48 votes

What is your favorite thought experiment?

Mine is: do others see the same colours that I do? As in, is my "green" the same as your "green"? Or would my "green" look "blue" to you? I like this one because it's completely possible, points out the plasticity of our minds and makes a distinction between sensation and perception. There are variations of this but I like it formulated as such. It's my favorite because it was also my first foray into the philosophy of consciousness and I'm often reminded of it when in an altered state of consciousness (e.g. by psychedelics).

Your favorite experiment can be whatever: either something that has affected you deeply / changed your life or just something fun and amusing to think about.

68 comments

  1. [2]
    kfwyre
    Link
    Educational philosophy is full of these. My favorite one: when does a child become individually responsible for their own actions? There is, of course, no single answer, and the obvious response...

    Educational philosophy is full of these.

    My favorite one: when does a child become individually responsible for their own actions?

    There is, of course, no single answer, and the obvious response is that "it varies," which is exactly the point of the thought experiment.

    Let's say you have a student who refuses to work in school. They simply sit at their desk, refuse to take notes, refuse to complete classwork. Maybe they even stop coming to school. Is this a failing of factors outside the student, such as the teacher, the broader educational environment, the parents, etc.? Or is it a failing of the student who is refusing to take ownership of their learning and fulfill their obligations?

    If the student is 8-years-old, most people would look to external factors. If the student's 18, however, most would put it on the student. But there's a broad area between those two where things get muddy and gray. What if the student is 12? 13? 14? 14 yet has developmental delays?

    Even moreso, you can then throw in non-developmental factors that change behavior. What if you learn that the 18-year-old is suffering from depression? Does that change their responsibility? What if they live in abject poverty and have to hold down a job outside of school and care for siblings? Does that shift responsibility?

    It's a microcosm of the larger question of personal agency, but it's one that plays out in schools around the world on a daily basis. No matter the setting, there will be conflict when the perspectives of students' agency are in conflict between stakeholders. If, for example, the parents believe that facilitating learning is the student's responsibility, the teacher believes it's the parents' responsibility, and the student believes it's the teacher's, then you have a recipe for failure out of the gate based on the simple misalignment of beliefs.

    As such, I think it's worth considering how and when children begin to develop their own agencies, and at what point does exploring agency shift from a safe privilege of childhood to the more serious responsibility of adulthood.

    26 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Oh yes, I think the general version of this the Sorites Paradox. But I think of it less as a paradox and more of a very practical question, as you have exemplified.

      Oh yes, I think the general version of this the Sorites Paradox.
      But I think of it less as a paradox and more of a very practical question, as you have exemplified.

      10 votes
  2. [14]
    SuperGracchiBros
    (edited )
    Link
    Definitely the Ship of Theseus. The version I like to ask is this: A man named Theseus sails from port to port in Ancient Greece. Suppose that at every port, one plank from his ship rots and is...

    Definitely the Ship of Theseus. The version I like to ask is this:
    A man named Theseus sails from port to port in Ancient Greece. Suppose that at every port, one plank from his ship rots and is replaced. Eventually, every single original plank is replaced. At what point does it stop being the original ship? Does it ever?
    I like it because it offers a good insight into people's personal philosophy, especially how they view change. I've heard a bunch of different answers. My personal favourite (although I disagree with it) is one friend of mine who said that once a single plank is replaced, it's no longer the original ship.

    19 votes
    1. [7]
      cptcobalt
      Link Parent
      I'm no philosophy scholar, but I think I'm a bit of a Ship of Theseus liberalist—I think it generally remains the original ship, even over time (but perhaps not in a mass deconstruction + cold...

      I'm no philosophy scholar, but I think I'm a bit of a Ship of Theseus liberalist—I think it generally remains the original ship, even over time (but perhaps not in a mass deconstruction + cold storage scenario). Consider that the ownership, crew, and role the ship plays will remain the same throughout its lifetime. If the entire ship is replaced over time, the ship will still generally perform the same roles: being that particular ship. (I think this also includes putting the ship out of service and displaying it in a museum context.) If the crew, ownership, parts, duties, generally accepted history, etc. change, then I think it's harder to say it's the "same" ship.

      I think I've created a good philosophical mess with this comment. I need to study a bit more—but it's not exactly easy for a non-academic to get gracefully introduced to philosophy.

      8 votes
      1. [6]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [5]
          JakeTheDog
          Link Parent
          A retort to that then would be on the matter of what constitutes the ship. Does the ship need a crew? At least to function as a ship (e.g. transporting goods, people) it does. But then, the crew...

          A retort to that then would be on the matter of what constitutes the ship. Does the ship need a crew? At least to function as a ship (e.g. transporting goods, people) it does. But then, the crew also changes...
          A good lesson in impermanence and time/entropy, IMO.

          1 vote
          1. [5]
            Comment deleted by author
            Link Parent
            1. [2]
              JakeTheDog
              Link Parent
              Have you read GEB? If not, I highly recommend it.

