Imaginable Impossibilities and Thought Experiments

"Imagination, Perspectives and Thought Experiments"

Seminar Series "Idee in Bozza", March 29, 2021

On this occasion, we will present a research paper (currently under review) which focuses on several issues connected to the Calculatores Project, such as the use of thought experiments in Galileo Galilei and in his Medieval predecessors, with a particular focus on thought experiments that use impossible scenarios. The paper is co-authored by Irene Binini, Daniele Molinari and Wolfgang Huemer from the University of Parma.

The meeting will be held on Zoom: meeting ID: 870 0439 9132

Link to access the meeting:

Abstract: Thought experiments are fictional narratives that serve as devices to widen our cognitive horizons both in the sciences and in philosophy. In our talk we argue that they perform this function by prompting a specific kind of imagination that brings the perspective of another person into view (de illo imagining).

The main role of thought experiments is not to transmit true propositions to the reader, but to express a specific point of view. After presenting our analysis of thought experiments and of the role that de illo imagination plays in them, we revisit Galileo Galilei’s use of imaginary cases in light of our account. We show that the main aims of Galileo’s thought experiments are to highlight how different points of view affect imagination and to invite readers to actively engage in different perspectives.

Readers of thought experiments do not passively absorb information, but critically assess the other’s point of view and contrast it with their own. To perform this task successfully, thought experiments need to be designed in a way that allows the reader to relate to the proposed (fictional) scenario.