At times, life does not offer us easy or simple solutions. We are not always left with black or white answers, at least for some questions. Life experiences, individual personalities, and family upbringing influence our opinions. For some, they can see a question and firmly believe they know the answer. Someone else addressing the same question will see it differently. These can lead to fun and sometimes frustrating debates. This leads us to the discussion of Thought Experiments or as we call them in our book Falling Trees, Colorblind Scientists, and Addiction–Thought Puzzles.
The concept of a Thought Experiment dates back a long time. Most likely, as soon as humans were able to communicate with one another some form of it existed. The term Thought Experiment is credited to Hans Christian Orsted. He was a 19th Century Physicist and Chemist. Albert Einstein referred to Thought Experiments as Gedanken-Experiment, or Gedankenerfahrung.
A Thought Experiment can be described as an exercise in intellectual debate. A means to generate ideas and share our wisdom or approach in addressing a question. It is more than anything, an attempt to generate meaningful dialog. Depending on the field of study, different answers may be sought out with thought experiments. These include physics, mathematics, science, economics, psychology, history, and philosophy, to name a few. In our book, Falling Trees, Color Blind Scientists and Addiction, we use the concept of Thought Puzzles to address the challenges of addiction.
In some of the Thought Experiments, meaningful and ethical debates can surface. For instance, Hitler’s baby is a lively debate. The question posed is if you had a chance to go back in time would you kill an infant Hitler? This has moral and scientific implications. The point is that there are not always easy answers. One potential solution can open the door for other issues. For example, if you kill Hitler how would you know that it would not create other problems? Could we guarantee that he would not be replaced by someone equally as evil (if possible) who may have come up with a different strategy that could have won the war? Is committing murder of a baby justifiable without pursuing other avenues to hopefully prevent the horrors of World War Two?
We discuss in our book how these debates can exist in addictions. How is a person who drinks four to six drinks daily not be having a substance abuse problem while someone who drinks four drinks a night once a month be viewed as a problem drinker? This could be answered by the impact it is having on a person’s life. If the one time a month drinker has job, family and health problems that present themselves when he drinks, his drinking will be problematic. If the daily drinker lives by himself, is unemployed, engages in a solitary life, who will know that he is an alcoholic? Or better yet who is to say he has a problem? If no one is around to see it does a problem exist? This question led us to write this book and talk about how we see this issue. Answers to this question ultimately will be answered by the addicted and/or their families. We hope to offer guidance in arriving at the decision and help for those wanting to do something about their problem.
We would love to hear a Thought Puzzle from readers. Submit a Thought Puzzle. For those Thought Puzzles published to our blog, we will send you a free copy of our book, Falling Trees, Color Blind Scientists, and Addiction.