              Have you read GEB? If not, I highly recommend it.

              2 votes
              1. UniquelyGeneric
                Link Parent
                Big fan of GEB. That entire book is a tome of thought experiments. I haven’t gotten around to reading I Am A Strange Loop, but I hear it’s also good.

                Big fan of GEB. That entire book is a tome of thought experiments. I haven’t gotten around to reading I Am A Strange Loop, but I hear it’s also good.

            2. [2]
              psi
              Link Parent
              To be fair, you can also apply the Ship of Theseus to your brain. If you selectively remove parts of your brain until nothing's left, then clearly at some point "you" stopped being "you"....

              To be fair, you can also apply the Ship of Theseus to your brain. If you selectively remove parts of your brain until nothing's left, then clearly at some point "you" stopped being "you". Moreover, the brain's in perpetual flux physiologically, so in some sense this paradox applies to you at all times.

              1. JakeTheDog
                Link Parent
                The crazy thing about this is that your brain adapts fairly quickly. If you lose a piece of your brain, and even if you lose e.g. function of your arm (like in stroke patients) you can still fully...

                The crazy thing about this is that your brain adapts fairly quickly. If you lose a piece of your brain, and even if you lose e.g. function of your arm (like in stroke patients) you can still fully recover. Of course that really only applies to the cortex but still...

      2. frickindeal
        Link Parent
        I like to think of it in terms of the ship's intrinsic value. If Theseus were to sell the ship at any port, it would bring the local value, regardless of the number of planks replaced, thus it...

        I like to think of it in terms of the ship's intrinsic value. If Theseus were to sell the ship at any port, it would bring the local value, regardless of the number of planks replaced, thus it remains a valuable ship with the same name its always held.

        Or another consideration: a sailor leaves his wife and family on the SoT. They return some months later, but in that time, the entirety of the planks have been replaced with new planks. Does the wife think her husband arrives on a different ship? She'd likely just look for the SoT, and that's what she'd see. It's the same ship he left on. She might notice it's a bit cleaner looking than when it left, but she certainly wouldn't consider it a different ship.

        3 votes
    2. LukeZaz
      Link Parent
      I've always thought of it as being dependent on perspective. For example: if a skilled carpenter built Theseus as a means of showing his abilities, then the gradually-rebuilt ship would, for his...

      I've always thought of it as being dependent on perspective. For example: if a skilled carpenter built Theseus as a means of showing his abilities, then the gradually-rebuilt ship would, for his purposes and perspective, no longer be the Theseus, as there's no longer any of his original construction left in it.

      A captain of the ship though? He's been with it the entire time, and his intent is to sail that ship. For this perspective, the past and present Theseus function almost identically, and so are effectively the same ship.

      4 votes
    3. Hugemeat_Vandergirth
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I would say it never stops being the original ship. Even if no part of that ship was replaced then would be in a constant state of change simply because of the various natural processes at play....

      I would say it never stops being the original ship. Even if no part of that ship was replaced then would be in a constant state of change simply because of the various natural processes at play.

      The label "original ship" was an abstract concept attached to an object that performed a certain role, and that label never required physical, material continuity.

      3 votes
    4. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Yes, I like this one when the subject of teleportation is brought up!

      Yes, I like this one when the subject of teleportation is brought up!

      2 votes
    5. [2]
      Apos
      Link Parent
      The way I see it, if you take two snapshots and compare between the start and the end, it's a different ship. If instead, you take a snapshot through time, I see it as the same ship. If I instead...

      The way I see it, if you take two snapshots and compare between the start and the end, it's a different ship. If instead, you take a snapshot through time, I see it as the same ship.

      If I instead use @Rez's scenario, it will be the same ship up to when their history diverges.

      I sort of simplified my thought process, hopefully what I have written here still makes sense.

      2 votes
      1. Apos
        Link Parent
        Was browsing Reddit randomly and came upon this post by GlaciusTS: Very interesting how he has similar ideas to the one I wrote above but goes more in depth.

        Was browsing Reddit randomly and came upon this post by GlaciusTS:

        “Will the person that is uploaded really be you?”

        This is the question that most people run into and have a hard time understanding the answer. The correct answer is “About as much as you will be you 5 minutes from now, minus the physical body.”

        The long answer would be to explain to you that our memories make us biased. So far as we can tell, we only believe we are the same person from moment to moment because those memories exist. But are we? I mean I can’t control what past me is doing. I can’t suddenly decide not to start writing this message 5 minutes ago. I mean sure, past me could’ve decided that now in the present I would do something crazy, but that’s no different from leaving behind a message for someone else to read. You don’t actually have any control over what future you will do, anything can happen between now and then and you might not listen to your present self. You exist in different places, not only in space but in time. You are thinking independently about different things, responding to different things, you’re comprised of slightly different matter as you digest food and inhale oxygen.

