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Thought experiment. How do thought experiments give us knowledge of the world? Many suppose that there is some special sort of epistemic power inherent in thought experiments and that they may even open windows through which we can perceive the Platonic forms of the laws of nature themselves. In a series of studies, I have defended a deflationary account of the nature of thought experiments: they are merely picturesque arguments, I say, and have no special epistemic powers beyond those of ordinary argumentation. "Thought Experiments in Einstein's Work," in Thought Experiments In Science and Philosophy, eds. T. Horowitz, G. J. Massey, Savage, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1991. Download.

"Are Thought Experiments Just What You Thought?" Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 26, pp. 333-66. Download.

"Seeing the Laws of Nature" Metascience, Issue 3 (new series), 1993, pp. 33-38. (Review of James R. Brown, The Laboratory of the Mind: Thought Experiments in the Natural Sciences. London: Routledge, 1991.) Download.

"Why Thought Experiments Do Not Transcend Empiricism" pp. 44-66 in Christopher Hitchcock (ed.) Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Science. Blackwell. Download.

"On Thought Experiments: Is There More to the Argument?" Proceedings of the 2002 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Philosophy of Science,71 (2004) pp. 1139-1151. Download.

"Chasing the Light: Einstein's Most Famous Thought Experiment," Thought Experiments in Philosophy, Science and the Arts, eds., James Robert Brown, Mélanie Frappier and Letitia Meynell, New York: Routledge, 2013. pp. 123-140. Download.

"Chasing the Light: Einstein's Most Famous Thought Experiment." in Goodies.

"What is the Lift of an Infinite Helicopter Rotor at Rest?" in Goodies.

"Ethics of Imaginary Research" in Goodies.

Punch Narrative conventions in a thought experiment allow thought experimenters great latitude in deciding which processes are typical and bear generalization and which can be idealized away as incidental. Misuse of this latitude has allowed one particular thought experiment to be responsible for many decades of confused science. "The Worst Thought Experiment," The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments. Eds. Michael T. Stuart, James Robert Brown, and Yiftach Fehige. London: Routledge, 2018. pp. 454-68. Download.
jumping flea An infinite lottery machines chooses without favor among a countable infinity of outcomes. This sort of selection creates well-known problems for probability theory. But is it really physically possible to construct such a machine?. "How to Build an Infinite Lottery Machine" 8 (2018), pp. 71-95.
(with Alexander R. Pruss) Correction to John D. Norton “How to Build an Infinite Lottery Machine, ” European Journal for Philosophy of Science. 8 (2018), pp. 143-44.
Dial fragment All efforts to design an infinite lottery machine using ordinary probabilistic randomizers fail. This failure is not a result of a lack of imagination in design. It is assured by a familiar problem in set theory: we know no way to construct probabilistically nonmeasurable sets. "How NOT to Build an Infinite Lottery Machine." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. 82(2020), pp. 1-8. Download.

Ready for a little light entertainment? What happens if one asks whether an infinite tower of turtles could overcome gravity and support the world? What happens if we ask if there is some mechanism in ordinary Newtonian mechanics that would let a castle float in the air. "Turtles all the way down."

Castles in the air.