pop psychology only one form of therapy was reported to be effective.

Thank you for hours of enjoyment on previous podcasts,

July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMyles

If the fat man in the trolley experiment is fat enough to stop a trolley, then he won't budge if you try to push him off the bridge. Therefore, you'd have to use a lever to apply more torque :-D

July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Great episode, as always, but I just wanted to offer a correction. Towards the end of the episode, Massimo stated something to the effect that 'CBT is the only "talk therapy" that is empirically supported.' This is a common misconception, and one that I was surprised to hear Massimo echo.

Research data shows about equivalent efficacy for all forms of psychotherapy -- referred to as "the Dodo bird verdict" by Luborsky, Singer, and Luborsky (1975), in reference to conclusion reached by the Dodo bird in Alice in Wonderland, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'

For further reference, I suggest consulting 'The Efficacy and Effectiveness of Psychotherapy' by Lambert & Ogles (2004), 'A Meta-(re)analysis of the effects of cognitive therapy versus "other therapies" for depression.' by Wampold and Minami (2002), 'Current findings regarding the effectiveness of counseling: Implications for practice' by Lambert & Cattani-Thompson (1996), and 'Research on psychotherapy efficacy and effectiveness: Between Scylla and Charybdis?' by Nathan, Stuarat, & Dolan (2003).

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Shouldn't the link for "Goodies" go to:

July 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZwirko

Really interesting discussion of thought experiments, but Galileo is a tricky example since he did do many experiments on falling bodies, particularly his inclined plane experiments. In a sense, Galileo formulated the thought experiment as a model that could be presented in Aristotelian terms. Galileo understood his opponents!

As an historical sidebar, the inclined plane experiments were also thought to be thought experiments for many years until Stillman Drake discovered Galileo's notebooks that recorded his work.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I thought the thought experiment about the arrow was not that of Zeno and is known as Zeno's arrow paradox. Here it was referred to as the Lucrecia . I could easily have misheard or that I'm mistaken...
Just curious...
Btw the Zeno's paradox in a quantum context interests me also.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Oops, errata to my comment above:
"I thought the thought experiment about the arrow was not that of LUCRECIA...

I can type or I can think, but I can't do both at the same time.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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January 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterred bottom shoes

Just to mention that both link in the picks section link to the John D. Norton Website. Now I'm going to actually have to copy text into a search bar. *huffs loudly*

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Sorry, just wanted to point out a broken link.

"50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior" currently leads to the John D. Norton Goodies instead.

Okay, technically that's not a "broken" link, more of a misdirected link. Regardless, it is does not link correctly.

P.S. I really appreciate the links to the picks for each episode. You are feeding my brain even further.

September 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay
Rational thought experiments do provide us with tremendous utility, especially when due to practical or ethical limitations we cannot conduct physical experiments.
February 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
put some transcripts in your podcasts so students dont have to share 10 sets of headphones. then they can do all of their pdrs (pre-discussion-resources) in one day :p and i bid you, adieu
September 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteryeet yeet

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