        I mean... it is also a major assumption to assume that one person can’t simply become two people. An interesting thought experiment is to consider why you think one has to be a fake in the first place. Is there any reason to assume that one stream of thought can’t become two streams of thought? Does one have to be fake? Define fake? How do you tell the difference if both streams of thought came out the same way and then went their separate ways? Isn’t something being “fake” dependent on subjective principals?

        In truth, the most we can likely assume is that a changing mind went in and two changing minds came out, each believing themselves to be a continuation of the original, while neither were ACTUALLY the same person they were in the past, both are merely consequences of their similar, yet different, pasts. The question of whether or not the upload is really you is more of a semantic argument, because it relies on the assumption that you are still you from moment to moment. All that really matters is that you keep the illusion going that you are still you. If you believe you are you, future you will feel no different than it did before enduring the process.

        Very interesting how he has similar ideas to the one I wrote above but goes more in depth.

        3 votes
    6. Akir
      Link Parent
      I've recently learned about the philosophy of semiotics, and I think that it kinda sorta answers this question. In this case, the very idea of the "Ship of Theseus" is a sign. When you think of it...

      I've recently learned about the philosophy of semiotics, and I think that it kinda sorta answers this question. In this case, the very idea of the "Ship of Theseus" is a sign. When you think of it that way, even if the entire ship is completely replaced, if Theseus still believes it is the original ship, then it is.

      Then again, this is from an "I read the wikipedia article" level of understaning of semiotics, so don't take that as a real answer.

      In any case, I think the real answer to this question is that it doesn't really matter. People don't actually experience time continuously and all things change over time. The real question you should be asking is what you think the value of the concepts of the particular ship or originality should have. My smarmy but sincere answer is that the only thing that really matters is that he got on the boat with his stuff in it and that it was going to his destination.

      1 vote
  3. [12]
    nic
    Link
    “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was...

    “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” Chuang-Tzu.

    16 votes
    1. [11]
      JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Oh I love this one too! I like to ask/propose this to people all the time: you know that feeling of waking up from a super realistic dream and you didn't realize it was a dream until sometime...

      Oh I love this one too! I like to ask/propose this to people all the time: you know that feeling of waking up from a super realistic dream and you didn't realize it was a dream until sometime later in the day? How many times has that happened except that you didn't realize it was a dream? Then it becomes indistinguishable from any other memory and affects you as such.
      The Waking Life is a great (somewhat-relevant) movie.

      4 votes
      1. [4]
        frickindeal
        Link Parent
        I do quite a bit in virtual reality (wearing a head mounted display) and the lines can get really fuzzy when you've been "in" there all day. You can reach out to balance yourself on a virtual...

        I do quite a bit in virtual reality (wearing a head mounted display) and the lines can get really fuzzy when you've been "in" there all day. You can reach out to balance yourself on a virtual table and fall to the ground, or smack a wall you didn't realize you were close to very easily. The VR experience can have you in a huge, open arena and it feels really disconcerting to take the hmd off and find yourself in a tiny room.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          JakeTheDog
          Link Parent
          Yea, but in my opinion it doesn't matter. I use the same argument for when people say you're merely hallucinating in a psychedelic experience and you have communion with god (define it as you...

          Yea, but in my opinion it doesn't matter. I use the same argument for when people say you're merely hallucinating in a psychedelic experience and you have communion with god (define it as you wish). If it happened, and it felt real, and it had an effect on you.. then it is real. Moreover, each person has their own subjective reality to begin with, we only approximately agree on things that we both experience.
          Not that I'm arguing with you on anything - it can definitely be a reality shock going in and out of VR.

          BTW what do you do all day in VR? (Besides porn, of course). I can't imagine spending more than just an hour or two with anything.

          5 votes
          1. frickindeal
            Link Parent
            Not 'all day' so much as 'for up to six hours,' but it's for app testing.

            Not 'all day' so much as 'for up to six hours,' but it's for app testing.

        2. CALICO
          Link Parent
          Things are going to get very interesting if we ever achieve a Matrix-level of VR. Even in the horrible graphics of VRChat, after some time my brain decides to buy what I'm selling it and taking...

          Things are going to get very interesting if we ever achieve a Matrix-level of VR. Even in the horrible graphics of VRChat, after some time my brain decides to buy what I'm selling it and taking off the headset can be really disorienting.

          4 votes
      2. [6]
        Loire
        Link Parent
        A little off topic, but blows me away that people have dreams that seem indistinguishable from reality. I rarely ever dream, and when I do it is distant, grainy, muddy, out of focus. More akin to...

        A little off topic, but blows me away that people have dreams that seem indistinguishable from reality. I rarely ever dream, and when I do it is distant, grainy, muddy, out of focus. More akin to imagining than experiencing.

        To have a dream that isn't immediately recognizable as seperate from reality is completely inconceivable to me.

