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Thought experiment

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A thought experiment is an experiment that takes place in the mind of a scientist. Unlike with a real-life experiment where change is actually seen and perhaps measured, thought experiments are done just to show a special way of thinking. Anyone can do a thought experiment. All you need is your mind because all the steps take place in your mind.

The usual goal of a thought experiment is to explore the consequences of the principle in question. Like so: if this were true, what would follow from it?

Thought experiments are notable in the history of science. Hans Christian Ørsted was the first to use the German term Gedankenexperiment (means 'thought experiment') about 1812.[1]

Posing hypothetical questions had been done for long time (by scientists and philosophers).[2][3] However, people had no way of talking about it.


  1. Witt-Hansen (1976). Although Experiment is a German word, it is derived from Latin. The synonym Versuch has purely Germanic roots.
  2. Sorensen R.A. 1992. Thought Experiments. Oxford University Press.
  3. Horowitz T. & Massey G.J. (eds) 1991. Thought experiments in science and philosophy. Rowman & Littlefield.