60-Second Adventures In Thought

A beautifully done, charming cartoon on the history of thought experiments:

Are all the ideas accurately explained?

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Peter

    Iirc, an important part of the schrodinger cat concept was that if you opened the box to check, the atom would definitely decay and the cat would die. Opening the box would collapse the wave form. Which meant that as soon as you closed the box, the cat would remain alive for an indeterminate length of time, but because the act of looking would definitely kill it, it was as good as dead the moment the door shut. Hence the superposition.

  • http://infinitegames.tumblr.com Aaron

    Great video!

    I also wonder about their presentation of Schrodinger, but mostly because if I’m remembering right, Schrodinger’s Cat wasn’t a serious thought experiment to try to explain quantum mechanics……rather, it was Schrodinger pointing out that any attempt to try to apply quantum ideas on a macro level would result in an absurdity — in this case, that the cat is alive and dead and the same time.

    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      About Schrodinger’s Cat not being a serious experiment, but rather a reductio ad absurdum… well yes, but that’s serious business. And actually, I think articulating why the cat wouldn’t be superimposed, i.e. why quantum mechanics wouldn’t apply on a macro-level, is a useful exercise. (After all, you can’t just say, “It counts here, it doesn’t count here” without an explanation!)

      My understanding is that it’s basically quantum decoherence. The waveform doesn’t collapse when it’s observed per se; it collapses when the state of the universe in one of the possible states is very different from the state of the universe in the other possible state. In this case, that would be when the Geiger counter detects the decayed particle.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Ugh, I hate the Chinese Room thought experiment — though not quite as much as Searle’s thing about the thinking toilet paper and beer cans. Both thought experiments rely on a trick of scale. First of all, there’s a problem with the Chinese Room in that if it really did work, it wouldn’t be the person in the room who understood Chinese; it would be the totality of the room, including all of the instructions. That’s a dirty trick to make that switcheroo. That the person executing the instruction doesn’t understand Chinese is about as much a revelation as pointing out that one of my individual neurons does not know how to compose a comment on a blog post. Um, duh.

    Worse, though, he is taking a scenario which is prima facie absurd for one reason, and trying to trick people into thinking it is absurd for a totally different reason. The Chinese Room is, indeed, totally and completely absurd, but it’s not because the idea of an AI truly thinking is absurd. It’s because you could never have a man in a room with sufficient instructions to pass a Turing test to a Chinese speaker and have him execute those instructions in a reasonable amount of time. We’re not talking about a room with one big book and some papers; we’re talking about book upon book upon book to form the kind of reasoning that would truly represent thinking.

    Have you ever been talking to a tech support person and realized they were simply following a script and had no idea what they were talking about? Searle’s argument goes like this: Clearly, this tech support person doesn’t actually understand the technology they are trying to support. They are just following a script from a book. Therefore, it’s impossible that any book could ever impart understanding of the technology in question. Nobody understands it! Um, yeah….

    The Chinese Room scenario is absurd because it is too small, not because the idea of a truly thinking intelligence is absurd.

    (Slight digression: I don’t think we’re anywhere close to producing truly thinking machines anyway, and it’s not entirely clear that all machines capable of simulating thinking would actually be thinking, i.e. would be experiencing qualia. I have a blog post on this somewhere… I would tend to expect that any practical machine which appeared to think in the way we do would also experience qualia in the way we do, but it is possible to imagine hypothetical machines — probably not possible to build, but possible to imagine — that would simulate thinking without actually doing it.)

    • machintelligence

      Nicely explained! But with regard to your digression, If you asked the machine doing simulated thinking to think about itself (and it responded that it was), would it be conscious (of itself) or just a philosophical zombie?

  • Astrobot

    Argh, complete lack of mention of the actual PARADOX of the twin paradox (all frames are equal, so the twin on Earth would also have been travelling away from the one in the spaceship at close to the speed of light, so they should each be older than the other one) and the fact that it is not in fact a paradox (their frames of reference are not equal as spaceship twin must accelerate to turn around again).

    And the most annoying quantum misapprehension of them all, because it is so stupidly prevalent: OBSERVATION does not collapse the wavefunction, making a MEASUREMENT does. For example, wave-particle duality in Young’s double slit experiment. As soon as you measure which slit the particles are going through, you’ve got a particle counter instead and making the measurement changes the energy/momentum/whatever of the particle.