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          JakeTheDog
          Link Parent
          Interesting. Have you ever heard of lucid dreaming? At the very least I would suggest looking into the protocols of how to enhance your dreams. You can also experiment with hypnogogia. If you...

          Interesting. Have you ever heard of lucid dreaming? At the very least I would suggest looking into the protocols of how to enhance your dreams. You can also experiment with hypnogogia. If you consume alcohol or THC (but not CBD) REM can be inhibited. Cholinergics (i.e. certain nootropics) and valerian root (a typical supplement at the pharmacy) can also enhance the vividness of dreams.
          Not that you have to dream, but it can be so enriching and insightful!

          1 vote
          1. [4]
            Loire
            Link Parent
            I don't drink nor consume drugs other than the odd LSD experience anymore. Most mood/consciousness altering drugs simply dont affect me as they should making them meaningless. I do consume certain...

            I don't drink nor consume drugs other than the odd LSD experience anymore. Most mood/consciousness altering drugs simply dont affect me as they should making them meaningless. I do consume certain cholinergic noots (mainly Alpha GPC), however I have noticed no change concerning dreams.

            I've considered practicing dream enhancement but, to be frank, I don't see the point of committing the time. I've established that my mind's eye doesn't work as well as it should. I can't imagine vividly like other people can imagine. Visual memories aren't particularely visual, nor clear. Pure fabrications of the imagination are even less vivid. I've come to the assumption that I must sit somewhere on a aphantasia spectrum, so my efforts might be better focused elsewhere.

            1. [3]
              JakeTheDog
              Link Parent
              Off topic but if you don't mind - where do you focus your efforts instead? Like the opposite of creativity in a sense? Just curious because I haven't heard of this perspective before.

              Off topic but if you don't mind - where do you focus your efforts instead? Like the opposite of creativity in a sense? Just curious because I haven't heard of this perspective before.

              1 vote
              1. [2]
                Loire
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                Memory is a big one (edi: Pure recall in this case rather than imaginative or visual memory). I have a middling memory that I've inherited from my father. Attention/focus is another. While I don't...

                Memory is a big one (edi: Pure recall in this case rather than imaginative or visual memory). I have a middling memory that I've inherited from my father. Attention/focus is another. While I don't have any particular issues with focus, it could always use improvement. I try to hone my logical thinking.

                There's a theory in self improvement that we are born with the strengths we are born with and it is more efficient to improve your strengths then to focus on improving your weaknesses because it takes more reaources to improve the latter. That's a theory I buy into in this case. I'm not a dreamer, I never have been, and its not restricting me as far as I can tell, so why waste the time/resources necessary just to get to the baseline other people experience when I can put that time towards excelling where I surpass others?

                1. JakeTheDog
                  Link Parent
                  The counter to this is the concept of translatable skills and the "outsider effect". Improving your weakest links will make the whole chain stronger in a non-linear way and also facilitating...

                  There's a theory in self improvement that we are born with the strengths we are born with and it is more efficient to improve your strengths then to focus on improving your weaknesses because it takes more reaources to improve the latter. ... so why waste the time/resources necessary just to get to the baseline other people experience when I can put that time towards excelling where I surpass others?

                  The counter to this is the concept of translatable skills and the "outsider effect". Improving your weakest links will make the whole chain stronger in a non-linear way and also facilitating innovation as it is said that creativity exists at the intersection of different fields. Not just art but also in a personal context.

  4. [6]
    ascii
    Link
    Be careful, some thought experiments could be hazardous to your physical or mental health. Probably the most famous of these is Roko's basilisk, which I'll only link to here. Before you click...

    Be careful, some thought experiments could be hazardous to your physical or mental health.

    Probably the most famous of these is Roko's basilisk, which I'll only link to here.

    Before you click through, you should know that some people consider this to be an information hazard whereby even reading the argument could put you at risk.

    9 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Be as it may, insulating oneself against these would be analogous to becoming a "bubble boy". You don't need to provoke existential crisis in 8 year olds (or anyone with a weak mind) with these...

      Be as it may, insulating oneself against these would be analogous to becoming a "bubble boy". You don't need to provoke existential crisis in 8 year olds (or anyone with a weak mind) with these questions. Yet, with steady progression and sufficient auxiliary knowledge (e.g. mindfulness of ones perception/reality, sense of identity, ability to think abstractly) these sort of questions can enrich a persons life to a literally awesome degree.

      The greatest risk you can take is not taking any risks.

      8 votes
    2. nsz
      Link Parent
      Man what a read. I'd herd about this but not in so much depth, no idea people took it so seriously. And well if you believe in it, then you're at even more risk. It's kind of a hilarious catch 22.

      Man what a read. I'd herd about this but not in so much depth, no idea people took it so seriously. And well if you believe in it, then you're at even more risk. It's kind of a hilarious catch 22.

      5 votes
    3. Halfloaf
      Link Parent
      If you're interested in a fictional work through this problem, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson's book, Snow Crash. If anyone is interested in a lightly spoilery discussion about language and...

