Volume 7, Issue 2, 2007
James Robert Brown
Nancy J. Nersessian
Thought Experimenting as Mental Modeling
Empiricism without Logic
The paper argues that the practice of thought experintenting enables scientists to follow through the implications of a way of representing nature by simulating an exemplary or representative situation that is feasible within that representation. What distinguishes thought experimenting from logical argument and other forms of propositional reasoning is that reasoning by means of a thought experiment involves constructing and simulating a mental model of a representative situation. Although thought experimenting is a creative part of scientific practice, it is a highly refined extension of a mundane form of reasoning. It is not a mystery why scientific thought experiments are a reliable source of empirical insights. Thought experimenting uses and manipulates representations that derive from real-world experiences and our conceptualizations of them.