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The Power of Thought Experiments

Tuesday, November 7 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

The Power of Thought Experiments

Details

Date:
Tuesday, November 7
Time:
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Event Categories:
, ,
Join Us:
https://rebrand.ly/zhzte8a

Venue

Online Event

Organizer

Alan Carter

Have you ever wondered what it means to be immortal? Or how you would act in a life-or-death situation? Or what would happen if you could travel back in time?

If you’ve ever thought about questions like these, you’re already familiar with the world of thought experiments. Thought experiments are “what if” scenarios—hypothetical situations that invite us to look rigorously at how we think and view the world.

In The Power of Thought Experiments, award-winning philosopher Daniel Breyer of Illinois State University takes you around the world and across intellectual traditions to explore the power of thought experiments—from ancient Greece and China to contemporary science and philosophy. The course invites you on a diverse intellectual journey that will challenge the way you think by asking you to consider thought experiments that range from the mundane to the fantastic, not just for fun, but always with a discerning eye for why great thinkers considered them and what insights they reveal.

Professor Breyer’s engaging teaching style, eye-opening perspectives, and amazingly detailed knowledge of this field make the lectures a multifaceted immersion in a remarkable arena of human thought.

In 24 enthralling lectures, you’ll match wits with ancient thinkers like Aristotle, Ibn Sina, and Zhuangzi, as well as modern thinkers like Galileo, Hobbes, and Leibniz, all the way up to an astonishing array of contemporary philosophers and scientists, in a far-reaching look into thought experiments across the ages.

And, critically, you won’t simply learn about influential thought experiments throughout history, you’ll work through them in your own thinking, question them, challenge them, and evaluate what power they have to expand our minds and inform our lives.

Historic Thought Experiments

Try this thought experiment, from philosopher Robert Nozick: You have the chance to plug in to a virtual reality machine where you can experience anything you want. You can live the kind of life you’ve only dreamed of, doing everything you’ve ever wanted to do, with the people you love plugged in right alongside you. You’ll even experience everything as absolutely real. The only catch? You must leave the real world behind. Would you plug in? Thought experiments are fascinating, fun to think about, and useful. They’ve been used since ancient times by philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers to solve problems, reveal what’s important to us, and help to understand ourselves and the world.

In this provocative and delightful course, you’ll come to grips with a wide range of thought experiments from many traditions. A few of these mental voyages include:

  • Seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke’s thought experiment about a “body exchange” between a prince and another man, which obliges us to think deeply about what makes us the same people over time.
  • Albert Einstein’s thought experiment, wherein, a giant elevator is accelerated through empty space, allowing us to explore what would happen under conditions that we can’t produce yet, giving genuine insight into the natural world.
  • The well-known “Trolley Problem” that Philippa Foot first introduced in her 1967 paper that involved the two case studies of a trolley driver and a transplant, which demonstrated, perhaps surprisingly, that we tend to approve the idea of trading one life to save several lives in some situations while not in other situations.
  • Modern thought experiments about moral luck, which suggest that we have conflicting intuitions about whether we can hold people responsible for things that are out of their control.

Most thought experiments involve imaginary scenarios, which is why they are thought experiments. And, as influential philosopher Derek Parfit pointed out, “We discover our beliefs are revealed most clearly when we consider imaginary cases. These beliefs also cover actual cases, and our own lives.” By these means, thought experiments are of real value in revealing and challenging our deepest assumptions, beliefs, and thought processes.

Refine Your Powers of Thought and Reasoning

Throughout the 24 lectures of The Power of Thought Experiments, you’ll investigate classic thought experiments on a spectrum of topics, such as:

  • The Parameters of Ethics. You’re faced with the choice of whether to save a drowning child. In this and other settings involving a person’s power to prevent something bad from happening, learn how thought experiments have probed our notions of ethics and morality. Work through problems that look at what our moral obligations are to others and the limits of those obligations and consider situations that challenge our sense of what’s right and wrong and what we should or shouldn’t do.
  • The Boundaries of Identity. Across three lectures, grasp how thought experiments offer a valuable window into our conceptions of personal identity and selfhood. Through narratives where you undergo brain transplants, teletransportation, and sensory deprivation, reckon with questions concerning what defines or delimits the “you” you know yourself to be. Is identity necessarily related to the body? Where does the self begin and where does it end?
  • “Schrödinger’s Cat.” Within quantum mechanics, take the measure of this famous thought experiment exploring superposition—the notion that quantum phenomena seem to exist in different states at the same time. See how Schrödinger’s scenario, which pictures a cat and a potentially lethal device within a steel chamber, uncovers a serious theoretical problem: according to the standard view of quantum theory, the cat in the chamber is both alive and dead.
  • Is Your Will Free? We think of ourselves as acting from free will. But is this the case? Examine this question, using thought experiments that explore the problem of how we make a choice when no single alternative seems better, or when we’re torn between two choices. Assess whether such choices are truly free, or whether they’re determined by prior or surrounding causes. Look rigorously at determinism and indeterminism vis-à-vis will.
  • A Brush with Immortality. You’ve taken a pill that allows you to live forever, in the healthiest possible state, with guaranteed freedom and prosperity, and the periodic option to cancel the deal. Witness how thought experiments have been used to explore the implications of such a condition, not as a fictional flight of fancy but as a means for investigating whether unlimited life is desirable, and what makes a (mortal) life truly worth living.

A Dazzling and Provocative Adventure

Throughout the course, Professor Breyer contextualizes the thought experiments at hand with incisive commentary on how they have been viewed, interpreted, and argued about through time, showing how thought experiments have influenced the history of science, philosophy, epistemology, ethics, psychology, law, and many other fields of knowledge.

Along the way, you’ll gain vivid clarity on the power of thought experiments to open us up to new ways of thinking, to identify what we care about and what we truly believe, to stretch our imaginations, to help us investigate the world, and to advance the boundaries of knowledge.

Professor Breyer’s compelling and wide-ranging presentation makes these lectures both illuminating and richly enjoyable. Join history’s great thinkers in The Power of Thought Experiments—for an extraordinary journey into your own mind.

How to Attend

Meetings are online (over Zoom) Tuesday Evenings at 7:00 p.m. beginning November 7 and lasts for 12 weeks.

​To join the class, use the following link: https://rebrand.ly/zhzte8a

More Information

Alan Carter has been a member of East Shore since 1997 and leads many of these classes.

For details see: The Great Courses

Details

Date:
Tuesday, November 7
Time:
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Event Categories:
, ,
Join Us:
https://rebrand.ly/zhzte8a

Venue

Online Event

Organizer

Alan Carter