      If you're interested in a fictional work through this problem, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson's book, Snow Crash. If anyone is interested in a lightly spoilery discussion about language and ideation, let me know!

      2 votes
    4. [2]
      Bishop
      Link Parent
      Do you happen to know of any more of these?

      Do you happen to know of any more of these?

      1 vote
      1. ascii
        Link Parent
        It's not quite the same, but I'm intrigued by "idea viruses" and "social contagion". Malcolm Gladwell describes an idea virus that spread through a community of teenagers, causing them to commit...

        It's not quite the same, but I'm intrigued by "idea viruses" and "social contagion".

        Malcolm Gladwell describes an idea virus that spread through a community of teenagers, causing them to commit suicide at 10 times the typical rate.

        Once you see this, you start seeing it everywhere, amplified and accelerated by social networks. Simple concepts spread like a contagious disease through populations, infecting people 3 or 4 hops away on the social graph.

        From benign health trends like gluten-free foods or the keto diet, to serious illnesses like eating disorders, self-mutilation and opioid addiction, you can watch the contagion spread over months and years.

        Now PhD psychologists and sociologists employed by corporations and governments use sophisticated techniques to design idea virus weapons and target them to the most susceptible in order to manipulate entire populations.

        I see the results of social contagion every day in my neighborhood, with flags on houses and bumper stickers on cars proliferating with cryptic symbols and double entendres of hate and authoritarianism. It's surreal and terrifying to witness the disease propagate.

        1 vote
  5. [2]
    Diet_Coke
    Link
    Quantum Immortality. I'm not about to jump off a bridge and test it, but I've had so many close calls in my life that it makes me wonder.

    Quantum Immortality.

    I'm not about to jump off a bridge and test it, but I've had so many close calls in my life that it makes me wonder.

    9 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Ah, I feel like this one (unless I misunderstand it) can easily lead to the tangential thought experiment of Ship of Theseus

      Ah, I feel like this one (unless I misunderstand it) can easily lead to the tangential thought experiment of Ship of Theseus

      1 vote
  6. [13]
    somewaffles
    Link
    Not sure if it's as much of thought experiment as it is a paradox but the fact that for any two objects approaching each other, their distance must be halved a given amount of times to eventually...

    Not sure if it's as much of thought experiment as it is a paradox but the fact that for any two objects approaching each other, their distance must be halved a given amount of times to eventually reach/pass-through each other. This is counter intuitive to the fact that you can infinitely divide a number in half (eg the distance between two objects.) They should technically never touch. There may be a scientific answer to this phenomenon but I have never been able to wrap my head around it.

    quick edit: had to look it up, but its the Dichotomy Paradox or Race Course paradox. Super interesting stuff. Kind of brings you to the conclusion that motion is an illusion, or as another philosopher pointed out, time and distance are not actually divisible.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      Hypersapien
      Link Parent
      What Zeno doesn't take into account is that each time the distance is halved, the time to cross that distance is also halved.

      What Zeno doesn't take into account is that each time the distance is halved, the time to cross that distance is also halved.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        somewaffles
        Link Parent
        I'm not sure that is relevant. The time to cross the halved distance is halved but the rate at which it is crossed remains the same. You're still (theoretically) infinitely crossing the halved...

        I'm not sure that is relevant. The time to cross the halved distance is halved but the rate at which it is crossed remains the same. You're still (theoretically) infinitely crossing the halved distances at a constant rate. The paradox is a question of distance not time.

        2 votes
        1. Archimedes
          Link Parent
          The rate = distance/time is constant, not the rate of crossing the next halved distances. The rate of crossing a halved distance (1/2)^(n) to (1/2)^(n+1) goes to infinity because the distance...

          The rate = distance/time is constant, not the rate of crossing the next halved distances. The rate of crossing a halved distance (1/2)^(n) to (1/2)^(n+1) goes to infinity because the distance between them goes to zero.

          2 votes
    2. smores
      Link Parent
      I think the craziest part about this paradox is that the "solution" heavily relies on concepts from quantum mechanics. Quantum physics actually supports the conclusion that time and distance are...

      I think the craziest part about this paradox is that the "solution" heavily relies on concepts from quantum mechanics. Quantum physics actually supports the conclusion that time and distance are not infinitely divisible. Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, discovered that energy is quantized, not continuous (this is where the idea of the Planck constant comes from). This means that, fundamentally, the distance an object travels cannot be divided infinitely, because matter doesn't actually traverse every single 1D point in space between two positions; it jumps. This is basically impossible to reason about intuitively, because it happens at such a dramatically smaller scale than is observable by humans, but it's crucial for support a lot of modern fundamental understanding of physics. It's sort of like (but not exactly analogous to) how when you watch a video, time/motion is broken up into frames that give the illusion of continuous motion, but are still discrete.

