5 Philosophical Experiments That Will Provoke The Way You Think


5 Philosophical Experiments That Will Provoke The Way You Think

Some philosophical questions are so tricky you could tie yourself up in mental knots struggling to understand them. However, they do make excellent dinner party conversations.

Those types of philosophical questions are mostly known as thought experiments. People were using them to understand philosophical concepts for approximately 2,000 years.

The purpose of such thought experiments is to explore the potential consequences of a particular principle. It's usually not possible, for physical or ethical reasons, to perform the test so one can't get a definitive answer.

Here are five of the most mind-bending and thought-provoking philosophical experiments:

1. Hotel Infinity

The Hotel Infinity paradox aims to explain the concept of infinity.

Imagine a hotel. Try to picture that it has an infinite number of rooms which have an infinite number of guests staying in them. Then, imagine you walk up to the reception and ask for a room. Alas, the infinite rooms are full of guests, which means there's no room for you.

Fortunately, the desk manager has a brainwave. He decides to move the guest in Room 1 to Room 2. Then, he moves the guest that was in Room 2 to Room 3, and then Room 3 to Room 4, and so on. Therefore, an infinite number of guests get bumped deeper into the rooms.

That seems perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, the hotel originally had an infinite number of guests, so now it has infinity plus one. So which number is infinity, really?

2. Beetle in a Box

Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher. He had published his book Philosophical Investigations in 1953. It has since come to be considered as one of the most significant works of philosophy in the 20th century. Wittgenstein was also the author of the popular beetle in the box thought experiment.

For that thought experiment, Wittgenstein asked that we imagine a group of people, each of whom has a box that contains something called a “beetle”. Nobody can see into anyone else’s box. Everyone has to describe their beetle, but each one can only talk about their own beetle, as there may be different things in each one’s box. Over time, the word “beetle” merely comes to mean “that thing that's in a person’s box.”

That mental experiment will make you think about how you describe your unique experiences. The beetle is just like your mind. You can never know precisely what other people are experiencing. Therefore, if someone says they're experiencing pain or love, you can never truly know what that experience feels like for them and whether it would be the same for you.

3. The Trolley Problem

One of the most famous ethical, philosophical experiments is the Trolley Problem. That experiment was recently used to dramatic effect in a TV series called The Good Place.

It goes like this:

Imagine you're driving a trolley and its brakes fail. Up ahead five people are tied to the trolley tracks. You can decide to switch your trolley to another track. But, that track has one person tied to it.

You're now in a moral dilemma. If you do nothing, 5 people will die. Nevertheless, if you take action to save those 5 people, your deed will lead to the death of one innocent person. This is perhaps one of the hardest philosophical questions.

4. The Experience Machine

The Experience Machine is another thought experiment that was put forward by philosopher Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopi (1974).

Suppose that there was an experience machine which would give you whatever experience you wanted. You can select any experiences you desire to have by pre-programming that machine. Once in the machine, your mind would be stimulated so that it would feel like you were experiencing what you had programmed. You wouldn't know that these experiences were not real. For you, they would just seem like ordinary life. Plugging into that machine would eliminate toil, pain, and suffering and create a life of perfection. So, would you plug in?

Several people would choose not to as this perfect life wouldn't be ‘real’. However, what would the difference exactly be?

5. The Ship of Theseus

This paradox, known as the Ship of Theseus is one of the oldest of all thought experiments. It originated in the writings of Plutarch.

In that philosophical question, you need to picture a ship which has stayed seaworthy for hundreds of years because of constant repairs.

Once one plank became old and rotted, the ship would be replaced, and so on until each working part of the ship wasn't original anymore. The question is whether the ship is still the same Ship of Theseus, or it has become something completely different. Unless it's the same ship, at what point precisely did it become something new?

You could claim the same for a person as each human cell regenerates to the point that there's nothing left of the person we were when we were born. Does this mean we are an entirely different person? And, if not, then what is it which makes us the same person throughout our life?

At its heart, that experiment forces one to question the idea that identity is only contained in physical objects and phenomena.

Reference: Learning-Mind



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Thinking Humanity: 5 Philosophical Experiments That Will Provoke The Way You Think
5 Philosophical Experiments That Will Provoke The Way You Think
Some philosophical questions are so tricky you could tie yourself up in mental knots struggling to understand them.
Thinking Humanity
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