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Anyone else enjoy thought experiments? From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_experiment
:A thought experiment or Gedankenexperiment (from German) considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences. Given the structure of the experiment, it may or may not be possible to actually perform it, and, in the case that it is possible for it to be performed, there need be no intention of any kind to actually perform the experiment in question. The common goal of a thought experiment is to explore the potential consequences of the principle in question.
Famous examples of thought experiments include Schrödinger's cat, illustrating quantum indeterminacy through the manipulation of a perfectly sealed environment and a tiny bit of radioactive substance, and Maxwell's demon, which attempts to demonstrate the ability of a hypothetical finite being to violate the second law of thermodynamics.
I find that they can be a good bridge between the non-duality of Zen koans and the rationality and empiricism of science in that they can help the Western mind go beyond language. Many contain profound implications on the nature of consciousness. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Chinese room thought experiment
:If you can carry on an intelligent conversation with an unknown partner, does this imply your statements are understood?
Searle's thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that he or she is talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.
The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally "understand" Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?[b] Searle calls the first position "strong AI" and the latter "weak AI".[c]
Searle then supposes that he is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program, along with sufficient paper, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. Searle could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program's instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, says Searle, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually.
Searle asserts that there is no essential difference between the roles of the computer and himself in the experiment. Each simply follows a program, step-by-step, producing a behavior which is then interpreted as demonstrating intelligent conversation. However, Searle would not be able to understand the conversation. ("I don't speak a word of Chinese," he points out.) Therefore, he argues, it follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either.
Searle argues that without "understanding" (or "intentionality"), we cannot describe what the machine is doing as "thinking" and since it does not think, it does not have a "mind" in anything like the normal sense of the word. Therefore he concludes that "strong AI" is false.
Mary's Room thought experiment
:In philosophy of mind, Mary’s Room is a thought experiment meant to demonstrate the non-physical nature of mental states. It is an example meant to highlight the knowledge argument against physicalism.
The thought experiment is as follows: Mary lives her entire life in a room devoid of colour—she has never directly experienced colour in her entire life, though she is capable of it. Through black-and-white books and other media, she is educated on neuroscience to the point where she becomes an expert on the subject. Mary learns everything there is to know about the perception of colour in the brain, as well as the physical facts about how light works in order to create the different colour wavelengths. It can be said that Mary is aware of all physical facts about colour and colour perception.
After Mary’s studies on colour perception in the brain are complete, she exits the room and experiences, for the very first time, direct colour perception. She sees the colour red for the very first time, and learns something new about it — namely, what red looks like.
Jackson concluded that if physicalism is true, Mary ought to have gained total knowledge about colour perception by examining the physical world. But since there is something she learns when she leaves the room, then physicalism must be false. As Jackson explains:
It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.