      3 votes
    3. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Ooh yea I like this one too. Except I've always perceived this as more of a riddle/puzzle enabled by language i.e. it's the framing of the question that makes it paradoxical. Still gets me too,...

      Ooh yea I like this one too. Except I've always perceived this as more of a riddle/puzzle enabled by language i.e. it's the framing of the question that makes it paradoxical. Still gets me too, though!

      1 vote
    4. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      I just thought of something related to this, not quite a "solution" but maybe a cheat/hack: quantum tunneling. Eventually the distance will be so small that quantum tunneling will bring you to the...

      I just thought of something related to this, not quite a "solution" but maybe a cheat/hack: quantum tunneling. Eventually the distance will be so small that quantum tunneling will bring you to the end ;)

      1 vote
    5. [6]
      apoctr
      Link Parent
      For pure mathematics certainly, but isn't that a large assumption to be made for actual matter?

      This is counter intuitive to the fact that you can infinitely divide a number in half (eg the distance between two objects.)

      For pure mathematics certainly, but isn't that a large assumption to be made for actual matter?

      1. [5]
        somewaffles
        Link Parent
        Made a comment and thought more about what you said and deleted since we are talking infinitely divisible numbers. I'm not a physics person, so I may be speaking out of line but isn't there space...

        Made a comment and thought more about what you said and deleted since we are talking infinitely divisible numbers. I'm not a physics person, so I may be speaking out of line but isn't there space between atoms? If its just empty space, wouldn't that mean there is a quantifiable distance, which could be halved?

        1. [4]
          CALICO
          Link Parent
          Objects never really touch in the physical world, they only seem to in the marco sense. When you touch two objects together, the resistance you feel is the subatomic particles repelling each...

          Objects never really touch in the physical world, they only seem to in the marco sense.
          When you touch two objects together, the resistance you feel is the subatomic particles repelling each other. Think magnets.

          There's also no such thing as empty space, but I don't think that's very relevant here.

          1. [3]
            somewaffles
            Link Parent
            Sorry was aware of this. My original post said "reach/pass-through", I probably should have left it as pass through, which is applicable to the paradox. And I don't know I was referring to a quick...

            Objects never really touch in the physical world, they only seem to in the marco sense.
            When you touch two objects together, the resistance you feel is the subatomic particles repelling each other. Think magnets.

            Sorry was aware of this. My original post said "reach/pass-through", I probably should have left it as pass through, which is applicable to the paradox.

            There's also no such thing as empty space, but I don't think that's very relevant here.

            And I don't know I was referring to a quick google that pointed that there is technically "empty" space between atoms. Maybe I'm reading it wrong, like I said, I'm not really a physics person.

            1. [2]
              CALICO
              Link Parent
              It's very easy to get in the weeds here, very quick. When one tries to force matter together that doesn't want to be, we get interesting things like nuclear fusion or singularities. The jury is...

              It's very easy to get in the weeds here, very quick.

              When one tries to force matter together that doesn't want to be, we get interesting things like nuclear fusion or singularities. The jury is still out on singularities, and whether or not they exist as an infinitely small point or not. Some schools of thought say that spacetime is quantitatively divided into planck-length units (~1.62x10-35m), and that's the smallest possible distance. That scale of things is entirely quantum, and it's very difficult to talk about objects at this level of reality. Particles might not really exist as well, except as an excitation of a field.

              If you take two magnet and touch them together at their like-ends, and there's a distance where you feel as though there's a solid/semi-solid object in the way. You can feel the influence of the magnetic field before this point, and the field extends through infinity. The strength of the field decreases with the square of the distance per Biot–Savart law. So you cannot ever reach a point in space with zero magnetism, very tiny amounts. All space is permeated with some level of magnetic field.
              In a similar fashion, particles are not solid or defined structures. At a small enough scale they exhibit enough force to seem like they're a thing, think like a magnetic field with no magnet. These fields also extend to infinity. They also seems to exist as clouds of probability as opposed to in a defined, specific location. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

              Part of the point there though, is that all space is permeated by all fields all the time. So nothing is really empty in that sense. There's also this this fun stuff called quantum foam which is fluctuations of spacetime at the smallest scales. Then there's the nature of spacetime itself of which there are a few ideas, String Theory, Quantum Loop Gravity, and E8 Theory are a few. They all vary, but generally agree at least that there's always a something at any given point in space, because spacetime is a thing and it permeates everything. To go to a place without spacetime present, we'd need to exit the universe and come to terms with what that even means in the first place.

              I'm on painkillers right now, tell me if I don't make sense.

              3 votes
              1. somewaffles
                Link Parent
                Thanks for the in depth explanation, I guess it is a better thought experiment than paradox!

                Thanks for the in depth explanation, I guess it is a better thought experiment than paradox!

  7. [2]
    skullkid2424
    Link
    The color experiment was one of my favorites when I was younger. After a while I looked a bit more into it while considering the physical makeup of our eyes. Basically there are cone cells in our...

    The color experiment was one of my favorites when I was younger. After a while I looked a bit more into it while considering the physical makeup of our eyes. Basically there are cone cells in our eyes that correspond to a specific wavelength. So our eyes are all seeing the same wavelengths.

    But then theres the way the brain interprets the information coming from those cones. That could still be different. IIRC there was a study that looked at animals who only had 2 of the 3 cones that the animals had. They changed one of the cone types to the 3rd cone type. So perhaps Red/Green to Red/Blue. The animals were able to adapt to the change and find the new color when tested. So their brains weren't hardwired to only accept their standard Red/Green cones - the brain was able to adapt to the new cones and perceive the colors somehow.

    But did their brains simply replace Green with Blue? Or could they see a whole new color for the color they lost? I don't know that theres any way to tell in animal tests - but the experiment means that we can possibly fix colorblindness or even add new wavelengths (such as the UV cones that birds have).

    5 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Apparently, and there is a recent/updated Radiolab podcast about this, having more cones doesn't help you if you don't have the hardware to process it / model the universe. Podcast spoiler alert:...

      Apparently, and there is a recent/updated Radiolab podcast about this, having more cones doesn't help you if you don't have the hardware to process it / model the universe.
      Podcast spoiler alert: although the mantis shrimp have something like 18(?) cones and thus theoretically have much finer resolution of wavelengths, they actually have shit vision. Our brains are probably more capable of at least synthesizing depth of color than insects, despite fewer cones. Tetrachromacy in human (women) improves distinction of similar reds; but then again, distinction of color may also be affected by development and culture.

      2 votes
  8. [3]
    patience_limited
    Link
    I do love philosophical zombies. It's actually a current topic in AI because you really might be able to create an absolute simulacrum of a person, which has no conscious experience, qualia, or...

    I do love philosophical zombies. It's actually a current topic in AI because you really might be able to create an absolute simulacrum of a person, which has no conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. Is something people can't distinguish from a person, really a person?

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      I like the answer (or strategy) that in such as case you ought to treat it as a person, regardless of the ghost inside the shell. The fulcrum of the argument is the effect it would have on...

      I like the answer (or strategy) that in such as case you ought to treat it as a person, regardless of the ghost inside the shell. The fulcrum of the argument is the effect it would have on yourself - by treating such zombies inhumanely you effectively degrade your perception of humanity across the board. So it's less about the effect on the other and more about the effect on yourself. Besides, I think most of use would feel bad anyways and thus not to anything cruel to a "fake" person just on the basis of a realistic response.

      I forgot where I heard this exactly, but I know Sam Harris was involved (not that that narrows it down)...

      5 votes
      1. 9000
        Link Parent
        That's definitely an argument that Kant makes as to why we shouldn't be cruel to animals! He doesn't believe that they are persons, and thus don't have the rights we do, but since they seem like...

        That's definitely an argument that Kant makes as to why we shouldn't be cruel to animals! He doesn't believe that they are persons, and thus don't have the rights we do, but since they seem like persons, we shouldn't be cruel to them so we don't build a habit of being cruel to person-like things (and thus, aren't cruel to actual moral persons).

        6 votes
  9. [3]
    bkeeneme
    Link
    Zero and infinity. Neither of these has any example in nature but we allow them to be the "bookends" to our mathematical system. I think this paradox is what separates us from the next...

    Zero and infinity. Neither of these has any example in nature but we allow them to be the "bookends" to our mathematical system. I think this paradox is what separates us from the next intelligence level above ours. We do not have the grey matter to wrap our minds around these two concepts.

    4 votes
    1. teaearlgraycold
      Link Parent
      Zero has no example in nature? Zero is as much an abstract idea as one is. Math is a model of the universe, not the driving force of it.

      Zero has no example in nature? Zero is as much an abstract idea as one is. Math is a model of the universe, not the driving force of it.

      2 votes
    2. mundane_and_naive
      Link Parent
      Zero seems pretty straightforward to me, at least as much as compared to other natural numbers. In what way is it more problematic and harder to comprehend?

      Zero seems pretty straightforward to me, at least as much as compared to other natural numbers. In what way is it more problematic and harder to comprehend?

      1 vote
  10. archevel
    Link
    I like the repugnant conclusion and the related very repugnant conclusion. To me it highlights that equality in and of itself might not always be desirable OR that equality carries some value in...

    I like the repugnant conclusion and the related very repugnant conclusion. To me it highlights that equality in and of itself might not always be desirable OR that equality carries some value in and of itself.

    3 votes
  11. [3]
    andre
    Link
    Mine would be the Simulation Hypothesis. The Wikipedia link has more info and precisely worded statements, but the gist of it is: Computers will eventually be powerful enough to run a simulation...

    Mine would be the Simulation Hypothesis. The Wikipedia link has more info and precisely worded statements, but the gist of it is:

    1. Computers will eventually be powerful enough to run a simulation of Earth
    2. We'll actually likely run many hundreds of millions of simulations, not just one
    3. The probability that we're the base civilization is exceedingly unlikely

    The most compelling argument against it in my mind argues that (1) will not happen because we'll destroy ourselves before achieving that level of computing power.

    3 votes
    1. whispersilk
      Link Parent
      That argument against it only works under the assumption that we're the base civilization though, doesn't it? If we're not, then the odds that we'll destroy ourselves before getting to the level...

      That argument against it only works under the assumption that we're the base civilization though, doesn't it? If we're not, then the odds that we'll destroy ourselves before getting to the level of (1) has no bearing on the odds that the base civilization will (or would have, as it were).

      2 votes
    2. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Oooh yes. My hope/expectation (and also a solution to the Fermi paradox; and also a story Alan Watts tells) is that we were once a powerful enough civilization that we became gods but we quickly...

      Oooh yes. My hope/expectation (and also a solution to the Fermi paradox; and also a story Alan Watts tells) is that we were once a powerful enough civilization that we became gods but we quickly became bored with omniscience and omnipresence and so we created a simulation where we have to start from scratch and don't know much.

      1 vote
  12. [3]
    Cananopie
    Link
    Since it isn't on here as of this writing Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a good one. Essentially the concept is you imagine a group of people chained up to a cave their entire lives facing the...

    Since it isn't on here as of this writing Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a good one.

    Essentially the concept is you imagine a group of people chained up to a cave their entire lives facing the wall of the cave. Out of sight, behind them, is a fire that is always kept going and bright. While out of view things that pass in front of the fire leave shadows on the wall for those in chains to see. These shadows are all they ever know outside of themselves and to them it is their meaning that matters.

    Now one day one of the chained people are freed and able to move and travel up to the fire. Seeing the source of the light would be powerful enough for this individual but the real shock is when they step out of the cave. The sky, the trees, the plants and animals, the people unchained, the colors, the sun, the moon...

    But the dilemma for this person is after experiencing all of this going back to those still chained and trying to explain it all to them. They would have no reference point. It would be completely fanciful and likely would be doubted or not believed.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      I always have trouble figuring out how to apply this to modern life outside of the The Matrix context. But I suppose it can also be extended to how we learn of any meaning or symbols? Like the...

      I always have trouble figuring out how to apply this to modern life outside of the The Matrix context. But I suppose it can also be extended to how we learn of any meaning or symbols? Like the words we use with the language we are born into etc.

      1 vote
      1. Cananopie
        Link Parent
        I think that's exactly right. Today, this applies to culture. In America, I could put it into context with many typically white people who don't have any significant family history of oppression....

        I think that's exactly right. Today, this applies to culture. In America, I could put it into context with many typically white people who don't have any significant family history of oppression. They look at those who insist on paying attention to the oppression caused by the United states or Europe as an overreaction.

        Although those who have a history of slavery or being treated inhumanely, such as modern day illegal immigrants who are encouraged to work in America by corporations for less than minimum wage understand realities of the world that many white Americans remain blind to because they haven't experienced it personally.

        But ultimately this can apply to any culture that is separate from one another

        1 vote
  13. [2]
    Douglas
    Link
    I don't know if there's a philosophy name for it, or if I read this in a book or made it up, but I often think about how it takes two sets of eyes to see both sides of the Earth. Like two people...

    I don't know if there's a philosophy name for it, or if I read this in a book or made it up, but I often think about how it takes two sets of eyes to see both sides of the Earth.

    Like two people can be looking at the exact same thing and report extraordinarily different details; both accounts are objectively correct, but seemingly sound wrong to the other party. I recognize, in this example, the two parties can easily communicate/sort out that they are looking at two sides of a sphere, but it makes me wonder what other things are out there that are hard for two parties to understand because there is a factor that isn't getting noticed between the two of them, you know? What other granularity is language missing that might be causing a vast misunderstanding between two parties?

    I think of this whenever I've engaged in a debate or intriguing conversation with someone on certain topics; are we both looking at the same sphere from two opposite sides? Are we both correct and there's just a link missing between the two of us that is hard to overcome?

    2 votes
    1. JakeTheDog
      Link Parent
      Oh totally! And let alone the restrictions of our own senses. A rough quote from the great Alan Watts on Lao Tzu: "Lao-Tzu said ‘the five colours make a man blind, the five tones make a man deaf,’...

      Oh totally! And let alone the restrictions of our own senses. A rough quote from the great Alan Watts on Lao Tzu: "Lao-Tzu said ‘the five colours make a man blind, the five tones make a man deaf,’ because if you can only see five colours, you’re blind, and if you can only hear five tones in music, you’re deaf. You see, if you force sound into five tones, you force colour into five colours, you’re blind and deaf. The world of colour is infinite, as is the world of sound. And it is only by stopping fixing conceptions on the world of colour and the world of sound that you really begin to hear it and see it."

      Also: Blind men and an elephant

      1 vote